At this first stage, your prototype probably
only consisted of a core mechanic.
Your main objective was to confirm that the
idea is a fun foundation for a game.
For your next prototype, you added enough
structure to make the prototype playable for
testers other than yourself. It was basic and
clunky, but it had rules and procedures.
Your focus was on both fun and functionality.
Now that you’ve verified that your idea is
worthwhile, it’s time to build a fully functional
version of your game.
At this stage, you should focus on ensuring that
your game is:
The system is sufficiently established to the point
where someone who knows nothing about the game
can sit down and play it.
In a paper prototype, this means the player can play
the game by following the rules and procedures.
In a digital prototype, this means that the player can
use the controls and make the game progress.
A game is internally complete when there is no
obvious missing elements in any possible
permutation of the game under any condition.
In board games, gaps in the rules can lead to
arguments among players.
In a digital game, incompleteness leads to a loophole
that players can exploit, a dead end in the player
experience, or a complete breakdown of the system.
If you identify an incomplete part of the game,
go back to the rules and see where you need
to fill in the gaps.
Be warned that any time you modify the rules,
it can affect other parts of the game. It may
take several revisions and playtesting
sessions to fix the problem.
A loophole is a flaw in the system
that a player can exploit to gain
an unfair or unintended
advantage that ruins the
experience for the other players.
As long as loopholes exist, your
game isn’t complete. Your goal is
to close all loopholes without
shutting down all potential for
Asteroids high score exploit
Sometimes it is debatable whether an issue
is a loophole or a feature that is actually a
benefit in the game.
An example is the ability to kill other players
in an MMORPG – is it a loophole that needs
to be fixed, or a valid feature of the game?
Find some solutions to this FPS problem:
When more than two people play the game, it is
possible for players to camp near both of the
spawn points on the arena map. When a
recently killed opponent appears at either
spawning point, the campers can promptly attack
the opponent. Players struck in the position of
being shot are furious at this seemingly unfair
Tips For Weeding Out Loopholes
Use control situations to test aspects of
the system in isolation
Do a series of playtests where you instruct
testers to attempt to disrupt the system
Find testers who enjoy figuring out
alternative or subversive solutions
A dead end occurs when a player gets
stranded in the game and cannot continue
toward the game objectives no matter what
Most titles have ironed out dead ends before
they are released, but now and then, one
slips in through the cracks.
In reality, no game is every truly complete.
Your job as a designer is to enforce a high
enough standard and lay out rigorous
enough tests so that you can be certain
beyond a reasonable doubt that there are no
critical deficiencies in your game.
Balancing a game is the process of making sure the
game meets the goal you have set for the player
experience: that the system is of the scope and
complexity you envisioned and that the elements of the
system are working together without undesired results.
In multiplayer games, it means that the starting positions
and play are fair, and that no single strategy dominates
In single-player games, it means that the skill level is
properly adjusted for the target audience.
The Four Balancing Areas
The variables of your system are a set of numbers
that define the properties of your game objects.
Changing game variables affects the game
experience. A game with only one player life is a
very different experience than a game with 10 lives.
As a game designer, you need to manipulate the
game variables to create the game experience you
want for your player.
Balancing the Dynamics
The game dynamics are the forces at play when your game is
Sometimes a combination of rules creates an imbalance.
Sometimes it is a “super” object or combination of objects.
Other times it can be a combination of actions.
You need to identify the imbalances that can ruin gameplay
Fix the rules that create the problem
Change the value of the objects
Create new rules that mitigate unbalancing strategies
A reinforcing relationship occurs when a
change in one part of a system causes a
change in the same direction to another part
of the system.
For example, rewarding a stronger player
over and over until he becomes so strong it
is impossible for another player to win.
There are a number of ways to add balance to such
Have balances be small and temporary
Introduce an element of randomness
Allow weaker players to group together
Allow a third party to intervene
The goal is to keep the scales balanced without
causing the game to stagnate – until the end stages
of the game, when the scales can tip dramatically.
A good rule of thumb is to keep similar
game objects proportional in terms of
One of the best ways to keep every
object in proportion but still provide a
range of choices is to think in terms of
strengths and weaknesses. Units can
be balanced by giving each a special
advantage and a corresponding
If one or two strategies effectively dominate
the game, no one will choose the other
strategies once the dominant ones become
As game designers, you should always be
on the lookout for dominant strategies so
that you can find a way to get rid of it or
In balancing the starting positions for your
game, the goal is to make the system fair so
that all the players have an equal
opportunity to win.
This does not always mean giving each
player the exact same resources and set up.
These are games in which each player has the
exact same starting conditions and access to
the same resources and setup.
The one asymmetrical element in turn-based
games is who goes first. Methods to mitigate
Allow only weak units to move first
Have the game take many moves to resolve
Incorporate chance elements
If you give opponents different abilities, resources,
rules or objectives, your game will be asymmetrical.
As a designer, your goal is to tweak the variables so
that the game balances out.
Examples of asymmetrical objectives:
Ticking Clock: Defend against a stronger
attacker for a period of time
Protection: One side protects something while
the other side tries to capture it
The Lens of Fairness
Should my game be symmetrical? Why?
Should my game be asymmetrical? Why?
Which is more important: that my game be a
reliable measure of who has the most skill, or that
it provide an interesting challenge to all players?
If I want players of different skill levels to play
together, what means will I use to make the game
interesting and challenging for everyone?
Jesse Schell, Lens #30
Balancing For Skill
Balancing for skill involves matching the level of
challenge provided by the game system to the
skill level of the player. The trick here is that
every player has a different skill level.
One way of handling this is to offer multiple
difficulty levels. Another way is to balance for a
median skill level between hard-core players
Balancing For Skill
In some games, it is possible to
program the system to adjust to the
ability level of the players as they play.
A problem with computer-controlled
characters is that they must seem to be
human and make mistakes. Designers
solve this problem by designing a
character to act within a range of
Balancing For Skill
Extra Credits: Balancing for Skill
The Lens of Challenge
What are the challenges in my game?
Are they too easy, too hard, or just right?
Can my challenges accommodate a wide variety
of skill levels?
How does the level of challenge increase as the
Is there enough variety in the challenges?
What is the maximum level of challenge in my
Jesse Schell, Lens #31
Think Modular: Isolate your subsystems so that when you
tweak one element of your game, you know exactly what
effect it will have on the other parts.
Purity of Purpose: Make sure that every element of your
game has a clearly defined purpose, so that when you
tweak an element, only one aspect of the game will be
One Change at a Time: If you make more than one
change, it is difficult to tell what effect each one has on the
Spreadsheets: Keep all of your game data in a
spreadsheet and have them mirror the game’s structure.
Knowing When Your Game Is
How will you “know” when your game is
balanced? When it comes to balancing a
game, much of what you do will depend on
your instincts. The more you design, the
better your instincts will become.
Extra Credits - Perfect Imbalance - Why Unbalanced
Design Creates Balanced Play