Based on the Taste of Power trope.
Let’s face it, it can take quite a while before a player in a game gets to the really cool content. That’s what people who defend Final Fantasy 13 tell me at least: just play the game for 20 hours, then the real game begins. I used to play WoW back in the day for a little bit too, and I remember my cousin also insisting that the true game starts at level 70 (this was back in Burning Crusade, so just take it to mean the current level cap). The rest of the game was just filler, I guess.
Particularly nowadays, I notice this with video games offering to skip through the boring (hint: grinding) sections of a game with real money. I’ve always hated this mentality; why should I spend hours upon hours of my time waiting for a video game to start getting good? I want it to be gripping right away!
Enter, the Taste of Power idea. Not dissimilar to the Unbeatable Boss idea in terms of player retention, the Taste of Power gives players just a smidgen of ultimate power early on, to help hook them into the game right away. It’s basically foreshadowing, saying to the player “hey, there’s this cool stuff waiting for you later on! Go get it!” It’s an excellent way to get a game started (and sell a game to people unsure about making a purchase). You wouldn’t want boring, tedious gameplay in a trailer, right?
What is the Taste of Power?
The Taste of Power basically gives the player powerful weapons, armor, skills, equipment, etc. early on in the game so they feel strong right out the gate. Then at some point (generally in a tutorial), the game takes the power away from the unsuspecting player.
Here are some advantages to using the Taste of Power
- The Taste of Power concept establishes immediately one of the player’s goals: retrieving the power that the game stole from them. In video games, players naturally want to become stronger. By giving the player a preview of coming attractions, it’ll motivate them to play through the game.
- In addition, the Taste of Power idea let’s the player have fun immediately. Contrast this with throwing them to the wolves in the beginning with nothing but a wooden sword and cloth armor. If you’ve ever play an rpg, most of them do something like this; the older rpg’s such as Phantasy Star and Dragon Warrior are particularly egregious. In these games, casually walking around in the beginning of the game can get you murdered if you aren’t careful. This increases the chance the player will shut off the game right away in frustration.
- The Taste of Power is likely to improve player retention in the early part of the game since they will be more engaged straight away.
Before we discuss some of the disadvantages to this particular game hook, let’s look at some examples to gain a better understanding of this idea.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
In Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Alucard starts the game off quite powerful; namely, he is wearing the Alucard set, which grants him great power. Unfortunately, the player only gets to play with this power for a few screens before a chance meeting with Death changes things.
In the ensuing cutscene, Death takes away all the powerful equipment that Alucard starts the game with, making him quite vulnerable and forced to fight with his hands. This encourages the player to seek out the stolen items, since naturally the player wants to become powerful again. Once the player enters the upside-down castle and starts finding the stolen gear, they will likely feel vindicated in recapturing the items taken from them, particularly since the set is some of the strongest items in the game. Without this setup, the player won’t feel as good when collecting the items.
In Darksiders, War begins the game in a powered-up lava state called Chaos Form . This quickly establishes the power that War is able to wreak on his foes. Soon afterwards, however, he loses his increased powers.
Later on in the game, War is able to permanently unlock the powered-up Chaos form. This motivates the player to progress through the game to obtain the Chaos form and get the enhanced powers.
In Metroid Prime, Samus begins the game with the Morph Ball, Charge Beam, Grapple Beam, Varia Suit and 15 Missiles. While the player isn’t quite as powerful with this gear as the player is in the other two games I mentioned previously, it still gives the player a taste of some of the abilities to come later in the game. The player is permitted to play through the Space Station level, including a boss fight, before finally taking the items away from them.
This is another example of the introduction of a game giving the player some semblance of power before taking it away, encouraging the player to journey through the game and reacquire the abilities. In this instance, Samus must journey through the game and defeat bosses to get her powers back.
Now that we’ve discussed it’s advantages and cited some real world examples, let’s briefly go over some of it’s drawbacks.
- Similar to the Unwinnable Boss Fight, the Taste of Power can turn some people off for the same reasons that it encourages player engagement. Some people will be pissed off that they lose the cool stuff and feel robbed. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the beast, there isn’t much you, as a game designer, can do about this; it just depends on the person.
- The Taste of Power is relegated to games where the player can gain power over time, such as items or experience levels. If your type of game doesn’t support this, you can’t make use of it, unfortunately.
When should you use the Taste of Power?
In my opinion, the Taste of Power should be used at the beginning of the game, to immediately tell the player what cool items/abilities they will get upon further progression of the game. By using the Taste of Power as a narrative hook, it sells the player on fun future game concepts; as a result, the player will have some insight into what the game will have to offer down the line. It also informs the player that collecting items or abilities will be one of the core features of the game, thus, they will be expecting to get this power back at some future point.
In conclusion, the Taste of Power is a story hook that encourages players to invest in your game. It’s like eating a pepper; it’s a nice jolt to the senses that wakes your players up.
So get out there and give your players ultimate power…then take it away and watch your players move heaven and earth to get it back!