Theorycrafting: Maintaining Engagement – How Do Games Keep Us Engaged?

One of the biggest challenges game developers face is maintaining engagement. As such it’s important to understand what keeps us playing the videogames we like and what stops us from playing the games we can’t get into.

Theorycrafting: The 3 Principles Of Game Design

 

Today I’m going to talk about my philosophy on videogames and what I believe to be the 3 main principles of game design. After seeing the saturation of the indie market, I’ve been led to believe that indie developers have struggled to stand out from the crowd and I have pondered whether or not they are aware of what actually makes a successful game. Here are what I personally believe to be the three main principles of game design.

Problem solving

The ability to give reason to your game’s existence lies in problem solving, by solving a problem, you are welcoming a new audience and giving your game an identity. Even a simple problem such as keeping players on track or structuring your narrative to be easier or more entertaining to read can give your game a perception of originality… even though it is not original, this way you can appeal to a specific audience who wants that problem solving and they will in turn buy your game. Problem solving is a skill required in almost all forms of game design including programming, level design and direction. As well as solving problems for an audience, it is important for indie devs to be able to carefully manage their finances and in turn manage their ideas and consider the time and costs of each idea they wish to execute, to do so they need to solve a problem.

Most indie developers try to keep their games as simple as possible to avoid potential financial struggles, the problem I see in a lot of indie games is that they tend to forget the consumer’s perspective, if you cannot solve a consumer’s problem, you might have trouble solving your own financial problems. So it is important to analyze other videogames and search for any potential issues found in those videogames, reading reviews on the steam store page can help you with this. Once you find the problem, you need to solve it, this is where creativity comes to play.

There may be many ways to solve a problem… or very few. The goal is to find a way. There is no easy way to do this, the only help I can give you is that concepts alone cannot make the game, you must give purpose to those concepts to solve a problem and fix the mistakes of your peers. That is how you release an eye-catching and successful videogame.

This applies to any product, just because your toilet brush is coloured pink doesn’t mean it’s going to solve any more problems that a plain white toilet brush, it cleans toilets just as well as the other one. You need to find some way to position your game and make it stand out and by solving a problem that nobody else has, you have accomplished this in the best way possible since not only will someone consider purchasing your game but they might actually crave it and that can be something you can seriously take advantage of.

Motivation

Games are first and foremost a recreational activity that involves a form of simulated kinesis and interaction. As a recreational activity, motivation is key. Problem solving isn’t reason enough to get people to pick up and play a videogame, it is merely a way to garner interest in it. However, a game that fails to motivate is enough to deteriorate that very interest in the game and can put a stain on your game. To motivate is to accommodate the player with a strong premise and ease of access.

There are many things to consider when motivating a player through a game. Balancing ease of access with freedom to interact and experiment is a good way to approach gameplay when considering motivation, you don’t want to drown players in tutorials, nor do you want to throw players in the deep end without any rewarding elements to offer. To motivate the player, they need a reward to strive for and those rewards are:

Exploration (Linear/Open exploration, feed curiosity or encourage curiosity, develop a strong, memorable ambiance, create a strong, enigmatic world)

Growth (Invested empowerment)

Mastery (Educated empowerment)

Personalization (Individuality)

Storytelling (Connection to narrative, characters, plot)

Adrenaline (Kinetic empowerment, empowerment through momentum of simulated motion and interaction)

With that reward in place, a player will be ready to start playing your game

Engagement

No matter how good a game is, the inevitable question of “how long should I keep playing?” will be asked. The goal of engagement is to delay the inevitable by keeping players hooked. A concrete example of this would be to design your game with quality in mind and to consider the time investment your game requires and provide the same level of quality to keep the engagement strong. Rewarding elements can also assist with engagement when executed correctly. However, execution requires more than a simple goal, the process of delivering that goal is the process of engagement. Engagement requires consistency in terms of quality but it may also require a consistent level of variety depending in the targeted audience.

Ultimately it is important to focus on a game’s core elements to keep the level of engagement strong, balancing this with variety is one of the greatest challenges a game developer has to face. This is where pacing comes into play. By focusing on the core elements, players will often forget their motivation, while it is important to remind them of their motivation every so often by maintaining the constant stream of rewarding elements, the goal of engagement is to get players to stop questioning what is motivating them to play the game but to actually keep them playing without them having any time to consider such things.

It is not easy to make a game that is 100% engaging, even some of the best games can fail at doing this at times but if a player feels excited and looks forward to playing your game, you have accomplished what you have set out to do. If a player would rather put down your game and play something else, it might be worth evaluating your game and checking for any potential issues and applying them to later projects. Don’t be put down just because your game is not 100% engaging because the truth is, very few games are and it is this reason why it is difficult to compete in the market. To any budding game developers, remember that you can only try your best and you will never satisfy and/or engage everyone.

I hope this was helpful to you all and helped you see gaming in a different light, if you are a critic, a developer or just simply a gamer who is interested in theoretical discussion, I hope you stick around so that we can discuss more of these things in the future.

Let’s learn from each other and make a better future for gaming.

This was supposed to be¬†uploaded before I uploaded my rewarding elements in videogames video but I wanted to try a more scripted approach with this one to try to make it more concise and to the point.¬†Neon XSZ is a game that ties into this as it is a game that has a lot of potential to be a solid game… but I was disengaged from it for a few reasons, hence the reason why I picked it for the video footage… and to plug it for the developer, I recommend giving it a try if you’re a fan of growth.