Beginning

Most of the articles, I've read is a list of what my game should include, but there is one element that slips away. In this article, we will find out what that “fun” factor is.

First, we have to know the definition of fun.
The definition of fun is short and very abstract. For example, the idea of fun for my father in law is to fly gliders; for me, the idea of flying gliders is boring. Comparing to games, puzzles games will be fun for one person, whereas platform games are fun for another.

A lot of peoples says that developers uses clever psychology to access the pressure of the players and their design is built out of difficulty peaks to control the satisfaction. However, none of these “tricks” wouldn't worked if the mechanic wasn’t so good or “fun.”


MDA Framework

Mechanics-Dynamics-Aesthetics (MDA) framework is a tool used to analyze games. It formalizes the consumption of games by breaking them down into three components - Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics. These three words have been used informally for many years to describe various aspects of games. This framework was created by Marc LeBlanc, Robin Hunicke, and Robert Zubek in 2001.

I think it’s one of the best tools I’ve come across. A lot of people rewrite and modify this framework, but to start you have to know fundamentals:

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Mechanics

Mechanics are the base components of the game - its rules, every basic action the player can take in the game, the algorithms and data structures in the game engine.

Mechanics are the various actions, behaviors and control mechanisms afforded to the player within a game context.

For example: Kao the Kangaroo mechanics includes: moving, jumping, automatic screen scrolling, moving platforms and objects.


Dynamics

Dynamics are the run-time behavior of the mechanics acting on player input and "cooperating" with other mechanics. Basically, what we as designers can do within the very rulesto enhance the player experience.

For example: Mario Kart uses the Blue shell, AKA “The Great Equalizer,” making it both the most hated (frustration) and most desired (anticipation) item of the Mario Kart series.


Aesthetics

Aesthetics are the emotional players’ feedback or feelings from our title. Common sense would suggest that aesthetics are a visual aspect.

In the paper, they mapped the word “fun” into 8 different meanings to make it easier to grasp:

There are eight type of the “fun” word:
- Sensation – Game as sense-pleasure - Fantasy – Game as make-believe - Narrative – Game as drama - Challenge – Game as obstacle course - Fellowship – Game as social framework - Discovery – Game as uncharted territory - Expression – Game as self-discovery - Submission – Game as pastime

I liked the idea of changing fun into feelings. It will help us understand the overall process:

  • Excitement
  • Anticipation
  • Completion
  • Anger
  • Curiosity
  • Satisfaction
  • Frustration

Here are some examples of aesthetics in some selected games:

  • Clash Royals: Fellowship, Expression, Challenge.

  • Candy Crush: Progression, Competition, Challenge.

MDA framework helps us understand the difference between game designers and the players.

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As developers, we become accustomed to think about the game mechanics first, and how they will lead the player to the dynamics and aesthetic feeling. The perspective of the player is the other way around. They experience the game through the aesthetics, which the game dynamics provide, which emerged from the mechanics.


How to test your framework

Few key points which help you test your framework:

  • After defining your game by using a workflow, you should try to reach a playable version as soon as possible,
  • Play it and try to be as objective as you can be about what it makes you feel and if it matches your intention,
  • Let people play your game as soon as possible. Try not to help or guide them, and see what their reactions are,
  • Even if the reactions weren’t what you expected, always ask why, and always keep in mind that maybe your game just didn’t fit that type of gamer.


In conclusion

All that is just my opinion and experience in game industry, so you can feel free to agree or disagree. This framework doesn’t replace creative process, because it comes as a layer on top of that, but it helps us to define what will be fun for our players.

I hope it’s useful for you. If you have any comments or questions, please write them here!

Leszek Król - CEO / Founder



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