Skip to Content

what makes a game interesting

14 replies [Last post]
Joined: 10/10/2010

This is obviously a huge topic areas, but I have a specific/narrow question right now. I'm working on a game theory approach to ranking the "interestingness" of games. Roughly, it would say a game is more interesting if it requires players to apply more of their skill to the decisions. (Since players could be of very different skill levels, a game could be more interesting via randomization shrinking the importance of that skill difference, and so making it worthwhile for the less-skilled player to apply what skill they have.)

My question is this: Is a game more interesting/fun/whatever if it has consistently meaningful/challenging/skilled decisions, or if it mixes up those decisions with simple/easy decisions? Is variation in the difficulty / importance / stress of decisions something which makes a game more or less fun, or is the variation irrelevant, and it's all about the overall meaningfulness of the decisions?

truekid games
truekid games's picture
Joined: 10/29/2008
have you read "A Theory of

have you read "A Theory of Fun for Game Design" yet? if not, i highly recommend it, since i think it touches on the concepts you're mentioning (particularly in the sections on pattern recognition and "flow").

in the broad sense, people like being faced with a challenge they can meet. however, there are varying levels of effort people want to put into games- for instance, i want to be challenged very heavily. i want to be forced to think about multiple factors when making decisions, and often if i win a game the first time i play it, i am far less interested in purchasing it. on the other side of the coin, my girlfriend doesn't view that kind of thinking as fun- she does want to be challenged, she does want her decisions to matter, but she doesn't want to mentally crunch that much information to do so.

so if you look at a flow diagram, my "flow state" path is much thinner and leans towards challenge, while hers is wider and doesn't go as high on the challenge axis.

Joined: 09/07/2010
Game Interest

Sounds like it could be its own field of study.

I'd say mixed based on why I like go so much. It's nice to play the standard joseki moves, moves based on basic good shape etc, and then sudden expected and novel and difficult situations. Of course good play helps determine how often these situations arise (you want more complexity against a weaker opponent, less against a stronger opponent), but the mix is what gives each game its tempo and character as you move from flowing comfortable situations, to cramped tense situations, and back again.

Of course, this is a personal preference. There are plenty of people who are put off of the initial investment of starting an abstract game. I also like the discipline it forces you to develop when you lose big in a local situation which is a very unpleasant experience. And I like the discipline and vision you develop from doing problems. For problems my preference is to always do something that pushes me a little, but they're no fun, and not good practice, if they're more complex than I can handle.

Quiz show formats that go from easier to harder are also pretty popular so those might be worth considering too.

Joined: 10/10/2010
theory of fun...

I have read that, although it's been a long time. Thanks for the reminder!

I'm right now leaning toward a very simple approach (it's modeling after all). I'm allowing for variation in skill, but probably won't allow for variation in tastes.

I'm also hoping that I can get something out of the approach that "interesting to play" and "interesting to watch" are the same thing. Obviously, they're not, really, but hey, modeling.

Joined: 02/03/2010
Whats it about

Hi you can get 2 or more levels of play out of one game. I will Beta my ICE WINGS here soon for you all SWEET. THANKS FRANKIE

pelle's picture
Joined: 08/11/2008
not so simple

I think calling it "interestingness" makes it sound as if is the only thing about a game that make it interesting, whereas in reality there are many different interesting things about playing a game besides making meaningful choices.

Also randomness can often make a game more interesting, in that you will have to constantly modify your plans not only according to what your opponent does, but also to react to bad luck. You also have to plan ahead to prepare for possible future bad luck.

ReneWiersma's picture
Joined: 08/08/2008
I'm not sure what you are

I'm not sure what you are asking here.

If the question is whether the "fun" of a game can be measured by looking at the number of meaningful decisions and the depth/complexity of those decisions, then the answer is no. Fun in a game can also come from player interaction, facing and dealing with unexpected situations, creating a narrative, and probably many more things.

Does a good game need a variation of easy and difficult decisions? Again, I think a good game doesn't *need* a mix of those. A game can have all easy decisions and still be fun (for the right target audience). The same can be said for a game where all decisions are complex, it can still be a good game.

That said, I do think that a lot of streamlined Eurogames have a mix of trivial decisions and more complex, strategic decisions. A good example is Ticket to Ride. You start out the game with a complex, strategic decision of which tickets to keep. Once that is settled, there are a number of rounds of collecting cards, and laying down tracks, most of which are fairly trivial. Until someone claims a track you had planned for yourself and you have to rethink your strategy somewhat. Then at the end the complexity increases as more and more tracks are claimed by others and the tracks you claim yourself as well as the cards you collect become more important.

Joined: 10/10/2010

I know that there's no way I'm going to be able to create an algorithm which would give a rating for any real-world entertainment game and give an absolute rating for how interesting it is. For instance, I don't have any intention of analyzing the theme of a game, which can be a big part of the fun. So, I should say, I know that even with the most successful outcome, what I'm hoping to do is limited. The benefit is that it would be a formal, mathematical approach to (for me) an interesting question.


