Friday, May 24, 2024

The Success of Hidden Object Puzzle Adventure Games

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When people hear the term Hidden Object Puzzle Adventure (HOPA), there tends to be a negative response. These games generally do not require complex gameplay mechanics as compared to better-known video games. Sometimes people look down on those who play HOPAs. This is due to the misconception that only homemakers and retirees play the games. In fact, the most popular let’s play YouTubers in this space are young men!

Yet HOPA developers must deliver games that require the player (of all ages and genders) to solve puzzles, find very cleverly hidden objects, provide a story that hooks the player and keeps them interested in finishing the game, have fantastic scenery, great music, and superb gameplay. It’s not a small order, to say the least.

How did all this happen?

When the HOPA genre first started, it was in response to the I Spy games geared towards children. Mystery Case Files (MCF): Huntsville launched the immensely successful space that is the HOPA genre in 2005. As of now, hundreds of games a year are published from over fifty  game developers.

MCF, inspired by Cold Case Files, allowed the player to solve a mystery that built the game’s narrative. Today, MCF is one of the best known, most played HOPA series. It has amassed over 100 million downloads from fifteen computer games from three developers, four novel tie-ins, four games on other platforms.

Another misconception that has existed since MCF began is that all the games have cheesy plotlines.  The player has to save the day by moving back and forth between rooms or settings aimlessly looking for objects to help them proceed through the game. At one point in time that may have been the case. Nowadays, developers work to make the most engaging, entertaining, and fun games possible. Like any other space, there are specific genres. Romance stories, haunted locations, fairy tales (the Dark Parables series is my personal favorite), and all sorts of murder mysteries tend to make up the bulk of the HOPA world. Almost all have strong characters, which is an aspect that brings gamers back again and again to the genre.

Success in Gameplay

The MCF series for example focuses on a female Master Detective who must solve mysteries linked to one antagonist. The series has reincarnation, ghosts, curses, murder, twin daughters who are not good people, abuse, parents who suck, and so much more. Two of the games are the only ones from any developer to have content warnings.

Which brings me to why these games are so successful. Developers really focus holistically on the gameplay and characters. There is a real dedication to having strong characters of all genders. Though some games have genderless main characters,  most games actually have female leads! And even where the game utilizes a romance, the main character is intelligent, dedicated, resourceful, and usually witty.

Additionally, each game usually comes in around three to five hours of play time. Bonus chapters found in collector’s editions range from 25 minutes to an hour or more. This length makes it easy for the player to either dedicate an afternoon to play the game or block out periods of time. Additionally, each game tends to have chapters so that there are natural stopping points.

The developer’s dedication to beautifully drawn (and animated) scenes with music make or break a game, and the vast majority of HOPAs evince such dedication. All of these things combined create a new world the player can explore while challenging themselves to not skip the puzzles or mini-games and save the day.

Ultimately, HOPAs allow for gamers to save many beautiful worlds in a short(ish) period of time, while testing their puzzle solving skills. Throw in female leads and an interesting story and you’ve got the recipe for success.

What about you? Do you play HOPAs? Do you have a favorite? If so, leave a comment!

Image Courtesty of Big Fish Games

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