Earn Your Fun

"You can be bad at playing a video game, and the video game will punish you, and deny you access to the rest of the game. No other art form does this — you've never been reading a book and, three chapters in, it asks 'What are the major themes?'"

The design precept that a game should require some kind of dedication from its players before giving them anything. All the fun and rewarding content must be earned, inaccessible until the player "proves" themself somehow. While it adds to the bragging rights of those Challenge Gamers who can handle the game on Harder Than Hard mode, it can be intensely frustrating for those who don't have the time or skill to master the game. This comes in two flavors:

Forced difficulty, in which the player can't make the game easier without screwing himself out of the game's full content.

Forced dedication, in which the player must spend large amounts of time or money on the game in order to have access to major content.

Things that are often confused to be this is:
  • The game is just very hard to beat. That's Nintendo Hard.
  • The game takes a while to get to any real gameplay. That's It Gets Better.
  • Other players want you to be dedicated to the game. That's “Stop Having Fun” Guys.
  • A game is considered unfun or crappy because you don't have to sweat your way through it. That's It's Easy, so It Sucks.
  • Content that you wouldn't see on an average playthrough. That's probably an Easter Egg.

Note that this trope is nearly omnipresent in video games to some degree: all but the most basic casual games contain some element of rewarding progression, even if simply by requiring that a player beat prior levels to progress to a later level. Tropes Are Not Bad, after all: done well it allows for things like story pacing and slowly increasing complexity of game mechanics, while rewarding players for successfully taking on challenges.

Given that this is an Omnipresent Trope, examples listed here should be exceptionally notable, unusual, or inverted/averted/subverted examples that don't fit any of the other tropes mentioned above.


Examples:

