14 Elements of Great of Game Design

In this post we'll discuss the basic elements of great game design and ask ourselves questions about how we can make sure that our game rocks.

Game design is a very interesting and fluid process. For indies, we have far more limited resources and so we'll have to be very clever about how we handle each element in our game design. It'll take some real ingenuity to use our resources wisely and to fill in gaps for lack of resources when we need to. 

Obviously, every game is very different. There's been some excellent games that focus purely on game mechanics and simply using those mechanics to strategically move through a level (Super Meat Boy) and there's been games that are packed full of achievements, quests, and just about everything else in this list. This list is just purely something that I use when starting out designing a game along with questions I like to ask to help me build something fun and amazing. 

Story & Characters
What characters does your game have that people can identify with or take an interest in? Is the story in your game compelling or interesting? Does it set you up to be able to produce sequels?

Urgency & Time
Does your game create a sense of urgency in the player? Is there areas where the game is slow and could potentially be boring to players? Is time something that you can use to create more urgency or excitement in your game?

Are players excited to play your game? Are they proud when they achieve something? Does your story create sadness, intrique, a sense of accomplish or others? How are you using emotion to draw people into the game? Do they get frustrated? Frustrated enough to quit playing?

Theme & Venue
What the venue for your game? How does the venue play into the theme or your game? Is your venue consistent across your game? Are there things you should remove or add to the game to make your venue appropriate? Do your graphics match across your venue and targeted mood? 

Risk & Punishment
Do players take risks within your game? Are the risks worth the reward that they can obtain. Too much punishment? Too little? 

Do you offer good rewards for your players? Do players know how to get them? Do you have an appropriate balance of creating low rewards for low risks and high rewards for high risks? 

Surprises & Secrets
Are there elements of surprise in your game? Are there secrets that players can unlock? Are they intrigued by the unknown mysteries within your game?

Can players enjoy experiences with their friends in your game? Can they share their progress? Are you allowing them to display their achievements and accomplishments? Can they meet new people?

Skill & Challenge
How does skill factory into the game? Do you need skill? Can you acquire skill over time? Is there some chance in your game? Too much chance? Too little? Is the game too easy? too hard? Are there puzzles in your game? 

Graphics & Atmosphere
Are your graphics consistent? Do they match your venue? Do they detract from your game? Are they the quality that you are trying to obtain? 

Hidden Items & Curiosity
Are there hidden items in your game? Do your hidden items spark curiosity and investigation? Are the hidden items too hidden? Are they not hidden at all? Do you have easter eggs? 

(Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. Zombies has some of the most complex easter eggs around)

Is the game fair? Do you accomodate new users? Do you give appropriate advantages to experienced players?  

Have you tested your game? Have you tested it with others? Have you tested it with people who will give you accurate feedback? 

Does your game have an end goal or goals? Can the player find a sense of true accomplishment? What do they get for achieving their goals? 

At the end of it all, your entire sole purpose is to build a game that is incredibly fun. If you take all of the elements on this list and build something that's not fun, your efforts have been in vain. Likewise, if you throw this list away and build something amazing, great work, you're a rockstar and you should write a book on game design :) I hope this list helps you build a great game.
Happy Playtesting,

Josh Caba is an indie game developer focused on teaching people to create great games in Unreal Engine. Follow him at @joshcaba and see his other work at

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