How do you decide when you’re finished with a game—that you’ve done everything you want to do and are ready to move on to the next one?
How do you decide when you’re finished with a game—that you’ve done everything you want to do and are ready to move on to the next one? For me, and I imagine for a lot of others, the obvious answer is hitting the end credits.
Occasionally I will have the terrible idea to go for all of the achievements, but typically once the credits roll, I’m done playing the game, regardless of whether or not there are more things I could do.
While a game’s credits seems like a formality, there is a fair amount of mechanical power to them.
They provide a moment of reflection to look back at what you just experienced.
They signal that you’ve completed the main content of a game—the stuff the developers viewed as the core experience.
Hitting the end credits provides that sweet satisfaction that comes from accomplishment, and seeing them roll gives me a nice final hit of dopamine.
However, the sense of finality that comes with end credits makes it really hard for me to jump back in.
Leveling up and getting new abilities feels great when it is helping me progress to that main goal of taking out the final boss or solving the grand mystery, but once that goal is reached, my drive evaporates.
When I don’t have a clear goal I am aiming for progression systems become meaningless.
Yeah, I can do all these quests to get a cool weapon, but why do I need it if I’ve already accomplished what the developers wanted me to accomplish? As my motivation stems from the desire to beat a game, continuing playing after doing so always feels hollow.
And look, I’m sure a lot of people are able to find motivation in just having fun with a game instead of needing to work towards some goal, and there are also lots of folks who find tons of value in how much extra content a game has, and ya know, good for them, but I’m not built that way.
I need to be working towards something greater.
And for the most part, I am fine with not having the drive to continue with a game after beating it.
Especially with more story-centric games, there isn’t even that much to do after the credits roll except play it again, so I don’t feel like I miss out on all that much.
But sometimes games introduce what seems like important content after the credits roll, and I always struggle with how to approach it.
Most recently, this came up with Pokemon Legends Arceus.
After the end credits, players are given an entire new questline centered around capturing various legendary Pokemon.
Of all the story missions in Arceus, about a third of them happen post-credits, and while not every mission takes the same amount of time to complete, this still makes up a huge chunk of the game.
Between those missions and filling out the pokedex, many players could easily spend more time with end-game content than the actual game itself.
Of course, as I am sure you’ve already guessed, I didn’t do any of that stuff.
There were new things to progress towards, but they didn’t feel as important as what I had already completed.
This isn’t inherently bad; having a substantial amount of post-game content gives those who adore the game more time with it, and those who have enjoyed it, but are reaching their limit an easy out where they can stop playing yet not feel like they have left the game unfinished.
It is understandable why they approached it in this way, and I am not even convinced they were wrong to format it like this, especially given the fact that the game is designed with kids in mind, many of whom may not have the attention span to beat a 50 hour game but can manage something shorter.
It also may be that the gameplay of the post-game is designed with a more niche audience in mind and if they had made that content a part of the main game, it would have alienated a larger portion of players by making the core of the game feel like too much of a slog.
Nevertheless, the choice to place it where they did led to me and players like me who are motivated most by beating a game to miss out on content, which is a bit of a shame as I have heard from multiple people that the end-game of Arceus contains some of the most interesting story beats and moments in the game—I just have no drive drive to do it, and I can’t help but think that I would have had the credits not rolled when they did.
Frankly, it seems a bit baffling that they would put some of the most intriguing story developments after the game proper is over.
Regardless of whether or not it was the right choice for Pokemon Legends Arceus to roll credits when they did, it does highlight how the point developers choose to place the credits can influence player behavior and satisfaction.
It defines the core experience most players will have, so developers have to be very cognizant of what they want that experience to entail.
Take Sloclap’s kung-fu beat em up, Sifu.
The game consists of 5 levels for the player to work through, where they will take on hordes of enemies and tough-as-nails boss fights, both of which take considerable skill to overcome.
Sifu’s difficulty revolves around its resurrection mechanic where every time the player character dies, they get older, and once they hit a certain age, they no longer can be revived and the player needs to restart the level.
On a first playthrough this will mean replaying each level over and over again to master the mechanics and finish at the lowest age possible, which is easier said than done.
While playing, there were times I thought I’d never be good enough to get to the final boss at a reasonable age, but I kept trying and kept getting better, and after enough practice, I was able to not only get to the final boss but I was also able to beat him.
I felt that sense of pride and relief that comes from beating a hard game and to be as non-specific as possible as to not spoil anything, right at the moment I expected the credits to roll, a cutscene played that indicated there was a slightly different way to approach each of the levels.
And it set me back to the start again.
Even though the story hit a natural and satisfying conclusion, due to the credits not rolling, I felt like I needed to keep playing, so I jumped right back in and went through all of the levels again.
This time, instead of struggling for the slightest bit of progress, I used everything I had learned from the countless times I had gone through the levels before, and beat all of them with ease.
