Lectures‎ > ‎Week 6: July 5-July 10‎ > ‎

04-Balance in Game Design

Homework Required to prepare for this lecture

  1. Read Chapters AGD: 10 and 11
    1. Deliverable: Select 3 lenses from those chapters and write a blog post each about how it relates to your product.

Weekly Programming assignments

  • Review last week's PA
  • DIscuss this week's PA

Game Mechanics and Balance

  • Game mechanics:
    • What you are left with when you delete aesthetics, technology and story from a game
    • It's the game stripped bear of what brings it alive
  • Balance:
    • Design choices where you can have too much of X or not enough of X
    • Balance is important to make sure the game is fun


  • "Ways in which a game could be too XXX or not enough YYY"
  • Spectra along which the designer can adjust
  • Think of these as fundamental design trade-offs
Balance Fairness vs. Unfairness
    • players want to feel like they have a fair shot at 'winning'
    • Symmetrical games - where all players have the same moves and abilities. They are intuitively perceived as fair
    • Discussion: What's a game that's not symmetrical?
    • What if players are the same, but may have different characters or abilities?
    • Game designer's options: Analyze the abilities (numerically) and try to achieve balance
Balance Challenge vs. Success
    • Famous book about "Flow" by Csikszentmihalyi-- "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience "

      "Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. "

    • Instead of "Skills" think "Success"
    • Balance between challenge required and success achieved
    • Too much challenge v. success -> frustration and anxiety; too little challenge v. success -> boredom
    • Game designer's options:
      • Increase difficulty with each success
      • Let skilled players get through the easy parts FAST
      • Create "layers of challenge" with levels
        • -Rate players performance/skill (e.g. A, B,..)
        • Require a 'passing' rating to get to the next level, otherwise player has to redo the level
      • Let player herself choose the degree of difficulty.
Balance the Right number and kinds of choices
  • Players make choices: go left, go right, shoot, run, sleep
  • When you ask them to make a choice, make sure that the choice matters to the outcome of the game
    • Don't have multiple choices that result in the same exact outcome
    • Don't have multiple choices when one is clearly much better than the other (no "dominant strategy")
  • Game designer's options:
    • Have 'the right number' of choices
    • Too many: overwhelming and confusing
    • Too few: frustrating and boring
    • Try to figure out how many choices the player really 'wants' to have at that point
  • Triangularity (term from the AGD book
    • Interesting when there's a choice between
      • high risk + high reward
      • low risk + low reward
Balance Skill vs. Chance
  • See lens #34
  • Determined in large part by the kind of player you are targeting
Balance Head vs. Hands
  • See lens #35
  • Determined in large part by the kind of player you are targeting
Balance Competition and Cooperation
  • Basic human urges. Gender bias???
  • To a great extent this is in the very nature of your game, but some kinds of games can have both
  • For example, when two teams compete. The teams cooperate internally and compete with each other
  • Competitive games are very common (in the US?)
  • Discussion:
    • Is solitaire cooperative or competitive? Why?
    • Scrabble - competitive or cooperative? Now, remove scoring. Change the goal: all tiles must be used up, and no player ever has to pass.
Balance Short vs. Long game
  • Determined in large part by the kind of player you are targeting and the type of game you want to create
  • But it's important to pick the right spot
Balance by giving the right kinds and amount of rewards
  • Giving the right rewards give the player pleasure
    • Too many rewards - devalue
    • Wrong kind of rewards - no pleasure
  • There are many many kinds of rewards to give 
  • Designer choices of rewards:
    • Praise
    • Points
    • Extended play (assuming that the play is fun and therefore ending it is not fun)
    • Revelation - player gets to see more of the world
    • Spectacle - music, video, noise, explosion
    • Expression - allow player to choose from more characters or decorations
    • Powers / Abilities
    • Resources - chips, cookies, etc.
    • Completion, success - satisfies desire for closure and success
    • Recognition - leader boards etc.
Balance by giving the right kinds and amount of punishment
  • In a way this is just the inverse of reward
  • But rewards (and withholding of rewards) are better motivator
Balance freedom vs. Controlled experience
  • Has to do with home many choices the player has
  • Also how closely they are tied to the story line
Balance Simple vs. Complex
  • Connection to length of the game
  • Discussion: Does Simple vs. Complex correlate with Head vs. Hand?
Balance Detail/Realism vs. Imagination
  • Only detail what you can do well
  • Player's imagination will be better than your attempt to fake it
  • Use "binocular effect"
    • At the beginning you might give player a super detailed image of an object or place
    • Once they internalize it, you can show them a stick figure and they will fill it out in their mind
  • Give player details that they can use
    • maybe to tie a character to the story line (e.g. King in Chess)
  • Familiar worlds and things need less detail

Afternoon Schedule

  • Product Work