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Forums - Gaming Discussion - Difficulty vs Accessibility: A responsibility for the developers, not for the players.

Ever since Dark Souls released in 2011, there have been numerous discussions about accessibility in games; about whether a game being hard keeps potential players from enjoying it and even buying it, since the difficulty might scare them away. Or wheter the player who made a purchase is entitled to have an option which will help him finish the game and thus get his money worth out of the product he bought. Boiling it down, the discussion ends up being “Should hard games have an easy mode for players that aren’t good enough for the standard difficulty?”. And I’m here to say that, not only should games not cater to anything but the developer's own creative decisions, be the game easy or hard,  accessibility has nothing to do with the difficulty of a game.

It's easy to imagine why this topic sprang up. Imagine yourself playing Contra, Dark Souls, Blasphemous or any other game known for being hard, and feeling frustrated for not managing to make progress into the game, especially for a game that you have spent money on. Certainly, frustration would arise from that, given that you aren’t getting enjoyment out of a product that you have paid for, and promised you dozens of hours of uninterrupted fun. So it’s expected that said people would bring their frustration to the internet, trying to make their voices known about their issues; about how they cant enjoy the game because it's “too hard”, and linking this supposed problem to the lack of accessibility to the game for players like them. But the problem is, this is not an accessibility issue. For better or for worse, it’s the player responsibility to understand the game better and to improve, much like you would need to understand a math problem or resolve an issue that would arise in your own personal life. More than that though, accessibility refers to the tools that the game provides you to play it at your best. For example, when a game's standard control scheme is simply atrocious, or the button placements simply dont make sense to you, the game should have an option in-game for you to customize its layout, so it adapts to your preferred playstyle or physical conditions. Another example would be the standard options that any game would have, such as sound and graphical settings, so that you can adjust the game to the conditions of your house or your senses, either because you're playing the game at night and want it to be quieter, or because your screen is too bright and needs to be adjusted to better see what’s going on. These are true accessibility options; tools that enable the user to adapt the game's overall settings and mechanics to their own preference, so that they can play at their best.

But more than that, the difficulty in these kind of games are more than just a tool to either make the game longer or to bar people from playing it. The way its implemented in these games makes it almost a genre in its own, so much so that when a game is hard, people usually compares said game to Dark Souls, the game mostly responsible to revive the taste for hard games. The developers of such games doesn’t simply increase the health and damage of the enemies and call it a day, but rather it is implemented in its overall design. Take Blasphemous for instance, a game that released last year boasting about how hard and brutal it is. There is a part in the game that you are forced to go down in a small platform, that slowly goes down, while you are being attack by enemies that throw boomerangs, both in your right and on your left. That particular instance isn’t simply hard because of how much damage those enemies do, but rather because of their position and how the whole situation is set up. You are forced to keep taps on how fast you are approaching the enemies, but also on your own position, giving the moving platform, and also at the same time to dodge their attacks, that comes simultaneously from both sites. The difficulty of that particular part then comes from the level design and how well the level blends with the enemy pattern and positions, making for a though situation to handle, at least at the first few times that you go through it.

Unless you make said enemies do a damage so low that dodging or blocking seems inconsequential, the situation described previously where you are surrounded by enemies is still hard, no matter how much less damage you receive or how much more life you have, especially considering that scene I have just described is just a tiny portion of a game that have numerous tough situations, and that it requires for you to tackle them in succession to make a significant progress in the game. And this is why this whole discussion of hard games having multiple difficulties is ridiculous: For you to make an easy difficulty of a game like Blasphemous or Dark Souls, it would require more than simply decreasing the damage and health of foes, it would mean to redesign a game completely from scratch. And doing that its either financially impossible, or it would be simply easier to make a new game that would cater to a different audience altogether, one that does not like games that are inherently hard.

Another point that should be brought up, and that’s personally the biggest reason why hard games should remain only being hard, is the developer own wishes and creative reasons to make the game as challenging as it is. Hidetaka Miyazaki once said he wants his games to be more satisfying than difficult, and the sense of accomplishment is given to the players through overcoming the tremendous odds his games presents. It was due to that creative freedom and the simple wish of creating a game that the creator himself would like to play, without the restrains of “what others might think the game should have”, that these hard games not only became the critical and commercial successes that they are, but also became an identity in and of itself. More than being described as a souls – like game, these games are known and revered for its difficulty. And said franchises managed to grow based on that reputation. Those games became popular because they were hard. Giving it a easier option, not only wouldn’t it make it more “accessible” to more players, but it also could backfire, and make the game less desirable, given that the level design could end up suffering because of that.

