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Want to make your game fun? Challenge player expectations

Expectation and uncertainty are some of the biggest barriers to fun in video games, reasoned a panel of game researchers and developers at the Develop conference today.
Expectation and uncertainty are some of the biggest barriers to fun in video games, reasoned a panel of game researchers and developers at the Develop conference today. Robb Rutledge, senior research associate for the Wellcome Trust, explained that player uncertainty can really boost how much a consumer enjoys your game -- "if you know exactly what you're going to get, it will no longer be interesting," he noted. A player's prior expectations of an experience can work alongside this uncertainty, for better or for worse. Player Research founder Graham McAllister explained that if the player finds that a game does not live up to their expectations from the get-go, this can immediately break their enjoyment of the game, and from that point it can be hard to fully bring them back into the fray. On the flip side, if a player is presented with a reward or experience that goes above and beyond what they were expecting, that can have very positive effects on fun. "It's good to be surprised by how good a reward is," he said. Contrast is another key element of fun in video games, argued McAllister. He reasoned that it is OK to let a player experience some frustration with gameplay, or maybe a cooldown period after a huge chunk of action, as this then creates a "calm before the storm" situation, with rising expectation that can lead to even more enjoyment. He noted that, in particular, it's a great idea to offer players a cooldown period during which they are fully aware that they are safe to walk around with no action going on, such as how the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series tackles the concept. This means that the player isn't always on edge and can relax and enjoy themselves more. Elsewhere, Mediatonic's Paul Croft reasoned that the platform your game is aimed at has a direct correlation on how quickly you need to engage your audience through expectation and uncertainty. For example, with browser games a studio needs to grab players quickly, offering instant rewards and gameplay that builds up rapidly. In comparison, a console game can build the situation up more slowly, introducing fun elements and rewards gradually.

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