Recently we analyzed Kinguin sales data to see which games remain alive in the mass consciousness. As it turns out, a smash hit can quickly become forgotten and flawed underdogs often find their audience years after release. Keeping that in mind, we asked Kinguin’s sales experts for their opinion on what features of a game make it appealing to generations and generations of players.
„It would be naive to think there’s a universal formula for a timeless game. Each title should be considered as a separate ecosystem with its own peculiarities. However, there are certain specific traits of games with lasting appeal,” says Velichka Velikova, Wholesale Sales Manager at Kinguin. Together with Vili Kastrev, Chief Consumer Sales Officer, they’ve prepared the following list of features that characterize the most enduring titles.
1. Constant (and community-friendly) updates
Adding new content, rebalancing and fixing issues are some of the key elements of the success of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Diablo III or GTA V. The latter is particularly interesting: it’s a game that every year manages to rank among top 10 most financially successful titles, despite being released in 2013 (!). Another curious example is No Man’s Sky, a title that was met with catastrophically bad reviews at launch, but one that has been constantly patched and expanded, and managed to return to top 10 charts two years after release.
In each of these cases updates have been focused on satisfying the community – either by the way of adding whatever players ask for or surprising them with new content. While it may seem obvious that catering to your clients is what makes them stay, apparently it is not – which has been repeatedly proven by publishers who tried to force their philosophy onto the fanbase and suffered significant backlash. Star Wars: Battlefront 2 or Destiny 2 are great examples of failed ‘coerced evolution’, which, instead of cementing a new model of economy, decimated the player base and possibly shortened the games’ lifespan.
2. Player-friendly economy
Getting an advantage by spending a few dollars lessens the sense of achievement and delight.
Pay2Win is a model that cripples any game from the get-go and virtually destroys its chances for a lasting success. However, it’s not because it doesn’t work. On the contrary, it’s very probable that a lot of gamers will initially get hooked and eagerly open their wallets. Even so, paying for advancement will discourage them from playing a lot sooner. The fact that the advantage a gamer gains by spending hundreds of hours playing can now be acquired by spending a few dollars lessens the sense of achievement and delight.
Self-improvement is at the core of gaming, and depriving the player of that possibility would decrease the lifespan of any game. If Skyrim let gamers take on any challenge from the start, with no meaningful opposition, they would have much less of a reason to explore the game world.
3. Genre dependence
Some genres are simply more resistant to time and correspond to the taste of the audience for generations. One example is FPS (first person shooter), a genre that due to its relatively constant nature seems equally fresh and accessible irrespective of the period. 2018’s gamer can easily pick up and play an FPS from the 90s, and if a 90s gamer was presented with a 2018 shooter, he or she would instantly recognize all of its gameplay elements.
Even though graphics have seen an unthinkable leap in quality and there has been a revolution in level design, which broke up with labyrinthian layout for a more streamlined experience, all the basic ideas remain untouched. Not only that, but designers are also starting to go back to the oldest of old school design choices, such as medkits or the ability to carry more than two or three weapons at once – which proves how brilliant and timeless these concepts have been in the first place.
On the other hand, RPGs or strategy games from the 90s or early 2000s are mostly nothing like modern games of the same type, which explains why – apart from rare exceptions, such as Baldur’s Gate or Warcraft III – these titles tend to age badly and fail to endure.
4. Secondary ecosystems
Even though games have seen an unthinkable leap in quality, all the basic ideas remain untouched.
It helps to sustain a game’s popularity if a secondary ecosystem is created around it – e.g. skins. It’s a good and balanced solution that allows to introduce new elements, enable players to distinguish themselves, or perhaps expand the lore (if there’s a dedicated site, like Halo Waypoint, or a comic book series based on the game) without influencing the gameplay.
5. Competitive nature
At a certain point in the past decade multiplayer has become pretty much an essential feature of most titles – because when implemented well, it extends the game’s lifespan. Nowadays publishers can use marketing to promote a multiplayer game into an esport and create an atmosphere of competition around it. This is why Rainbow Six: Siege has prevailed despite its rough launch, marked with bugs, server issues and a harsh visual downgrade from the E3 demo.
6. Balance of quality and system requirements
The balance between good graphics and moderate computer configuration needed to display them makes a game more accessible to the general public. Often gamers stick to older games simply because they can be easily run on their own computers.
However, there are cases of games that benefited from being tasking even for the most advanced PCs. Players would come back to these titles just to see how they look now, on more advanced hardware, in high detail and high frame rate. This is exactly what happened to Crysis, which has never been a superb game in itself, but offered extremely polished visuals unattainable for most computers. It became a benchmark – a go-to game for people who want to see exactly how powerful their PC really is.
Often gamers stick to older games simply because they can easily them on their computers.
On the other hand, some games that require a low-spec PC at launch can also endure due to their timeless art style. One of such titles is Rayman Legends, which was released in 2013 and then re-released on pretty much every other (and new) platform. Due to its hand-drawn art, it could be considered a 100% modern game even by today’s standards, and we are pretty sure that in 2025 it will still look as appealing as it does today.
7. Unique and attractive theme
Sometimes a game can be deeply flawed or archaic even at the time of release, but still get picked up by new generations of gamers – solely because it dared to tackle a unique subject. That would be the case of Mafia II, which surprised us when we took a look at the series’ sales.
Despite being considered generally disappointing, the game retains a constant level of interest. At the same time, its successor Mafia III fares much worse despite still being relatively new. It’s partially because of watered-down gameplay, but also because it has dropped the ‘50s Italian mob setting and replaced it with the much less romantic and distinguishable gangs of New Orleans.
Also worth mentioning is Spec Ops: The Line, an action title with generic mechanics, but with a plot so well shaped and paced that it made the game transcend its simplistic cover shooter nature. It’s recognized as one of the best narrative games ever and still bought and played, despite being heavily criticized for uninspired gameplay (which, one could assume, is the most important aspect of a video game).
Modability often takes out the burden of having to constantly update the game off the developer’s shoulders.
Younger players are much more eager to try out an ‘oldie’ when they can make it look like a new release.
One could argue that community-made content is what made Fallout 3 and 4 so insanely successful and prevailing. As we’ve determined earlier, the post-apocalyptic RPGs boast constantly high sales, even though they’re considered one the most disappointing entries in the series. The Fallout: New Vegas spin-off, despite getting much more praise from the fanbase for complex mechanics and story, fails to maintain such a level of interest. At the same time, it’s Fallout 3 and 4 that are better known for their mods.
Modifications not only encourage gamers to come back to a game to see what’s new, but also revitalize old titles for modern audiences. 2011’s Skyrim, after modding, offers visuals on par with many 2018’s titles, beating even its official enhanced re-release in that regard. Younger players are much more eager to try out such an ‘oldie’ when they can make it look like a new release.
9. Price cuts
Finally, interest in a game can be rekindled with a price drop. So many games are released each week – and so many of them at full price – that players simply have to pass on some titles. A sale created even years later might convince them to catch up.
Perhaps it’s better to be outright bad than trite.
It’s possible that this feature is responsible for the surprisingly good current sales of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate and other older entries in the series. The release of a new part might even inspire less wealthy gamers to check out the franchise’s previous entries, especially when they’re available at low prices.
However, this comes with an asterisk: the game has to be interesting enough in the first place. Bland titles won’t get revived by any discount, and perhaps it’s better to be outright bad than trite. Gamers still talk of Aliens: Colonial Marines or Duke Nukem Forever, while no one seems to remember Brink or 2008’s Turok – both of higher quality, but with no memorable content.