After dominating the final boss, I felt like a gamer god, and then I was finally met with the credits.
The “true” ending of Sifu feels like the sort of thing that would normally be optional post-game content—there for dedicated players who want an additional challenge, but easily skippable for those not interested.
However, by holding off on the credits, Sloclap made it a part of the main experience.
As the credits rolled, I knew with complete certainty that had they come after beating the final boss for the first time, I would not have kept playing to see the true ending, and that would have sucked as I would have missed out on the amazing experience of witnessing how far I had come as a player.
To be honest, until this experience with Sifu, I never really considered how motivated I am by reaching a game’s end credits, but now I can’t stop thinking about it, and I find myself questioning whether or not I would have stuck with certain games if they had rolled earlier.
Like, would I have kept playing Hades had the credits rolled after the first time I beat the final boss instead of the 10th? Would I have played the epilogue of Red Dead Dead Redemption 2 if they had separated it from the main game? Would I have searched for more endings in the Stanley Parable if there had been credits after every ending instead of just the Not Stanley ending? I’d like to think I would have continued with each of them, but given my track record, it doesn’t look great.
Ultimately, where to place the end credits ties into one of the great challenges of game design: determining which parts of a game should be mandatory and which should be optional.
And as it turns out, there isn’t an easy answer.
If developers opt to make most content in a title mandatory, it could throw off the pacing, leading to a lot of bloat.
Also, especially with less linear titles, if nearly everything is mandatory, it may take away some of the joy that comes with exploration.
There is something special about uncovering secrets—of finding things that not everyone will find.
It rewards curious players with new things to encounter and creates experiences unique to their playthrough.
Of course, the downside to not making things mandatory is that a portion of players will miss things, And sometimes they may be an important part of what makes a game great.
For example, let’s look at the ending of Hollow Knight.
Hollow Knight is a massive game with secrets galore from items to areas to bosses spread throughout its world.
On my first playthrough, I did some of the optional stuff, but was more focused on beating the game than anything else.
So, once I fought and beat The Hollow Knight, and got to those end credits, I stopped playing.
At the time, I knew there were more things to explore as I hadn’t cleared the map, but I didn’t really know what those things entailed.
A lot of it seemed centered around collecting enough essence to improve the dream nail, which seemed a bit tedious, especially as I had already beaten the game.
I had gotten my dopamine hit and didn’t want to tarnish that, so I convinced myself that whatever was left wasn’t worth my time as I was able to beat the game without it.
And while I do think that The Hollow Knight ending is fine, it doesn’t hold a candle to the true ending.
The real final boss along with the steps it takes to get there contain some of the most enjoyable and iconic moments in the game.
When I went back to replay it last year and finally did everything, it launched Hollow Knight from being a title I just enjoyed to one that sits firmly in my top 5.
The thing is, I would not have known that there was more worth doing if people hadn’t told me about it.
Obviously I understand that a lot of the blame for that is on me for not exploring or being observant enough, but with optional content in games, it can be hard to know what will and won’t be worth my time.
So, I can’t help but wonder if I would have sought out the true ending in my first playthrough if instead of rolling credits after beating what I thought was the final boss, it had given a message like “yet the dream continues…” and then set me back in Dirtmouth.
Given the fact that I am so motivated by hitting the end credits, I think that would have been enough to get me to do the things I was reluctant to do in the first place.
What’s hard is that on one hand I think experiencing the true ending is essential to fully understanding and appreciating Hollow Knight, but on the other, I think part of what makes it so special for many players is that it was something they earned through their own curiosity without the game telling them that they needed to.
Withholding the credits in an effort to incentivize players who didn’t do everything into pursuing the true ending could cheapen that feeling for those who didn’t need the push.
Of course, I suspect a fair amount of people only learned about the existence of an alternate ending from external sources, which isn’t ideal either And that’s one of the big problems.
As a player, it is often difficult to know what optional content is worth doing, especially when part of what makes it worthwhile is discovering that it was worthwhile.
I think I have just been conditioned over the years to assume that a lot of optional tasks won’t have that special of a payoff and the challenge is primarily there for folks who enjoy 100%ing every game they play.
Operating under that assumption obviously leads to me missing important things, but it also protects my time.
All of this is tough to sort out because I think there is something intriguing about a game whose designers seem unconcerned with whether or not every player who beats their game experiences its best content; but also, it seems like a terrible idea for designers not to do everything in their power to get players to engage with the most important parts of their game.
And I’ve never felt more conflicted about this than I did after playing Nier: Automata NieR: Automata is a game that doesn’t really begin until it ends.
I would go as far as to say that if you’ve only played through Nier: Automata once, you haven’t played Nier: Automata.
And this seems to be a pretty commonly held opinion as when I mentioned on twitter that I was finally playing it, I got tons of responses telling me that I needed to beat it more than once.
