Skyrim director Todd Howard has ample reason to consider games the “greatest form of entertainment.” The latest Elder Scrolls installment boasts a player base of over 10 million people, with an average of 75 hours played.
In a keynote speech at the DICE Summit, he argues that games surpass other forms of entertainment media by granting the player something the others can’t – a feeling of accomplishment.
The Skyrim team believes strongly in designing a game to maximize “pride in accomplishment.” The story is told with the player in the driver’s seat at all times, with a responsive world of complex characters and environments, creating a “loop of surprise, learn, play, challenge, and surprise again – but with the player in control at all times.” This approach allows the player to be their own “director,” and no two experiences with the game are ever the same.
Howard also discussed Skyrim’s creative process and the need to balance good ideas with controlling “feature glut.” Developers were allowed to play around with new ideas for Skyrim while on the company dime, and many of these projects, like new underwater visuals or mounted combat, may make it into future patches or mods. Conversely, features that didn’t fit, such as a Sims-style relationship management system, were cut to streamline the gameplay experience.
Along with “keeping it simple,” Howard stresses the mantra of “great games are played, not made.” Skyrim endured a feedback loop of internal play testing and tweaking that lasted for six months, which only goes to show how critical the element of gameplay, of player interactivity not possible in other entertainment mediums, is to the success of a game.