Why Candy Crush is so popular

Why Candy Crush is so popular

Why Candy Crush is so popular

We want to talk about Candy Crush, but not for the reason that you’re probably thinking. We had to talk about Candy Crush Saga sooner or later. It makes over a million dollars a day on just the app alone. It eclipsed Farmville as the most popular Facebook game, and it’s almost certainly the most played game of this year in terms of raw hours spent. Yes, if you put together all the ours spent on Call of Duty or League of Legends, I’d wager it still pales in comparison to the total amount of time humanity has spent poking away at Candy Crush.

The thing we actually want to discuss today is this. Why is Candy Crush so popular? After all on the surface it just looks like another bejewel to clone. How come it’s doing so much better than Pop Caps owned by Bejeweled Blitz? Which while it does quite well isn’t clearing anything like the astronomical numbers Candy Crush has been. Let’s dig into this.

First we have to talk about pacing. In a previous episode we talked about differences in kind and how they’re used to modulate a player’s interest curve. This is something that Candy Crush does substantially better than most of its competitors. In Bejewel-ed’s main play mode you’re fundamentally performing the same set of actions level after level. You’re simply matching things in order to hit a score goal. Candy Crush gives you a plethora of goal types from level to level. That combined with Candy Crush’s hand crafted stages means the player experiences something different every level. Each new stage is intended to invoke in the player the thought, I wonder what the next level will be, which is immediately followed by the thought, I’ll try it once just to see what they do. Which is of course immediately followed by 30 more minutes playing Candy Crush.

Now as a designer, when we look at Candy Crush it’s important to note that the crafting of the stages is just as important in delivering the interest curve as varying up the goals. One of the things that sets Candy Crush apart from many of its competitors is that they freed themselves from only using a rectangular play space for a bejeweled type game. This in turn meant that they were able to have actual level design in this game which is essential to Candy Crush. Otherwise, they would have to introduce new game play elements too quickly and it would have resulted in information overload for their audience.

“From there directly integrating their game design and their monetization, rather than viewing them as two separate things, took them over the top.”
If every time they wanted to modulate the interest curve they had to either present the player with new goals or give them some new mechanic to play with. It would, at the very best, prevent the player from ever really getting comfortable enough with specific set of mechanics to truly experience depth of play. At worst it would just fall into the incoherent and overwhelming space that many games do when they toss new mechanics at you or change up your goal continuously in a desperate attempt to keep you interested. Candy Crush provides far better modulation of their interest curve than most match three games, because they’re aware that getting cherries and hazelnuts to the bottom of the screen in a level that’s shaped like an inverted pyramid, feels much different than trying to do the same thing in a level that’s just your standard rectangle.

None of this would work without the random factor. Very often you will see match three games include puzzle levels. Those levels always start with the same pieces in the same places. They are simply a logic problem for the player to work through. The genius of Candy Crush is that they have crafted puzzle like boards for the player to play on, but the starting set of pieces the player gets to solve the pieces with is randomized. This means that when a player loses instead of getting frustrated or just deciding that they don’t know how they’re supposed to beat the level and giving up, they’re much more likely to hop right back in hoping that this time they get a better draw. It also means that every time a player has to replay a level, they’re presented with a new and interesting problem to solve. The player doesn’t have to figure out how the designer wants them to solve the problem, but rather has to assess the board they’ve been provided and figure out how they want to approach the challenge ahead of them.

All right, Candy Crush manages a much better interest curve than most match three games through judicious use of play modes coupled with wildly varying board types. That still doesn’t explain how they monetize so well. Well, it comes from the fact that Candy Crush may be the most exquisitely balanced free to play game I have ever played. Ask any Candy Crush player and they’ll tell you that often they’ll end up losing the game when they’re very clearly only one or two moves away from a win. That’s really hard to achieve in a game that involves this level of randomness. Of course, the goal of that balanced design is monetization. You see, when you loose a level in Candy Crush they offer you a few extra bonus turns. While they don’t make the numbers publicly available, I’d wager that this is one of their best selling offers. This isn’t chance either.

If you look at the two main game play modes in Candy Crush, it’s quite clear that this is part of the core design of the game. In most match three games the player’s goal is simply to achieve a specified score on any given level. Not so on Candy Crush. In Candy Crush score is secondary. The two main game play modes involve either getting specific pieces to the bottom of the screen or making matches in specific squares on the grid.

candy-crushYou now what’s special about those two types of mode? What ties it in to their monetization so well? It’s the fact that it’s incredibly easy to see exactly how close you were to winning when you run out of turns. Score is a nebulous thing. It’s not easily trackable especially with all sorts of bonuses and modifiers to factor in. Plus it’s generally not the thing you’re staring at the entire time you’re playing. With modes like these, it’s right there in front of you. You can’t miss it. You were so close. Two more moves and I would have had it. With victory so tantalizingly near you’re way more likely to consider buying those bonus turns.

There’s a lot that went on in terms of marketing and corporate strategy to make Candy Crush the phenomenon that it is today. Looking at it strictly from a design sense, the game’s success comes from the fact that they created a much better interest curve than most of the competing match three games. By abandoning some of the standard conventions of the genre, and having custom designed levels with enough randomness to allow players to want to play them again and again. From there directly integrating their game design and their monetization, rather than viewing them as two separate things, took them over the top.

