Fun formula or why we play games

Warning: it is possible to reduce the pleasure of games and films, as there will be awareness and understanding of how they work.

Somehow I wanted to make a game and I had questions.
Why do we play? What elements of the game do we get a fan for?

Further, the word "fan" means positive emotions.

Internet search did not give an exact answer. Someone writes that players like to do what they can't in the real world. Others write that the plot is important. According to such descriptions do not make a good game.

Since I have been interested in neuropsychology for a long time, I understood that there is something at the lowest level of the brain that causes us to play games.

I decided to conduct thought experiments discarding all unnecessary from games to determine the minimum set of elements for which there is still a fan, but if you remove at least one element of the game, then the fan disappears or is not so strong.

Having done this experiment with the games in which I played, I got this set of basic elements:

  1. Purpose.
  2. Last action
  3. The estimated probability of achieving the goal is less than 100%.
  4. Time of uncertainty.
  5. The resolution of the situation - achieved or not the goal.

Most games have consistent goals. That is, to go through the game to the end it is necessary to overcome the intermediate levels. Inside these levels it is necessary to overcome micro obstacles.
For all of these goals, from global to microscopic, there is this basic set of calling fan. Because of what we continue to play the game.

Consider everyone understandable game Mario

She has the main goal to go to the end, kill the boss and save the princess. Also, there is a division into levels.

But the most interesting thing is micro obstacles that need to be overcome basically only by jumping. This is usually called the game mechanics.

When we jump over an opponent or a hole, we do it like this:

  1. Define the goal: fly over the pit.
  2. Last action: press the jump button.
  3. The probability of achieving the goal: whether we can jump over the pit.
  4. Time of uncertainty: flight.
  5. Result: landed or fell into a hole.

Brain and uncertainty

The fact is that the brain calculates all our actions a little in advance.
As long as the forecast is 100 percent predictable, then everything is fine and there is no tension.
But when the forecast is not accurate, and there is only some probability of achieving the goal, then a tension arises in the brain. That is, an attempt to simultaneously predict several outcomes.

The brain is difficult to be in this uncertainty. He needs a discharge on one result.

A transition from the state of "uncertainty" back to the normal mode of "certainty" is necessary. And sometimes, no matter what the result, the main thing is that it is, just to relieve tension.

Time uncertainty

Also an important parameter. The longer the uncertainty is, the greater the tension. But there is a nuance. If the time of uncertainty is very large, the brain will not withstand the tension and surrender. The voltage will disappear. And the result will no longer be important.

By pressing the jump button, the brain has already predicted the likelihood of flying over a hole and the fact that otherwise there will be an unpleasant loss.

For example, after pressing the jump, the brain predicted the probability of reaching about 70%, a time of uncertainty passes, and as a result, Mario flies.

Fan = (F +) is the area of ​​the upper part of the graph of light green color. There is a fan, but not strong:

And if the positive outlook was only 5%, and Mario could still fly, then there would be a lot more fan:

And if Mario falls into a hole, then we experience unpleasant emotions. (F-) area of ​​the lower part of the graph:

Note. Sometimes in games, during the stage of uncertainty, you can adjust your action a little. In the game Mario is a small control in flight.

Thus we get:
The more unlikely goal is achieved, the person will experience more fun.


To make the game replayable, it is necessary that the player never was able to achieve 100% winnings. If the result depends only on the skill, the player will eventually learn to play perfectly. This can be seen in the example of fast ideal games, where reflexes are maximized.

Therefore, in order to be able to replay the game many times, it is necessary to add random parameters.


The goal is usually always clear.
The time of uncertainty in a shooter is from the moment when you saw the enemy and start aiming until the moment when shots were fired and he was killed, or the player was killed.

In online shooters, if a player could always kill him when aiming at the enemy, then only players who by nature had a faster reaction would win.
To prevent this from happening, and other players had a chance to win, the developers enter random parameters. That is, they are trying in every way to make the game worse for those who have brought their skills to the limit. For example, add a strong variation of bullets when moving or firing a queue.

"Royal Battle"

It seems that playing against a large number of players the chances of winning tend to zero, because of this very strong and long tension from uncertainty to the very end of the game. But in case of victory, the fan rolls over.

