What Minecraft, Diablo, Civilization and Farmville have in common?

Designing a a physical card game (still in progress) has given me a new perspective in games. Or at leat strengthened the perspective of game mechanics. I’ve learned to better look the underlying structures of games. I’m definitely not suggesting that I’m now one game designer guru. But I can say that my own game design skills & understanding have improved, much thanks to developing a non-video game.

That’s enough for me to dive into thinking some of the core elements of fun in games.

Recently, I draw the following picture:

While it’s definitely not capturing all aspects of fun, not even meant to be a serious attempt of “figuring out fun”, there’s some underlying nuggets of wisdom there, I’d say.

Hitting the human nerve: growth
The games presented are totally different: Civilization is about developing nations, Diablo is about hero kicking the nasty monsters, Minecraft about mining & building, and Farmville a farming game. There’s still at least one underlying aspect that makes these games fun (for certain people): it’s the growth.

In Minecraft, you are able to dig wood in order to build a bench in order to build axes and pickaxes in order to get more resources in order to build more stuff. The more you mine and collect, the better tools you get to mine and collect. This is one aspect of fun in Minecraft, not the whole truth, but I’d dare to say very important part of it.

In Civilization you build cities to get resource to grow bigger cities (very simply put). In Diablo you kill monsters to get resources & weapons to kill bigger monsters. In Farmville you… well, you grow stuff to grow more stuff.

I think we humans have tremendous need for growth. Think of Internet. Twitter has follower count. Sounds stupid? Yes, but everybody and their mom who is active in Twitter wants more followers.

Think of military: you start at the bottom and try & make your way to the top.

Think politicians. Think of corporations. Think of any career: if the place is fun, quite likely there’s chances for growth.

Think of self defence and belt systems.

Think of sports.

Think of kids.

Think of atoms, and what they are made of. Think of the universe and what it consists of.

“Everywhere” is a dangerous word, since most likely there’s exceptions, but I’m going to use this word anyway. Almost everywhere in the world, there’s need for growth, and motivation for growth. Games are no different.

Why people stop playing tic-tac-toe. Once you know the optimal strategy, the game becomes totally pointless (from the perspective of growth as in “getting better”, naturally you can still poke some fun by fooling around your opponents). Once you’ve achieved everything, there’s nothing else to do. Just boring, mindless thing to “play”. That’s no fun.

What about MineCraft? In MineCraft, there’s shitload of things to do. There’s huge amount of things you can dig that help you dig or build even cooler things.

The “digging resources and building tools in order to dig more resources to build better tools” loop is hugely important part of fun in Minecraft. It’s hugely important aspect of very many games.

This element can be either built-in to the game (for example as in Minecraft) and additionally it often is there automatically in more skill* based games (for example in FPS games where your own skills improve as you play). Or, it can be combination of both, and usually is.

For example, if we’d play game of dice where throwing bigger number wins, there’s no room for growth (in terms of who will win). You throw 4, I throw 3. You win. Play again?

In MineCraft you don’t need superfast reaction skills to survive, yet you can advance & grow your home & tunnel network in the game.

In civilization, you can grow your city and naturally become a better strategist as a player. In civilizations, the both aspects of growth in-game (cities, technologies etc) and outside the game (player strategy skills) are well represented.

In FPS shooters, you might have all the guns/roles unlocked and your survival depends on your reaction skills. There might be shooter that has no in-built system for growth, yet you as a player can “advance” in terms of honing your skills. Thus growing or becoming a more skilled player.

Minecraft, Diablo, Civilization and Farmville. Even if you love one and hate another, that wouldn’t mean these games couldn’t have one underlying common element of fun: possibilities for growth.

Juuso Hietalahti


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