Game Design

Why people don’t want to play your game (and what to do about it)

Let’s face it. You just worked a long day. Maybe you had through negotiation, bribery, and warfare to get your kids to bed. You’re finally caught up on all the chores on your to-do list. Now you just want to settle down into a nice game with your partner or a few friends.

The last thing you want to do is spend the next hour poring over a complex rulebook trying to understand how to play the game you just shelled out 60 bucks for. You’d rather ease right into a game and experience the world outside of your normal reality.

So, you just grab whatever game off your shelf is familiar.

Does this sound like you? Well, this is a common feeling among many gamers.

We have to remember what it’s like the first time we open a new game and try to figure out how it’s played.

We have to remember that most people are casual gamers, not hard-core hobbyists who don’t mind spending a lot of time trying to figure out a game.

We have to remember that simplicity is elegance.

That’s not to say that your game should be as simple and uninteresting as Tic-Tac-Toe. But it should be easy to grasp right away. The true experience for players is then in the tricky choices and gameplay that will keep them coming back for more.

Take Azul for example.

 

The concept is simple. Take all the tiles of one color from one of the factory displays of your choice, slide the rest of the tiles into the center, and place your chosen tile(s) on your board. What could be easier?

The challenge comes in deciding which tile you should choose based on what would benefit you and/or what will make things more difficult for your opponent(s), along with where you will place tiles in order to maximize your score, balancing between short-term and long-term goals.

Compare this to a game where players have to make a choice between 10 different options, keep track of multiple things, remember to take specific actions at the end of their turn, and pass something to the next player. Now every player must complete the same steps, which ends phase 1. Did I mention there are six phases before the first round is over?

Why take a chance on something so complex? Yes, I went there with the Monopoly pic. Not for complexity, but… you know.

It’s not to say that there isn’t a market for complex games with a huge number of decision points, many different phases, and an extensive rulebook, but this type of game will likely appeal less to most casual gamers, who make up the majority of the market.

When you’re playtesting your game and you notice that people stop paying attention as you’re reading or explaining the rules, have to constantly ask questions throughout the game, or there is a lot of confusion about game play and player actions, then your game might be too complex.

The answer is to simplify. This doesn’t mean you should make your game simplistic, rather make it easier to understand, and with perhaps less actions or choices at different points. Try paring it down by removing one aspect or reducing the number of things a player does on their turn. You might just increase engagement and improve the flow of the game. If players have less time between their turns, but still have enough to think about and plan for in between, then you’re probably on the right track.

What change did you make to one of your games to simplify it, which made it much better? Are there any games you admire for their simplicity?

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