Practice makes perfect. The more you do something, the better you’ll get at it. Most game design resources such as books give a bunch of ideas like ‘make the player feel immersed in the game world’ and ‘make the core game loop fun’ but they never really go into detail about how to go about doing so. It occurred to me that a good game designer instinctively knows what to do throughout their game’s development in order to make it into a “good” game, but how? There has to be a formula of some kind, but what is it? Here’s my quick take on it:
Do my choices matter? Games like Tic-Tac-Toe and the classic card game War might quickly become stagnant and boring because there isn’t a whole lot to influence the outcome of the game once the player figures out the optimal strategy or lack thereof. Therefore, the player must feel like their actions actually matter and must involve active decision-making.
Does the game challenge me? With few exceptions, an easy game won’t keep the player around for long, as everything is “automated” inside of the player’s mind that will lead to easy victories. The inverse is also true: if a game is too hard, many players are likely to just abandon the game quickly. Therefore, proper difficulty curves are necessary for a “good” game.
Is the game visually appealing? Obviously successful games have been made with what could be defined as sub-par graphics, but if a game’s art style is not cohesive, or if the user interface is just plain gaudy… players might be quick to dismiss it as another amateur indie game not worth playing.
Does the game compel me to come back for more? If a game doesn’t have much to do past a short period of time, or if the game is too repetitive, players will have better things to do. There has to be enough incentive for a player to keep coming back to the game, or else they’ll just play it for a little bit, then get bored and ask for a refund from Steam.
Actionable Takeaways: These four “pillars” are a decent guideline, but that’s all they are: guidelines. There’s much more than just following a rubric that goes into making a “good” game. Lots of skill is required to execute the pillars effectively, and that skill comes from failing over and over until you’ve learned enough to get it right.
In the end, it really is just a matter of trying over and over again until your attempts become successes. With the skill that comes about through practice, your games will get better and better, and you’ll have more of a clue of what you’re doing before development goes in the wrong direction. As long as you can reliably execute according to these basic guidelines, any game has the potential to be great. Oh, and don’t forget to do enough playtesting with real players in order to figure out if you’re hitting all of these points.
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Thank you so much for reading my article! I’m Daniel Doan, the Co-Founder of Black Shell Media. We're a publishing and marketing firm dedicated to helping indie developers succeed.