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How intentionally frustrating players can lead to better game design

Some decisions made by Duelyst's designer aim to intentionally frustrate players because that frustration can lead to powerful feedback and, in turn, fuel more meaningful design.

Alissa McAloon, Publisher

March 10, 2017

2 Min Read

"When it comes to intentionally frustrating players…we see that as an opportunity to engage with players on an emotional level that they might not necessarily experience in day-to-day life."

- Designer John Treviranus explains the benefit of including frustration-invoking features in video games.

John Treviranus is the designer for Duelyst, a game that crosses turn-based strategy with collectible card battling. He says that, like any developer working on a competitive multiplayer game, he’s seen his share of player complaints whenever a change or new card addition comes into play. 

But Treviranus told Kotaku that there’s value in these complaints. Rather, he says some design decisions are done to intentionally frustrate players because he’s found that it can lead to powerful feedback and, in turn, fuel more meaningful design.

“Sometimes people on the team come to me with feedback like, ‘You cannot make this card. This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen. It’s horrible.’ I think a lot of designers’ natural reaction to that is gonna be, ‘OK, cool. I’ve just gotta get rid of it,’” explained Treviranus. 

“Whereas my inclination is more like, 'Hah, this card really fired them up.' It’s all a matter of finding the line where that thing’s not like broken or overpowered, or so frustrating that you just hate playing the game because it’s in every deck, or something like that.”

He says that there are essentially two kinds of frustration: terminal and engaging. While terminal frustration leads players to ultimately abandon a game, engaging frustration can deepen the connection players feel with both the game and its community. Triggering that emotional reaction is ultimately beneficial for both developers and players alike. 

For a deeper look at the beneficial side of frustrating design, and more how games like Duelyst and even Overwatch benefit from it take a look at the full interview on Kotaku

About the Author(s)

Alissa McAloon

Publisher, GameDeveloper.com

As the Publisher of Game Developer, Alissa McAloon brings a decade of experience in the video game industry and media. When not working in the world of B2B game journalism, Alissa enjoys spending her time in the worlds of immersive sandbox games or dabbling in the occasional TTRPG.

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