"player interaction"
nope, probably the fun which comes from this would be completely absent from this
"facing and dealing with unexpected situations"
Hmmm, that's a good question. I'm not sure. The most basic approach I'm thinking of doesn't allow for "surprise" (a concept game theorists find difficult), so I *think* this would be missing from the analysis I have planned, but it might be something feasible to add in.
"creating a narrative"
I can't imagine that would be a part of it

pelle wrote:
I think calling it "interestingness" makes it sound as if is the only thing about a game that make it interesting...

I'm open to other terms. Assuming this even works out, it'll be a while before I start trying to "sell" the idea to other game theorists (who would certainly be the first audience before game designers (though I'd be happy to talk about it to whoever)), so I don't need to fixate on a term right away. I think "interestingness" captures what I'm after, though.

pelle wrote:
Also randomness can often make a game more interesting, in that you will have to constantly modify your plans not only according to what your opponent does, but also to react to bad luck. You also have to plan ahead to prepare for possible future bad luck.

Fortunately, I think that much of that will come out of the model. As I'm thinking about it, I don't need to put anything in about how randomness helps or hurts the game, but just see what falls out of the model with games which use randomness in various ways.

The notion of needing to "modify plans" is similar to the idea of "surprise", which game theory doesn't handle very well, so I might dodge it. Since both of you have mentioned it, though, perhaps I should try to figure out how to include it.


Joined: 09/21/2010
I think that...

I think that the best way to understand what makes a game interesting is to inverse the problem.
What makes a game very uninteresting?
It is easy to build some safeguards. At least a game designer can expect that his game will please some people.
What really interest people depends mainly on :
- the people's mood : sometimes the same people prefers to play a chance game or very hard games
- the ambiant culture : some cultures believes that the fate of human being depends on God or on some divinity... Others are prone to favour more rational behaviour.
- and other factors (vogue, technology, etc.)

Joined: 09/21/2010
Ranking games ....

Ranking games by their degree of "uninterestingness" is more easy because you can measure the distaste using few parameters :
- the number of options given to the players. No one will play a game where he has when in turn to choose between more than 5 options
- the number of elements to memorize to make a choice. More than 10 is a torture for a lot of people.
- the duration
- the number of players
- the age
- and so on

It is easy to build indirect ways to calculate a degree of distaste.
You split the games (all the games) on 3 to 5 sets : from the more played to the less played.
Then you choose some objective parameters : duration, numbers of players (see above).
You finish by analysing the data : there will be for sure some measurable degree of distate.
At least you could say that such or such game is more likely to please than any other.
You will obtain as result a kind of "gauge instrument".
You enter as inputs the parameters and automatically you will see if the game pass or not a test of "distaste".
Using "principal component analysis" will certainly be helpful.

Joined: 09/21/2010
Joined: 10/10/2010

ichbin wrote:

Thanks for that link! I think it'll take me a while to process it. This kind of thing is a very different approach than what I was thinking of. It also might be more useful for game designers (at least those designing computer games of the type examined).

Joined: 09/21/2010

Here is a quote from this site :

'This game is a lot of fun to play. It doesn't involve very much creativity or brainpower, but it certainly is enjoyable.'

This is a comment made by someone about the game "Ticket to ride".
I let you comment....

Joined: 12/01/2010
A game with zero surprise is

A game with zero surprise is not a game, in my opinion, it is a puzzle. In chess, for example, there is little surprise but it does exist.

Surprise is just when the expected game state does not equal the current game state, or when there is not enough information to expect a particular game state.

I would almost say that Surprise is so integral to the "interestingness" of a game, that it need be the only component. Take Roulette as an example - nearly the only thing about the game is whether or not the ball lands in a square you've bet on. There is no skill, the game is entirely luck based. But you would be hard-pressed to say that it is not interesting.

Meaningful decisions, or games that make you FEEL as though you are making meaningful decisions, are part of the equation as well, but I think only insofar-as you are being faced with similar decisions from the opponents, or cannot count on your decisions (otherwise you're back to the puzzle scenario) due to changes in game state by the board. Each move with a Rubik's cube, is meaningful, but generally always produces predictable results.

tridagam's picture
Joined: 03/23/2009
heart and soul above all else, Because we are people.

What sparks interest in a format. to me is when a designer is able to:

Tap into many levels of players at different levels of play...Chess was fun in 5th grade...and now through experience, awareness and abilities, 40 years later I love the game even more.

Or has the ability to tap into a base nature of my humanity...Like the game of Roulette above allows me to feel hope above all odd & and anticipation due to the action of the wheel.

Or when a game allows temporary detachment from everyday life...Like in a role playing game.

The problem is there are many ways to tap into a player...emotionally, intellectually, sexually, imaginatively (There are many words ending with "ly")and none of them are wrong! (well, one or two, maybe.)

But I have notice the games I play over and over. Or my oldies but goodies. All get me either deeply on one level, or hit me on more than one level.

Examples for me of intellectual games I enjoy ...but at different ends of the spectrum are "Chess" and the other being "Have you Herd". We all should know About Chess. But 'Have you herd' depends mostly on luck. I enjoy reading History and that game is a symbol of a point in time. So my intellectual enjoyment of the game is indirect; but the game still get me there.

Syndicate content

forum | by Dr. Radut