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What is the Source of “Fun” in Game Mechanics?

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by S_Darkwell, Jan 18, 2016.

  1. S_Darkwell

    S_Darkwell

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    (Better named: 'What is the Source of "Engagement" in Game Mechanics?)

    Greetings Unity Community!


    I’ve spent the last few years strengthening my C# and Unity chops with the goal of making PC / Console games. Recently, I reached a level of proficiency where I am ready to begin actually making games. Only now that I strive to actually create something that I recognize greatest challenge before me:

    I don’t recognize the source of “fun” in game mechanics.
    (For clarification, I’m using “fun” as a shorthand for “enjoyable and/or compelling”)

    I appreciate a wide variety of games. Baldur’s Gate II, Alan Wake, Limbo, Cart Life, Don’t Starve, Bioshock, and Super Mario RPG are some of my favorites. I play them, I study them, and I can discuss their merits for hours, but I cannot identify what makes their game mechanic enjoyable.
    • Why is identifying loot fun in Baldur’s Gate II?
    • Why is firing the flare gun fun in Alan Wake?
    • Why is shocking Splicers fun in Bioshock?
    • Why is shaving Beefalo fun in Don’t Starve?
    • Why is timing your attacks fun in Super Mario RPG?
    I’m a junkie for documentaries and seminar videos, and I’ve spent countless days watching and taking notes. I’ve read a number of game design books. What I haven’t done is actually spoken with the community.

    So, I ask you all: “What makes a game mechanic fun?”

    This question is deeply important to me. I have numerous game concepts, many described in great detail – but the moment I attempt to apply a game mechanic, they lose their luster. Likewise, when I look closely at games I love, those mechanics don’t seem fun either.

    I truly and sincerely hope this thread will inspire a discussion that may help myself and other developers better understand the essence of fun in game mechanics.

    If it doesn't? I hope this topic will let other developers with similar challenges know that they are not alone.

    Thank you all in advance!
    - S.

    NOTE: In a later post, I clarify that the term I actually should have used was "Engagement", not simply "fun".
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2016
  2. JoeStrout

    JoeStrout

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    This is a great question and it shows that you're ready to don your Game Designer hat.

    First, you should be aware that there are a number of decent books on the topic... some on my shelf are Game Design Theory & Practice, and The Art of Game Design. Both are decent books but can be a bit of a slog at times (not nearly as much fun as their subject matter!). Our own @Gigiwoo has an excellent podcast on game design, too. And you'll find frequent articles on game design at places like Gamasutra. All this is material you should ingest, digest, and absorb as much as you can.

    But I'll give you my own Grand Theory of Fun, with the caveat that some designers disagree. And it's simple: Fun is when the player has a feeling that they've accomplished something.

    This sense of accomplishment can come from many sources, but they often group into a couple of major categories: the user has overcome a difficult obstacle, or they have obtained something they didn't have before. In the latter category, that could be a new skill (which often goes hand-in-hand with the first category), or it could be a purely in-game bit of swag. It can also be progress towards a goal, either explicit or self-selected.

    However, in-game swag and progress are both measured in percentage terms against either what you've done before, or (in the case of goal progress) how far you have yet to go. This is why many games (especially idle clicker games, which rely almost entirely on this particular source of fun) have an exponential inflation of the reward over time. When I have 100 cookies, getting 10 more feels like an accomplishment. But if I have 20 million cookies, getting 10 more feels like a waste of time (which is the opposite of achievement, thus not fun). I need to be earning cookies by the tens of thousands to get the same sense of accomplishment.

    I haven't actually played any of those games you cite, but I can make some very vague guesses... let me know how well they ring true:
    • Identifying loot is an accomplishment (thus fun) because you gain knowledge you didn't have before — especially if the loot turns out to be very useful, in which case you also have useful swag you didn't have before.
    • Flare gun in Alan Wake... uh, never heard of that one. I'm going to pass.
    • Shocking Splicers... well if this is like most combat, it feels like an accomplishment mainly because of the "overcoming difficult obstacle" thing. It can be far more intense if the enemies you're overcoming have seriously cheesed you off in the past, in which case you also acquire revenge, which (sadly, perhaps) also brings a strong sense of accomplishment.
    • Shaving Beefalo... really? I need to game more. Again haven't a clue, but I bet if you look for the sense of accomplishment, you'll find it. (Or else it's just funny, but see below.)
    • Timing Super Mario RPG attacks: sounds like Overcoming Difficult Obstacle to me. I imagine this is not easy; at first you can't do it; when you can do it, you have acquired a skill you didn't have before, which is a great accomplishment (as long as it's something you care about).
    Note that this theory also explains humor, to some extent, though I'll admit it's a bit of a stretch. Most humor is our reaction when we suddenly realize we had been misinterpreting something. The laughter helps lock in the realization so we don't make the same mistake again, which is why the same joke isn't so funny a second time. It's an accomplishment in the sense that you now have a realization you didn't have before... but I think humor is a very special case and plays by its own rules, so we probably shouldn't shoe-horn it in here.

    Anyway, that's my theory of game design. Make the player feel like every hour (or 5 minutes, for casual games) that they put into the game has gained them something — the more tangible and sincere you can make this feeling, the more fun it will be.
     
  3. GarBenjamin

    GarBenjamin

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    A great topic for discussion.

