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Simple Game Mechanics for Smooth Design & Good Times

“A single constraint on the possible gameplay actions that determine a part of the player’s experiences.”

Game mechanics must be places in opposition to one another, much like the legs of a tripod. That way, instead of creation a single boundary (therefore, no choices) they create a region of interactivity for the player to operate within.

In modern games, in order to give an “edge” consider using two tested and true mechanics and one completely new and innovative. The old will support the new and, if balanced correctly, will build an amazingly fun game.

Examples of Very Popular Games with a Simple, Solid Mechanic as its Gameplay Core:

Classic Examples: Super Mario World

Mechanic: Platforming+Coin Rewards+Kill Monsters

Indy Examples: Braid

Mechanic: Avoid Monster+Platforming+Time Reversal

AAA Examples: Shadow of the Colossus

Mechanic: Ride+Climb Moving Target+Stab Moving Target

Mobile “casual” games: Angry Birds, Bejeweled, Canabalt


Seven Simple but Proven Game Mechanics:


1. Achievement

Definition: A virtual or physical representation of having accomplished something. These are often viewed as rewards in and of themselves.

Example: a badge, a level, a reward, points, really anything defined as a reward can be a reward

2. Avoidance

Definition: The act of inducing player behavior not by giving a reward, but by not instituting a punishment. Produces consistent level of activity, timed around the schedule.

Example: Press a lever every 30 seconds to not get shocked.

3. Behavioral Momentum

Definition: The tendency of players to keep doing what they have been doing.

Example: From Jesse Schell’s awesome Dice talk : “I have spent ten hours playing Farmville. I am a smart person and wouldn’t spend 10 hours on something unless it was useful. Therefore this must be useful, so I can keep doing it.”

4. Countdown

Definition: The dynamic in which players are only given a certain amount of time to do something. This will create an activity graph that causes increased initial activity increasing frenetically until time runs out, which is a forced extinction.

Example: Bejeweled Blitz with 30 seconds to get as many points as you can. Bonus rounds. Timed levels.

5. Ownership

Definition: The act of controlling something, having it be *your* property.

Example: Ownership is interesting on a number of levels, from taking over places, to controlling a slot, to simply owning popularity by having a digital representation of many friends.

6. Status

Definition: The rank or level of a player. Players are often motivated by trying to reach a higher level or status.

Example: white paladin level 20 in WOW.

7. Appointment Dynamic

Definition: A dynamic in which to succeed, one must return at a predefined time to take some action. Appointment dynamics are often deeply related to interval based reward schedules or avoidance dynamics.

Example: Cafe World and Farmville where if you return at a set time to do something you get something good, and if you don’t something bad happens.


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