Builders make worlds to explore. Engineers make systems and mechanics that link together into a complete picture Scientists test new ways to improve the play experience Teachers teach players what to do and how the rules of the game work Dreams create new, unique, amazing experiences.
A game begins with a concept. Most, everybody already has lots of ideas for games they want to work on. And not just the designers. Programmers, managers, artists, executives, testers, marketers, salesmen - they ALL have game ideas. Perhaps they all chat up their ideas, perhaps some of them have written concept papers to present their ideas.
Some examples of possible sources of game concepts:
Brilliant inspiration - a designer or artist or someone on the team has an idea for a game, usually one that's revolutionary and not yet done to death in the marketplace. Most industry outsiders probably think this is the main source of game ideas, but that ain't necessarily so. The license hook - Perhaps the game company has acquired the license for (the rights to make a game based upon) a movie or personality or book or whatever. Star Wars, Tony Hawk, Hollywood Squares. Jackass, Junkyard Wars, Battlebots, Martha Stewart. (Okay, so nobody has made a Martha Stewart game yet, but you get the idea.) If the company has spent a lot of money to acquire a license, you can bet that they're going to want to make a game based on that license. The technology hook - Perhaps the engineers have spent a lot of time, energy, and money to create some game technology (an engine or a way of making a game machine do something new, like water or fog). Perhaps the decision makers decide they want to make a game that takes advantage of this technology. Filling a gap - The company's marketing wizards might analyze the market and decide that there is a genre or platform that is under-represented (either by the industry as a whole, or by the company itself) and that it would be a good idea to make that kind of game. Following coattails - The executives look with awe upon the success and profitability of a particular game (made and published by another company), and decide to ride the tailwind of that game by making something similar. Orders from above - Perhaps the boss gets an idea for a game (it might be his pet idea or it might just be a passing fancy), and the designer is set to work on the details. Sequels - self-explanatory.
Alpha Testing: Playtesting done by the designer and other members of the development team.
Focus Group Testing: Playtesting conducted by invited potential customers, with an interview or survey conducted afterwards.
Closed Beta: Online testing conducted by selected potential customers, usually under NDA.
Open Beta: Online testing conducted by the general public.
Basic Concept -- What is the "high concept" of the game?
Background Story -- If applicable, tell the story of the game that leads into the beginning of the game, and tell the story that unfolds during gameplay, if any (in the case of a puzzle game like SHANGHAI, for instance, this is probably unnecessary -- but it would be necessary for something like ALIENS VS. PREDATOR).
What is the tone? What is the basic narrative? What is the "heart" of the story? Is it a linear story?
Objective -- Describe the objective of the game.
If the objective is simply "get as many points as possible," then state it so. But if the objective is "rescue the princess," then that's another matter. In either case, give as much detail as possible to aid the reader in having some basis in understanding the rest of the design document as he reads on. What is the player's goal and why would they want to accomplish it?
Gameplay -- Describe the way the game works, from beginning to end.
After powering up (or booting), is there a title screen, what does it look like, is there an options screen, what are the choices, is there an animated sequence, can it be bypassed and how...
Then, when the game begins, we see our hero appear in a scene. Describe the scene and what happens next. If nothing happens until the user does something, describe what the user's options are and what happens as a result of all possible actions. Keep in mind that most games to some extent are controlled by the user. The hero doesn't automatically do anything; the user, when playing the game optimally, might cause the hero to do such-and-such an act, which would cause the computer-controlled enemy to do this, and the user's options are to do X and Y...
Describe the A.I. of the computerized opponent(s), if any. It is sometimes helpful to write a "walkthrough" of the game to further enhance the reader's ability to visualize the game.
What is the planned interface?
What is the planned perspective (1st person vs. 3rd person)?
What is the basic interactive structure? (e.g. Chapters vs. Great Middle Section, Levels, etc.).
What is the "heart" of the gameplay? (e.g. speed, actions, style, continuous, turnbased, etc.?
How does multi-player work?
How difficult is the game?
How long will it take the average player to complete?
Characters -- List and describe the characters in the game, if any. Tell something about their personalities and capabilities, and how they act in the game. Who does the player play?
Single/multi player? Are there other key characters?
License Exploitation -- If the characters are based on a license (such as in ALIENS VS. PREDATOR), provide some discussion of how the licensed characters will exploit the popular features of the license.
