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Game Design School - WHY DO WE PLAY GAMES?

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After this page:
  • You understand there's much more going on in a game
  • You know the basic reasons why people play and why they continue to play
  • You have identified why you play
  • You have completed your first exercise!



You are most welcome to Game Design School's second page where we talk about why we play

Let's start by identifying some of the most common reasons why we play games to understand our players!

Why Do We Play Games?
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People like collecting things and gathering resources.

  • People can collect Coins, Power-ups, Gold, New weapons.
  • Collectables can work as rewards.
  • Collectables create hunger to get them all!
  • Player gets satisfaction upon completing the collection!

Show the player what is missing!
- If player doesn't know how many is missing, the player will feel lost and won't know how much there is.
Use trophy rooms.
- Gallery to show 'Do I have them all!'
- You see what's missing
- You get the hunger to get more.
Pokemon: Urge to get everything!
- Work as reward in Mario games.
- Can also be used as path markers
- Get 7 items, Play game for 2 hours


A Trophy Room can create hunger and works well in showing what is missing. If this was a PC game, one would see a popup with mouse-over which would say how to get the missing trophy.

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Games like Civilisation and the Age of Empires start with a huge area of the world map covered in black. This "Fog of war" is removed when you start moving and exploring the world. I've tried games where the world map is uncovered from the beginning - and the excitement is gone...

Player's like to explore vast areas and to discover things (even the menus)

  • Use fog of war, access denied signs or show something below the player which you cannot reach yet!
  • Players are curious! Make them curious!
  • Give reward and satisfaction like when exploring the map.
  • Create the questions and provide answers! What is there? What does it do? What can I do with it? How does it work? Where's the next waypoint? Where is the next power-up?
  • Exploring contributes to replay value.


Players like to explore vast areas and should be rewarded for doing so. In Age of Empires you are rewarded by finding resources.

<h3><img src='img/xp_star7.png' style='width:40px;'> +1</h3>


In Age of Empires when you explore the map you find gold, stone, berries and wood.
What are these? Rewards!
When Ghost Recon was released the game had a huge map with nothing in it - but still player's would explore the full map just to see what is there!



If you have no rewards and don't give the player satisfaction upon completing the goals you give them, your game will not be played.
REWARD you players upon completing a given goal!

I hear so often that someone says "I play the game to get frustrated / mad / sad / angry / annoyed".
I disagree. I claim you play it because you know that eventually you are going to get a reward and satisfaction from the game! Am I right? Well, take away the reward from the game and ask yourself would you still play it?

  • It can be about proving yourself!
  • Win win win - get the player into the winning streak.
This can be why a game is made really easy. It does depend on the target group, but the probably players in your target group just want to feel good! So if the game is too hard from them and doesn't let them succeed, and they don't get saluted for success, they'll try another one!


So it's not always about winning ultimate challenges, but just to feel good and to be greeted with nice feedback and to get into a good mood with the game!

  • Recognition - the player might be playing just to get this!
  • If player does something and is not noted for it, why continue…
  • Solving a puzzle -> new item reward
  • Unlocks, power-ups, new mission types, score, improving character
  • Visual feedback, Supporting texts
  • When player does what you hoped for, reward the player!
  • Why not let the player feel good!
  • Rewards keep you playing
  • Motivate to play further
  • Casual approach: I'm good! I feel good!
  • Hardcore approach: After several attempts and doing it in this sequence, I did it!

<h3><img src='img/xp_star7.png' style='width:40px;'> +1</h3>



  • What would games be without any kind of challenge!
  • The game challenges you: you need to think, solve problems, remove series of obstacles
  • Exercise - it can a form of exercise for the player
  • Make the challenge variate
  • Gives player satisfaction and reward upon beating the challenge!



You can find excitement in so many places in games:

  • Racing, Shooting, Commanding, Escaping, Hiding, Living the new role, Living the fantasy, Conquering, gaining territory, Eliminate other players, destruction, sabotage
Excitement is related to success. Upon successfully completing an exciting mission, reward the player.



  • Fun fun fun! Would you play games if they weren't fun?
  • Relaxation: To get your mind of things
  • To spend time…
  • To avoid boredom
You should recognise that the reasons for playing games can variate a lot!

6. RELAXATION & FUN<h3><img src='img/xp_star7.png' style='width:40px;'> +1</h3>



Online world

  • Connecting with new people
  • Things are easier to do in groups
  • Some games force this to create social interaction
  • Trading, Exchange - having these integrated to your game can make it very powerful!

  • Being with people
  • Meeting friends - it can just be to hang out with your friends
  • More fun in a group



I'm a strong believer in storyline. See the Story in games for more!

  • Makes you interested, excited
  • Hooks the player
  • Being the character, living the fantasy
  • Create and contributes to the Atmosphere
  • Can give reason to things in the game



Games are a lot more about feelings than you might think!
I usually ask students to list their findings and then we count how many found each one.
Guess which always tend to win?

  • Fun, Satisfaction, Challenge, Competition, Excitement

Often frustration is mentioned - but I always argue that is not the reason you play the game. It's the reward you know you are going to get once you pass the level.

TETRIS SAMPLE Tetris Game Design Examples


Why do people play Tetris?
Tetris gives you constantly, with every new piece, a challenge. You are facing trouble every time a new piece drops to the screen and need to solve this problem.
You get satisfaction every time you manage to place a piece. You get even greater satisfaction when you clear a row.
There are already Tetris versions where you play against another one. This provides the social aspect to it.
What if we'd add collectable items on top of some of the items and these would contribute to collectable sets. Or we'd add a storyline and place the game in a certain theme?


Exercise xxxTITLExxx
Easy - 30-60 mins


Exercise xxxTITLExxx
Easy - 15min