    Remember there is a very much personal aspect to these things. I think it is fun to train (exercise) very intensely. I get a huge amount of enjoyment suffering through it. A lot of people would say that is not fun at all.

    Likewise, there are games I think are very fun that you and others would probably say they are not very fun at all.

    So I'd say the very first thing needed... the base requirement that makes something fun is a connection between that activity and the player. The player must connect with it and only then can they find it to be fun. If they never connect they will not be able to find the fun in it.
     
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  4. S_Darkwell

    S_Darkwell

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    @JoeStrout:

    Thank you greatly for your quick, yet thoughtful response!

    I apologize for the delay in mine. I wanted to take some time to read the Difficulty vs. Accomplishment thread to which you linked, as well as watch the video of your TEDx presentation (which I enjoyed greatly).

    Thank you also for the recommendations! I'm currently in the process of reading:
    I've noted your recommendations and will certainly consider them as part of my next batch!

    I'm largely inclined to agree. I'm unusually goal-driven, and as such, my motivations align well with your accomplishment statement.

    My most memorable gaming moments, however, are overwhelmingly moments of "discovery". In the context of Minecraft, I remember the first time I stumbled upon an underground ravine (is there a more technical term?). I also remember the first time I stumbled on an Enderman. I personally found these moments fun. Would you agree, and would this still fit into your definition of "accomplishment", or would you define "discovery" as something entirely different?

    Dopamine's diminishing return is a fine example of human adaptation. XD

    All true enough, especially considering that you haven't played the games in question!

    Perhaps humor would be a form of "discovery" as well?

    Another thought:

    Thanks to the aforementioned book "Game Mechanics - Advanced Game Design", I've been thinking a lot about game economies. In this context, the term "economy" references any resource that can be influenced by or influences the player. Money, health, time, friends, or even strategic positioning could all be representative of this. Resources can be created by sources, destroyed by drains, traded, or converted. I wonder whether or not a Player's sense of accomplishment could be expressed as a resource? Failure would drain accomplishment. Time / effort could be converted into accomplishment, but with a diminishing rate of exchange.

    Could there be a benefit to viewing player engagement as a resource?

    Relative to the intent of my original post:

    The focus of my post was meant to be more specific than, unfortunately, I feel I conveyed.

    Let me see if I can hone in on my point with an example:


    Imagine a game focused on bartering. Your goal, as a Player, is to successfully negotiate trades and to, over the course of numerous exchanges, increase your net worth. As a game designer, you wish to use an approach to bartering that fun, but you also wish to maintain a level of congruence between the Player's activity, and what is concurring in the game.

    Some possible approaches to bartering:
    • Physics-based tug-of-war game where the position of the product relative to the center point determines the value you obtain for the item relative to its cost
    • Match-three game where winning determines whether or not you make the sale, and the number of points the value
    • Dungeons-and-Dragons randomized skill check approach where a dice-roll is modified by your barter skill versus your opponent's
    • Tretris-like game where you must arrange Tertrominos to achieve a Tetris as quickly as possible while the value of your transaction gradually diminishes
    • Story-based trading where the success and value of the trade depends on your ability to read the personality of the other character
    All of the above could be considered valid approaches to the bartering system. Some I don't like because they are far removed from what they represent in-game. Others have a heavy reliance on luck, diminishing the value of Player skill. That aside, how would one determine that it would be fun?

    At their most fundamental level, it all resolves into to pushing a button / joystick / mouse. Is mashing the "A" button actually fun? Is clicking through a series of text links? Is arranging blocks into lines? In truth, I don't see the fun in any of these options, but I know that they all are in the correct context--and this could be the correct context. How does one see the fun in a particular approach?

    If we value any particular approach purely on the basis of its accomplishment feedback, why wouldn't the Match-three option be the clear winning?

    Please, don't interpret any of my questions as sarcastic.
    These truly are the questions for which I seek answers.

    Again, thank you so much!
    - S.

    Edit: Forgot to respond regarding @Gigiwoo's podcast. I actually stumbled on his podcast immediately after posting this topic. I will most certainly check it out. Thank you for the lead!
     
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2016
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  5. tedthebug

    tedthebug

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    It also depends on what time/effort market you are going for. Many people find clickers tedious but if you have 1min & need a game to distract you without taxing your brain then they are fun (I know, I play one multiple times a day & everyone looks at me in disgust/disbelief that I keep going back to it). The fun in it for e though is also trying to find a way to get the next tier which is a massive, & I mean massive, jump from the previous one (I can get to it in one day of casual playing but can't get past it after even a week of more frequent play. I know there's a way but I haven't worked it out yet).

    For longer games people find the fun in the total immersion, others like finding loot, yet others like tweaking numbers to customise their character. Could you make a game that satisfies all of them? Probably not as people would be looking for the depth (that they find fun) that wouldn't be there, or if it was then that depth in that area would likely push people away that found fun in deeper aspects other than that.

    My personal test is once I prototype the mechanic I find the rest tedious (art, effects, sound, menus etc) & it's hard to get motivated to work on the rest of the project. If I turn the PC on & find myself playing the game rather than working on it when I'm trying to do something to it then I think it must be fun. If I find I turn the PC on, get into the game, & then get distracted by anything other than working on the game or playing it then it probably isn't fun.

