Gameplay is a video gaming concept that refers to the level of enjoyment a video game produces. It is generally linked to the game’s learning curve, difficulty, and the originality of the game.
Gameplay is often cited as the most important aspect of a game when reviewed, with many reviewers stating that the other major criteria (Graphics, sound, storyline, and replay value) are worthless unless the game has solid gameplay (and indeed, many reviewers believe that all of the other criteria are actually just sub-criteria of gameplay).
A game’s learning curve is generally defined as the amount of time it takes to master the basics of the game. This is often aided through the use of learning campaigns, such as the Ascent of Egypt campaign in Age of Empires.
An average learning curve is usually between 30 minutes and two hours, so that a player is able to learn the necessities of the game in one sitting. This is additionally useful if one wishes to begin multiplayer immediately, as the player may be able to learn the basics of the game, and play a full game, in the same session.
A high learning curve (generally greater than two hours) indicates that the game is overly complex, or has too many unique or original concepts, which must all be taught to the new player. Such games often require several sessions to fully master, which may be frustrating for new players, but favourable for more experienced gamers.
Conversely, a low learning curve (less than 30 minutes) will generally indicate that a game is too simplistic. Such games are often more of a nuisance to experienced players or players seeking a greater challenge. On the other hand, newer gamers will generally prefer such games, as there are fewer concepts to understand and master.
A game’s difficulty is a measure of the ease with which standard missions and tasks in the game can be completed. This measure is drastically different depending on the genre of the game. In real-time strategy (RTS) games, the difficulty measure generally refers to the time it takes to complete a mission or scenario in an in-game campaign, on standard difficulty settings.
The difficulty of a game is usually a result of its complexity (see above), and thus the amount of thought that must go into completing objectives. If a game has multiple unique aspects that must all be dealt with simultaneously, the ease with which the game can be played will lower. In a sense, therefore, it is also a measure of how much a player must focus to complete their task.
Varied in-game difficulty settings can be used to increase, or decrease, the amount of time and skill required in completing a mission. For example, a computer player on a higher difficulty setting will generally produce more units, or create a stronger economy, to make them more difficult to defeat.
The originality of a game describes how similar the game is to other games of the same genre.
Games in the same series, such as Age of Empires and Age of Kings, which are both in the Age of Empires Series, are usually more similar to each other then they are to games that aren’t in their series, such as Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds. Therefore, Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds would be considered more original then Age of Kings when compared with Age of Empires, because several aspects of Age of Kings are based on aspects in Age of Empires, whilst very few aspects of Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds are related to Age of Empires.