What Makes A Game Well-Designed?

When a man was asked why he bought a tacky velvet painting of a nude model for his den, he replied, “I may not know much about art, but I know what I like.”

If you’re reading this, you probably enjoy playing games. But there are some that you enjoyed better than others. Why? Was it just that you liked the theme? The art? The story? The genre?

A well designed game, regardless of genre, puts the player in a state of flow. Flow is the mental state of operation in which a player playing a game is 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 stop playing the game, they have no concept of how long they have been playing.

Game elements that contribute to creating a state of flow include:

  • Clear goals for the player to achieve.
  • A steady stream of not-too-easy, not-too-hard challenges, taking into account that the player’s skill is gradually improving as they play the game.
  • Providing the player with immediate feedback about whether or not s/he has successfully overcome a challenge or met a goal.
  • Replacing met goals with new goals to achieve.

Other essential elements are complexity and depth.

Complexity has to do with how difficult it is to learn a game’s rules. A game should be easy to learn; that is, it should not be so complex that the player cannot understand the rules. That doesn’t mean that a well-designed game can’t have a lot of rules, but if it does, the player should only be required to learn a basic rule set at the start of the game and then be gradually introduced to more advanced rules are s/he progresses.

Depth has to do with how many interesting decisions a player has to make. A game with depth remains interesting to play and has more things to discover even after the player has played it many times. That is, it should be difficult to master.

A well designed game should be easy to learn but difficult to master. That is, it should have a low degree of complexity but a high degree of depth.

The next time you find yourself playing a game that you really enjoyed, stop and ask yourself, how difficult was it for me to learn this game? Did I lose track of time while playing it? And would I enjoy it just as much if I were to play it all over again?



About David Mullich

I am a video game producer who has worked at Activision, Disney, Cyberdreams, EduWare, The 3DO Company and the Spin Master toy company. I am currently a game design and production consultant, a game design instructor at ArtCenter College of Design, and co-creator of the Boy Scouts of America Game Design Merit Badge. At the 2014 Gamification World Congress in Barcelona, I was rated the 14th ranking "Gamification Guru" in social media.

Posted on August 24, 2015, in Game Design. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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