    But, as was said above, fun is personal so your best test is to prototype it then start getting it in front of people that don't even know about what you are doing & watch them play. If they get into it, are laughing, looking like they are enjoying yourself then we'll done. If they look bored, or like they are just playing for the minimum time they can without offending you then it probably isn't fun.
     
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  6. S_Darkwell

    S_Darkwell

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    Thank you! :)

    Certainly. The nature of experience is largely subjective.

    What is seek is a general understanding of how Tetris can be fun. I know it is. I can observe others enjoying it. I can enjoy it. Yet, when I look at it closely, it seems incredibly tedious. Yet for me, and many others, it's not, and I don't understand why.

    This is the "why" I seek.

    Thank you for taking to respond, and make your valid point!
    - S.
     
  7. RockoDyne

    RockoDyne

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    I find this humorous, because that's not the question to ask. Mechanics alone aren't the source of "fun." Instead it's in systems (or dynamics as the MDA framework puts it) that create drama and tension and anything else that goes into engagement. That's not to say that a mechanic can't feel satisfying or pack a punchline, but this has more to do with the feedback of the mechanic than the actual game logic of the mechanic.
     
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  8. S_Darkwell

    S_Darkwell

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    @tedthebug:

    Thank you for your response!

    Firstly, I just wanted to note that I posted my rather lengthy response to @JoeStrout only moments before you posted, so I'm not certain whether or not you had a chance to read it (or whether or not it would have affected your response in any way).

    I have a few different projects that are nearly development-worthy, so my potential audience varies slightly. Almost universally, I would define my audience as "not casual" and either edgy or counter-cultural. Most also place an emphasis on setting/atmosphere. Everything else varies by concept.

    I am hoping to develop an understanding of fun that transcends my own projects. I want to be able to look at a click game and say, "I can see why that would be fun" instead of having to play it to experience it (which I have and did).

    "Supermodel Pearl-Diving Simulator"!!! 8D

    In all seriousness, point taken. Frequently, the wider the audience, the more shallow the product.

    That's absolutely a valid approach. Much like a sprint to the minimum viable product.

    My personal experience with this is that since many of my concepts are either very atmospheric in nature of involve a number of intertwined mechanics, there is still a considerable time investment in such prototypes. In my example given in response to JoeStrout, would that not mean numerous prototypes for many different mechanics? If that's the case, it doesn't seem scale-able.

    Perhaps such an approach is exactly what is necessary: refining an inherent recognition of fun via production of numerous prototypes with varying degrees of fun and not fun. If that is the ultimate solution, so be it, but I'd love to explore a more fundamental understanding of what makes a mechanic fun first!

    At the end of the day, though, it'll always be the audience who determines how fun a game is. So, of course, in the end, you really are right. :)

    Thank you so much again!
    - S.
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2016
  9. Steve-Tack

    Steve-Tack

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    Yes, I recently played the game Journey. There's a sequence where there's some abstract monsters trying to get you, but it's all pretty tame visually (and "mechanically" there's very little going on). The super tense music makes up for it though; it "feels" tense. Part of the enjoyment of a game can be the emotional impact of some audio, a nice looking sunset, or the visceral sensation of firing a weapon and seeing/hearing the consequences. That's going to differ a lot by person.

    Games that take advantage of the "anticipating non-predictable rewards" thing can trigger dopamine release, so something that helps with that, like random loot drops I suppose you could say is a game mechanic. That's just part of the puzzle though.

    I'd say it's difficult to try to pull out individual pieces of a game to determine which part is the "fun engine", when it's generally all elements together that build the experience.
     
  10. S_Darkwell

    S_Darkwell

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    @RockoDyne:

    Thank you for the link. I suspect that document is the original source for a number of more recent material that I watched / read.

    If I understand you correctly, mechanics are of little value except in their ability to encourage or discourage other elements?

    Would it therefor be a fair assessment, then, to say that the value of a mechanic can be judged by the degree to which it reinforces the core aesthetic of your game? If that were the case, it would also benefit to remove any mechanic of no particular value to this aesthetic.

    Perhaps my error has been in considering game mechanics in vacuo.

    I've come across similar statements numerous times before, but I failed to grasp their meaning outside of the context within which they were presented. I actually had to read your post a few times. Its content is simple, but my mind was apparently resistant to actual comprehension of its essence.

    RockoDyne, thank you greatly. Your post was truly invaluable.
    - S.
     
  11. S_Darkwell

    S_Darkwell

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    @Steve Tack:

    Firstly, your username interests me! I was previously informed by Unity staff that usernames cannot contain spaces. Your would seem to indicate otherwise.

    On the topic at hand: Thank you for the response!

    Indeed, as I just commented in my response to RockoDyne, I think my error was partially in considering mechanics separate from all other elements, as opposed to in support of a single "vivid effect" to quote Edgar Allan Poe's "Philosophy of Composition."

    Agreed. The more I think of it now, the more I realize that mechanics are inconsequential, except in the context of whether and to what degree they help or hinder the game's primary aesthetic(s).

    To be frank, I am beginning to feel sheepish that the solution was so obvious, and something that I failed to grasp from so many prior sources. Am I the only person who failed to realize this? Heh heh.

