A few remaining thoughts were left on my mind, however, and there was a big topic that I skipped over in the original piece that I'd like to take some time to address. Specifically, it's incentivization, which I feel is related to punishments but deserves its own discussion due to the different ways it can be accomplished, and the way in which it can interact with punishments.
Incentives vs. Punishments
The first thing to consider is what differentiates an incentive from a punishment. This might sound obvious at first - punishments are bad, incentives are good - but the reality behind the situation is a little bit more complex. In many cases the difference between the two is a matter of perspective - is locking the player out of computer systems in Fallout: New Vegas an incentive to play the mini-game properly (and thus get an XP reward), or is it a punishment for not playing as the developer intended (you have to wait to try again)?
The reasonable answer is that the distinction between incentives and punishments is one of opinion, and that in almost every case you have to have a mix of an incentive and a punishment for either one to really make sense. It's definitely possible to express something as primarily positive or negative, especially to the player ("don't do this" vs. "do this"), but there's always going to be a downside to every upside. The job of a game designer (at least, one concerned with eliminating save scumming) is to frame the outcomes in a way that comes across as generally positive to the player, rather than punitive.
This can be easier said than done, especially because the ways in which players experience games can be very different from one another. Some players might love to get rewarded, while others think that missing out on rewards because they aren't as skilled as others isn't very much fun. Similarly, there are those who love a great challenge, and others who stop playing after losing no more than two or three times in a row; for them, the motivation to save scum is both situational and personal.
With that in mind, what are some of the ways in which developers can provide incentives to keep playing the game without resorting to save scumming or other forms of related abuse?
Understanding the Decline of Attrition
As I've written about before, if there is one trend covering just about all modern game design, it has been the reduction of attrition. This is something both enforced within gameplay and which often forms the entire basis of a game's mechanics (regenerating health), as well as something which stems less explicitly out of the structure of a game itself (the tendency towards shorter game levels or goals, with obvious break points). I'm not here to talk about whether I think this is a good or bad thing, but it's clear that it's defined many games released in the last console generation especially, and doesn't show any sign of disappearing as developers move towards the mobile market.
What tends to be lost with this reduction of attrition, however, is the incentive for players to keep playing a game for longer sessions. Whereas many past games were heavily focused on keeping the player in the action and moving forward at all times - strategy games like Command & Conquer with lengthy missions requiring long-term planning, or shooters like Half-Life refusing to break gameplay up into distinct levels - these days the challenges players face are immediate, the risks and rewards occurring within the same repeated 30-second cycle of gameplay rather than over the long term.
|Many games used to emphasize long-term strategy more than they do now - making save scumming less viable then, and more essential now.|
Why do I go into this? It's important, I think, to understand how modern game design has changed and how and why save scumming now manifests. If developers are to create important incentives for players, they need to be able to know why players are save scumming in the first place, the sorts of functions it serves for them, and how those problems in gameplay can be remedied. Attrition, or rather, its decline, is at the heart of this problem.
Rewarding Consistent Play
While you can't really change the nature of players, you can reward them to keep them in the game, rather than reloading every five minutes to get ideal outcomes. One of the best ways to do this is by providing players a reward for avoiding reloads (specifically reloads done to avoid bad outcomes). Though this isn't going to be appropriate to every game for the reasons I've discussed above, I think it has a lot of potential in getting players to keep going.
The best recent example of this I can think of is in Jay Barnson's indie RPG Frayed Knights: The Skull of S'makh-Daon. In Frayed Knights, the player gains Drama Stars for opening doors, solving quests, defeating enemies, and so on. Drama Stars are obtained at a fairly fixed rate, with the distinction being that most of them are achieved for new accomplishments rather than old ones, so opening the same old door obviously won't reward the player like opening a new, unknown door will. When you save and quit the game, your Drama Stars are saved, but if you reload a save, they disappear and need to be re-earned.
|Frayed Knights' Drama Stars reward players for sticking with it and surviving by the skin of their teeth, rather than loading up a previous save file.|
Another hypothetical example might be found in an action game, where the player gains a long-term bonus for killing enemies (i.e. 30 kills = +5% damage bonus), and which persists until the player either completes the current level or challenge, or reloads the game. Players aren't punished, per se, by reloading, but by continuing with the current challenge, they'll have an easier time in the long run for it. Admittedly, the nature of the game design would need to reflect this (avoiding instant death scenarios, giving the player a large supply of health rather than a small, regenerating one), but of course, these sorts of incentives are going to be different for every type of game. Frayed Knights' Drama Stars wouldn't work in a shooter, for example.
