Game Design 101: Depth and Width

Depth and Width (or Complexity) are an important issue in game design term. A great design between depth and width will lead to a perfect balance between things players will discover more in the game and things players have to remember.


There are two words in the world of the game design which you may hear about it before, ‘Depth’ and ‘Width’ (Sometimes people called ‘Complexity’). But what is it really about?

Let’s make things clear together step by step with some example.


What is Depth?

Well, in case you want to know about depth, I would like you to know about width or complexity first.


Then what is Width?

In case you want to know about width, you need to know about depth first.


lol jk, Let’s get it serious now. ;)


Depth is…

to ask a question to yourself, how much and how often can player chooses or make decisions in your game?

Well, I know that some of you may not understand it yet. So let’s make thing clearer by some example.

Ex. 1 Overwatch

Have you ever play Overwatch? If so, then good. If not, please skip to the next example

Think about how much decision you have to make per second in Overwatch? 

I bet you say a LOT.

At the start, you have to choose which heroes you would like to play? Then many questions come through. Should I walk left or right? Should we dive in or take it slow and steady then charge? Should I flank? Should I get a kill instead of helping healer? Should I use this ability and ultimate right now or save for later? Where should I use this ability, and so much more

In Overwatch, so many things happened in very few second

Ex. 2 Mario

This is one of the most classic games of all time and I am pretty sure that everyone must have ever played it before, so we are going to recall our (bitter)sweet memory and think about it.

In this case, imagine you playing Mario.

How many decisions in you make in Mario? Though all you need to do is move left right and jump around, there is some risk management involved.

Should you jump and hit the block to get the mushroom, but risk getting hit by the monster? or Should I collected those coins and risk getting killed?

See? there are still many decisions in the game that you may overlook.


And this is what we called depth.

Because there are so many things await for players to discover. What can players do more, what can they craft, what can they plan, how can they make a combo?

Some example of thing players can discover more, I will talk about Overwatch (again...)

The team composition in Overwatch. Players choosing Bastion, Orisa, Mercy to make an unstoppable payload.

Symmetra's turrets placing. You can choose to place all 6 in the same place to make a deadly area control or spread all turrets in a different place to support your friends.

Depth is decision making and using what players already know but players can make something more than that.

This is why depth is important, it makes players more creative and feels passionate with our game :)


There is also someone who interpreted depth in the meaning of something hidden in the game.

For instance, Overwatch that sometimes change map details before the next patch of a new hero coming, or even Mario that hides some secret path to collect more coins.

For players, some secrets make games more interesting.


Hope you don’t forget yet

We now discuss what is Depth and Width (Complexity). Let’s head to our next topic.


Width is…

to ask a question to yourself, how many players have to remember in our game? Rules and convention in-game world matters!

I bet that right now you feel like you get a big picture of it, but there is some kind of mist in your head that makes things unclear. Let me blow those mist out with some example.

Ex. 1 Overwatch

As always, if you don’t know about Overwatch, head to the next example.

So, what you need to remember in Overwatch? How to control your character? How to use abilities and ultimate? How many heroes? What are each heroes abilities and ultimate and what can they do? How to win this game? How many times they have to attack or defend? Path and direction in the map, and so much more.

Abilities of hero that players have to remember

Ex. 2 Mario

Is there really any width or complexity in Mario? But the answer is, yes, of course.

How to control our Mario? How to kill monsters? What will happen if we collected coins, mushrooms and sunflowers?

There are so many things to remember in the game, right?

Because without rules and things to remember games is nothing. There is no goal or point in a game for players. Even sandbox or playground game still need rules to control something

Width (Complexity) is about rules and convention in games world. Things that players have to remember.

Width is something that the game designer should really concern. Since it is something that player will face within the very beginning. :)


We have come this far so how should we design Depth and Width in our games?

Depth and Width is an important topic to discuss while and after game design finished to see if the game is interesting enough and/or the game to hard to understand.

If the game is to shallow…

Player will get bored pretty quick.

Think about Overwatch that has only one kind of gun and ultimate for every character. Suck, right? Why should I play that? Since everything is all the same. They can know everything since the very beginning of the game without keep going and discover something new.

Or think about the Mario that has only Mario, no mushroom, no flowers, no secret hidden spots, no coins… You would ask me that, is that still the Mario?

If the game is too wide (or too complex)…

Players will leave your game very soon.

Because it is too much for players to remember, they will feel overwhelmed by rules and convention that they see in the very first time they start the game.

Think about Overwatch that has ten abilities and each ability have different control button or same control button but required press-before. Too complex, right?

Or think about Mario that has 100 different kinds of coins and 1,000 different kinds of monster, will player keep playing and dying to remember all those stuff?

Balance Depth and Width (Complexity) is first key point for successful game project.


Alright then,

I guess that’s all. Thank you so much for reading this long (or short) article, and am sorry for my mistake in vocabulary and/or grammar in advance.

I am still a newbie in the world of game design, so if you have any comments or topic to discuss, I would love to hear from you.



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