    Still, I'm interested in knowing if anyone has a differing opinion. Whether or not anyone has another qualitative measurement for the fun or value of a mechanic separate from a game's aesthetic.

    Thank you!
    - S.
     
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  12. Steve-Tack

    Steve-Tack

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    I see plenty of user names with spaces in them. Maybe they changed the rules and I got grandfathered in.

    Anyway, here's a book on the topic at hand that I enjoyed:
    http://www.amazon.com/Designing-Gam...words=designing+games+engineering+experiences

    It's not super long and the author has an easy-to-read conversational style. The author was on the Bioshock Infinite dev team. I'm not sure there's a ton of 100% unique insights or anything, but it does get into all of the kinds of things you're asking about.
     
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  13. S_Darkwell

    S_Darkwell

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    Quite possibly!

    Excellent! Thank you for the link. It's on my list. :)

    Relative to Bioshock Infinite:

    Kevin Levine's discussions on storytelling in games are amongst my favorites. I was saddened to hear that he was seeking to eliminate storytelling entirely in his future games.

    I'm also blessed to be friends with a few people in the credits of Bioshock Infinite, but all of them joined the team rather late, so had a relatively limited impact on the final release.

    I feel that today's discussion, if nothing else, illustrates that how something is said can be more important than whether or not it has been said before.

    Thank you again, greatly!

    - S.
     
  14. RockoDyne

    RockoDyne

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    It's hard to judge what the effect on aesthetics are from a mechanical level. It's the effects on dynamics that ultimately build aesthetics, so it's necessary to understand why the dynamics are out of order. If you understand the dynamics at play, then you might not need to cut it as you might be able to fix it.
     
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  15. hopeful

    hopeful

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    I think a big part of what makes anything fun is what a person brings to it. Like, I don't think a robot would find a computer game to be fun, no matter how many "fun" things you insert into the game.

    Years ago I played a game where I gained the ability to make huge leaping movements that could carry me across terrains and atop buildings. After having played so many games for so many years where I was restricted to slowly moving along the ground and around each obstacle, it was just so refreshing - and fun! - to jump over it all. I think I actually spent about 2 hours doing nothing but jumping around. Some of it was enjoying freedom, and some of it was discovering new areas and viewpoints.

    In the same game I was able to get a flying power, but it wasn't the same. It turns out I simply like running and jumping. Not long ago I was helping to beta test a character controller, and there I was again running and jumping all over the place.

    So ... no real rewards going on so far as I can tell. No real accomplishments, unless you count jumping over a cube over and over and over again. No discovery. Just the fun of running around.

    Likewise, I recently made a scene with a car that I can drive. I've noticed that when I test the scene, after I figure out what I needed to, I often will go ahead and hop in the car and drive around for a minute, pretending I need to check something, even though I've already done that dozens of times. There's nothing to discover and it's not a very big scene, but I still do it. :)
     
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  16. Not_Sure

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  17. tedthebug

    tedthebug

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  18. Not_Sure

    Not_Sure

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    Also, if you want the short and dirty answer for what's fun I'll give you my personal philosophy. There's four reasons to play a game.

    1) Mastery - Getting better at something then raising the stakes again and again. This is where hard games and online versus games thrive the most.

    2) Discovery - Exploring, figuring systems out, acquiring new items, and advancing the story to find out what will happen. Open world games do this the best.

    3) Escapism - Living in the game world, getting caught up in the story and the lore, falling in love with characters, feeling like you're in the world. Story driven games.

    4) Primal - Appealing to the most basic urges of the brain in an often exploitive manner. So blood and guts violence, gratuitous sex, pandering and conditioning the player, exploiting hoarding compulsion. Skinner box games and novelty games like Mortal Kombat do this the best.

    Anyway, that's my take.

    EDIT:
    Actually, two more occurred to me.

    5) Therapeutic - Games that help improve you by being calming, helping people overcome trauma/PTSD, or games that are educational. I think everyone knows games can be zen like. If someone has PTSD violent games have been proven invaluable for treatment since it allows the player to choose their engagement to the violence. And learning works best when players are engaged.

    6) Social - This one could fall under #4 if the player lacks it in other places in their life, but even for most people there is something to be said about the community of a game and how it brings people together.

    Okay, that's it.
     
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2016
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  19. dogmachris

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    I don't think, you can generalise which mechanics are fun or not. I think gameplay mechanics are most enjoyable, when they get to a point where repetition doesn't become boring.

    All gameplay is to some extend repetitive. Repetition at some point becomes boring, there's really nothing you can do about it. The only thing you can do is trying to push that point as far behind, as possible. There's no general recipe for it, you have to try and ask yourself: would I still like my game after playing it for hours?

    Positive examples I think would be MGSV, the Assassin's Creed series and GTA - of course there are others to, but if you think about it, in those games you do the same things all the time, the only thing that sets them apart from the competition, is that repetitive actions don't become boring - at least not quickly.

    Another aspect is reward. Looting in a lot of games is boring as hell and many people don't enjoy it at all, but attractive rewards (items, experience aso.) make up for it.

    So you should have either mechanics that don't become boring, or reward your players for investing time in your game.
     
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2016
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  20. Tomnnn

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    If you give people a clear set of rules to follow to achieve something then anything can be fun at least once.
     
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  21. S_Darkwell

    S_Darkwell

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    Makes sense.

    Thank you!
    - S.
     
