How Should You Lose in Games?

We’ve all been there, right? Maybe you’re jungling on Summoner’s Rift or planting the bomb on Dust II, and having a grand old time. Suddenly, the enemy team breaks through your defense out of nowhere, and decimates your team. You can’t get your momentum back, and eventually lose the match. Frustrating, right?

Losing in a multiplayer game is very frustrating to many, and can get you to quit the game altogether. The fun game you came to to relax and have fun left you feeling angry and stressed. There are so many articles and papers written about why winning at something feels so good and losing hurts so much. Type anything about the psycology of these two things into Google and you’ll find a wealth of interesting articles to chew on.

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So, all this applies to games as well, and developers really need to implement tools to fight these natural instincts in all of us. After all, if every time you felt angry at a game there was nothing to alleviate it, you’d quit for good eventually. These methods can be very varied, and it often depends on the type of game you’re making. It can be as simple as a fast respawn time in Super Meat Boy:

You get another try so quickly in the game that you’ve barely got enough time to register that you died for the thousandth time. Or in a game like Counter Strike, your personal achievements are highlighted after a match:

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If you ultimately lost, you feel bad, but the game highlights that you got at least one kill every round and did good on a personal level, lessening the impact. This doesn’t work if you did terribly as well, but it helps in some cases. A better solution for other games is to give you unlocks after every match like in Rocket League:

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After every match, regardless of how well you did, you get a new cosmetic item. Unlocks are finite, but the amount of time it takes to unlock everything means at that point it would take a lot to get you incredibly frustrated at the game and quit. Even a progress bar in single player games can help.

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You were so close to the end, you’re almost there! You can do it! There are so many methods a game can use to minimize the frustration you feel from losing, and they are better off for it. Heck, even merely ignoring your loss and drawing no attention to it can help immensely. So what happens if a game actually does the opposite of this good design?

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Splatoon happens.

Put your pitchforks down, I don’t hate this game! The gameplay is superb and I have a blast playing it. When I’m winning. The issue with the game, mostly in Ranked, is how it shows you how you lost, and in doing so, goes completely overboard. For reference, here’s what happens when you win a match in Splatoon:

Awesome, right? Now compare this to losing:

Okay, let’s break down why this screen is designed terribly.

1. Your inkling gets a losing animation as they lament over the loss. Not fun for anyone.

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2. A really depressing theme plays over the results and is constantly negatively reinforcing your thoughts.

3. Your results are shoved up against the winning team’s with a big, in your face interface that cannot be ignored.

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4. Not shown here, but if you’re playing ranked, you then proceed to lose some of your rank, which is even more negativity. You also likely get little to no currency for your time. Not only did you lose rank, but the match gained you absolutely nothing.

You should see the issue here, right? The game reinforces both wins and losses with in your face everything, and that works great when you’re winning! Not so much when you’re losing. If you go on a losing streak, you get nothing for your time, get penalized, and there’s nothing to alleviate all this or encourage you more. I get that this sensory bombardment is part of the game’s style, but how is it good design to reinforce your losses?

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Finally, I’ll adress what many people think about this whole issue - who cares? If people are getting angry and quitting over losses then they’re sore losers who shouldn’t be playing in the first place. Here’s the thing. Many, many people of all kinds love to play games. What about those with, say, anger issues? What about those who have a mental disorder that makes it hard for them to control their emotions? What about those who just get really frustrated when losing? These people deserve to have just as much fun while playing games in my opinion, and it is unfair to them for a game that they might otherwise enjoy to rub losses in their faces.

And for everyone else, as much as we talk about being a good sport, the fact is that losing sucks. We all hate it, and that’s why we fight so feircly for the crown in games. Isn’t it just good sense for developers to ensure rage is at a minimum?

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