What interesting information have I learned from the book “Theory of Fun for Game Design” by Raf Coster

    In this article, I will summarize the most interesting findings and checklists for me that I found in the book of Theory of Fun for Game Design by Rough Coster.

    But first, just a little bit of background information:

    • I liked the book.
    • The book is short, easy to read and interesting. Almost like an art book.
    • Rough Coster is an experienced game designer who also has competencies in music and literature. But he is not a programmer, therefore, “other” accents to development are felt, especially noticeable for the programmer reading it. I started with MUDs.
    • The book was published in 2004, which means that the phrases in the book about the current state of the industry should be considered with a fair amount of skepticism.
    • The official website of the book: theoryoffun.com [ 1 ].
    • Translated version of the book: Ref Coster: Game Development and Entertainment Theory [ 2 ]. I read the English version, so I can not say anything about the quality of the Russian translation, but at least it exists.
    • There are quite a few reviews of this book [ 3 ]. However, I set myself the task of collecting a brief subjective squeeze of his recommendations, so this article should not be considered a review.
    • This book is regularly recommended, including on Habré: 25 books for the game developer [ 4 ].

    What are we talking about

    By its semantic structure, the book is divided into two approximately equal parts:
    The first. A structured study of what is interesting in games: an attempt to define; why is it interesting to play; when interest leaves the game. Very exciting and informative. There are many analogies and comparisons with other types of art: music, books, cinema.

    The second one. Discussions about the maturity of the industry, the purpose of games, the responsibility of game developers to society. There are rare interesting points, but mostly boring and uninformative. The phrase amused: “Now, finally, the time has come when one can freely discuss gender differences without the risk of being accused of sexism.” And he reasoned quite freely about these differences.

    The main designated value of the book: to tell how to achieve interest in the game. And the book really talks about it.

    But here I have difficulty translating the fun keyword into Russian. Russian publishers translated it as "entertainment." Google offers "fun." I will use the words “interest” and “interest”, although satisfaction and fun would still be suitable.

    But, in my opinion, this is one of those words that does not have an accurate Russian translation, and all the translations presented are unsuccessful. This interest can be not only fun, but also depressing. In English, the word “funny” can have the meaning “dumb”, and the phrase “funny words” means indecent words.

    Game Patterns

    Patterns in games are the basic patterns of behavior that our brain learns to recognize and train in them. The process of learning patterns is the main source of interest in games. When a player learns something new, he receives a chemical reward in the form of hormones of pleasure. When a player fully knows everything that a game can offer, the body ceases to receive such a reward. This is the main idea of ​​the first half of the book, which is revealed from different angles using different examples.

    That is, the pleasure of the game comes from knowledge. Cognition is the training of skills that the brain perceives useful for the survival of a person or his tribe since ancient times, which means that for such a training a person should be awarded. Food for knowledge is provided by new mechanics (a new genre or game platform ) and content (plot, surroundings, music ).

    From this it is concluded that any game is doomed to boredom when a player pulls everything new out of it and becomes a master in it. If the main source of new knowledge for the game is contained in the content (the author calls it clothing on patterns ), then the game will become boring after the first passage or viewing on YouTube (the danger of YouTube for story games was not so obvious then ). But the new elements of mechanics not only last longer, but also attract new players who saw someone else's game. Largely due to dementia: when a person sees someone else's success ( fun ), then he also wants to repeat it and compete.
    (The usual translation of the word patterns is patterns that do not fit well. Here, most likely, the same analogy as with design patterns in OOP)

    Brief phrases and ideas extracted from the book

    • The brain thinks in patterns, not real objects;
    • The brain is greedy for new patterns;
    • The brain can perceive too new patterns as noise and abandon them as too unfamiliar and complex. So the older generation often refuses new technologies or fashion;
    • A completely new experience may be too unfamiliar and repulsive, so the updated old pattern is safer ( there is an analogy in science “too far ahead of its time” );
    • Repeatedly repeated old patterns lead to boredom due to routine;
    • The process of improving the pattern is rewarded with the hormones of pleasure, but after achieving perfection, pleasure is given out for the last time and delivery stops;
    • Boredom is when the brain requires new information to know. The brain does not necessarily require new sensations (unexplored experience), often it needs enough new data (a new set of enemies, bosses);
    • A player can recognize an old pattern in a new game in 5 minutes. The clothes and surroundings will not deceive him. If he doesn’t find anything new, he will find it boring and close it;
    • The player can recognize the huge depth in the game, but may find it irrelevant to himself. From here - boredom and exit;
    • You will not please everyone. Too slow opening of new mechanics -> the player will notice that for a long time there is nothing new -> boring -> way out. Opening too fast new mechanics -> too complicated, patterns are not recognized -> boring -> exit.
    • The most basic source of pleasure in games: from honing mastery in patterns - that is, from cognition. But there are other additional ones: aesthetic; reflex social.
    • Aesthetic pleasure. It is based on recognizing old patterns, and not on studying them, for example, as a result of a plot twist ( example: the film Planet of the Apes, when the protagonist sees the Statue of Liberty at the end ).
    • Social interest (optional multiplayer):