  22. S_Darkwell

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    Indeed, this speaks to the "art" aspect of games, which is almost entirely subjective in nature.

    Reminds me of Streets of SimCity, which I played as a child. It wasn't a great game, but had some aspects that were entertaining at the time -- not the least of which was making your vehicle hop / fly (courtesy of the hopper + airfoil combination).

    Alas, most of my projects are too early in production for this enjoyment (though I do look forward to reaching this point!). I'm still wrestling with fundamentals like "do I have the Player's character physically open the door or simply play an animation."

    This thread has helped me to recognize that the solution may simply be whether or not physically opening the door supports the core gameplay or aesthetic in any way.

    Thank you for the thoughtful response!
    - S.
     
  23. S_Darkwell

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  24. LMan

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    Many more threads like this and you guys are going to turn me into a forum junkie!

    I really loved the MDA framework pdf, thanks to Rocko for linking that.

    I just wanted to mention Bartle's gamer archetypes real quick.

    mechanics are pretty much what their name implies- they are tools with which to build systems, or rule-sets which the player must solve problems inside of. So on their own, i wouldnt say mechanics are inherently fun, but they are used to make a system that allows for solving interesting problems. (Maybe Joe was on to something with his view on achievement. Achievement can be subjective to the player, after all.)

    Somebody smarter than me could probably go into why we find problem solving fun, (endorphines, dopamine, evolution blah blah.) but I wanted to point out that some problems are more fun for some people to solve than for others.
     
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  25. Gigiwoo

    Gigiwoo

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    What is Fun? The more you think on it, the less clear will be your answer. Fun is a nebulous word. So, we often come at it sideways with words like engagement, achievement, and flow.
    Gigi
     
  26. JoeStrout

    JoeStrout

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    I'll throw in one more thought just for the heck of it (great discussion, everyone!). My older son's view on gaming fun is that it's all about making the player feel awesome.

    So, when you can execute a flying front flip, execute a perfect kick, and send your opponent flying off the stage in a shower of light and sound, you feel awesome... if you felt like this was something you did. If you were just mashing buttons and stuff is apparently happening at random, then you may feel a little awesome the first time, but probably just frustrated after that, because it's not you being awesome, it's just stuff happening beyond your control.

    Similarly, I read an article recently on simulated danger in video games (sorry, I can't find the link now). This is stuff like walking/fighting on top of moving trains, etc. The author talked about how he spent 20 minutes just walking around on top of a big dirigible in a Batman game, which wasn't particularly difficult or dangerous, but it just felt awesome. I get the same feeling leaping off of tall buildings in Spider-Man 2 (one of the best video games ever IMHO); it is literally as easy as falling down, but you're in control and you know you can handle it and you just feel awesome. Similar feelings occur in Infamous as you gain powers, and grind/glide your way around the city tossing cars around and doing other cool things.

    I think he's on to something here... when I jump off a skyscraper as Spider-Man, I'm not really accomplishing anything (well, not always — there are sometimes reasons to do it, but I often did it just for fun). It's just a rush. "Make the player feel awesome" puts it succinctly, I think.

    But to be useful, we'd have to break it down: how do you make the player feel awesome? Here's a first stab at what is required:
    1. The player can (in actuality, or in simulation) do something most people can't do.
    2. The player himself/herself couldn't do this at first; it is an ability gained through some effort.
    3. The player is in control; it's not just stuff the on-screen avatar is doing.
    This still doesn't help much when it comes down to the details of "how should we handle doors" or "how should we do bartering"... but maybe it does. It would argue that if you can't make the player feel awesome at it, you should take it out (or minimize it). Get back to making the player feel awesome in some other way. Conversely, if you can think of a door-opening mechanic that makes the player feel awesome, do it. For example, if it's a Kinect game, and you can let the player develop the ability to force-push doors open by gesturing with their hands as they approach — that would qualify! (And if it's not, but you have some other reason the player might be able to remote-push things, then by all means, make sure they can blast doors off their hinges, because they'll feel awesome doing so.)
     
  27. RockoDyne

    RockoDyne

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    This can be pretty ambiguous though. A third of the time it means that a player makes enough progress to be standing on the top of the world (which can end up being boring when you run out of challenge), another third of the time is just the "feel" of player feedback (which usually gets old quick), and the last third is having a mechanically deep enough game that a player can overcome insane adversity (and thereby make a good story).

    If nothing else, it is a symptom of having fun, not the cause of fun.
     
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  28. LMan

    LMan

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    I would say it is perhaps the "Actualization" phase of having fun. (to borrow from the hierarchy of needs.)
     
  29. AndrewGrayGames

    AndrewGrayGames

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    I know people have been waiting for me to chime in, given the whole 'Game Mechanics Pokedex' thing. Wait no longer.

    I think @LMan has it right - mechanics essentially boil down to 'skill checks.' For a mechanic like gaining a level, the skill check in question is pretty much, 'can you do the right thing x amount of times?' For a mechanic like a QTE, the skill check in question is doing something at the right time, given a limited window of opportunity.

    When I started the GMP, I thought the same as you - that mechanics were building blocks of a game. They are, to some extent, but on the whole, I think they're not. To my perspective, mechanics are high-level concepts that guide a game. They're an obtuse answer to the question, "What is the player doing?"