Casual games

For example, in the “hidden objects” genre, the time of uncertainty is the time from the start of the task, which object to find, until the moment when they found and clicked on it.

Why the classic quests are almost extinct.

In them, the goal is often incomprehensible, what to find and where. There is a tension from uncertainty at first, but you quickly get tired of searching for a pixel by hunting. The time for searching is very large, and as we have said, the brain does not withstand long-term stress and gives up.

I myself was a fan of classic quests and sometimes I searched for the right item for several days. There were no clues and therefore it was incredibly difficult to complete these quests until the end, and more often the players simply gave up.

In general, if you take any game genre and carefully analyze the mechanics, then we can always find the main elements of the fan.


Luthbox principle is the same. The goal is to win something rare. We press and wait for the time of uncertainty, tension arises. Usually time is specially delayed, something is spinning or a counter is being displayed. As a result, the player receives a prize, from which he or frustration or joy.

Why in modern games less fun, but more people play

The probability of losing is specifically done less, because of this, the tension decreases and more people can withstand it. But for the same reason, the fan is also reduced.

It often happens that after passing such games, there is even nothing to remember. Since there was almost no stress.

Screen life

Usually in games, to determine the likelihood of a player, they introduce a measure of standard of living and depict it on a large screen.

This is a very important element of the game! You look at what you have left 2 hp and try to kill the enemy. The brain predicts the probability of victory is very low, even if the player has a good skill. But the fun with such a small number of lives will be much more if you can still win.

Surprisingly, even big companies are wrong.

See, BATTLEFIELD 3 - no scale of lives. BATTLEFIELD 5 - the scale of lives is back!
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and Call of Duty: WW2

What then is the right game

This is a game in which we can not always overcome obstacles the first time. But as soon as it becomes easy for us and the main thing is to be predicted to do (training has taken place and a reflex has been developed), the complexity should increase. And further on increasing.

Let's think of a simple game right now.

We need a mechanic that has all the basic elements, for example:

  1. We have a ball and we must throw it in the basket.
  2. There is an action button. The longer you hold the button, the stronger the ball flies.
  3. The probability of hitting is not 100%. The basket is not big.
  4. The flight time of the ball.
  5. The result of hitting the ball in the basket.

Start playing! Throw. Throw. Throw. But.

After a while, we realize that there is a fan at first, but then it disappears, since we learned to hit with 100% probability.

We need to change the mechanics of the game so that the probability of hitting is always less than 100%.
For example, we will gradually move the basket away from the start of the ball's flight.

(Sometimes probabilistic elements are added to games.)

When a player learns to get through the entire screen. You can add other obstacles. Wind, birds, etc.

The most difficult thing is to polish all the parameters in the game so that the person continuously receives the maximum fan and does not roll everything into a routine.

Where else can this be applied

As it turned out, this is applicable in the entire entertainment industry and in general human life. Gambling, sports, movies, etc.


Strike - flight time - hit (or not).

All cinema plots are built on the same principle. There is a goal that must be achieved. After 2-3 turns of the plot, the probability of reaching the goal is constantly reduced. This increases stress. In the last minutes of the film, the probability is shown close to zero (usually the hero seems to die and suddenly come to life) And here comes an incredible victory. And the viewer is experiencing a fan.

The film finale is often very delayed to increase the time of uncertainty. Used time dilation.

A special plot can be distinguished ingenious film "The Beginning" by Nolan. In it, one probability is built into another and so several times. There is a multiplication of probabilities.
Inside one dream, another dream is built in and there is another one in it. The probability of a positive outcome tends to zero. Too many factors affect the outcome.

The maximum effect of the film occurs when the result of the action is life or death.

For example, the movie "Thirteen" about Russian roulette.

Slot machines and gambling

Pulling the lever - waiting for a time of uncertainty - the result.

Youtube, Instagram, tapes are different

  1. Headline that touches.
  2. Stress from uncertainty, what is written or shown there?
  3. Click - see the result.

All this is very similar to the experiment with a mouse that enjoyed pressing the lever. But the man came up with how to do it, without implanting electrodes in the brain.

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