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A list of things I generally consider when designing a game. Do you agree/disagree? Share your thoughts!

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Here is a list of things I generally consider when designing a game (in no particular order). These are personally preferences/opinions based on my own experiences.

  • Progression
    • Players need to feel as if they are progressing in a meaningful way as they play your game. Whether it's for 5 minutes, or an hour, or more! (depending on how long you intend a play session to typically last).
  • Challenge
    • EVERYONE that plays needs to feel challenged, always. Challenges are fun, but don't make it too hard because it can easily discourage players. Challenges comes in all shapes and sizes. They can be puzzles, opponents, figuring out how to build your deck, etc.
    • Each facet of the game should typically offer some kind of challenge to the player. Something to "figure out". It doesn't always have to be hard, but things generally shouldn't just be handed to the player.
  • Customization
    • Players should be able to differentiate themselves from others in a meaningful way. Cosmetics and Abilities are what it really boils down to. Altering your "stats" is essentially altering your abilities so attribute/stat customization is really ability customization.
  • Reward
    • Players MUST be rewarded for their actions.
    • Rewards should be satisfying and something the player is interested in.
    • The more challenging something is, the greater the reward should be.
    • Offer micro and macro rewards. For instance, in High Moon you are rewarded +1 damage for "Apexing" during a face-off (micro reward) and then doing damage/effects for winning the face-off and avoiding damage/effects (macro reward).
  • Consequences
    • Along with rewards, there should be a punishment for playing poorly. Technically a reward is a consequence as well but typically we think of consequences as a negative.
    • Consequence means player choice has weight and meaning. If the player has options in a game, those options should matter and alter their experience.
    • Punishment shouldn't be so severe that it discourages the player. They are playing a game to have fun, and over penalizing a player isn't fun. Punishments that require a player to sink a significant amount of time back into the game are bad (I'm looking at you, Everquest corpse runs!).
  • Different ways to win
    • Players should have different paths and options for winning the game. Guild Wars 2 is a great example of this. Each quest usually had 2 ways to complete it that suited different tastes.
    • The different ways to win should be equally viable. This means no overpowered build in your card game that results in everyone wanting to play that build. It means in an MMO, no OP builds for classes in games. It means balanced options that treat all player's preferences equally (this is extremely hard to do, and developers spend years trying to balance their game). If designing paths in a level, each one should be equal but different. Example: Path 1 is shorter and takes less time, but has harder monsters or more traps. Path 2 is easier but takes longer.
  • Immersion
    • An important part of immersion is simply how you present the game to people. Do you have a cluttered UI? Does the game constantly take you out of context with pop-up boxes and notifications? (*cough*neverwinter lockboxes*cough*).
    • Story. Story is important, and how it's presented is even more important. I feel it is better to present story in small bits throughout the game, not all at once or several giant chunks. Allow the story to unfold in smaller ways, it feels more fluid. Star Wars: The Old Republic (and other bioware games) do an amazing job at immersing you with the story because you choose what your character says. The game treats you like you are actually there, instead of like a spectator.
    • Bad Example of presenting story: "John! Oh I'm so glad your here. The town is on fire and I couldn't find you! Please you must go rescue my cat, whiskers. He's all I have left after my grandpa died. I'll give you 5 gold coins if you do it, just please! Please John!"
    • Good example of presenting story: "John! I need you, I lost my cat escaping the flames, please go find whiskers!" (after the cat is found) "Thank you! Whiskers is all I have left after my grandpa died. Here's 5 gold, you must take it for your troubles".
    • It's also not important how unique the premise of your story is. Sure, your game may be the 100,000th zombie apocolypse game. That doesn't matter. What matters is how you tell the story. That's where people get immersed, that's how it becomes compelling.
  • Social
    • Games are often more fun with friends. Mobile games have some pretty unique and simple ways of making their games social...even for single player games. Example: Dead Ahead allows you to connect to facebook and see your friends' high scores. It also lets you see where they've died in any given level/how far they made it.
    • If the game is meant to be multiplayer, that should mean more than just people are sharing the same online space. Give player's GOOD reasons to play together. Make the experience altogether more rewarding and more interesting when player's work together. Make it easy for people, and especially friends, to play together.
    • Example: Rift allows you right click any player and form a group with them without their consent. It has no negative consequences whatsoever.
    • Example 2: Guild Wars 2 gives you a map notification of defeated players who can be brought back to life, and then gives you experience for doing so.
    • Example 3: Tomb Raider: Guardian of Light, players MUST work together to solve puzzles and progress, it cannot be done Solo.
    • Example 4: In Warframe, if you are playing with others, there will be locked doors that require two players to press buttons at the same time for them to open. This is small, but it forces players to work together instead of independently.
    • Independence is not something you want in a social game. Interdependence (i.e. "I could do this on my own, but it will be better and more rewarding with someone else) and dependence is best.
  • Art/Graphics
    • Whatever style you choose, do it well. Art is the first impression a player gets of a game. Make it count. Art needn't be lavish or expensive, just make it look good.
    • Art cannot save a poorly designed game. Many mobile games try to cover up horrible design with good art. Good art makes a game seem more legitimate, a higher production value and thus we think it would offer an equally good game design...but it's just a trick to get you to download the game, open it up and see ads while you waste your time realizing the game sucks.
  • K.I.S.S.
    • Keep it simple, stupid! Don't over complicate your game. This doesn't mean the game needs to be simple. What it really means is simplify.
    • Don't make it look like there are millions of choices when 99% of them have the same result. Don't make skills that look different but do the exact same thing, just have the one skill or make them each different!
    • Don't offer a million choices for different game types because you CAN (board games do this all the time). Figure out what is most fun, and offer that.
    • Don't spend 10 hours working on something a player see's for 1 second. Don't spend hours writing out a generic dialogue player's will skip anyway. Refine it, simplify it to it's core purpose.
    • DO spend 10 hours writing significant dialogue that is well written, moving, and important to the story.
    • Etc
  • Is it fun?
    • "Fun" is completely subjective. Though there seems to be some general objective things that people find fun, many of which we're listed above.
    • Because fun is subjective, you can't expect everyone to love your game. That's why we choose a "target audience", a group of people who general share the same subjective opinion of what is fun or not.
    • A lot of mobile/free to play games aren't actually fun. They are designed the same way a slot machine or lottery is, it appeals to a psychological weakness in the human brain that urges them to continue playing beyond any true logical reason. Sort of a "waiting for the fun to happen" (payouts). Real fun is immediately rewarding. It's not a gear treadmill, it's not a grind, it's not a "title" or an empty "achievement" that took hours and hours of monotonous, punishing gameplay to get. It's not, stop fooling yourself. Get out of the casino, put down the lotto ticket and go do something fun.

So do you agree or disagree with the points in this list? How do your favorite games stack up? Or for you indies, how does YOUR game stack up (challenge issued!)?

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