Repost: Game Design – Actual vs. Perceived Fun

<another repost from the old archive> Here is an oldie but a goody from Matt..

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As my first Gryphon Forge Founders post I thought I would give some insights on my thoughts on game design – specifically some things we think about at Gryphon Forge when putting together a new concept starting with a prototype. This particular topic will cover a subtle but important aspect of overall design that is really important to any game: The difference between actual fun and perceived fun.

We’re all familiar with actual fun in a card or board game. This is the quantifiable fun you have after you’ve played a game – perhaps a new game for the first time. You usually learn about the game from a friend in your gaming group, from the local game store’s game night event, from a parent or relative, or a game you picked up from a review in magazine. Regardless of how you came to play it, you enjoyed yourself and may even want to play again. You would describe the game as one you like and recommend it to other friends, etc.

The more elusive type of fun is perceived fun, and probably more important in some ways than actual fun. Perceived fun is your measure of how fun a game is before you’ve ever played it! We’ve all experienced perceived fun too: When looking at the back of a box in a game store, when walking around a Con and watching others play a game, or looking at an advertisement online or in a magazine. You might see a game that looks really fun – even fun enough to buy! But the design of this aspect of the game is totally different from getting the mechanics right or keeping the rules simple.

For game designers, nailing both actual and perceived fun is key to the overall success of a game you intend to produce and sell. And it is readily obvious why both kinds of fun are important. You need perceived fun to get a game off the shelf and actual fun to keep people playing and spread the word on your game by word of mouth, review, etc.

Some thoughts on how to demonstrate perceived fun in a game include:

1. Ensure art quality is up to a high bar. Think about if you were to buy just the game art – is it good enough to hang on the wall? A lot of games that don’t look fun to play have lower quality art or are produced and finished at a lower quality.

2. Create an enticing box layout. Is your game pictured in a way that shows the fun in action? Are pieces arranged in such a way that makes it look like a really cool event is taking place? If your game has a lot of pieces, are they arranged in a way that makes the game seem easy to learn? Remember complex games are only easy to play once you’ve played them a few times, so depicting simplified play is important on games with high complexity.

3. Ensure you have some variance in your game components – especially if they are like components such as cards. If it’s a simpler game such as a card game, do you show enough variety in your cards to look interesting? Games with a homogeneous look to the elements will look less fun overall.

4. Tied closely to point #3 – Make sure the overall theme of the game is consistent. Do you have an overall look and feel that is tied together thematically or by style? Games that appear to be a disjointed collection of parts will look less fun or convey complexity that may not really be there.

Of course, as a game designer you want to achieve success on both the perceived fun and actual fun. Failure in either area can be failure for your games – especially if your game is actually fun, but doesn’t look like it. Here at Gryphon Forge, we work on the actual fun first for our games, then brainstorm ideas on how to ensure that our games are perceived as fun too using many of the methods above.

Post a comment if you thought this was an interesting topic. Eric and I will be sharing our thoughts and ideas on game design going forward.

Matt

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