Which aspects are important in a game?

Posted by (twitter: @strong99)
March 7th, 2015 9:00 am

Although there are millions of games these days, only a few really succeed and even less are worth to play. How is this possible? A game consists of a set of rules, right? But a bunch of rules don’t make it fun to play. Actually, far from in my opinion. Throwing in some random rules doesn’t make a game good. So, which aspects are important related to the rules and make it worth the play? What gives rules the edge to play a game again and again?

There are lots different theories about that. But let’s start analyzing it a bit on our own first.
Take FarmVille, already a much debate game reflecting micro economics and social play. While you’re forced to do social play and use the micro economics, most people keep returning as long as they can. Why do they get back? If you ask players what makes the game fun, you’ll receive several answers. I took the three most heard reasons to analyze:

  • It’s my farm
  • I keep finding new stuff
  • Crops harvesting before they wither

My farm in FarmVille

It’s my farm ‘cause I build it

What makes them think it’s their farm? Well, they have put time in it, they decorated the farm themselves by earning or buying options. It gives the player the idea it’s his own farm. He actually did create the farm based on the game’s rules. It’s like drawing a painting or building a house. You put effort in it to create it. It’s a strong drive for players to return. We can define this as “creativity” and “ownership”. Depending on the theories I know there are around 4 to 16 “drivers”.

The need of collecting

Will you keep finding new stuff? Yes, because there isn’t much stronger than the human’s curiosity. If it grabs hold of your attention. You want to know all of it. So that’s a very strong game driver. The drivers I normally define are: calling, creativity, curiosity, possession, social pressure, impatience, scarcity and accomplishments. If a game contains all of these, the theory is, it will be playable by most if not all people.

The need to avoid loss

In FarmVille you need to tend your crops like a baby? A very strong drive in this game to get back is to prevent your farm from dying. The last thing you want is to hinder the progress of building your farm by letting crops wither. This forces you to get back regularly. Yet, they don’t go as far as destroying the entire farm. The behavior is known as avoidance and creates a pressure driver.

I can analyze a game much further than this to find if the game is good. But luckily I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There are already a lot of gamification and analyzing guidelines and frameworks you can grab. In the past I used the following frameworks: Octalysis, Marczeweski, GAME, RAMP and much more. They contain questions, constraints and rules. I often find these incomplete and I normally use a set of frameworks to get all drivers and aspects correctly.

Although a game implementing all these drivers has more change of succeeding, focusing on less drivers could also end up being a very popular game. But even in a first person shooter where the focus lies with the story and thrill for action it often also contains ownership and creativity. Weapons, different paths to solve the level and even scores are related to a driver. But they aren’t always very clear or even the focus of the game.

Although these frameworks can predict your game’s popularity and acceptance, I see them more as guidelines. I find it easier to set up a fun game and balance my game before development starts. It allows me to shift my attention to actually creating the game rather than endlessly include game testers and that makes it easier to compare it with your target audience’s profile.

This is my second of a series of blogs on “What makes a good game”.

You probably unconsciously use a lot of these aspects already. can you find them? How do you define your game’s aspects during Ludum Dare?

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4 Responses to “Which aspects are important in a game?”

  1. Tim Bumpus says:

    I cringe a little when I read stuff like this. I have no problem with game theory; The Art of Game Design is one of my favorite books and it provides valuable insight. In the traditional player-types model organized by card suite, “building your farm” might be the goal of a Spade (Explorer), and collecting would be the goal of a Diamond (Achiever). But including certain things in a game from a list of “important aspects” is not how you make it good. You have to choose what to include based on what’s best for the game.

    A game can be “designed” just as a work of art in any other medium can be, but you can’t design its heart, the source of life at the center. That’s the sort of thinking that leads all kinds of entertainment industries into making the same sorts of things over and over. You must know what your game is about, or what it must convey or feel like, to know which aspects are important for it to take on.

    Here’s an article I like that’s relevant. http://www.jonas-kyratzes.net/2012/03/19/games-art-and-michael-stipe-laughing/

    • strong99 says:

      I fully agree with a game needing a heart. But I don’t feel that the theories I mentioned force you into a box on what you design. They’re intended to guide and to show what’s missing or important. How you as the designer accomplish those aspect mentioned in the theories are up to you. If games start to resemble each other that’s just copying and will miss their heart.
      What I mean is: for example the driver “accomplishment” from the Octalysis, it doesn’t force you to add a “medal” for achievements, yet a lot of game developers do that. Why? Because its known to work. But the important aspect here is: “the accomplishment”, not the medal itself. I think that re-using the medal directly intervenes with the driver “Curiosity”. Just because if we add a medal, we can’t use it for this driver and need to think of another solution to fill the “Curiosity” field. Adding more and more to make up for the aspects will probably make it more complex for the users. Creativity and innovation are still important to get the best out of the theories.
      How would you make sure your target audience enjoys your game?

      • Tim Bumpus says:

        “How would you make sure your target audience enjoys your game?”

        This is going to sound arrogant, especially coming from me, because I haven’t made a game in years, let alone a particularly good one. (I just still check the LD site from time to time.) But honestly, if you want people to enjoy your game, just make a good game. If you don’t think your game is fun, and you wouldn’t play it if someone else made it, then your audience will react the same. It’s usually pretty easy to tell whether you’ve made a good game. It’s harder to actually make a good game.

        P.S. “Target audience” is a weird concept that I don’t usually think about. You’re free to target certain groups yourself, but when I make something, I prefer it suits anyone who stumbles across it. Well, anyone who can read English, anyway. There’s always that barrier. =p

  2. Jajo says:

    The philosophy of game development. My brain doesn’t go this deep D:

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