    To build a good game, you should start with the direct question, "What is the player doing?" Games are interactive, based on action. This can be something like 'Shoot stuff', the basics of the FPS genre, or as simple as 'turn the page to get more story' that we see in JRPGs (yes, I am saying sequence triggers are the primary mechanic of JRPGs.)

    Mechanics are a way to talk about not only what a player is doing, but how they are doing it. That's why in the GMP, all my mechanics dissections come with mathematical formulae - there are various ways to influence a mechanic like performing QTEs, or gaining levels. For instance, easy QTEs have a longer window of opportunity, but often 'feel better' if a more challenging event has a better reward. This is yet another concept that merely looking at mechanics alone does not cover - the dynamics between the mechanic and the player, or even the mechanics and other mechanics. Games more often than not are greater than the sum of their parts.

    TL;DR - Mechanics probably aren't the best possible place to start wearing a design hat - starting with an "Essential Experience" to quote Jesse Schell is. When you have that, the mechanics are easy enough to discover, implement, then tune. I found this out the hard way with both my JRPG project, my RTS project, and my current game about running around like a chicken. I swear I'm not making that last one up.
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2016
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  30. S_Darkwell

    S_Darkwell

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    Thank you for your reply!

    To clarify, my initial post was not a question of what IS fun, but rather, what mechanics evoke fun. It seems now that I was approaching the search for fun from the incorrect angle. In light of my new perspective and your own post, it seems appropriate to say that the source of "fun" is whatever allows players to experience one of the reasons you provided.

    I absolutely agree. :)

    Thank you!
    - S.
     
  31. S_Darkwell

    S_Darkwell

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    Excellent! That's an especially practical way of looking at it. It really is the obvious answer, but I'm never seen it framed that succinctly. Writing that one down!

    "A gameplay mechanic is enjoyable when its repetition is no longer boring."

    I absolutely agree! I am deeply convinced that the best games attempt to provide true value to Players for their time spent. Essentially, Jonathan Blow's concept of "Intrinsic Rewards" in digital games.

    I'm interested in seeing The Witness when it's released a week from today. It has been delayed many years now, largely due, as I understand it, to his determination to make the entire experience intrinsically rewarding.

    Thank you again for your response!
    - S.
     
  32. S_Darkwell

    S_Darkwell

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    I agree. I think this can work well for select types of games, and with select types of players.

    I personally lean toward games where you spent a large amount of time in an environment, and appreciate games that encourage learning the rules via discovery, as opposed to specific direction. Don't Starve is a good example of this.

    My suspicion is that the mechanics in such games must be especially well-conceived so as to not become banal for the Player.

    Thank you, Tomnnn!
    - S.
     
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  33. tedthebug

    tedthebug

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    So a mechanic is the game equivalent of Schrodinger's cat - knowing it is there doesn't make it fun or not fun until you open the box & check
     
  34. S_Darkwell

    S_Darkwell

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    I am proud of whatever part I might play in inspiring your addiction!

    Thank you for the mention! Yes, I came across this very categorization before during a short video series that I've been meaning to revisit. I never knew the original source, and now that I've read it, it helps to clarify on a few details that the aforementioned video had presented.

    I'm very interested in looking for more material regarding the implicit vs. explicit variations mentioned in the article.

    I'm inclined to agree, though as I mentioned before, I think "discovery" is another motivator entirely -- though perhaps that's an inner achievement of sorts. Humor, for instance, perhaps is an achievement of realization or understanding. That feels forced, though.

    I feel like my grasp of "why" is stronger than my grasp of "how", so no worries! :)

    Thank you so much, and again, thank you for the link!
    - S.
     
  35. S_Darkwell

    S_Darkwell

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    @Gigiwoo:

    Thank you, sir, for adding your insight to our conversation!

    Indeed, though I do hope to one day observe the a layer of the membrane at the base of it all.

    Very true. "Engagement" is a much better word than "Fun" for what I seek. Perhaps had a spent more time conceiving of the article I would have thought of this more appropriate term. Thank you for introducing it to the conversation!

    @JoeStrout made the same recommendation. This will absolutely be part of my future reading!

    Actually, I have bookmarked your site with the intention of listening to your entire podcast from start to finish. ;) Much appreciated that you called out the episodes most relevant to the topic at hand, though!

    Wow. I briefly scanned that document. I love what I saw. Bookmarked, and to be read soon!

    Again, thank you so much and be well!
    - S.
     
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  36. S_Darkwell

    S_Darkwell

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    That's definitely a valid form of engagement (moving away from the word "fun" per my prior post)! Looking over my games list, I see very few games that would meet this definition. What your son describes is a very joyous form of engagement. As a gamer and a creator, it seems my inclination is the exact opposite. Cart Life is one of my favorite games, and is the antitheses of joy. I remember that you hadn't played that one. Papers, Please is another game in the same vein which I also very much enjoy, though it doesn't resonate with me quite so loudly.

    Absolutely. This relates directly to player agency. That's one reason why I enjoy the concept of physics-based interaction with the environment. Although potentially more challenging, it gives the Player greater agency over the environment, and hopefully, a greater sense of accomplishment when and if they succeed. Or, it can be ridiculous, such as in games like Surgeon Simulator or I Am Bread.

    Or perhaps more "empowerment" than "joy".