More than anything, games that are especially hard have become almost a genre on its own, and much like that, it wont be able to please everyone, either that be because of someone skills or simply because the game features don’t appeal to that certain individual. But that’s the beauty to it: like we have games that are about racing, platforming or just about story, we also have games that are about conquering the challenges the game presents to the players, to muster all you have to reach its conclusion. What we should be discussing is not that every game should be beatable by everyone, but rather how the industry have grown so much that everyone can find a game that they will utterly enjoy.

My (locked) thread about how difficulty should be a decision for the developers, not the gamers.

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Special thanks to Machina for correcting some mistakes and gramatical errors in my text.

My (locked) thread about how difficulty should be a decision for the developers, not the gamers.

I agree, no one is entitled to an easy mode. If the difficulty results in less sales, that is the developer's choice. Devs should remain able to design games in their vision, and everything from level design, enemy placement, AI, and combat progression is a part of that. If many of these games were made with an easy mode, it would have to be offline only and people would complain about that. If they had easy servers, it would divide the fanbase and result in grieving from good players trolling those servers. Not to mention extra cost to satisfy a vocal minority of gamers that refuse to learn the game or simply just not buy it.

Many claim that, "it would do nothing for those who like the harder modes."

This is false for a very simple reason. All the combat and level design would now have to fit in a way that can be dumbed down. They could make them drastically different, but at that point they are wasting time and resources on something that is not their vision. Make them too drastically different, and you may as well have two separate games taking place in the same world. Many games that have difficulty options are designed in a way where making enemies hit harder or lighter is enough to justify the option in a quick and painless way. Souls like games would need more than that, and would need to be addressed at a design level to remedy, which should never be done.

So my stance remains the same it has always been. Learn the game and enjoy it, or just don't buy it. With the internet it is not hard to tell if a game is supposed to be hard or not, so the excuse that they "wasted their money" does not fit well either. In most cases, people know what they are getting into, but buy the game anyway. People don't get refunds for a game that is less enjoyable because it is too easy, so it shouldn't work the other way around. Research what you are buying, just like you would anything else.

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I've played almost 30 hours of Darkest Dungeon on easy and have felt like I have accomplished very little.  I took a long break after I almost had a complete party wipe of level 6 champions during the assault on the hamlet.  Same can be said of Don't Starve Together.

Last edited by sethnintendo - on 09 February 2020

I just woke up so excuse me, but is it just me or does the thread title contradict the OP?

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Nevermind, I had to wake up. I get what the thread title is saying. Yes, When a game is made to be difficult, it goes beyond just values.

Now I play the part of the opposition: If I want to play a easy mode in a Souls game where the values are just slashed across the board, how does that effect YOUR ability to enjoy the game? You just told us that the developer should be the ones deciding the difficulty/accessibility of the game and not player; the player also should not be concerned about how other players decide to enjoy the game even if it does not represent the developers vision. You play the way the game is supposed to play played and you let them play wrong. That's their business, not yours.

I agree that Difficulty and Accessibility are two different things.  Flappy Bird is a game that is both extremely difficult and extremely accessible.  

I also can't think of an action game that I've really enjoyed and also has a difficulty that I choose.  I have played strategy games where I get to pick the difficulty, and I've really enjoyed them.  But for action games, it's probably just best to have the developers tailor the difficulty to the experience they want to create.  There are some games, like Kirby games, where the difficulty is tailored to be an easier experience, but I still have more respect for Kirby games than I do the action games where you pick the difficulty.  Kirby knows what kind of game it is trying to be, where the action games where you choose the difficulty just don't feel right a lot of times.

I enjoy Nex Machina on easy mode, I don't buy souls games anymore. I love the world design but do not have the patience for it any longer. Death stranding was amazing without having to be punishing. Dark Souls was great but I'll never play it again. Death stranding has shown me that you can become very intimate with the world design without having to die over and over again.

Anyway it's fine that these games still get made. I'll simply stay away from anything that's considered hard for the sake of being hard.

I got Dark Souls very cheap on Steam and tried to get into it. I gave up on the goat boss since I got annoyed of backtracking all the way to him just to be killed in 5 secs.
Power to the developer to make the games they want, but at the same time I won't spend any money on the franchise.
I like the lore, the world design, but if I am not having fun, then I can't help it. I would welcome an easier mode. Enemies doing less damage is more than enough for me.

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Dark Souls should add an easy mode. The catch is,the only difference is a mini map. Nothing else is different.

That said I love the atmosphere of Bloodborne or a Dark Souls but I'm not a fan of the combat and I was never a fan of having to replay areas over and over as messing up. So I gave up on BB and DS1.My patience is just thin on those kinds of games.

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