The increasing popularity of gaming has surged the demand and supply for accessible game development tools. In particular, the widespread use of smartphones and tablets has really increased the number of people playing games on a daily basis. People of all ages play games like Angry Birds, Infinity Blade, or Fruit Ninja on their smartphone or tablet while they’re out and about. Many apps make it easy to design your own smartphone or tablet games without having to learn complicated programming languages. What these apps don’t cover, however, is how to make your game a good game, so here are five points of attention.
Most likely, you’ll agree that games should be fun from start to finish, but as players increase their skills, the previously exciting game mechanics become dull. Enter Flow theory – the famous theory by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi that describes how the balance between challenge and abilities can help to engage users. In its most simple application, this means that every level of the game has to be a little bit harder than the previous one. Other ways include the addition of sensory information, e.g. more detailed graphics or confusing sounds, or game features that challenge the amount of control the player has over the game.
2. Motivation and intention
Flow can only exist if the game is a goal in itself, and not a tool to accomplish something else. Within the game, motivation originates from series of goals the player can reach, and the desire to understand which actions will result in success. This includes high-level goals, like beating the end boss or rising in the high score charts, and low-level goals, like getting past the enemy in front of you or strategically placing a defence tower. A series of goals gets the people involved in the game, and subtle hints about the correct course of action encourage the player to try and explore without getting bored or confused.
3. Actions and consequences
All actions have their consequences, and games create tension by offering conflicting options with their own benefits and risks. It’s up to the players to make the decisions that will help them reach their goals, but the game has to provide them with the information to support their decisions. Immediate feedback on their actions helps players understand the game, and gives them a sense of control by teaching them how they can do better next time.
After a good decision, it’s time for a reward. Most game rewards provide either social attention, in the form of high scores, badges, and community ratings, or new abilities in the game, for example by unlocking new weapons and levels. The value of rewards depends on the advantage they give over other players, the effort the player put into acquiring the reward, and the amount of social acknowledgement that comes with it.
All these goals, actions, and rewards make no sense without a narrative to tie them together. You can give players the tools to form their own story, or you can manipulate their decisions to create the story you have in mind. And if all else fails, you can always fall back on shiny objects, furry creatures, or alien android zombies.