Game Design Principles: A Comprehensive Guide to Creating Memorable Experiences

May 31, 2024
May 31, 2024

An exciting trailer or interesting new features may attract players to your games, but the game itself must provide memorable experiences to keep them. Incorporating solid game design principles into your development process will ensure that your players have the gameplay experiences that keep them coming back for more.

Key Takeaways:

  • Cool features and slick marketing attract players to games, but players' memorable experiences keep them playing long-term. Incorporating solid game design principles ensures that players have unforgettable experiences that will keep them playing your game.
  • Game design principles you should implement in your design process include setting clear objectives and goals, building your game around core mechanics, keeping your game design simple, and telling a compelling story.
  • You should also provide your players with a seamless gameplay experience, create balanced gameplay options, and make your game accessible to a broad audience.

7 Game Design Principles You Should Know

Game development is a multilayered process that involves many components. These principles will help you create experiences that delight players and keep them playing your game long-term.

1. Set Clear Objectives and Goals

Wandering around with no idea what to do next is a frustrating experience for many players. If your players can’t figure out what to do, they may stop playing your game.

Provide your players with clear objectives and goals. To keep things interesting and allow players to customize their experience, incorporate large main goals and many smaller goals.

Main goals should drive your game’s story or objective forward. Smaller goals can either help players complete the main goals or be optional side quests, missions, or levels that add fun and variety to your game.

Examples of goals include collecting items, building things, completing missions, increasing territory, and destroying enemies. Completing goals provides players with a sense of challenge and accomplishment, which increases engagement.

2. Build Your Game Around a Core Mechanic

It can be tempting to attempt to pack your game with as many features as possible, but focusing on a few core mechanics is one of the most important game design principles. Core mechanics are the main activities players will perform in your game.

For example, the core mechanic of “Donkey Kong” is jumping, while the core mechanic of “Call of Duty” is shooting. Identify your core mechanics and focus on making those mechanics as engaging as possible. Adding interesting things to do on the side will generally not keep players engaged with your game if they don’t find the core mechanics enjoyable.

Example of core game mechanics

3. Don’t Overcomplicate Your Design

With more than 520 million copies sold, Tetris is the best-selling video game of all time. This simple puzzle game has no story and no advanced graphics, and the player essentially does the same thing over and over until they lose.

Your game doesn’t have to be as simple as “Tetris,” but you should focus on making your game as basic and easy to understand as possible. It is better to make a high-quality simple game than to create a complex game with a lot of features that don’t work very well.

Make your game easy to learn but difficult to master. Include tutorials that help players quickly and efficiently learn the fundamentals of the game.

4. Tell a Compelling Story

Not all games have a story, but including a compelling story is a good way to get players hooked on your game and retain them long-term. A good story evokes emotions in the player, increasing engagement.

A well-crafted story also holds the players’ attention and helps them connect with the characters in the game. The better your game’s story is, the more likely players are to recommend the game to their friends and family.

High engagement with the story also encourages longer play sessions, which correlates with better retention and monetization metrics. Your story should provide characters with clear objectives, goals, and motivations.

Players should feel like their characters experience meaningful growth as they progress through the story and that their actions affect the story in meaningful ways. Keep your target audience in mind when developing your game’s story and include a backstory to make your gameworld feel more immersive.

5. Provide a Seamless Player Experience

Creating a user-friendly interface is another of the most important game design principles. Your game’s user interface should help players accomplish their goals without ever pulling them out of immersive gameplay because they can’t figure out the controls or must navigate confusing menus.

Include tutorials to help players understand how the controls work. Use commonly understood symbols, phrases, and color themes to make gameplay more intuitive.

Optimize your game to work well with each device players will play on. Provide support for commonly used peripherals.

Basic elements of mobile game UI design

6. Balance Gameplay Options

Few things are more frustrating for players than completing a difficult challenge in a game and not receiving appropriate rewards. By contrast, if rewards come too easily, players won’t value them.

Balance gameplay options so that players get an appropriate reward for the level of risk and effort involved in a challenge. If your game includes multiple classes, weapons, skills, or other features, ensure that each has benefits and drawbacks.

If only a few options are rewarding while others seem underdeveloped or underpowered, players will tend to choose only the “best” options. Use playtesting to help you spot gameplay imbalances and fix them.

You can also use data analysis to identify red flags that indicate you need to tweak your game balance, such as the majority of players only choosing one class or one weapon. Test changes before you roll them out into the game to gauge how they may impact engagement and retention.

Video Embed: How Game Designers Solved These 11 Problems

7. Make Your Game Accessible

Your game should accommodate as many players as possible, regardless of their physical or mental capabilities. Consider issues such as hearing, mobility, visual impairments, color blindness, and photosensitivity when designing your game. Make sure your game works with common assistive devices such as screen readers.

Help With Game Design Principles

The team at Sonamine can help you achieve your engagement, monetization, and retention goals by implementing solid game design principles. Contact us today to get started.

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