Additional Objectives & Bonuses
A related but different mechanic for encouraging the player to avoid save scumming involves providing the player with larger or extra rewards for completing tasks in an ideal manner, or for completing secondary tasks. This could be anything from bonus experience points and gold, to extra items, to a simple congratulations from a character in the game. Balancing these sorts of rewards is a challenge, as they'd have to be proportionate to the risks involved, as well as not being so significant that the player feels it's a good idea to reload the game if the demands aren't met.
Though I haven't seen this implemented on a universal level in recent games, the one that springs to mind the most for me is Fable: The Lost Chapters. In Fable, the player can take on different quests during the game, both required and optional, and choose to boast about them. Boasting effectively unlocks a set of secondary objectives for the player to complete during the mission, in exchange for a greater reward (usually money and experience), but also requires an investment cost, so it's not a sure-fire way to make tons of money easily.
|Fable's boasting gave optional incentive for hardcore gamers to challenge themselves - indirectly encouraging them to avoid the save/reload cycle.|
When talking about secondary or optional objectives, it's worth clarifying their importance in the game. If an optional task feels too important to the player - it has been given a lot of importance in the story, or the rewards for completing it are huge, or the player will miss game content by not completing it - then in my opinion it's hard to even really consider it optional at all, from a save scumming perspective. Since players who resort to save scumming are usually meta-gamers or power-gamers to begin with, they're going to want to complete just about every secondary task available before moving on in the game. Therefore, it's fair to say that rewarding an extra health potion or a 5% experience bonus for completing a secondary task incentivizes consistent play... but giving the player a whole new level to explore, or a new weapon or set of armour, only adds to the problem.
Last, it'd be hard to talk about giving players incentives without talking about meta-game rewards. Though meta-game rewards aren't always available depending on a given game's platform, genre, etc., it does tie in quite nicely with the hardcore player mindset of "100%ing" a game that often fuels save scumming in the first place. Moreover, because so many games are geared towards long-term goals, and which are themselves often meta-game goals, it only makes sense to use those features to one's advantage.
The first and most obvious meta-game system to highlight is achievements. Most major gaming platforms have some sort of achievement system, regardless of the name, and a similar type of functionality can be added into a game even if it doesn't tie into any sort of meta-game system (the Mass Effect series does this on the PC). While an anti-scumming achievement might be a little too blatant for some players, the same sorts of problems can be solved by using achievements in conjunction with other goals - for instance, rewarding an achievement for saving all the peasants from an attack, which itself might only possible without save scumming. A more brute-force method of "no achievements for you, save-scummer!" can also be used, but again, being this blatant about it might turn some players away.
|Rewarding achievements for fair and consistent play could encourage players to avoid exploits.|
It's worth noting that these solutions start to border on punishments again. As I described above, I don't think the distinction between the two is quite as absolute as some might suggest, and when players aren't really missing out on any game features when save-scumming, I think it's a non-issue. Just as the Grand Theft Auto games disable achievements when players activate cheat codes, I think it's fair to do the same when players begin to abuse the save system - though care must be taken about the particulars. So long as a game isn't broken enough to actually require the use of save scumming to complete, I interpret achievements and leaderboards as rewards on top of the core game experience, rather than features all players should be privileged to.
Once again, I'm forced to admit that there is no sure-fire way to deal with save scumming. As many incentives as you throw at the problem, players are probably still going to continue to do so, and without outright restricting the player's ability to save and load the game in the first place (the hallmark of some genres, but not most), all a developer can do is push players in the right direction and hope they take the cues.
There are still some unanswered questions about save scumming that I'd like to get into at a later time. I realize that these articles can occasionally come across as very anti-player, punitive, and generally one-sided. I fully admit to this, but it's not a result of my personal opinion on save scumming, on the nature of the discussion's tone. There are plenty of arguments to be made for save scumming as well, as not all games are created equally and not all players are willing to subject themselves to the limitations imposed by developers. I'll be getting into that myself soon, but better yet, if you have a strong opinion about save scumming one way or the other, I'd love to hear it as well.