      1. gloating when the enemy is messing up in something;
      2. praise, triumph for completing a difficult task, as a signal to the rest of the tribe that you are useful, significant and significant;
      3. patronage, when a student succeeds, it is important for the survival of your tribe;
      4. pride, boasting of his student. This is a signal to the tribe about your significance and general utility;
      5. intimate courtship, indicating relative / local social significance;
      6. generosity, for example, sponsorship for other clan members, an important social signal for the tribe about the benefits of having such a fellow tribeman.

    Elements of an interesting game

    1. Training. That is, the player should have the opportunity to first increase the chances of winning;
    2. Stable mechanics. A set of rules that is understandable and accepted by players;
    3. Set of obstacles, conflicts. Players must face various obstacles that hinder the achievement of the goal;
    4. Many ways to overcome obstacles. For example, you can pass by the guards: performing heroic missions, bribing, intimidating or cunning climbing over a wall;
    5. Player skill affects success. That is, the decisions made by the player really matter and lead to different results;
    6. The world. That is, there is room for expanse and / or clear boundaries. Not very good if you throw the player into a clean field without any background information.

    For the gaming experience to be educational, there must be:

    1. Variable feedback on player actions: for more successful decisions, there should be a better reward;
    2. An experienced player in solving the simplest problems should receive as little reward as possible. For example, if a player preys on other players, much weaker than him, then this should be “economically” disadvantageous to him;
    3. Failure must come at a price. In older games, this is the full Game Over, but now it should be at least a replay requirement or lost profits.

    Checklist of questions for an interesting game

    1. Do I need to prepare for an obstacle? (do preliminary reconnaissance)
    2. Is it possible to prepare in different ways and still succeed? (bribe or intimidate the guards)
    3. Does the environment affect the obstacle itself? (the guards of the entrance to the castle and the small town behave differently?)
    4. Are clear rules for the game and its mechanics defined for overcoming obstacles? (it’s not good if the guards unpredictably react to open theft, then ignore criminal behavior)
    5. Can a set of rules support a variety of obstacles? (too strict / poor rules limit the ability to develop levels)
    6. Can a player use different skills to succeed? (become a negotiating master or a brutal bouncer)
    7. At high difficulty levels, is a player required to use several skills to succeed? (that is, will he really have to sweat, and not just grind a dozen levels on the boars)
    8. Do you need a skill to use abilities? (casting should not be an effective strategy)
    9. Are there several possible outcomes from success so that there is no one guaranteed result? (It’s boring to look for the tenth time at the identical mussing of guards when intimidated)
    10. Do advanced players not benefit from too easy obstacles / tasks? (for boars you can stop giving a reward at all)
    11. Does the failure somehow make the player suffer? (failure, poor ending or loss of profit)
    12. If you remove graphics, sounds, history from the game, will it still be interesting to play in it? (that is, does the basic game mechanics remain interesting?)
    13. All systems used in the game should work on the main idea (moral or idea of ​​the game). If the system does not contribute to the solution of the idea, the system should be discarded. That’s what RimWorld developer [ 5 ] did, who didn’t add mechanics that didn’t improve his “story generation system”. Therefore, he did not add complex crafting systems.
    14. Players almost always strive to go the easy way: count, skip history and dialogs that do not work for their main interest, for which they downloaded this game. People are lazy. Does the game take into account such "lazy" behavior? For example, if a player launched your action RPG to wave his sword, and not for the sake of the plot, then perhaps you should give him this opportunity without loading with long histories (especially if they are banal and repetitive in the game).


    It took only 8 hours to read the book. I indicated what I myself considered the most valuable, so I could completely miss other important ideas. The book is easy to read and interesting, so I boldly recommend it to all video game developers. Especially for those who make games as hobbies, and they don’t have the resources for traditional methods of attracting attention using stunning images, mountains of high-quality content and tons of professional advertising. If you are interested in such material, then please consider subscribing to my subsequent articles.

    List of references

    1. The official website of Theory of Fun for Game Design .
    2. Translated version of the book: Ref Coster: Game Development and Entertainment Theory .
    3. Review of progamer.ru .
    4. 25 books for the game developer .
    5. How to create a "story generator": advice from the author of RimWorld .

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