  • Alien vs. Predator: Cheat mode essentially disables progress and your ability to save, and unlocking all the bonus levels requires you to beat the game in Director's Cut mode.
    • Better yet, most of the cheats are just cosmetic changes and don't make the game easier, either. The console cheats, however, are fine to use.
  • Enchanter has a nasty version of forced difficulty, where you can use a single-use scroll to bypass practically any puzzle (and some of the puzzles are very difficult), but if you do, it makes the game unwinnable, as you need the scroll for the endgame. Obviously, there is no indication that the game is now unwinnable or that you're unable to pass the puzzle requiring it, nor is there any indication as to which point you're supposed to use this scroll at, nor any indication that using it for a puzzle that you're supposed to solve another way is not the correct answer.
  • Everquest, and almost every other MMORPG, features large amounts of level grinding, much of which is highly repetitive and against frankly unheroic opponents. There are also many very powerful items with low drop percentages, and almost all loot is random anyway.
    • Atlantica Online seems to avert it initially, but this trope plays straight once you reach triple-digit levels, where succeeding in any content without use of items bought for real money (by you or someone else) is nearly impossible. It gets worse the higher you go.
    • World of Warcraft has gotten better over the years. In the original release, the most interesting dungeons, strongest rewards, and best stoylines were generally reserved for levels 50 and above. And even at that level, to get into the best dungeons and raids would require intense personal farming of rep, gear, and attunement quests.
  • NetHack: As with all rogue-likes, one can expect to restart many, many times before successfully conquering the game. This, however, is compounded by the denial of backup saves and a merciless Random Number God in charge of the loot.
  • Pokémon: The strong Pokémon are always the rarest and hardest to catch, and it's the trope namer for Magikarp Power. Not to mention the Mew-equivalent legendaries that can only be obtained at special events.
    • Those unique Pokémon are sometimes captured at low levels, resulting in a true debate: raise your creature as you want (though the later games let you re-teach your Pokémon moves that they've forgotten anyway) or simply because you like the grind, or start kicking butt right away?
    • But those Pokémon you wasted hours trying to catch will probably be banned from tournaments anyway, and you'll have to spend hours EV training and chain breeding certain Mons not because they're the most powerful, but purely because they're optimal for countering the ones that other people use.
      • In the essence, it enforces the ultimate factor in fun for Pokémon - there is no single ultimate mon so you have to keep changing it up to stay in the game.
  • DJMAX Online required you to grind levels to play harder songs.
  • Dead or Alive 5 challenges the hardcore among the hardcore players if they want to unlock 3 extremely skimpy swimsuits for Tina, Christie and Lisa; the game features a whopping total of 8 levels of difficulty: 'Rookie, Easy, Normal, Hard, Champ, True Fighter, Master and Legend', with the last three being unlocked after the preceding difficulty is beaten; rest assured that your average player can’t go through Hard without losing continues, if you want those Rare Swimsuits you must mow through Legend – 4 difficulties beyond Hard – without losing a single continue on Arcade for Tina’s, Time Attack for Christie’s and on Survival for Lisa’s. Simply put it’s a nightmare to get these pieces of clothing for the girls, the computer on Legend is on an whole new level of reading and countering any attack the player tries to connect, just beating this mode is a nerve-cracking task, but beating it without losing continues is absurd, and that’s not enough, even though the task on Arcade and Time Attack is already beyond insane to complete, at the end of the day is just 8 Stages each, on Survival though, it’s 100 Stages, a-freaking-hundred quasi-unbeatable opponents to defeat with one small recovering life bar, so yeah, even some of the most hardcore players stop at Tina and Christie’s swimsuits.
  • The new "Quest" mode in Drummania V6 (and probably Guitar Freaks V6 also) presents challenges which award you quest ranking points. However, when you start off, all of the hardest quests are not accessible. If you can already clear difficulty-level 95 songs, have fun grinding the "Clear this level 30 song" quests until your rank is high enough to access the real challenges.
  • Want to drive a fast, highly-tuned sports car in any Racing Game ever? Be ready to pay your dues in a stock VW Golf or similar car for a while. Or bribe your way to victory.
  • Especially common with Korean MMORPGs, of which Mabinogi is a classic example; with the intense Level Grinding only the start. Nearly all skills start as Magikarp Power, the best basic skills requiring months of training to be useful. Advanced skills require either Collection Quests rife with difficult to find random drops, or arduous story-based quests that often require high levels of unrelated skills to even attempt; and nearly all of both types include a Bonus Level Of Hell (however, in most cases it is possible to skip this level by buying the item from another player, or gain assistance from higher-level players). Story-line quests also require a considerable amount of involvement from other players in order to complete; so you actually have to convince your friends, or more often random strangers, to help you out.
    • Weapons and armor are also minimally effective without upgrades, which require a considerable amount of time and effort to aquire; and the best versions are often only available as random drops from bosses, or rewards from a Bonus Level Of Hell.
