Think Like a Game Designer

This morning I woke up and told myself – “I AM A GAME DESIGNER!” Just to get the juices flowing.

Being a good game designer as opposed to a “game player” is understanding the components and structure used to create a unique game experience.

Structural Elements in a Successful Game

This past weekend I played Pictionary with a few friends. It was my first time playing this classic, and I thought it was super fun, so here are a few reasons why I thought Pictionary was so fun.

  • Progression – Whenever you win a round in pictionary, you get to move this plastic representation of your team across the map. The map is really really simplistic – it’s basically a straight line – but it makes you feel productive. You’re moving forward and advancing towards a goal.
  • Social Interaction – The best part of Pictionary. You team up with friends, laugh at their terrible drawings and celebrate your victories together. This was the meaty part of the “fun,” which I’ll describe in more depth below.
  • Novel – The game constantly changes. You aren’t drawing the same way over and over again. For example it introduces limitations to drawing such as with your off hand or without lifting pencil from paper etc. This keeps the game fresh and interesting for the players.

Rules of Game Design

Again referencing the gamification course taught by Wharton Professor, Kevin Werbach, there are three main rules for game design.

  1. Progression. Game players like to go through a journey. Game designers break this journey down into three components. Onboarding – getting the user into the game as seamlessly as possible. Scaffolding – providing the training wheels so players can learn the rules of the game and overcome complexity early on. Pathways to mastery – when users achieve real skill in the context of the game.
  2. Balance. Monopoly is a example that shows great balance within a game economy. Players don’t start with too much money in the beginning, or too little, such that it becomes impossible to progress. Balance is also built into the prices of the properties.
  3. Create an experience. Turntable.fm is a google example of the application of this rule. To make the experience of playing music more engaging, the site simulates a club experience.

How to Make Something Fun

As I alluded to previously, this is a list of elements to help define the nebulous term “fun.”

Fun means…

  • winning
  • problem solving
  • exploring
  • relaxing
  • teamwork
  • recognition
  • triumphing – above and beyond winning, this is when you crush someone else
  • collecting
  • surprise/novelty
  • imagination
  • sharing
  • role playing
  • customization
  • goofing off, random silliness.

In retrospect, Pictionary involved multiple elements of fun to create such a great game experience. I recognized the desire for winning. Problem solving also in figuring out the best way to draw a difficult picture, and in interpreting some horrible drawings. Teamwork with a group of close friends. Recognition for a particularly clever drawing or adroit guess. I like winning, but even more than winning, I like triumphing, which happened during this game (Sorry ladies). Surprise, imagination, and goofing off – all incorporated within one super fun little game.

Levels of Fun

According to this paper by Nicole Lazzaro, CEO of XEO Design, fun can be broken down into 4 main categories.

  1. Easy fun – which involves random silliness
  2. Hard fun – e.g. problem solving or challenges. You typically need to overcome something in a hard fun experience.
  3. People fun – This involves the fun of socializing and working on a team. It can incorporate either easy fun or hard fun or both.
  4. Serious fun – fun doing something meaningful e.g. good for the community and planet. This is an amazing site on the subject of serious fun.

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