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Do you prefer ONE difficulty level or MULTIPLE difficulties?

A topic by BearWitnessGames created Sep 08, 2019 Views: 304 Replies: 11
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This is a question I've struggled with recently.

My game has one hard difficulty level.  This is because I thoroughly enjoyed the Dark Souls games, and had a great sense of satisfaction when I finally beat it's ridiculously challenging boss fights.

When it comes to having only one hard difficulty settings across the game, I can think of the following pros and cons:

-Beating it gives a great sense of personal accomplishment
-Gamer street cred for winning
-Not feeling like a n00b for having the option to make it easier
-You'll only get the cream of the crop getting to see your awesome ending
-Might be too frustrating for players to finish, so many will quit
-Can't adjust the experience on the fly
-Limited re-play value as can't do a 'newgame+',since you already beat the one difficulty

Which do you prefer and why?


Only kiddies give a damn about those "pros". The rest of us will close the game, uninstall it right away, and not even bother to ask for a refund. Or for that matter leave any kind of feedback. Only kiddies give one-star reviews.

So... not a fan of the Souls philosophy... fair enough, that's one for difficulty adjustable, thanks for your response.

Moderator (2 edits)

I think this is definitely something subjective, there's certainly an appeal in difficult games, but it's not for everyone. This is one of the things that you have to decide early - if you're making a difficult game you're consciously making a product only for a specific group of players. And that's perfectly valid, I think. 

The pros that the OP listed are kinda off, but the first one about a sense of accomplishment is totally legit. It's one of the many reasons why I love challenging games.

The more options you give - the wider the appeal of your game.

Also it can appeal to different age groups - so that a younger or inexperienced player might be able to pass on an easier level.  They might play it through on "easy" and then try it again on a "harder" setting.

There again people also have different equipment - and a person with a non-gaming mouse / keyboard will not have the same experience as someone with it.

Very true...  I never even considered equipment differences, thanks for your input!

There's no downside in having multiple difficulties. If you have a certain difficulty that you feel the game is at its best, just mention it( "e.g 'Hard' - 'recommended for the authentic experience' or something), or make it unlock-able so players can new game+.
Difficulty on the fly as an option is pretty nice too, because some games can be decently difficult through most of the play-through, but have one moment where everything spiked to eleven and you have no idea what to do.

Another way to tackle difficulty is to give the players tools that could make the game easier to play at the expense of their high-score or something like that.

(Not too sure how to explain but for example you'd give a long range weapon in a very Close Quarter Combat focused game)


Yes... I do have to mind those difficulty 'spikes'...  there are certain parts I said 'well if I can't beat this bit... hmmm... maybe someone else can? No... make it beatable '   .  
And the 'help for score punishment' seems like a good idea too...

Thank you kindly for your response.


I prefer one (classic) difficulty level, both as a dev and a player, for the following reasons:

  • DEV: Less balancing work
    Just implementing one difficulty prevents you from having to change content to fit all of your difficulty levels, resulting in a lot of work.
  • DEV/PLAYER: Shaping the intended experience
    Making a game is ultimately telling us something about the one making the game and their vision. Maybe a lower/higher difficulty might actually compromise your vision for the game. As a player I want to know what your game is about, what emotions is it supposed to evoke?
  • PLAYER: I want to feel like I beat the game on it's terms, not mine
    I enjoy playing hard games, and there are many people who do. There are some people who want to have bragging rights because they beat one game, and I can kind of understand that, but that is not my point. Having the option to just lower difficulty anytime lets me think I could have just "cheated" the game.

I think Celeste is one of these games that handles difficulty well. It is supposed to be hard, and is telling you that, but you get the choice of enabling accessibility options, which let you turn down game speed or give you infinite stamina. In this case the difficulty of the game does not change in itself, but executing the movement for beating stages can be made easier. It is really granular in it's control and I think it is a great system for adjusting "difficulty", which is mostly an accessibility issue.
Pros are: Stages did not need to be redesigned, players are able to experience the game in it's intended form. The accessibility options clearly state that the game is supposed to be challenging, and that they are present to ensure anyone can have fun with the game regardless. I can just keep them turned off and play the game like I want, and I think that's great. Also, I can experience my friends beating this wonderful game aswell, even if they might not be quite skilled enough to do it without these options.

Another thing to consider might be adaptive difficulty. Making the game adjust to the player (even without telling them) can make for a great experience. It is harder to implement, but can be really rewarding. There are games like Wolfenstein that make fun of the player for playing in "Baby Mode", and I think that is a shame. Hiding difficulty at all and adjusting it automatically can really help with the player feeling ashamed about picking lower difficulties.

Or, you know...just pick sensible names! Many games do that well, instead of Easy/Medium/Hard you could name them Story/Classic/Challenge. Maybe even "Classic" might be bad, since that would imply players picking other options are not playing the game as intended. This is a really hard topic to tackle, so I'll just leave you with a great video by Mark Brown covering the options in Celeste :)

Good Luck!


Sorry for the delay... Thank you for the in-depth response.  I never considered 'hidden' adaptive difficulty... but this is something I'll definitely consider up to release.

Thanks again for your time and explanation.

Defining the right difficulty might be on the hardest things to do in game development. Even harder than coding it, if you ask me.
Too easy is not fun, and too hard will only be enjoyable for player who deem themselves "elite" (I'd say the need a life).

However for my RPG games I always set three difficulty settings. Easy, casual and hard.  Casual is for players who want to experience the game as hard as I want it to be. I like my games not too hard and not too easy. I play for fun, so a challenge is nice, but nearly impossible... yikes. Easy is for the "noob" (I hate that word), or rather players who have to learn how RPG games work, and the hard mode, well if it's a hard game you want a hard game you'll get. In my games you can only select this at the game's start as I did more than just making enemies stronger or weaker. For example the inventory space is bigger in the easy mode and smaller in the hard mode, and that's only the tip of the iceberg. Since there are people trying (and even succeeding) in completing Final Fantasy X without touching the spheregrid and without going crazy with Zanmato either, I guess it's wanted by some people. Well, now I can at least serve the newbies, the people who need a life, and the rest of us with one game. What more do we want peeps?

i think the adaptative difficulty aproach is an interesting one , but it requires a lot more time for design thinking from the gamedev to adjust internally when the player its having a rough time playing the game , resident evil 4 its a masterfull example of doing that , you can look at some videos explaining it .

also in general terms i think it depends on the style of the videogame for having an normal, adaptative or optional difficulties, the  optional ones are most apealing for action or arcade style games i think.   

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