New-Game Smell (Part 1)

It’s hard to deny the allure of that “new-car smell,” and I’ve seen plenty of folks take a good whiff of a freshly cracked book for that “new-book smell.” You don’t hear nearly as much about “new-game smell,” but when it comes to gameplay, many gamers are looking for fresh and exciting experiences.

A new game can certainly deliver on that promise, but what about existing games? Hobby miniatures games, collectible card games, dungeon crawl board games, and their digital equivalents frequently require a healthy investment of time and money. Their players don’t want to simply move on to the next game but to enjoy their investment for a long time to come.

Three common ways that publishers reinvigorate their games are errataexpansions, and editions. In Part 1 of this series, we’ll look a bit at errata and how it can breathe new life into a game.

Errata (in the physical game world) or dynamic updates (in the video game world) are fairly common. Such updates to how the game functions shake up the balance of the game and create new room for players to explore. When the top tier models, cards, abilities, or what-have-you are rebalanced, players need to rethink the strategies they’ve grown accustomed to using. It allows new armies, decks, and character builds to rise to the top, and it re-creates that “new-game smell” for the players.

Issuing a new errata document or pushing a new dynamic update to the server is reinvigorating. The Warmachine errata update earlier this year and the Hearthstone dynamic update earlier this week showed similar results. Passionate players flew to their twitter feeds, forums, and podcasts to laud or lament the updated models/cards. Established army/deck archetypes were reconsidered in the new ruleset, and players felt that forgotten rush of discovery. What new possibilities would emerge with these changes to the status quo?

From the outside looking in, such updates might seem problematic. Why make changes that provoke so many complaints and cause so many players to second-guess the game’s developers? The adage “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” comes to mind, here. Some players who had grown a bit bored with the game were upset, and others were excited, but on both sides of the spectrum, those players were engaged with the game. They were enjoying that new-game smell and thinking about what the future of the game would hold.

Before closing, I’d like to briefly address game formats. In many regards, a new format is a type of errata. It changes which game components a player can use and/or changes the path to victory. Regardless, it creates a change to the existing rules of engagement that reinvigorates its gaming community.

The next time you see an errata update, take a quick peek at the community’s response. Whether the words are full of love, hate, or some other emotion altogether, you’re bound to see players who have re-engaged with a game to enjoy that “new-game smell.”