There is a debate raging among gamers and even game designers themselves, the question of complexity vs. simplicity in video games.

It's an interesting debate, with both sides having many valid points. However, I would like to weigh in on the talk myself.

Simplicity and complexity are neither automatically good or bad. A game can have too many bells and whistles, needless stats or an overabundance of depth to the point where it is muddled and confused. On the opposite side of the spectrum a game can be too simple, whereas it lacks the options and game mechanics many gamers enjoy.

So how do you strike a balance? It's definitely hard to do, and go too far down one path or the other and you might alienate a large portion of  your players. Here are some comparisons and games I think strike this balance incredibly well.

The original Warcraft 3 mod, Defense of the Ancients, is still incredibly popular today and, as I'm sure you know, has a sequel thanks to Valve. This game, and the entire MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) genre is known for it's almost vertical learning curve. And this is where things get interesting.

A couple years back Riot Games set out with the goal of creating a new MOBA, one heavily inspired by DOTA but at the same time bring some new ideas to the table. One of the core design choices made by Riot was to simplify the gameplay found in DOTA, but at the same time not strip the game of its player options and complexity.

What gamers got was League of Legends. A DOTA style game that shared many similarities with DOTA, but removed dated and sometimes confsuing game elements, while at the same time adding new complexity through the use of summoner spells and talent trees not seen in DOTA. No longer could allies slay allies, be punished by losing gold on death, have to run all the way back to base or have the option of putting points upon leveling up into stats instead of skills. The game became an instant success, and is one of the largest free to play games on the market by eliminating dated and confusing game systems found in DOTA while at the same time providing the means to satisfy the need for options desired by players.

Another great, and very recent example of this debate is Diablo 3. Its predecessor, Diablo 2, is loved and still heavily played to this day. However, going back to play Diablo 2 in the past recent years it is evident that it suffers from needless complexity. Gamers are presented a wealth of options, with the ability to put points in stats and various skills to create the type of hero they want. The problem is that in order for your hero to be effective, you pretty much have to pick a build and stick with it, and putting a skill point in the wrong place could be detrimental to your performance, especially since it isn't easy to replace skills.

Umm where do I start?

Blizzard addressed this problem while still providing depth in Diablo 3. Gone are the stats, to many players dismay. Gone are skills trees. Instead players unlock various skills as they level up and can further augment those skills with various runes for each ability. This allows players to experiment with different builds and styles of play without having to lock in their play style choice at level one. Blizzards choice is very similar to what Bethesda decided to do with their recent smash hit Skyrim. The wealth of options are still there, the developers just trimmed the fat and rather than punishing experimental players instead reward them. 

The Mass Effect series is another interesting example of this. The original Mass Effect is essentially a rpg with shooter elements. Players collected a wide variety of loot, armors weapons and modifiers. Many gamers felt overwhelmed by constantly acquiring so many items, so much that they didn't know what to do with them and most of the time simply broke them down. To combat this, Bioware in Mass Effect 2 eliminated almost all loot, and many gamers cried foul. They enjoyed the options the modifiers and weapons provided them, but not at the expense of having a terribly cluttered inventory. Bioware finally got its head on straight for Mass Effect 3, bringing back more armor and weapons and the option to modify them with various attachments, but not providing the player with so many to become annoying and pointless.

The weapons bench in ME3 gave players options but not at the expense of a cluttered inventory


These are just a few examples of the raging battle in game design between simplicity and complexity. I personally enjoy League of Legends and Diablo 3 over their predecessors because of the slightly steamlined process. I don't enjoy being punished by the game before I even know how to play it, and I believe many developers, in an effort to make an increasingly large player base are making it easier to jump in and play. The trick is to still deliver the depth many gamers love, a balance that is still being sought by both developers and players alike.

Feel free to chime in on the debate and offer your own opinions in the comments, as I'm sure there are many players who enjoy Diablo 2 and DOTA over their more recent incarnations.