    • Spirit Weapons also suffer from Magikarp Power, and require a consider amount of time, and buying expensive in-game items or grinding for items to feed it, in order to make them useful.
    • Not only do crafting skills require a huge amount of grinding to advance; but are often dependent on other skills, which can be similarly difficult and time-consuming. Examples are Potion Making, which requires ranking the Herbalism (and at higher levels, Exploration); Blacksmithing, which is much more difficult without a high level of Refine, Metallurgy, and Weaving; and Music, which combines 3 different skills — Musical Knowledge, Composing, and Playing Instrument — and both tedious grinding and difficult side-quests to level up.
    • Although event-only items are typically not superior to in-game items, they're usually in very high demand for aesthetic reasons; and collecting and selling them can make a substantial amount of money for the player, at the expense of a lot of grinding, or Nintendo Hard gaming, or both.
  • In many Touhou games: you want to see a good ending? Beat it without continues and/or on something higher than Easy mode. Considering the genre, that is asking quite a bit. Biggest example of this would have to be at the end of Embodiment of Scarlet Devil's 5th stage. If you beat Stage 5 on Easy mode, the boss literally mocks your character for using Easy mode, and your character proceeds to get embarrassed and leave. Game over. You want to see the final boss? Screw you! Play on Normal mode.
    • Worse yet, the developer specifically requested that his fandom never post any of the endings online (plot summaries yes, other cutscenes yes, just not the endings), and somehow this became the one issue on which the majority of the fandom actually listened to what he said. Not even YouTube or Google will save you this time.
  • The slogan of Dwarf Fortress is "Losing Is Fun". There is a reason for this. A player's first few fortresses will probably end up dying of thirst, dying of hunger, dying of goblin, dying of unexpected megabeast, dying of flooding, dying of LAVA flooding, etc. if not all of them at the same time before they figure out the countless mechanics and start being able to actually enjoy the game.
  • Dead Rising 2 is so proud of its opening cutscenes that if you try to skip the first one to get to the chainsaw-motorcycle-riding fun, the game punishes you by not only skipping that part of the introduction, but also the escape from the ensuing zombie outbreak. The game cheats you out of gameplay because you didn't want to watch a cutscene. Note, however, that the game has a big focus on (ab)using New Game+ and the intro can turn into a boring grind after a time or two. Skipping the most repetitive bit of the game as well as the intro cutscenes helps speed you along into a new loop, actually subverting the trope for those starting a new runthrough.
  • Goldeneye 007 and its spiritual successor Perfect Dark, unlike most games, require the player to actually earn cheats by completing missions under a certain time limit. Some are rather forgiving, others... *coughfacilitycough* will have you sprinting through the level, the guards peppering your back with lead only serving to propel you even faster. However, Goldeneye left in debug codes that you could put in and breeze through a level with no consequences. Shame on you. Unfortunately, there was no code to make Natalya invincible.
  • In the old SNES game, The Jungle Book, the game ended prematurely if you selected Easy or Normal difficulty.
  • Streets of Rage 3 has this if you play on Easy difficulty. If you try to beat the game on Easy, you get treated to a bad ending where the real Mr. X isn't found and you get mocked for "playing this game like a beginner." It doesn't help that compared to the Japanese version, the North American version is actually more difficult by increasing damage from enemies (Japanese version doesn't do this) and the Japanese version even lets you beat the game on Easy. If you weren't good enough to survive the game on Normal, you would probably never see the last two levels or the other endings.
    • Players can also get their blitz attack upgraded at every 40,000 points, which can make some characters extremely powerful, but you lose an upgrade if you lose a life and have to collect 40,000 points again. Unless you were good enough to use the button combos on a 6-button controller to do the upgraded attacks manually, you'll be grinding for points trying to upgrade your fighter from normal strong to absurdly strong.
  • Demons Souls and Dark Souls throw challenges at the player from the start; the very first opponent will kill you in seconds if you don't adapt and think tactically. You have to learn every enemy's behavior through trial and error gameplay, and screwing up even against basic enemies will get you killed very quickly. Combined with some strict limitations on healing and magic, unforgiving bosses, and sadistic level design with countless traps and bottomless pits, the game earns its tagline "Prepare to Die."
  • The fictional video game Greed Island in Hunter × Hunter distributes Spell Cards through only one location. Spell Cards let players do basic video game things like warping to other towns and are the only way outside of overwhelming force to rise above subsistence. Since players are the people themselves transported to the game world, this one location is staked out by powerful players attempting to claim as many Spell Cards as they can—meaning to advance, players have to already be pretty good at the game. Simply reaching the town the Spell Cards are distributed from was an ordeal for the main characters, who are already exceptionally strong and somewhat well known among some infamous people.
