Intro to Game Systems Design

Intro to Game Systems Design

๐Ÿ’ป Tech๐ŸŽฎ Gaming

Player attributes

To be considered a game, fulfil following conditions

The game

has agreed upon, artificial rules

  • A hunt is not a game (kill or be killed, with no artificial limitations). But animals play games which can mimick hunting (without hurting their game partners, no bite, no clawing)
  • Example : street fighting vs collegial wrestling

its sessions are finite

The rules of the game exist for those who are playing, but not for someone who has finished a session already
  • Game must have an ending, so that players can be playing the game sometimes, but not always
Example : Boy Scouts, music bands, social clubs could be considered games, but aren't
  • Have artificial rules
  • Player behavior has an impact on their status
  • Player may opt-out anytime
  • โš ๏ธ No finite session, as players are following the rules at all time

has intrinsic rewards holding no extrinsic value

  • Capturing chess pawns hold value in-game, none out-game
  • Jobs could be considered a game
    • The fact that jobs rewards ($$$) have outside uses makes them NOT entirely games
    • They are increasingly portrayed as such (carrying intrinsic rewards when playing, like self-actualization)
    • Boundaries between jobs and games are increasingly thinner (youtubers gamers earning money through playing? Companies gamifying jobs by setting up OKRs and tying rewards, i.e bonuses, to goals completion?)

A player

can have impact on the outcome of the game

  • still controversial
  • Example : Candy Land, should not be considered a game
    • The player has 0 possibility to alter the course of the game for herself (only drawing cards, and moving their pawn along) โ†’ No agency

can opt-out of a game

  • Parallel made with laws
    • They are not rules
    • Key difference: people can't opt-out of laws
If a person is walking with a basketball and someone calls out, โ€œThatโ€™s traveling. You must be dribbling the ball while you walk,โ€ the person might respond, โ€œIโ€™m not playing basketball. Iโ€™m just walking, so itโ€™s okay.โ€ This is perfectly fine. People are never obliged to play a game.

On the other hand, if a person is walking across the street through traffic where there is no crosswalk, someone might say, โ€œThatโ€™s illegal. You are not allowed to jaywalk.โ€ This person canโ€™t get away with responding โ€œIโ€™m not playing, so itโ€™s okay.โ€ Regardless of whether they want, care about, or even know about the law, all people are required to comply with the laws of the location they are in. This is a key difference between laws and game rules: People canโ€™t opt out of laws, but they can opt out of games.

Aside: puzzles

  • if a player can fail, it's a game
  • if a player can keep playing without punishment, it's a puzzle

Player attributes

Aside: casual vs hardcore gamers

Useless when creating a target audience

  • It's all about your game context, and the player own context
  • Example : Garry Kasparov is a hardcore chess player, but what could you build him as games, other than chess?
  • Difficult to describe accurately, and even more difficult to quantify

Tolerance for learning rules


Players are located on a spectrum for this attribute

Refusing: play games based on real-world, or sequels

  • Example: Wii Bowling
  • Sequel of existing game, or bound to a specific genre existing rules
  • Much more challenging to design a game for these players

Resistant: small variety, narrow genre

  • Tend to not exploring new titles
  • Example: "Match three" genre, like Bejeweled, easy to learn & convenient (smartphone). If you seek out to twist, may welcome it, but not 100%

Neutral: fine with learning new rules to play a new game

  • Learn rules as they go, only rules needed to playing the game
  • Large market segment
  • Follow specific franchises, buy new installments
  • Likely to buy other games within similar genres, but not branching out to other genres

Accepting: like learning new rules

  • Learn more rules than needed to play the game, looking for exploits
  • Likely to have a favorite genre, but open to try out others
  • Significant market, fewer gamers, but enough to invest big bucks (exclusive games targeting these players)
  • Most targeted & valued by the gaming industry

โ†’ Oversaturate this target audience, challenges standing out

Enthusiast: love learning new rules

  • Jumping from game to game
  • Drop a game as soon as they got the rules completely
  • Easy to get such player started with your game, harder to get her to keep her playing
  • Accept more rules, more barriers to entry
  • Smallest of 5 groups

Interest in challenge


Players are located on a spectrum for this attribute

15/1: 15 failures for 1 success: very challenging games

So challenging it likely drives away most players, with only small devoted number holding on

1/100: 1 failure for 100 successes: story mode / simple games

Challenge not focus of those games, downplayed as much as possible


Key attribute post game release. Gather telemetry data in-game. If a small number of players keep playing, your game may be on the challenging end of the spectrum. Adjust accordingly to your target audience.

Desired time investment

2 data points to consider: session time & total time to "completion"

Session time

Depends on game played, and what is considered by a player as a satisfying session duration: poker could be an entire night, while tennis would be ~ 1h (a match)

Total time to completion

Completion is subjective, defined by the players (earning all achievements, getting to max level)


Combination of both gives you 2 dimensional matrices to defineย one more characteristic of your game audience

Some players want a quick 5 minutes session with no end-game (casual puzzle mobile players). Others want 2h long session time, with a 20h total time to completion (adventure & action games)


  • Checker: 10min session, no total time
  • Poker: 2h session, no total time
  • Skyrim: 2h session, 100h completion time
  • Mario Kart: 15min session, 50h to earn all achievements

Pace preference

Difficult to quantify, but very important

  • High action intensity FPS gamers won't be fond of slower turn-based strategy games pace
  • Zoom in needed on pace type: chess is rather fast-paced, but won't suit shoot-them-up topdown game


  • Chess: Slow, turned-based, thoughtful pace
  • Ping Pong: Very fast, athletic, reflex-based pace
  • Generic computer RPG: Alternating between slow & mid-paced action with slower thoughtful crafting moments
  • Generic deathmatch FPS: Fast-paced, high dexterity, little downtime for breaks
  • Generic 1980s arcade: moderate & dexterity-based pace, ramping up to fast dexterity


Players want to be judged or compared to one another?

  • Racing games โ†’ Leaderboard
  • Campaign style ranking

On the other end of the spectrum:

  • Sandbox games
  • Farming sims


  • Noncompetitive: no scoring, not ability tracking, no PVP comparison
  • Competitive: few key metrics on a per-session basis. At the end of a session, display score & ranking for the session. Score are wiped clean between sessions
  • Highly competitive: all aspect of a play are tracked & displayed. Sessions are tracked & compared โ†’ global leaderboards โ†’ encourage players to refine their skills, driven by climbing leaderboards of different scales (weekly competitions, daily challenges, best-ever scores)

Value gained from players