    As I mentioned above, I agree, if your goal is to make your Player feel awesome. Or heroic. What if the goal of the game is to make your Player feel disempowered. This could be especially useful as a contrast to a later state of empowerment.

    Or, games that are meant to be a "slice of life. (eg: Gone Home)" Or horror games (Alien: Isolation). Or survival (The Forest).

    Additionally, if every moment is made to make the Player feel awesome, aren't we inoculating them? It feels awesome running atop of trains for the first ten minutes. Then, it's just normal. You can continuously raise the stakes, but then it feels like we're just giving the player an ever-escalating dopamine drip. Eventually, they can burn out, or become addicted.

    No intention to be contrarian, merely proposing other factors for consideration.

    Thank you so much for the thoughtful followup. I've truly enjoyed the ongoing conversation!
    - S.
     
  37. S_Darkwell

    S_Darkwell

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    Yes! Exactly. Thank you, sir! :)
    - S.
     
  38. S_Darkwell

    S_Darkwell

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    Nicely put!
    - S.
     
  39. S_Darkwell

    S_Darkwell

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    I absolutely love this! To branch off of this, perhaps a mechanic should be viewed in the context of "What skill do we want the Player to develop?"

    Well-stated!

    No disagreement here.

    To be fair, many of these concepts are rather well developed. This may have largely been a case of analysis paralysis. Given a setting, I knew that, for instance, I wanted the Player to spend some amount of time ringing people up at a cash register. My sticking point was to what level of abstraction do I present this activity. Is the Player literally faced with a terminal and they must his every button, or do I make it similar to what we known, but not actually realistic, do I replace it with a tetris-like minigame that represents the activity, or do I just abstract it to a few button presses. I still don't completely know the answer, but I do have far more mental ammunition with which to tackle this challenge.

    Hey, yeah, okay. I'm going to read the darn book, okay‽ Sheesh. ;)

    Phoenix the Chicken. Bwahaha. XD

    I wasn't before, but I may very well in the future! Your post was highly insightful. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your insight.

    Be well!
    - S.
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2016
  40. S_Darkwell

    S_Darkwell

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    So it would seem! We game developers are just drifting along, atop the crests of collapsing waveforms.

    - S.
     
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  41. JoeStrout

    JoeStrout

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    (Re. making the player feel awesome)

    Yes, there are many great games that don't fit neatly into this awesomeness mold. The Sims is a big one (which was famously — and very wrongly — predicted to be a flop by Steven Spielberg, because who would want to play at doing chores and going to work?). I do think that a sense of accomplishment still applies, though; controlling your little sims and helping them be successful and happy brings the same sort of deeply satisfying accomplishment as being a successful parent (that famous "pride and joy").

    I don't play horror games, but I vaguely imagine that those who do get a thrill out of the danger, and feel great accomplishment when they survive it. (Though this could also make them feel awesome, my son would argue.) Certainly that accomplishment feeling is what I get when I play survival games like Minecraft, and is what drives me to build a house that is not just functional, but also large & aesthetically pleasing.

    However, please don't ignore the "percentage increase toward goal" part of the idea. This is the most useful bit of the whole framework, I think. Minecraft is a great example. In the beginning, you have very immediate goals: find or make shelter, get light and food, survive the night. That's quickly accomplished and is satisfying, but then it's done, so you self-select some larger goal... make it to the end game, build Hogwarts, etc. (I have personally attempted all of these.) So you start out: find a village, protect the villagers, gather some redstone... at first you make what feels like rapid progress, because after each play session you have significantly more of the stuff you know you need.

    But then you reach the long middle grind. You are very far from the start, so your progress each day relative to that is small. And you're still very far from the end, so your progress relative to that is hardly noticeable either. In absolute terms, you're still gathering the same amount of resources and doing the same amount of building as you were in the first few days... but it doesn't feel like accomplishment anymore. It becomes a slog and no fun, and most players, I think, quit at this point and go play something else. (I know I certainly have never made it through this long mid-game Minecraft slog.)

    So, a well-designed game must watch out for this and avoid it. There should be ways to ensure that, in percentage terms, you can continue to make noticeable progress throughout the game. This may mean moving the goals closer, or it might mean providing ways to make the player ever more productive as they progress.
     
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  42. hippocoder

    hippocoder

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    I'd like to suggest an idea: that game development is a game mechanic, and Unity is the game.

    That would suggest that this thread is a source of fun in game mechanics.
     
  43. Not_Sure

    Not_Sure

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  44. RockoDyne

    RockoDyne

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    One of the aspects of my whole engagement cycles theory is that a third of the point of a cycle is defining/outlining what a player can do, but more central to designing games is understanding what conflicts the player is trying to rectify and is actively engaged with (the other third is what consequences come about from the way the player solved the conflict). In theory it should be a more natural analysis of how people actually solve problems, because people don't naturally see a goal and work straight to it, but see a problem and come up with any number of possible solutions.

    A flaw from starting with how you intend the player to play the game is that it's dictatorial. It's easy to develop mechanics that have little depth as they are only intended to serve one explicit purpose without any pros or cons. You also end up laying down a series of goals, and then put in tons of work conveying to the player what the current goal is (cue the babeification of modern gaming).
     