  • Monster Hunter qualifies, because the only way to really spice up the gameplay is to get more fun weapon and armor sets, and how do you do that? Lots and lots of grinding, with some of the more fun weapons coming from super rare (2-3% drop-rate, for monsters that take anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes to down) or tough monsters, or super rare drops off very tough monsters (hello, Sky Piercer).
  • Want to play the Special Cup in Super Mario Kart? Can't do it on 50cc! You must beat the Mushroom, Flower, and Star Cups on 100cc with a gold trophy on each and then you are allowed to play on the Special Cup. Want to race faster in the 150cc class? Prove you can beat the Special Cup with a gold trophy on 100cc first. Later games were more lenient with their unlockables, but you usually had to get the best rank just to get anything.
  • In Trackmania, virtually all of the tracks require you beat the previous 5 tracks with at least a Silver medal in order to play them.
  • Dota 2:
    • Dota 2 is notorious for needing to spend tons of time learning everything about the game & memorizing a ton of things before you can even think about playing it online competitively (which is what the whole game is geared towards), and then having to spend tons of time putting everything you learned about it into practice over long periods of time, and presumably through a number of face-crunchingly horrible games before you ever become even remotely good at this game, or at the very least have any idea what you're doing. The game does have a minor tutorial at the start that covers extreme basics (to the point where an equivalent tutorial would be teaching you how to walk in a First-Person Shooter), but most of the valuable information about the game that you have access to come completely from independent non-Valve-related people in the Dota community who are volunteering their information to you (for free, don't worry). Things generally take exponentially longer for players who go into it blind, and they might find themselves floundering around for months (at least) if they do so, before they even begin to get the hang of things. However, it can become extremely fun & rewarding once you get the hang of it, to the point where you might even find yourself unintentionally ignoring all other video games & spending all of your gaming time on it, even if you had lots of variety before going into Dota 2. This has happened to a lot of people.
      • A fairly notable example, considering that 100% of Dota 2's gameplay content is available the second you download it (for free), and earning your fun is simply a matter of getting your crap together & becoming a competent player who can directly contribute to winning games, i.e., only what you do with it.
    • Being bad at the game will lead to your loss - but you don't just lose, that wouldn't be hardcore enough. Instead you are at the mercy of the other team to decide to stop killing you over and over and win already. Of course, the other team has no incentive to win the game, because then the fun stops. Why is it worse in Dota 2? Because the game has no concede option but does have a penalty for leaving; Dota public games had neither while (third party) league games typically had both. Also, the absence of a ladder in Dota 2 removes all incentives to actually win the match, making the entire game about trying to humiliate the opponent and drag out their suffering and wasted time.
      • Of course, when you do get better, you can then do it to the enemy team every once in a while. Taunt the opponents with "gg noobs" or "too easy" for the maximum amount of fun units.
    • In both Dota 2 and League of Legends it is not uncommon for teams to report the worst player on their team for "griefing", which eventually leads to punishment. That's right, learn to play or get your account banned (to be fair, the punishment in Dota 2 isn't all that bad while in League it requires a ton of reports).
  • Turgor AKA The Void drops you directly into the game world with only a cryptic poem to think about, and every character except the very first one you meet blatantly lies to you about how the game really works. After your first few doomed playthroughs (which can take hours each), you'll get the hang of managing your gardens and all the cryptic poetry and vague dialog will start to make some sense, and the game finally takes off from there.
  • Left 4 Dead with its VS mode. While the game does give instructions on how to play as a survivor properly, you're not given any instructions on how to play as the infected beyond the basic controls. Expect to die a lot from survivors being able to pinpoint your location or blocking your attacks until you can learn how to ambush properly.
  • Final Fantasy XI was pretty unforgiving to newbies for a long time. Leveling up requires a lot of grinding, some gear or materials take forever to get due to the Random Drop system, doing quests required a party most of the time (good luck doing that if you can't get anyone to help you), and dying means you lost experience points and the possibility of leveling down (if you had gear that was based on your level, you pretty much became naked if you lost a level), forcing you to grind some more to regain what you lost. While the expansion packs did make the game slightly more tolerable for new players, the game was made for people who had the time and dedication to learn from their mistakes and punishment.
  • Minecraft may be one of the finest examples of this trope known to man: every automated farm, redstone computer, and golden pyramid built in survival mode begins with a player punching trees and hiding from the zombie hordes in a dirt shack.
  • Super Metroid You have some special moves that are not listed on the manual, such as walljump (but the game "tries" to teach you, but you will never be presented to bomb jumping, shinespark diagonally or horizontally, cristal flash and some other moves. Also, the routes are hard and no one tells you where to go, but the game is far from being hard just for being hard.