Video games that allow players to change characters specifications and easily switch classes on the fly may make players less happy in the long run, according to a post from psychologist Jamie Madigan on Games Industry International.
Madigan cites psychological research that suggests giving someone more freedom of choice will ultimately make them less happy with the outcome. Players may enjoy the freedom of being able to dabble in different classes, but this openness to switching on the fly doesn't require a commitment from players, therefore preventing them from making a solid choice and growing comfortable with it.
"This may make me sound like a cranky old man, but it used to be that you made build choices in a game and the only way you could change your mind was to start a new game," Madigan wrote, citing games like Diablo 3 and Dragon's Dogma as examples of games that allow easy class changing. "There's a new trend, though, to make such choices much more flexible."
"Decades of research in psychology labs and in the field has shown that humans are super good at seeking out, overvaluing, and remembering information that lets them feel better about their current situation," he added. "They all show that if we're good at looking for silver linings, we're even better at ignoring the clouds altogether. And overall, that's useful. It's kind of a psychological immune system to protect us when things turn out to be suboptimal, so we're willing to take chances and make decisions, then live with them."
Madigan wrote that while some gamers prefer flexible systems like Diablo 3's ability to swap specs as you play, others believe having rigid systems that had to be followed through, like in Diablo 2, were part of the fun of the game. He concludes that developers shouldn't feel obligated to use a convenient specs system, as gamers don't always know what features will make them happy in the long run.
"Game developers should not feel shackled to convenience as a immutable design principle, and they shouldn't always trust gamers who are not always accurate at predicting how happy they will be with choices," he said.