World -- Describe the scene(s) in which the action takes place, if applicable. In the case of an adventure game (such as LEATHER GODDESSES OF PHOBOS 2), the design document should probably be organized primarily by location, showing all characters and objects there, and indicating what events occur there. If locations in the game can be visited in any order, then list them in either the optimum order or in the order one might visit them if traveling in the simplest path.
Controls -- Describe the user interface.
How does the user cause all game actions to occur? In the case of a cartridge game, describe all uses of the buttons on the controller. In the case of a computer game, describe which peripherals the game supports and how they are used to accomplish all game actions.
Describe the on-screen interface (if there is a score and a life gauge... if there is an inventory icon and dialogue choices...), and how it works.
Describe all menus in detail, and chart out the "shell" structure.
Onscreen text messages are also part of the interface -- if not detailing all onscreen messages in this document, describe in general terms what they will be like.
Graphics -- Describe the general style of the graphics.
In the case of a game with multiple graphics modes, tell which one will be used. Whenever there are other games or products to which the reader can refer for a feel of the graphics style, it's a good idea to mention it.
It is best to include some sketches of some game scenes to aid in the visualization of the game. Show a typical scene and give some indication of what we're looking at.
Sketches should be included of what the characters (if any) will look like.
Show what the on-screen user interface looks like, and include callouts so the reader knows what's what.
Detailed art list will be a separate list (not part of this document).
Sounds and Music -- Describe at least the general manner in which sound effects will be used in the game.
Every action in the game should be accompanied by a sound, and the sounds should be prioritized so that the important sounds don't get "stepped on" by less important sounds.
Describe how the sounds will be created. If sampled digitized sound effects or voices are to be used in the game, tell about that in some detail.
Describe the general style of the music, with some references to other well-known music for the reader's edification. Tell how music will be used in the game.
Detailed sound, voice, and music lists will be separate (not part of this document).
There are many different genres of games.
Video game genres are used to categorize video games based on their gameplay interaction rather than visual or narrative differences. They are classified independent of their setting or game-world content, unlike other works of fiction such as films or books. For example, an action game is still an action game, regardless of whether it takes place in a fantasy world or outer space.
Within game studies there is a lack of consensus in reaching accepted formal definitions for game genres, some being more observed than others. Like any typical taxonomy, a video game genre requires certain constants. Most video games feature challenges to overcome, so video game genres can be defined where challenges are met in substantially similar ways.
Most games fall within a particular category. Some bridge different gaming styles and, thus, could appear under more than one category simultaneously.
Every game is built around four core game elements: player format, objectives, rules, and resources.
A fifth element, theme, is also central to many games.
Single-player: one player vs. game system. Most video games are of this player format.
Head-to-head: one player vs. one player: Fighting games are an example.
Cooperative: many players against vs. the game system. This is common in online games like World of Warcraft.
One against many: one player vs. multiple players. In the Nintendo Land game Luigi’s Ghost Mansion for the Wii U game system, one player takes the role of a ghost trying to scare the other players while they work together to trap the ghost with their flashlights.
Free-for-all: One player vs. one player vs. one player vs…. Perhaps the most common player structure for multiplayer games, this can be found everywhere from board games like Monopoly to the basic mode in most competitive first-person shooter games.
Team Competition: Multiple players vs. multiple players (including pair vs. pair). This is found in most team sports games.
Strategic (mental) and reflex (physical) gameplay are different expressions of player skill. In both cases, the player has control over the outcome through his decisions and actions.
By contrast, chance-based mechanics have a randomized outcome. Chance adds uncertainty to a game, which can create tension and make it more exciting. Too much randomness can be frustrating. Players want to make meaningful decisions, but decisions lose meaning if the outcomes are decided solely by dice rolls or card shuffles.
Chance-based mechanics also come in different flavors with different mathematical characteristics. Determining the right type and amount of chance-based mechanics is a big part of being a game designer.
There are three categories of rules, all important to a successful play experience:
Setup involves things you do once at the beginning of a game Progression entails what happens during a game Resolution indicates the conditions that cause the game to end and how an outcome is determined based on the game state.
Mechanics are a collection of rules that form a discrete chunk of gameplay.
Systems are collections of mechanics that make up the biggest chunks of the game.
Thematic elements – stories, settings, characters – give games topics. They answer the question, “What is this game about?”, which is different from the question, “What is this gameplay about?”
