Why are open-world games so popular?

Why are open-world games so popular?

From fast-paced arcade games that we used to compete our scores with friends, to slower-paced role-playing games focused on story and exploration, the gaming industry has come a long way in catering to different audiences’ needs. Lately, the term “open-world” is undeniably eye-catching. This type of game is usually good at attracting audiences, even before its official launch. Whenever large publishers announce that they are going to release a new open-world title, at least half the gaming industry will be hyped. Ask somebody to “name your top ten video games of all time” and I can guarantee that there will be a few open-world games mentioned.

Judging by the successes of previous open-world titles, many video game franchises are starting to implement the open-world element into their gameplay, most notably Pokemon Scarlet and Violet that was released few months earlier. But what makes open-world games so popular?

1. High gamer expectations towards open-world games

In the gaming industry, there is an informal classification called AAA (Triple A) games. These games are usually produced and distributed by major publishers in the gaming industry, as the development of them usually involves much higher budgets. It might be a common misconception that “open-world games are Triple A games”, since most open-world games tend to take longer to develop and offer much more content than other genres of games.

With some renowned open-world games featuring captivating graphics, realistic animations, and thorough voice acting — the common correlation between open-world games and Triple A productions might be excusable. Take the infamous Cyberpunk 2077, which features Keanu Reeves as one of the protagonists. The game features full facial motion capture for every dubbed language, meaning that lip-syncing of the game would not feel off-track when you play the game in languages other than English. On the other hand, the popular Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has an enormous open-world built on top of highly realistic and interactive systems. You could fling a metal weapon onto the face of your enemies during a thunderstorm to draw lightning to them, and you probably wouldn’t use bomb arrows in the rain — they just wouldn’t go off. It takes a lot of resources to develop sophisticated in-game systems like these, thus it might be fair to say that they have set the bar high in terms of gamers’ expectations of open-world games.

2. Diverse gameplay experiences brought by high degree of freedom

On top of high gamer expectations, open-world games often offer diverse gameplay experiences. Gamers nowadays seem to enjoy the concept of “forging your own story”, and the freedom allowed within open-world games could provide just that. With massive maps and tons of content to explore, one player’s playthrough might be entirely different from another’s. In The Outer Worlds, the game’s branching story could be influenced by the player’s actions and dialogue choices — how you choose to react to NPCs could lead to an entirely different ending.

In-depth character customisation — not just appearances, but also the skills and attributes of the main character — is also one of the selling points of most open-world games. From swift melee attackers to ranged mages, the main characters’ aptitudes in open-world games are customisable to the extent that players could engage in battles however they want. In Cyberpunk 2077, you could choose to build your character into a Solo and punch your way through missions; or a Netrunner if you love to strategise and turn the battlefield into your playground via hacking and stealth; while playing as a Techie is also fun if you enjoy crafting high-class weapons and exploiting a vast range of weapons and tools. Additionally, the freedom to progress the story at one’s own pace might also be appealing to casual gamers who prefer to enjoy the game at a slower pace. I could still recall myself spending a few hours exploring the world in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey just to admire the beauty of sceneries — all without doing anything meaningful to progress the game.

3. Longer play-time, more value for money

Such extent of freedom allowed in-game usually means that players could spend a lot of time playing the game. By providing impressive rewards to players who have completed side quests or collected all the collectibles in-game, open-world games introduce different ways to keep players engaged in the game. By completing the lengthy side-quest given by Ranni in Elden Ring, players would be rewarded with the Dark Moon Greatsword, one of the best weapon for intelligence-based builds. Furthermore, the introduction of multiplayer gameplay in open-world games might also attract new players into the game, on top of keeping old players active. To exemplify, GTA V is arguably one of the greatest success stories of multiplayer open-world games, as I am still blown away by the fact that it continues to make huge money for Rockstar Games almost ten years after its release, with the game generating around $900 million of sales per year.

When a $60 open-world game could keep you entertained much longer than a $50 linear game, most of the time the choice of which to buy wouldn’t be difficult. Thus, open-world games might be regarded as more value for money to those with a limited budget, especially when other games are priced similarly.

4. Cheaper costs for further developments

On the other hand, it is almost always cheaper for developers to release new content on top of an existing open-world than to build a new game from scratch. Multiple releases of subsequent DLCs are becoming increasingly common as a tradition within the open-world genre. The unlocking of new characters, equipment, or new regions to explore through subsequent DLCs usually wouldn’t fail to attract purchases by those who enjoyed the game. This reinforces developers to routinely release new paid content to keep players active while attracting new players and generating more income — Destiny 2, released in 2017, will release its latest DLC titled Lightfall later this month, almost six years after its initial release.

Be it Skyrim, GTA, or Assassin’s Creed, open-world games have kept us entertained for many years. While the open-world element might not be the answer to commercial successes, it undeniably played a huge part in the rise of the gaming industry in recent times. Combining the merits of open-world and gacha games, Genshin Impact has been one of the most successful online games ever since its release in 2020. The introduction of Genshin, on top of the global pandemic situation that year, got many people into gaming, and thus the rapid advancement within the industry.

With numerous open-world games to be released in 2023, such as Diablo IV, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, and Blue Protocol, the market trend seems to remain unshaken. Although the reasons behind the successes of open-world games that I have mentioned above could well be just the tip of the iceberg, I wouldn’t deny that this genre of games also has its downsides. Personally, I look forward to more thoughtfulness about the creation of open-world environments. The size of the map should corresponds to the richness of content, instead of designing a large map “just for the sake of largeness”, making the huge maps seem hollow and pointless to explore. Nevertheless, one just couldn’t not be curious about the release of the latest open-world games, so let’s look forward to what new kinds of entertainment they would deliver.


That’s all for the reasons behind the popularity of open-world games as compiled by Lluvia. Feel free to let us know in the comments regarding your take on this topic.


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