i've been playing a variety of games lately & thinking about the games i enjoy playing vs the games i feel compelled to play (all the while contemplating the games i personally want to make), & the analogy i feel like works for me is games as gardens.

you can have games as gardens that you visit. you enjoy the view, you smell the flowers, then you leave, feeling better for having experienced something nice. this is where i feel visual novels fit in (among other genres) & most of my games fall under this category. the experience is usually curated without that much the visitor can do to change the garden. sure, you can choose which path you want to take & what you want to see, but mostly you are along for the ride as a viewer rather than an active participant. when you're done looking around the garden, you head home.

then there are games as gardens that you tend - i feel like most 'games as a service' fall under here, along with some others. games that have 'dailies' will usually fall under here too, & this is the type i want to talk more about today.

games that are gardens that you tend can go on forever. you can always keep tending to them more & there is always stuff you can do. there is no 'end' to them as such, which makes them different from games that are gardens that you visit.

even with games as gardens that you tend, there are different kinds of games just as there are different types of gardens. i think these fall largely under two categories: forgiving gardens & needy gardens.

tending to a forgiving garden is nice. you get to choose what goes in it, build it up yourself, water it every once in a while... for me, animal crossing fits this category. i still play animal crossing new horizons every day, talking to my villagers, doing some weeding, sometimes fishing, redecorating, &c. unless you time travel, there's a limit to what you can do every day & how much you can 'progress'. you can't pay money (in-game or out of it) to unlock more things to do. sure, you can fish forever to make lots of bells, but there isn't really any incentive to do that in one long play session. the game rewards you more if you play a bit every day, rather than burn yourself out in hours-long marathons.

on the other hand, you have needy gardens. one of the earliest needy garden games that i can think of is the tamagotchi. if you don't attend to your tamagotchi right when it calls for your attention, your tamagotchi pet will become unhappy with you & eventually even get sick & die.

needy garden games are not respectful of your time - i would put games that have energy systems like pocket camp (a free-to-play animal crossing app on smartphone with gacha elements) in this category. when you run out of energy, you always have the option to pay more to get more energy, so there is no reasonable place to end. even if you don't pay money, the amount of time you have to wait (maybe 3 minutes in a gacha game for energy to respawn) is short enough that you might feel the urge to check in just so you don't let that energy go to waste, since the amount of energy you can hold at one time is finite.

i would also put the roguelite game hades in this section, even though it's a very different type of game at first glance, because it demands your attention in the same way. it always wants you to come back for more, to play one more run because you can unlock that one extra line of dialogue, to try once more with that new upgrade you just unlocked. the more you play, the more stuff you can unlock, so there's no natural place to stop - this garden keeps you there by constantly growing just a little every time, so you want to stay to see what might blossom next. *note that i don't think all roguelite games are like this though - for me, dicey dungeons did not have this 'needy garden' feel & fell more into the 'forgiving garden' section.

i feel like the garden that you tend style of game has become more frequent lately for various reasons with streaming being a big one - games that have long gameplay naturally become more streamable & since they don't have an end as such, a stream viewer won't finish watching a stream & think 'ah, ok, i've experienced the game so i don't need to play it myself'. (i won't get into it now, but i also have a lot of feelings about streaming games that fall in the gardens that you visit category.)

in particular though, the needy garden style of game is even more easily spotted now - personally i think it's because there are more and more games & devs have to do more to keep your attention & making something that needs your attention is going to help do that, but for me, i feel like the lack of respect for the player's time (constantly requiring you to come back to tend the garden) is not the kind of gameplay i want to spread. i don't want a game to take up all my time, because there are so many different games & gardens i want to enjoy.

i also feel like people who are used to needy gardens though may find forgiving gardens unsatisfying, because they have become too used to the constant rewards needy gardens give for their attention. not being able to constantly play becomes a detriment for these kinds of players, which in turn leads them to seek out more needy gardens & for devs to create more needy gardens to provide these players what they want.

it feels like a bad spiral (probably because it is). i'm not against games that go on forever (& i'm enjoying hades as i'm playing through it now), but there's a very different feel to a game like animal crossing new horizons vs animal crossing pocket camp even though they're both the same series. i think it's important to think about why they feel so different & if we want to see more games like new horizons or pocket camp in the future.