Not every game has a theme, and not every game needs a theme. However, a well-chosen theme can have a big impact on a game.
Thematic elements have three primary purposes:
Help players become more engaged. Players personalize the game experience if they identify with the character. Similarly, an interesting setting can add emotional weight. A game set in a fantasy realm will cause a different response from one set in World War II, even with the same game mechanics. Make the game easier to learn. Players in a racing game, for example, expect mechanics for accelerating, braking and steering because that’s how real vehicles work. Tell a compelling story. Games can be used to convey interesting stories, just like other media.
Themes can also create expectations. Such expectations can create unwritten rules for how a player or designer thinks a game “should” be played.
Games can be difficult, but not so punishing that they turn the player away.
Rules should be consistent. Examples of inconsistency are monsters that are killable in some situations but not in others. In general, the more difficult a game is, the less it can change its rules on the fly.
For something to be enjoyably difficult rather than punishing, it has to give the player an outlet to resolve problems in new ways. When the player fails at overcoming an option, he needs alternate choices so that he has an opportunity to succeed.
The player needs the ability to make informed choices about the game, even if they are split second ones.. Everything needs to hint at its consequences in some small way.
Randomness should only be used for variety and uncertainty (replay value), not for determining the achievement of goals.
When the player fails at meeting an challenge, lower the iteration time when he can do that challenge over again and try something new. Get the player back into the action right way.
Game controls should be usable. Don’t set up complex keyboard or controller combos that are difficult to manipulate.
Whe a player fails, you want them to always feel that they could have done better. You want them to have that “aha” moment when they realize there was some small thing they could have done differently.
Balance is a description of the relative strength of different resources, mechanics, objectives and starting states.
At its highest level, a balanced game does not give an unequal advantage or disadvantage to any player (or to the game system itself).
Consider the classic rock-paper-scissors game. One player might win more often because of skill or luck but not because the game mechanics favored him or her.
Similarly, balance applies to decisions within a game. If a player can choose between two different paths but one or two is always better, the game is not balanced.
When determining whether several different options are balanced, the designer needs to consider all the factors. A fighter may do much more damage in one attack than an archer, but the archer can do many attacks before the figher approaches to attack range.
You don’t always want things to be perfectly balanced. In fact, in most games, you want to make sure there are some inbalances in your system. Not big ones, but carefully crafted subtle ones.
A perfectly balanced game can actually reduce the number of meaningful choices a player can make and the strategies for winning a game can eventually be mapped out, making it difficult to devise new strategies. Chess is an example of this.
A slightly imprefectly balanced game can create a metagame in which there is no one definitive play style for winning. With subtle deviations from perfect balance, part of the game is to figure out what actions will give the player an edge.
In Cyclical Imbalance: Each game element has some sort of weakness Players need a wide range of options to handle any obastacle
The highest level of strategy in many complex games, metagame refers to any aspect of strategy that involves thinking about what your opponent is thinking you are thinking.
Metagame comes into play in any game where no single strategy is dominant and opposing sides are aware of multiple strategies that can succeed dependent upon opponents' actions. In order to perform at the highest level, it then becomes necessary to think about what your opponent thinks you will do (which may depend on what he thinks you think he thinks he will do, etc.) and to make decisions based on clues regarding what level they are working on.
Pace describes the speed of play. Specifically, it is how quickly the player receives information and makes decisions or takes action.
Consider two strategy games, StarCraft and Risk. Both games are about controlling territory and resources, winning battles, and defeating an opponent. In Risk, play is not simultaneous – only one player takes a turn at a time – and turns have no time limits. By contrast, StarCraft play is simultaneous and real-time.
Star Wares: A New hope instantly grabs the viewer’s attention with the opening scene of the Rebel ship being capture. The engagement sequence then progresses in a series of hills and valleys, building higher and higher until the climacitic destruction of the Death Star.
Virtually all good entertainment has a similar pacing curve.
If play value is the reason someone plays a game, then replay value is the reason someone plays a game over and over again.
Designers increase replay value by introducing choices of characters, difficulties, starting positions, maps, levels, storylines and more. All of these options add novelty to additional play sessions. Increasing gameplay depth also increases replay value. Lastly, mutltiplayer games generally have more replay value than single-player games.