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  45. S_Darkwell

    S_Darkwell

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    I was surprised that I enjoy and of The Sims games as much as I do. What always bothered me was that I would find my day gone, and not actually feel satisfied at all. Most of them became dull for me after a few long play sessions, with one notable exception. The Sims 2: Open for Business. The added dynamic of being able to run a retail establishment hit just the right balance for me. The Sims 4: Get to Work included a similar mechanic, but it just felt tedious.

    Certainly part of it!

    Thank you for reiterating this. I had read it, thought about it, and somehow missed it in both my notes and my responses.

    At first, I was a bit resistant to the concept. I always felt like it took away from games.

    Many adventure games, for instance, include a number to indicate your progress through the game. The Beast Within for example, displays "Score: ??? out of 679" at the top-right. As you play, each marked moment of progress gives you points based on the number of changes in the game state. Opening the Duffel gives you one point. Reading your letters give you 3.

    Then, I realized that I was likely taking your concept of "percentage increase toward goal" too literally (despite your apt Minecraft example). The goal doesn't need to be numeric in value, and you don't necessarily have to be able to predict your exact moment of success. Essentially, if I correctly understand your meaning: A Player must either be presented goals or given an environment conducive to personal goal-setting, then be provided sufficient feedback that they can perceive progress toward their goal and determine whether or not its completion is reasonably obtainable.

    If that's the case, I absolutely agree.

    Good point about the mid-game slump. This is the same issue faced in much of literature, in film series, etc. Beginnings and conclusions are (hopefully) inherently interesting, but I wonder what makes the middle so frequently unsatisfying?

    My girlfriend and I occasionally spend a few hours playing Minecraft together on LAN. I think it's this social aspect that helps eliminate this for us. She has outright told me that playing alone, she becomes bored, because she is terrible at setting goals for herself. I tend to set goals like "Let's build a series of momuments between our underground home and the future site of a tower." These tend to involve sufficient enough mining that we stumble on addition resources and discoveries along the way that allow us to branch off in other directions if our current one bores us.

    For me, the dullest part of Minecraft is once you have reached a level of safety and food sustainability that you are no longer concerned about day-to-day survival, you've found sufficient diamonds to build a diamond axe, mine some obsidian, and build an enchanting table. Then, we begin the long slog to gather sufficient leather to build bookcases to eventually enchant a tool with Fortune III, so as to not waste future diamonds. Ironically, it's a self-imposed rule that causes our "mid-game" slump.

    I'm a fan of introducing additional mid-game dynamics. Here's a concept for critique:

    You begin with no money and little experience.

    Money is required for survival, but is difficult to obtain. Most of your focus will be around earning it. There will be ways to spend it, but beyond basic sustainability, options will either be frivolous or offer only minor benefits. Experience, on the other hand, will be earned more consistently, and you'll have greater control over your ability to earn more. Experience is spent largely on important things, which will progress you to mid-game.

    Mid-game transitions you into new situations where money is more easily-obtained, but it can also be spent on more valuable commodities and benefits. You now have far greater control over money earned as well. Experience, on the other hand, is earned more passively. It can be spent, but mostly on other characters, so no longer affects you as directly.

    Money and experience always have value, but their abundance and utility changes mid-game.

    Thank you again for your insightful post, and for reiterating on your measurably progress point!
    - S.
     
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  46. S_Darkwell

    S_Darkwell

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    10/10. Would Unity again.
    - S.
     
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  47. S_Darkwell

    S_Darkwell

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    Haha. Is this in response to my response to you, to @hippocoder, or to the thread in general?
    - S.
     
  48. Gigiwoo

    Gigiwoo

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    As games go, it's a real time sink. And, it's very hard to win.
    Gigi
     
  49. JoeStrout

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    Yes, I think you've caught what I was throwing. I didn't mean to imply any computable numeric value, let alone any numeric display. Just that, within the player's brain, a rough estimate is made of "how much progress have I made today" — and this is done in relative terms, not absolute terms.

    The same is true of anything, not just games. How many of us have started writing a book? Starting a book is easy and fun. When I sat down today I had only 10 pages written; now I have 12. That's 20% more than I started with! Woot woot! But when you're up to 100 pages, and can only add 2% more, it doesn't feel like nearly as much accomplished. You are in the mid-book slog, and it gets increasingly hard to continue.

    Eventually, if you get near the end of your project, it gets fun again. I had about 10 pages left to write, and now I have only 8! Woot woot! We can compare our progress either to the start or to the end (in cases where there is an end), and if we're getting significantly further away from the former or close to the latter, then we're satisfied. Fun happens. If not, then we're unsatisfied and it feels no fun. The fact that, in absolute terms, you're still making the same amount of progress is psychologically irrelevant.

    This sounds like it could work. I would suggest making up some players at various points in the game. Consider how long each fictional player has been playing, what they have at that point, and what their goals are likely to be. Can they make significant (as defined above) progress towards those goals in each play session? Or is there some other way they can feel accomplished? For example, you could try to build in a significant power curve — you start out scraping by with flint knives, but by mid-game you're buying ever-larger spaceships, and thinking about how to conquer an entire planet. Of course this is very hard to do well... but if you can pull it off, it would be great fun!
     
  50. hippocoder

    hippocoder

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    It's more of a grinding MMO, there are constant small victories for most people but the end game is only for those who can stick with it.