PS5's Activities System Makes Playing Open World Games Brutally Efficient

A lot of video games have maps, and most of those maps have colorful icons about to tempt players into one of a billion different activities. This is how we've become accustomed to figuring out what we want to do next, especially in expansive open world games. In Miles Morales, for example, I would often chart a path to the next story mission and do a bunch of side activities along the way, because the act of swinging around is a pleasure all its own. 


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/93wb8d/ps5s-activities-system-makes-playing-open-world-games-brutally-efficient

As a person who doesn’t 100% games, I don’t find this appealing at all. I just don’t play games that way. I play them in a mode where I try to approach the game on it’s own terms, with honestly, more than a touch of roleplay and head canon storytelling. I’m not someone who is going to pull up a checklist of missions and just play them if there’s an open world to engage with.

That said, I know that there are people who do want to 100% things, and there are people who just want to cut out the fat and play all of the activities as designed. And I like that Sony is offering a way to do that. Giving people more control over their play and time is a good thing.

Still, I find it a little disconcerting that the platform design seemingly takes one design (open world) and converts it to another (mission based), in a way that I could play Miles Morales and get a wildly different experience in terms of the fundamental gameplay loop than another person.

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This basically codifies - at a literally systemic level - a specific type of open-world design. It’s a UI designed around maximising those hours-played. When has that destroyed certain types of creative output before?

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It seems like it reduces hours played to me.

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The recent re-release of the No More Heroes games displays that contrast between verisimilitude and convenience. If the space itself contributes something to the experience, then there’s something potentially lost by being able to select missions from a list.

It’s less of a problem in this game’s case because it’s following the content-muncher formula of modern open worlds already, the world doesn’t matter that much.

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I don’t think so. In practice this gets people who don’t collect and do everything in a game to do so. Completionists will do that regardless.

Agree with others here. If your open world stinks so bad that I’d rather skip it then what’s the point? Make it fun to run around in, that’s the whole deal.

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It might increase playtime for non-completionists, but it definitely reduces playtime for completionists.

I think that’s a pretty rad feature. I probably wouldn’t use it but it’s great for people who have a little bit of time to play but not enough to get that involved. They can just warp to an activity to do it rather than spend the time getting there and not have enough to complete it. I don’t think the game would lose anything but people gain everything.

Just a more specific fast-travel mechanic on a system level.

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I’m curious whether speedrunning communities will lean towards banning this feature or making separate categories for activities / no activities.

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If you’re asking me what I think is a more likely explanation for the intent of this feature: making the lives of completionists - a tiny subset of the gaming audience - better, versus the potential to keep non-completionists playing these games for longer and therefore increase the likelihood of additional expenditure, I’ll take the latter every time.

When it comes to increasing margins, 'might’ is a pretty compelling reason for, and explanation of, the behaviour of large companies.

I suppose, but it seems like a big reach to say [feature that directly decreases time spent playing] is actually a scheme to increase play time. And if it does that doesn’t strike me as particularly devious, because it’s due to directly improving the play experience.

My simple question is: if you are using this are you having fun?
The initial answer may be using this removes a tedious element to open world games. But that just begs a different question: why are you playing an open world game? Just play a more on the rails game with built in mission structure, right?
For anyone who does not have a twitter, this blew up via Klepek’s tweet. One quote tweet I saw sums it up: do gamers even like to play games?

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If any number of opinions I have seen on this or any other website indicate an accurate representation of people who play games… No. No they do not.

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I think it’s good to have options with how one engages with content, but the fact that this is a feature honestly seems like more of an indictment of a lot of the prevalent game design, particularly in AAA games. I’m of the mind that if the collectibles aren’t engaging on their own right, and/or the mechanics of moving about the world aren’t satisfying or enjoyable, then this stuff is just pointless filler that doesn’t need to be in the game. Just think of the amount of stuff crammed into a game that isn’t enjoyable to engage with, and how much we might be able to perhaps ease off the crunch developers face in some ways by leaving it all on the cutting room floor. I know it’s not a simple “cut features and reduce time/effort a game takes to make” with how complicated game development is, but if we’re putting in short cuts to essentially get around the game, why do these parts of the game even exist in the first place?

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Not only that, but how much work are developers having to put in to create these “activity” shortcuts now? Are The Gamers going to be mad about indie games from two-person studios that just didn’t have the manpower or budget to support the activity card feature? Who updates the activities cards when a patch moves the start of an encounter or a DLC layers something new on top of an old collectible’s location?

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People have different tastes and time constraints. For one person this open world is a colossal waste of time for another it’s something they can get lost in. As I said before, I think it’s a fantastic way to help both camps get into the content. One might not like the open world but may want to see what the activities are like, the other may love the open world but doesn’t have the time at the moment to engage with the world, so they can use a shortcut to get to an activity.

If you were to reduce it down like this then fast-travel points have been an indictment of open world design since their inception. Why even have an open world if you can just press a button to warp across the map? It’s a QoL feature that let’s folks boot up their game to a specific activity to get a quick session in before they have to do something else. It reminds me of the old days of booting up my NES to get a quick level of 1942 in before school or bed. I’m just hoping the development tools for this feature make implementing it, even among small teams, as painless and time saving as possible.

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My criticism here isn’t with the feature - I agree, it’s a nice QoL feature that can get you into something quickly. My criticism is with game design - and yes, I do think a game can over-rely on fast travel to the detriment of the games! Maybe I’m a bit of a weirdo in this respect - I’ll use fast travel on occasion, but to me, the virtue of having an open world is the possibility space - the act of actually inhabiting the world, traversing it, and poking at the ways that you can interact with it. Once a game becomes a checklist of things you teleport towards, it ceases to be an open-world in my eyes. It’s just individual levels in a game at that point.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing! I like a lot of linear, concise games, and I think a lot of open-world games could do well with paring back and making a more linear and concise experience, rather than bloating it with a lot of emptiness.

I get that this is an answer to ‘how do we remove the friction to engaging with the content in the game?’. I just wish the answer was less this system and more ‘make the act of actually traversing and engaging with the game more…well, engaging’.

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Glad Patrick got to elaborate on his article today on the pod. Completely agree with his take that it might be fun to do all the fluff and travelling around an open world for the first however many hours but if this helps you mop up the final few activities or collectibles then fair enough.

The PS5 having this and the Xbox not following suit does leave me wondering how much the buy in will be from third parties.

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I think there’s a fair criticism to be made of open world games that they sacrifice really good level design on the altar of creating a simulated space that often acts like nothing more than a glorified loading screen. In the same way that there’s been a push back against “big messy multiplayer” games, there’s definitely a push back in the indie space against big open areas in favour of tighter levels.

It’snoteworthy that this is seen as enough of a problem that Sony built this feature and promoted it. My initial reaction was that this was another “addictive design” feature, meant to keep people on the platform. “C’mon, just 10 minutes more, keep playing”. And since it keeps them there, they are more likely to spend money. On reflection, I don’t think it’s entirely that. Games can be messy, people do use guides (See: me and my current attempt at playing Dark Souls 2) and I think there’s probably at least some genuine desire here to open up more games to more people here.

I like the big simulated space thing, though, any I’m only a completionist in that I like to finish the main plot of a game before moving on, so I event with all that I can’t see myself using the feature much. I also don’t know how good an Assassin’s Creed would be as a series of instantly started activities. The thing that has kept me coming back to them is that feeling of how increasingly well rendered the world is, less than the verbs of play (though these are pretty good, they just fall flat after doing them for too long). And maybe if this feature adds some scrutiny and AAA studio self reflection to that problem, that’s a very good thing.

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