Like with movies and music, games can have subjects that are not suitable for all ages. Age appropriateness refers to the age or maturity level of a game’s intended audience. For example, a game with minimal cartoon violence might be suitable for young children, but a game with frequent, graphic violence would be more appropriate for a much older audience.
Survey of the Videogame Industry
The Los Angeles Film School
Players vs. Designers
Players want the fun of playing a game as well as the
enjoyment of being with their friends.
Game designers are focused on how the game works:
How do you make it, and how to you break it?
What are the different elements and how do they fit
What skill level does a player need to successfully play
Does each player have an equal chance of winning and
a fair chance of experiencing all that the game has to
The game designer’s main role is to be an
advocate for the player.
In some ways, designing a
game is like being the host
of a party. It’s your job to get
everything ready and then
open your doors to guests to
see what happens.
But NOT Boss
and most importantly,
Stage 1: Consumer
We all begin our game designer lives
as game consumers. Most children
play games, and for many people
games are significant and meaningful.
If you want to make games, you
probably already love games.
To consumers, game design is pure
magic. Consumers believe that a
game designer imagines a game, then
creates it exactly as he or she
Stage 2: Tinkerer
Tinkerers tend to imagine new games
in terms of modifications (often
additions) to existing games, sticking
closely to their underlying rule sets.
Many games come with a level editor.
This allows Tinkerers to get involved
with a game in a whole new way.
However, Tinkerers begin to realize
that game design is not magic, but it is
a lot of work.
Stage 3: Masher
At this point, the designer is
creating entirely new games, but
the design process tends to
involve mashing existing genres,
mechanics, and themes together.
Mashers envision new games as
collages of existing game
components. They tend to focus
on the mechanics and theme
rather than on the player
Stage 4: Creator
Before long, a game designer will
shift his or her focus and work
style. Instead of having visions of
a specific game, the designer will
be interested in exploring broad or
incomplete ideas. The ideas can
be about theme, they can be
about mechanics, they can be
about player experiences… really,
they can be about anything.
Stage 4: Creator
Designers at this stage approach new
games with a healthy emotional
distance. Obviously, they are excited
by their ideas, but they know many
ideas never work out, so it’s
dangerous to become attached to an
untested one. They also know that the
initial conception is very rarely the
best implementation, so keeping an
open mind and keeping nothing
sacred will tend to result in better final
User Interface Designer
Extra Credits, Season 1, Episode 16 - So You Want To
Be A Game Designer (7:36)
Why is communication the game designer’s
What other skills does a game designer need?
Why is “idea guy” a poor definition for what a
game designer does?
Why shouldn’t game designers get too
attached to their ideas?
What is the number one cause of failed
The Iterative Design Process
Every game takes
its own journey
from concept to
use the iterative
All games start out as ideas.
Some games come from one
powerful idea, but most are
formed by combining many
ideas to create a unique
whole. It’s very possible that
initial ideas will be (or should
be) abandoned, and lots of
new ideas will be considered
during the process.
Ideas don’t come out of thin air. Game designers are
influenced by personal interests and hobbies.
Spend a significant part of every day doing something
other than playing games:
Read a book
Go see a play
Listen to music
Exercise, draw or sketch
Study a new language
Volunteer at a neighborhood organization
Game Designer’s Notebook
Many designers carry a notebook for jotting down their
Game Idea Sources
Filling A Gap
Orders From Above
A group creativity technique
to find a solution to a
specific problem by
gathering a list of ideas
by its members. In games,
brainstorming is used to
generate a large number of
ideas about game's concept,
Osborn’s method of
brainstorming has four general
Focus on quantity
Welcome unusual ideas
Combine and improve ideas
Alex F. Osborn
Advice About Ideas
Come up with more ideas than you’ll need
Never rule out an idea as bad until you’ve tested it
Never accept an idea as good until you’ve tested it
Do not get emotionally attached to ideas
Stages of Creativity
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes
the classic stages of creativity:
Preparation: Becoming interested in a topic
Incubation: Period where ideas “churn around”
in your subconscious
Insight: The “aha!” moment, where an idea
Evaluation: Deciding whether the insight is
Elaboration: Fleshing out the idea
Once a designer has promising ideas, it’s
time to test them. Here, the keys are
minimalism and focus.
Your playtest (coming up next) is an
experiment, so be prepared for it. Identify
what the most important questions you want
to answer are and figure out the quickest
way of discovering those answers.
