What to do when your game is too easy and too hard

We've been preparing to release version 1.0 of our game Onslaught! and part of that process has included looking wherever we can for feedback on how to improve the game.

Onslaught! preview screenshot

Luckily for us, Onslaught! has been talked about a little bit on the 'net (especially on /r/WebGames; thanks Reddit!) so we've been able to dig through some players' comments. And we've noticed two recurring themes:

It's too easy

It's too hard

So, it's too easy AND too hard?

If the feedback was consistently that Onslaught! was too easy, here are some easy tweaks we could have made to help make the game more difficult:

  • Increase the number of enemies.
  • Increase enemy speed.
  • Increase enemy damage.
  • Decrease the hero's damage.
  • Decrease the hero's health.
  • Decrease weapon drops.

Likewise, we could have reversed any of those rules to make the game easier. But what is a game designer supposed to do with conflicting requirements?

The difficulty curve

Onslaught! dragon boss

The current version of Onslaught! has a very simple algorithm for increasing difficulty. There are seven waves, the final wave consisting primarily of the dragon boss. After defeating this wave, the player is thrown back to the beginning of the loop with the number of enemies increased steadily by 50% of the first wave (so it would go: 10 bats, 15 bats, 20 bats, 25 bats, etc.).

According to Google Analytics, Onslaught!'s 10,000+ players have played the game for an average of 32 seconds each. We mentioned previously how we had failed to make a 30 second game, and for the final release of Onslaught! we decided it would be good to expand on that idea.

What we were wanting instead of a steady climb in difficulty like this was an easy beginning with a sharp increase in difficulty. So after the first couple of wave cycles, the game should rapidly increase in difficulty, providing a challenge for hardcore gamers.

The below graph shows the previous difficulty curve (v0.2, in blue), and the difficulty curve we are shooting for in v1.0 (in red):

What we're going to do and why

This is going to be a difficult (but fun!) problem to solve. Here's what we have in mind:

  • We're adding four new enemies: flaming skull, flying imps, wizards and sandworms (each with new behavior). These enemies will increase the length of gameplay (giving us room to play with difficulty) as well as mixing up the player's strategy with varying enemy behaviors.
  • Players will battle two new classic D&D-style bosses (guess what they are!). The first will be relatively easy and the second will be extremely difficult.
  • After completing a cycle of waves, traps will begin to appear in the arena! The number of traps will steadily increase as the player completes cycles. They do damage to the player when touched, so this will limit the area the player can navigate.
  • Complete weapon overhaul: this includes balancing current weapons as well as adding new weapons (such as a bouncing battle axe and flaming sword that leaves a trail of fire in its wake)!
  • For the Freeplay awards, we did two things to improve the 30 second experience: we replaced the default weapon (rocks, which are boring) with swords (which are more fun!) and we provided the player with two starting weapons. These weapons were randomly generated, so players were able to reload the game in order to get whatever weapons they wanted (for instance, the overpowered trident). For v1.0, we're going to provide set weapons to balance this out (probably knives and fireballs).

We've got these improvements and many others in mind as well! Our hope is that these gameplay tweaks and content additions will make the game more enjoyable for both casual and hardcore players alike. What do you think? Is Onslaught! currently too easy or too hard?