The first playthrough is satisfying enough, and it does feel like a complete game; depending on how much you do, it will probably take anywhere from 10 to 30 hours to beat, and while parts of the narrative will feel a bit incomplete, it is serviceable.
However, seeing the core of what makes Automata special requires playing through it multiple times.
The issue is that the game doesn’t do the best job of making it clear that they should.
After the end of the first credits, it does encourage the player to continue playing with a message from the development team saying there are new perspectives to explore and story beats to see, but to be honest, if I hadn’t been told before hand that I needed to beat it multiple times, this would have felt nearly the same as when you beat a Mario game and it tells you that you can play as Luigi.
A reason for some players to come back, but not one for me.
This is amplified by the fact that the second playthrough is very similar to the first, so it isn’t immediately obvious that it is worthwhile to continue.
In order to see how many players reached the true ending, I looked at achievement and trophy stats from Steam, Xbox and Playstation, and consistently across all three platforms, of all players who finished Ending A, less than half of them reached the true final credits.
The biggest dropoff happens between Ending A to Ending B, losing about a third of players who finished the first ending.
It’s a bit mind boggling to me that so many people ostensibly finished the game, but will have a fundamentally different understanding of its story, characters and themes than those who reached the actual final credits.
Putting that much important content behind a credit roll is wild, and it is hard not to think it is a bad idea.
In fairness, many folks in NieR: Automata’s target demographic were familiar with the game’s director, Yoko Taro, so a large chunk of players almost certainly would have been aware that this is how every game he makes operates, but for those going in without that knowledge, the most important stuff in the game is so easy to miss.
Had there been no credits after Ending A, I imagine more players would have kept playing and eventually reached the final credits.
Of course, the fact that so much of the game is hidden behind a credit roll is a part of what makes it interesting.
It breaks down typical video game conventions, and I won’t get into specifics as to keep things spoiler-free, but it does some unique things with its various credit rolls that justify there being so many of them.
Also, given from what I know about Yoko Taro, I don’t think he cares whether or not people stop playing because they couldn’t get on board with his creative direction.
He seemingly makes the games that he wants to make, and would rather do something interesting that loses people than compromise his vision.
Of course, what I view as the intended or optimal way to experience a game, almost certainly is not universal.
There are surely players who loved Ending A, but hated every playthrough after that, ones who adored Hollow Knight up until reaching the White Palace, and folks who resented having to play through Sifu an additional time to get the credits to roll.
Ultimately, when it comes to determining what to make optional versus what to make mandatory, developers are deciding between presenting it in a way that will make it more likely for every player to experience it, even though it may not appeal to all of them or presenting it in a way that leads to fewer folks engaging with it, but those who do will be far more likely to enjoy it as they are the type of players who search for that kind of content.
And, I find myself not really knowing what the right answer is.
To be honest, when I started writing this script, I firmly believed that most games, especially ones with important optional content like Hollow Knight and NieR: Automata, would benefit from delaying their credit rolls.
At the very least, this sort of thing would be good for me and players like me as it would be more clear when to engage with certain aspects of a title.
However, as I got further into actually working on this piece, it became hard to shake the idea that there is value in being able to miss something—there is value in an experience being scarce.
It makes it a mystery that people have to work towards whether it be on their own or as a community, and it rewards players with something substantial for their extra effort—effort not every player wants to put in.
There is value to Sifu’s approach of making players prove they have mastered the game to be rewarded with the credits, but there is also value in titles that withhold their most important moments and only share them with those willing to look.
With every game though, there should be a purpose behind the choice.
Where a title like NieR: Automata aims to say something through its structure, one like Pokemon: Arceus seemingly just wanted to have a lot of post-game content and made a shortsighted decision by placing important moments after the credits.
Frankly, I wish I was the kind of player who was driven to find every secret in a game in the hopes that it will lead to something incredible, but I’m not, and I expect to keep stopping games after hitting the end credits.
It’s just who I am.
So while I do hope to see more titles find ways to push me to engage with content I’d probably enjoy but would be likely to miss, with many games I’ll most likely have to keep relying on people telling me what and what not to pursue in them.
As odd as it may sound, I could talk about end credits all day.
They are an aspect that we often look at as separate from the game itself but it can have such a huge impact on pacing and presentation.
In fact, this script was originally far longer, but I realized that a lot of what I had was less about when to roll credits and more about credit sequences I really liked.
So, I decided to take a lot of the stuff I cut from this script and create an extra video about my favorite credit sequences in video games that you can watch right now on Nebula.
Nebula is a streaming service made and owned by creators, me being one of them.
It gives us a place to post our work without having to worry about demonitization or the algorithm, and it gives viewers a place to watch some of the best creators out there.
With pretty much every script I write, I end up cutting a lot of interesting ideas that don’t fit the topic, and more often than not, I never do anything with them because I don’t have time and they don’t make all that much sense to post on my main channel, but with the help of Nebula, I was able to get this one made.
That video will talk more extensively about NieR: Automata.
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