Create a prototype that answers the questions at hand.
A prototype is an early playable version of the game,
section of game, or game system.
A prototype, whether paper
or electronic, should be:
• Quick to Make
• Easy to Change
Playtesters are the people who play your game
and provide feedback on the experience.
Observe their experience
Pay attention to what
interests or frustrates
They are your guide and
it’s your mission to let
them lead you
Focus Group Testing
Playtesting is an iterative process where the game is
tested, the designer makes changes based on
feedback, and the game is retested, over and over.
How soon should you begin playtesting
Why is listening so important during
How much talking should a designer do
Who is the worst playtester? Who is the
After you playtest, consider your data.
How does it answer your questions?
If you were testing the quality of an idea, did it pass the test,
or should it be thrown out?
If you saw problems, what caused the problems, and what
can you do to fix them?
Knowing when a game is finished can
be even more difficult. A game is never
finished, it’s just due.
But you often won’t have external due
dates, so it can be tempting to go on
making tiny tweaks ad infinitum.
Eventually, you’ll have to accept that a
game is as good as it’s going to get.
Defined by four elements:
Hardware Platform: Determines the controller
configuration and technical limitations
Genre: Determines what the gameplay will feel like.
Genres can be categorized by along two dimensions:
Action vs. Strategy and Exploration vs. Conflict
Core Mechanic: Determines what the player will
actually do in the game
Key Features: Determines what makes the game
different or better than other games in that genre
A pitch is a concise verbal
(and sometimes visual)
presentation for a film, TV
series, or game, made by
the producer to an executive
in the hope of getting the
financing to do
development. "Pitch" is a
contraction of "sales pitch."
An elevator pitch is a short summary used
to quickly and simply define a product and
its value. The name "elevator pitch"
reflects the idea that it should be possible
to deliver the summary in the time span of
an elevator ride, or approximately thirty
seconds to two minutes.
The term itself comes from the scenario of
accidentally meeting someone important in
an elevator. If the conversation inside the
elevator in those few seconds is
interesting and value adding, then the
conversation will continue after the
elevator ride or end in the exchange of a
business card or a scheduled meeting.
Somehow it always falls to
Mustachio to rally his friends for
their many adventures. Run and
jump through a side-
scrolling world made of and
inhabited by blocks. With
mustaches. A world full of action,
puzzles and arbitrary danger that
Mustachio faces boldly with his
mustache-fueled power to
make block duplicates of himself.
What? Cloning AND mustaches?!
• Game Title
• Target Customer
• Play Value
A Mood Board is a type of collage
that may consist of images and
text that graphic designers use to
visually illustrate the style they are
pursuing. Mood Boards can also
be used to visually explain a style
of writing or an imaginary setting
for a storyline. They serve as a
visual tool to quickly inform others
of the overall "feel" (or "flow") that
a designer is trying to achieve.
To green-light is to give permission to
go ahead to move forward with a
project. The term is a reference to a
green traffic signal, indicating "go
ahead". In the context of the game
industry, to green-light something is to
formally approve its production
finance, and to commit to this
financing, thereby allowing the project
to move forward from pre-production
Game Design Document (GDD)
The lead designer is the principle
author of all the game design
To a programmer and artist, it is
the instructions for implementation.
However, design documentation
should be a team effort, because
almost everyone on the team plays
games and can make great
contributions to the design.
GDD – Other Topics
The Soul of the Game
A good GDD describes not just the Body but the Soul
of the game.
It should convey the feel that the game should have,
the purpose behind each element, the experience
each user will have, and any other aspects of the
game's look and feel the designer can envision and
Ball and Paddle
○ First Person Shooter
○ MMO FPS
○ Light Gun Shooter
○ Shoot ‘Em Up
○ Tactical Shooter
○ Rail Shooter
○ Third Person Shooter
Real-Time 3D Adventure
What’s YOUR favorite game genre?
Defined by gameplay interaction
Classified independent of their setting
Most fall within one genre but some are a
combination of two or more genres
Extra Credits: Combining Genres (4:52)
When combining genres, what should you
What is wrong with the hacking minigame
What’s right with the combat in
Core Game Elements
Theme (for some games)
Single Player vs. Game (Player vs. Environment)
Player vs. Player (Head-to-Head)
Multiple Individual Players vs. Game
Unilateral Multiplayer (One vs. Many)
Multilateral Competition (One vs. One vs. One…
Sports: Team Leader vs. Team Mate
Mastermind: Codemaker vs. Codebreaker
D&D: Fighter, Magic User, Cleric or Thief
MUD: Achievers, Socializers, Explorers or Killers
Objectives (or Goals)
Objectives give players something to
strive for. They define what players are
attempting to accomplish within the
rules of the game.
