How to Design Social Games That Are Easy to Learn (Accessible) But Difficult to Master (Challenging)?
Tony Ventrice at Gamasutra says that social game designers should think about the differences between casual and hardcore social games in order to design more engaging casual games that are simple but not simplistic, easy to learn (accessible) but difficult to master (challenging).
Tony’s main argument that social games needs to be both accessible and challenging is also important in contexts beyond social games. As we use game thinking principles to solve real-world business and social problems, we’ll need to design solutions that let people in easily and keep them engaged over time.
Tony says that social game designers should avoid six design elements that make a game hardcore:
1. Difficult controls involving keyboard shortcuts that must be discovered and memorized.
2. Overwhelming options involving too many choices with too many unknowns.
3. Prerequisite knowledge “common sense” gaming conventions acquired from having played other games.
4. Abstract memorization involving keyboard shortcuts or non-intuitive behavior of objects in the game.
5. Unclear or open-ended goals which force players to figure out what’s expected of them.
6. Unclear solutions where not only the solution but also the method of finding the solution is unclear.
At the same time, social game designers should include six design elements that look like they make a game hardcore, but don’t:
1. Challenge, so that the game is addictively simple yet impossible to master, and players end each session with a new sense of accomplishment.
2. Trial and Error, where the solution is unknown, but the method of solution is known, so that players can test out their hypotheses with experiments and discover the solution.
3. Strategy, so that players can make consistent choices that result in positive pay-offs.
4. Theme, so that players can follow a narrative beyond the simple actions and game mechanics.
5. Repetition, so that players can progress by repeating actions they have already learned, at increasingly higher speeds, or with increasing variations.
6. Depth/ Graduated Objectives, so that players discover new goals, choices and strategies and continue to return to the game.
What do you think? What strategies have you used to design solutions that are both accessible and challenging? Do share your insights in the comments below.