Games-Within-Games: Why Minigames are the Heart of Gaming


From now until August 22nd players are invited to play “Lucioball”, an Overwatch minigame celebrating the 2016 Olympics. Lucioball is a fast-paced, fun and competitive mode meant to highlight the versatility of the game’s characters outside of the intended first-person-shoo ter ruleset and plays a lot like futbol (or soccer, if you have an American speech impediment).  


These types of “games within a game” are nothing new, but are generally well received and have cemented themselves as a staple of good developer interaction with the game’s community.  Minigames like Lucioball show a deepened passion for their product:  Blizzard didn’t just create a critical and commercially successful FPS, they crafted an entire sandbox where imagination can thrive and players are able to take a break from the game to…. Well, play a different game.  


The lifespan of a game not only depends on the players sticking around, but also finding new ways to enjoy a game they’ve played for years.  One only has to take a look at the success of Garry’s Mod (a sandbox physics offshoot of the Source engine with no objective — just a bunch of playthings to experiment with) to see that players eat this type of fanservice up.  Custom maps and gametypes are often the most memorable, as they are products of ingenuity and love rather than machinations of a programmer trying to make a deadline.


Anyone who played Halo 2 on the Xbox remembers Zombies, a custom gametype that was not implemented into the software and thus required an “honor system” regulated by the players in the game.  The most popular of these “unofficial game-within-a-games” on the Halo side was Grifball: a variant of the Assault gametype which was inspired by the Red vs. Blue machinima series.  Grifball was so popular that it went on to be accepted by developer Bungie and even implemented into matchmaking, a feat unheard of before in the franchise.  It was this community-driven handshake between the playerbase and the developer that really made those games come alive — some of the Bungie staff would even hold weekly tourneys where a lucky few could play with them in matchmaking.  


Half-Life 2 inspired the creation of Garry’s Mod.  Red vs. Blue inspired Grifball.   Hell, even League of Legends was heavily inspired by Defense of the Ancients (which began as a game-within-a-game custom game type in Warcraft 3). Are you seeing a trend here?  Pop culture and entertainment are a mixing pot of community and passion — it is a cultural symbiosis that feeds off itself and produces works of passion and play that outlive any rigid ruleset.  Developers should be applauded for extending the lifespan of their games like this.  Game developers should stop looking at it as creating a game but rather creating an opportunity for games.


If you give a man a game, he will play it; but if you teach a man to play, he will play for years.  Or something.  


  • Ioki
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