Ideally, they should be:
Obtainable, but challenging to reach
Worthy of obtaining
Immediately replaced by new goals
Types of Goals
Procedures are the methods of play and the actions
players can take to achieve them.
One way to think about procedures is:
Who does what, when, where and how.
Types of Procedures
Set Up or Starting Action: How to put the game
Progression: Ongoing procedures after the starting
Special Actions: Available conditional to other
elements or game state.
Resolution, or Resolving Actions: Bring gameplay
to a close.
Rules define game objects and allowable actions by the players.
In digital games, rules can be explained in the manual or they
can be explicit in the game itself.
Too many rules might make make the game too complicated for
the players to understand.
Leaving rules unstated or poorly communicating them might
make players feel confused or alienated.
Rules should be consistent with the game’s theme.
Resources are assets that are used to
accomplish the game’s goals.
Resources must both be useful and be
scarce (or they lose their value).
Managing resources and determining how
and when to control player access to them
is a key part of a game designer’s job.
Examples of Resources
Setting: The time and/or place where a
game takes place
Characters: The people in the game setting
whose actions cause the game (or game
story) to progress
Story: A series of game events related to the
game’s setting or characters that presents
the player with an initial problem to solve
near the game’s start and brings closure
near the game’s end
Helps players become engaged
Makes game easier to learn
Tells a compelling story
While many games are thematic, some are
abstract, meaning that they don’t have a theme.
The process of creating content and rules for
The Player’s Journey
“Great games are compelling because the
player’s experience and expertise changes
over time in meaningful ways.” – Amy Jo Kim
Most people talk about a game as one summed up experience – the
game is good, bad, interesting, easy to use, funny or boring.
But in reality, a user’s interaction and journey with a game is
continuously evolving. The game that people play on day 1 is a VERY
different game to them on day 20. The features they see are different,
and the reasons why they are playing the game are different.
If a game attracts people at the beginning, but as time goes by
becomes boring and uninspiring, that’s a failure in design.
Similarly, if a game offers an amazing experience only after 20 hours of
play, but before the 20 hours it’s a grinding and boring experience,
that’s a failure in design too.
Therefore, a good game designer will look at one game as 4
different games, which emphasizes on the 4 Experience Phases
of a game, as defined by Professor Kevin Werbach:
This is when people first discover your
How did they find it? Was it from a friend?
Through the news? Or a clever marketing
How do we entice players to enter the
Magic Circle and experience the other
This is when you train them to become familiar with the rules
of the game, options, mechanics, and the win state.
This is what most designers focus on because everyone
thinks once a player plays their game for some time, they will
fall in love with it.
Mastering the Onboarding Process can get your users to
start participate in your game with excitement and interest.
This is the phase where players use all the rules and options
they learned during onboarding to try to achieve the win-
state as many times as possible.
This is where the most “fun” should happen.
Once you have a well designed win state in scaffolding, you
will start to see player engagement and motivation.
This is when players have done everything there is to do at least
once and are starting to see more repetitive actions to get to the
In this phase, if the designer didn’t create a good endgame, people
easily get bored and quit the game.
But a good endgame can be achieved through evergreen
mechanics as well as creating a system where the game producers
can easily add new content in a system consistently.
If you mastered the endgame, you will create a lot of contributors,
evangelists, and long-term customers.
Game Design Goals
Easy to Learn
Hard to Master
Scope and Time
Flow is the mental state of operation in which a
person performing an activity is fully immersed in a
feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and
enjoyment in the process of the activity.
When players experience flow, time stops, nothing
else matters and when they finally come out of it,
they have no concept of how long they have been
Psychology professor Mihayi
Csikszentmihalyi identified some key factors
that could lead to such a phenomenon:
Clear goals and progress
Constant and Immediate feedback
Balance between the perceived challenge
and the perceived level of skill needed
In 1997 he
world this visual
If a challenge exceeds
the abilities of the
current skill level, it can
lead to frustration
If the skill level is
increasing faster than
the challenge, it leads to
Both of these will
normally end with the
player leaving the game
If we combine the ideas of
Flow and Player Journey,
you can begin to see how a
game, in theory, should
behave in an ideal world.
