The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses, Third Edition

Score: 4/5

This book talks about the things to look out for when designing a game. It is not a walk through for making a game. In fact, the book explicitly said that the best way to learn how to do design is to do it. So, because I was not trying to make a game while reading this book, I might not be the best audience and judge.

Nevertheless, the book provided some interesting insights, some of which I list below. I would recommend reading the book if you are considering making a game at some point in your life. I did not give it a higher score not because the book is bad, but because I am not a good enough judge for it.

  • Game designers have to cope with much more interaction than the designers of more linear experiences.
  • Q1. Games are entered willfully. Q2. Games have goals. Q3. Games have conflict. Q4. Games have rules. Q5. Games can be won and lost.
  • A game’s success hinges on the players’ willingness to pretend it is important.
  • …And suddenly it became clear! The Pirates of the Caribbean ride is not about pirates; it is about being a pirate! The whole goal of the ride is to fulfill the fantasy of what it is like to throw aside the rules of society and just start being a pirate!
  • “The secret is: don’t look to other jugglers for inspiration—look everywhere else.” He proceeded to do a beautiful looping pattern, where his arms kind of spiraled, and he turned occasional pirouettes. “I learned that one watching a ballet in New York. And this one…”
  • So why do we care about this? Because while many gameplaying motivations are about pleasure seeking, not all of them are—many are centered on pain avoidance. When you are avoiding enemies and “trying not to die,” you are in pain avoidance mode. When you are scooping up gold stars and scoring clever combos, you are in pleasure-seeking mode. They are both valid kinds of motivation and can actually work well in combination. However, sometimes the combination gets out of balance. “Free to play” games often begin entirely focused on pleasure seeking: big rewards, unexpected bonuses, and exciting animations. But over time, they build up obligations—come back by a certain time or lose points, invite more friends or miss out on prizes. Gradually, these games slide from pleasure-seeking motivations to pain avoidance motivations. They keep you coming back, but you don’t always feel as good about it.
  • When choices are offered to a player, but one of them is clearly better than the rest, this is called a dominant strategy. Once a dominant strategy is discovered, the game is no longer fun, because the puzzle of the game has been solved—there are no more choices to make.
  • Videogame characters are severely limited in their ability to do anything that requires something to happen above the neck.
  • And even though it makes it very difficult for us to control the interest curve for the player, when we give them those wonderful feelings of interactivity and control, we have to give them freedom, right? Wrong. We don’t always have to give the player true freedom—we only have to give the player the feeling of freedom. For, as we’ve discussed, all that’s real is what you feel—if a clever designer can make a player feel free, when really the player has very few choices, or even no choice at all, then suddenly we have the best of both worlds, the player has the wonderful feeling of freedom, and the designer has managed to economically create an experience with an ideal interest curve and an ideal set of events.
  • Successful transmedia worlds exert a powerful effect over fans. It is stronger than just a fan’s love of an interesting story. It is almost as if the world becomes a sort of personal utopia that they fantasize about visiting.
  • In parts of aboriginal Australia, it is considered rude to give a gift unexpectedly, because doing so creates a burden to give a return gift. This may be a cultural extreme, but obligation to others is something deeply felt in all cultures. If you can create situations where players can make promises to each other (“Let’s meet up at 10 p.m. Wednesday to fight some trolls”) or owe each other favors (“That healing spell saved my life! I owe you one!”), players will take them seriously. Many World of Warcraft players report that obligation to their guild is one of the strongest forces in getting them to play on a regular basis.
  • ● Am I creating something that feels magical? ● Do people get excited just hearing about what I am making? Why or why not? ● Does my game advance the state of the art in a meaningful way? ● Does my game make the world a better place?
  • Remember “form follows funding?” Decisions that the money people make (“you need to make this game with $200K, not the $450K you asked for”; “we’ve decided this game needs to have microtransactions, not a subscription”; “you have to include in-game advertising”) can have a tremendous impact on the game design. And the opposite is true—game design decisions will have an enormous impact on profitability. In a weird way, design and management each hold the strings controlling the destiny of the other.