Over the years I’ve created these rules for my own designs and are, for the most part created in large part by what I deem bad design rules that more often than not hurt both the game and the player in some way. They are ranked from most important to least.
1. The game should treat the player’s time as valuable.
This commandment is probably the simplest on the surface but also the one most easily overlooked and can be quite game changing both figuratively and literally. It means a lot of small things for example don’t force players to replay content, don’t have overly long animations, don’t give the player simple busy work, etc.
The philosophy behind this is that a given game should be a valuable use of any given persons time through interactive merit alone. Because I believe games can be a worthwhile endeavor to indulge in, in that they can surprise, challenge and reward you. And most of all, people’s time is limited and them to invest that limited commodity in your game should be a worthwhile trade for them.
2. The complexity of the game should be in the strategy, not in knowing the rules.
This commandment goes back to the first one. Humans are incredible at problem solving and one way to make that task harder for people is to simply add rules or option to simply obfuscate the solution. By obfuscating the “real” options the designer simply isn’t valuing the players time. Not to mention this also makes learning a given game far easier, although doing this all correctly makes the life of a designer harder.
3. The player should be having the fun, not the designer.
Often times designers, especially those trying to build on a realistic setting, focus on making stories, deep simulations or complex algorithms. Those can be amazingly fun to make for designers but aren’t necessarily fun for the player. For example a complex wind system in a dog fighting game that influences all kinds of small factors in the planes ability to fly and would be amazing to make, but it isn’t something most players would even think about let alone be able to use rather it adds functional randomness for the vast majority of players that can be frustrating.
4. The most fun way to play the game should also be the best way to play.
This commandment talks most, to what in online games is called, grieving but also is aimed at other aspects of play. Most RPG’s are obvious examples of having the best way of playing not be the most fun way of playing. This being grinding, which is performing a easy task to gain minimal rewards over and over again, as this is a perfect strategy by it by sheer possibility being guaranteed to work to overcome a challenge. Another common strategy that would fit such a bill is found in shooters. This being sitting in a safe place while shoot others while other players have little to no way of countering that strategy, otherwise known as camping.
Both grinding and camping are both ruining the fun of the game, one is ruining the fun of the player and the other is ruining the fun of their opponents by using a easy but hard to counter strategy.
5. The game should feel like they have a clear win/loss state.
A clear win lose state provides first of all a sense of accomplishment, something a campaign based game or high score based game doesn’t really do in most cases. While a high score games does judge your effectiveness of your approach it doesn’t give a hard and conclusive “You’re doing good” back to the player but rather a “you are doing this good” which makes it feel less of an accomplishment. However with significant investment in game feel you are able to make a new highscore or simply a ranking on the board feel like a hard win to the player.
And campaign based play has the distinct disadvantage of being roughly the same once the game is done which greatly decrease the value of repeat play. Secondly it’s not uncommon for campaign based play has the distinct issue of “throw solutions at it to see what sticks”, making the stakes involved far lower. While repeat play might not be very important to some games, understanding the system is. Forcing a puzzle by sheer luck or winning a combat encounter by cheesing the system or just mashing generally doesn’t feel like a clear win to the player, rather it feels like the cheated the system.
Match based play on the other hand gives hard concrete feedback on your strategy and those of your opponent. This also curbs knowledge of fixed solutions and rather rewards generalized game knowledge and it’s states.
6. The game will reward and encourage skill and growth.
As explained in “The Theory of fun” by Ralph Koster learning is often the most important part of getting enjoyment. Ambiguity in learning is important in a given game as this allows a designer to constantly present the player with new and yet also comparable situations to those they have encountered before. Thanks to this players are able to use existing knowledge of a game’s systems without needing memorization of solutions to succeed. As they get feedback they will learn new ways to play and develop their strategy, otherwise known as learning.
More importantly however if an situation is too easy to or too hard to figure out they won’t learn. If it’s too easy the won’t expand their knowledge of the game and by extension won’t learn but if it’s too hard all strategic paths come up with the same negative result and thereby also doesn’t expand their knowledge of the game.
7. The game should not stop being interesting without new content.
Most modern video-game break the commandment for the simple reason of having only finite content. A obvious and famously example of this being Super Mario Bros., after playing Mario once you’ve seen almost all content to be found in the game. Thanks to this and it’s reliance on authored content to create fun it becomes less interesting with every run, unless the player itself sets rules for themselves like is done in speedrunning.
That isn’t to say that authored content is not a valid way of making games, but has the distinct disadvantage of having a predefined shelf life.
Another issue is that a lot of content could simply end up as a false choice. A good example being Pichu in Smash Bros. Melee which is a character that is a worse version of an already existing character, thus strategically speaking making Pichu a false choice.
On the other hand games that don’t rely on new content to be fed to the player don’t have those issues while being able to be played indefinably.
8. Avoid a reliance on luck.
Luck is great in games but it’s also an easy way to patch up faulty games. An over reliance of luck or luck used to “fix” a game has a a distinct issue, that being that it obfuscate strategic results. Your decision can be a perfectly good one but thanks to luck get you a negative result and more egregious would be a obviously wrong strategic choice that results in good outcome. Both of these situations create a scenario where a player learns bad decisions are good and “unlearns” the knowledge about the game. This should be avoided.
9. Carefully place your information horizon.
The information horizon is the point after which a player can’t realistically see the future game state anymore. Placing this horizon to far can lead to analysis paralysis, which is a situation where a player tries to calculate all the possible future game states and weigh of his options eventually turning the game into a “who can look ahead the farthest” match rather than a match of strategy. especially in turn based games. An obvious option to curb this behavior is to cap the amount of time someone can take on a given decision and this is a perfectly valid way to solve this if it’s usable. Another issue with an wrongly place information horizon is that when it’s placed to close it leads to actions of a player being more or less random which can create situations that are spoken about in commandment 8.
10. The game should always be moving towards its conclusion.
This commandment is to say, players should not be able to take repeatable actions that move the game further away from the end conditions. This is for the very simple reason that going back to a former game state is boring in many cases. The reason that moving to a previous game state is boring is thanks to interesting decisions coming from novel situations, going back to previous states curbs this and cuts down the value of the the time spent.
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