You start off with a
challenge that is acceptable
for a new comer who is
starting in the game – on-
Over time, you increase the
challenge as skills
increase. Most games tend
to build up each level to a
boss battle of some type.
Not all games have this
A game like Tetris would
have a flow like the top line.
Tetris. There are no lulls in
the progression with Tetris.
It just gets faster and faster,
and you might feel
frustrated until you achieve
A game like WOW would
have a flow like the bottom
line. You must endure
grinding until you get to the
How much skill a player needs to have to
complete a game objective.
Games should be easy to learn, but hard to
When Difficult Is Fun
Extra Credits: When Difficult Is Fun (7:44)
Why were early video games so difficult to
How did the game industry transition to the
philosophy of “Everyone Wins”?
Why are we seeing more difficult games
What’s the difference between “difficult”
Difficult vs. Punishing
Rules should be consistent
Players should be given enough resources
to solve challenges
Players need to be given enough
information to make decisions
The player’s choices should be meaningful
Difficult vs. Punishing
Randomness should only be used for
variety and uncertainty (replay value)
Low iteration time for trying again
Create useable control interfaces
When the player fails, they should feel they
could have done better
A balanced game does
not give an unequal
advantage to any player
(or the game system).
The relative strength of different resources,
mechanics, objectives and starting states.
Are these two characters balanced?
The fighter, on the left, can do 6 points damage,
but the archer, on the right, does only 1 point of
Slight deviations from
perfect balance so players
can discover what choices
will give them an edge
Cyclical Inbalance: When
players gravitate to a weaker
gameplay element looking
for ways to defeat a stronger
Metagame literally means 'beyond the game' and refers to
any planning, preparation, or maneuvering that a player
does outside of actual gameplay to gain an advantage.
Strategic decisions to exploit the game’s rules
Strategic decisions to exploit an opponent's or map's
style of play
Strategic decisions to exploit a player's reaction or
weakened mental state in the future. This is also known
as 'mind games' or 'psychological warfare'.
The greater the
harder it is to
learn how to
play the game.
The number of rules or the number of elements
with which the player interacts.
A cluttered or non-intuitive interface can also
make a game too complex.
Complexity ≠ Difficulty
How much effort or skill is
needed to accomplish a task?
How many different steps or
skills are needed to
accomplish a task?
How many people can
accomplish a task correctly?
How many different ways can
a task be accomplished?
Easy or Hard Simple or Complex
The greater the
depth, the harder
it is master the
The ability to find enjoyment in a game as one’s
Tic-Tac-Toe has few decisions, but it also
has few rules
Chess has more rules and elements, but it
has many interesting decisions
Monopoly has even more rules and
elements, but relatively few meaningful
Depth is directly related to the number of
interesting decisions the player can make.
Complexity vs. Depth
It is the designer’s job to get the
maximum depth with the minimum
Ways to Reduce Complexity
A well-crafted tutorial
Don’t require the player to learn all
the rules before they start playing
Intuitive user interface
Lower the rate at which player’s
must make decisions
Pace is the speed of play, or how quickly the
player receives information and takes action
or makes decisions.
Grab the player’s attention at the start, but keep it
Give them a breather to set the proper baseline for
Oscillate engagement level in a steadily increasing
Intermittent reinforcement is more powerful than
Bring player’s down after an intense experience so
that they feel closure
Arc: The game as a whole
Scene: A subsection or level of the
game (this has its own engagement
Action: A specific moment of player
experience (even this should follow
an engagement curve)
Play Value: The reason a person plays a
Replay Value: The reason they play a
game over and over again
Designers increase replay value by:
Adding more choices to make and things
The age or maturity level of a game’s
Sid Meier: Everything You Know Is
Game design is a psychological experience in
which the designer needs to make the player
feel good about playing the game
Winner Paradox: Player gladly accepts a win,
but complains about an (unsatisfactory) loss
Unholy Alliance (between designer and player):
It’s important for the designer to make the
player feel good about their ability, while the
player needs to suspend their disbelief
The First Fifteen Minutes: Needs to be very
engaging and foreshadows the rest of the game