Ways To Describe Your Game

Can you name this game from this description?

“A puzzle game where several different types of colored blocks continuously fall from above and you must arrange them to make horizontal rows of blocks. Completing any row causes those blocks to move downwards. The blocks above gradually fall faster and the game is over when the screen fills up and blocks can no longer fall from the top.”

Well, of course you can. The game is obviously Tetris.  However, this description is quite wordy, and while it is accurate, it doesn’t quite capture the experience of playing the game.

There are quite a number of ways that we can describe a game to someone else, each conveying a substantial aspect of the game in only a few words.

For example, we could describe the game’s core mechanic: rotate shapes to fill rows. Rotating shapes is the action we perform hundreds, if not thousands, of times while playing Tetris, and filling a row is a perpetual short-range goal of the game.

We could also describe the game by its genre: puzzle.  The genre tells us whether the skills required to succeed in the game are more based on dexterity or strategy (puzzle games are focused on strategy), and whether the game objectives are more about exploration or overcoming challenges (and in this puzzle game, the challenge is to fill rows and eliminate them before they fill up the screen).

Another way to describe a game is by its theme, if it has one.  A theme is the setting. story or even just a character that provides a narrative or aesthetic context for the game mechanics.  In the case of Tetris, the theme is Russian — the game has a Russian name and is often implemented with Russian graphics and music.

An important way to describe a game is by what makes it fun to play.  Any game fun (hopefully!), but the type of fun varies from game to game.  Ubisoft Creative Director VandenBerghe devised these “5 Domains of Play” to describe the different ways in which a game can be fun:

  • Novelty: Surprises vs. Predictability
  • Challenge: Hard vs. Easy
  • Stimulation: Exciting vs. Calm
  • Harmony: Building vs. Destroying
  • Threat: Dangerous vs. Cheerful

A game like Tetris has a high degree of Challenge, Stimulation and Threat, although it doesn’t have a high degree of Novelty (the only surprise is which shape will appear next) or Harmony (the player builds rows, which then immediately get destroyed).

Of course, we must not neglect our players!  For whom we design our game is another way to describe it.  No one game is truly made for everyone (any attempt to do so would only result in a game that no one wants to play), and so we can describe the target players for our game by such demographic factors as age, gender, favorite genre, skill level, preferred game session length, or even income level (not everyone can afford to buy the latest AAA game.)  Tetris does appeal to many type of players, but I would say that it mostly appeals to those who prefer casual types of games: ones that have a smooth learning curve and can be played for short sessions.

With so many games coming out each year, it is also important to describe what makes our game stand out from the competition.  In marketing terms, this description is called the product’s Unique Selling Proposition.  What differentiates Tetris from other puzzle games, other than its Russian theme, is its unusually high degree of addictiveness.

That’s a lot of different ways to describe a game.  However, we can wrap up all those definitions into one nice, neat package called an Elevator Pitch.  This is a short (spoken in about the length of an elevator ride, hence its name) description of a product or service that contains all its essential information.  With a game, the general format might be:

Game Title is a game genre set in theme for target player.  It features core game mechanics that bring play value.  Unlike competition, this game unique differentiation.

Wrapping it all up, we might describe Tetris as “a Russian puzzle game for casual players, who are challenged by rotating falling pieces to fill lines before they fill the screen.  Unlike many other puzzle games, Tetris is extremely addictive.”

We can whittle this down further by removing some unnecessary words and make the remaining ones a little more exciting:

“Race against the clock to match and arrange vertically falling colored blocks before they stack too high and fill the screen!”

Not only is this description shorter, you probably found it more interesting, because rather than precisely describing the gameplay, the second version focuses on the excitement of playing the game.  In fact, the description with the fewer words arguably does a better job of conveying the essence of the game experience, which is often far more important than describing the details of the game.

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About David Mullich

I am a video game producer who has worked at Activision, Disney, Cyberdreams, EduWare, 3DO and the Spin Master toy company. I am currently a game design and production consultant, Lead Faculty, Game Production Program at The Los Angeles Film School, co-creator of the Boy Scouts of America Game Design Merit Badge, and answer kid’s questions about game design on the Boy’s Life website. At the 2014 Gamification World Congress in Barcelona, I was rated the 14th ranking "Gamification Guru" in social media.

Posted on January 9, 2017, in Game Design and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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