Hopefully that answers some questions for those of you pondering Candy Crush’s success and I really hope it goes to show how valuable building ways to modulate your interest curve directly into your systems and mechanics really is. I also sincerely hope that by the time this comes out Candy Crush has also proven that being a complete jerk and wielding copyright law like a club against smaller developers is a great way to loose your sales, destroy your company’s reputation, and prove to the world that you’re worth nowhere near the seven billion dollars you value yourself at.

How to make an open world game

How to make an open world game

How to make an open world game

Today, we’re going to go over the same problem because it lets us to talk about something we rarely get to discuss, the fact that sometimes when designing, the most important thing is how you conceptualize the problem you’re approaching.

People can approach the same design problem and choose to solve it in radically different ways depending on their perspective of the problem, which in turn, results in radically different games. If you think of jumping over a pit is being about precision, you get Super Meat Boy, but if you think about it as being about speed, you get an Endless Runner. If you view Action RPG combat as a way to make the player more connected to the character rather than seeing it as a weigh station between moments of character development, you get Demon’s Souls instead of Fable III.

So, it falls on us as designers, when we have the luxury, to examine our premises before we dive into the thick of the actual design process.

So, Open World games: There are at least two fundamentally different structures for thinking about how to construct an Open World game. You can conceptualize it as a game made up of town, dungeons and Open World encounters or you can conceptualize it as a game made up of modules in the old D and D sense.

“I’m looking forward to seeing a game crack the problem of providing modules and many adventures and tiny cohesive stories in a seamless Open World design.”
In the first structure, you build out towns, dungeons and encounters and then you slot them into the world as they fit. In the second structure, you compose the world as a patchwork of loosely defined areas, that each have their own adventures running through them. We end up using the Elder Scrolls series as an example a lot because it’s the biggest budget, most marketed, longest running fantasy Open World series out there, but it’s a good example of the first design philosophy.

None of us have worked with Bethesda before, but I’d wager that even their team structure is set up along these lines with different people making the dungeons, towns, and encounters and not a great deal of time is spent coordinating between the groups to make areas of the world feel like holistic zones with their own adventures and multi-quest micro stories running through them.

Baldur’s Gate, on the other hand, is an excellent example of the second design philosophy. Because the game itself is coming from a D and D pedigree, it makes a lot of sense that they look at Open World construction in this manner. If you look closely at that game, you’ll find that each of the zones on the map feels like a unified place with a mini-narrative running through it.

Personally, I feel like the second approach gets you stronger result, as it lends itself more toward interesting encounters rather than simply hack and slash combat problems. It creates a framework that allows designers to craft a strong narrative and an Open World environment without losing the freedom of exploration that’s so essential to Open World design.

Of course, the problem with the module approach is that it’s a bit tougher to pull off from a production standpoint. First, you have to organize your teams so that they’re working together on entire zones, which requires a lot more communication and a lot more management overhead.

Second, it means that while you may be able to salvage some stuff here and there, you are a lot more likely to have to completely scrap a bunch of work if one of the teams falls behind or their area just isn’t coming together.

This method also creates two design challenges for you. First, is the obvious fact that creating holistic micro adventures requires more work from your designers. The alternative of simply creating the constituent parts of those adventures, the dungeons, towns and encounters, and then scattering them about the world doesn’t require as much design staff. The second challenge is in how you delineate the boundaries of those adventures within an Open World framework.

Baldur’s Gate took the technologically necessitated but also simpler design approach of simply dividing the world into separate zones. They had boundaries between these zones and whenever the player crossed them, the game would pause to do a bit of loading. This gave them an easy way to delineate the module or adventure space. That is much harder to achieve with the Elder Scrolls seamless world.

Dark Souls II, which feels less like an Open World game to me, but I’ve had enough people insist to me that it is that I’ll use it here; anyway, Dark Souls II also creates clear zone delineations, but they do it through visual aesthetics, and by having the zones actually all be spokes off of a central hub rather than a truly free roaming space.

Dragon’s Dogma, on the other hand, provides a more module based experience than Skyrim within a true Open World by having its contents seemingly designed as areas rather than as pieces. It’s basically an Elder Scrolls type of game with a more Baldur’s Gate ASCA Module philosophy for their Open World design, but even they didn’t truly go all the way in creating the module-like feel of old Black Isle games. Instead, they settled for giving each area a unique sense of theme, tone and design, but eschewed the series of quests and encounters that would make each area a small adventure in and of itself with its own story to tell.


Actually, some of the best modern examples of module-based Open Worlds come from MMOs. If you look at World of Warcraft, many of the zones there, especially later in the game, feel like unified adventures with little stories of their own, but they, too, couldn’t do it without clearly defined zones.

On the production side, I think all of these problems are soluble so long as you go into the project thinking of your world as a patchwork of modules rather than simply a collection of dungeons, towns and encounters.

On the design side, it’s something you’re going to have to play around with in pre-production. It’s easy to do the module thing with clearly defined zone borders, but without zone borders or artificial gating, making these adventures feel natural and keeping the player from getting lost in a mish-mash of overlapping modules as they inadvertently cross between them, is something that will probably require a unique solution for your game, as there’s not a whole lot of successful examples to draw from.

Before we go, I wanted to say something about Sandboxes. Often we seem to use the term, Open World game and Sandbox interchangeably. They’re actually not though. Sandbox games are games where you, the player, create part of the fun yourself by playing around within the world the game presents you. Games like these may benefit less from module-based design because it’s not simply the adventure itself that makes these games engaging. It’s also in finding new areas to mess around in and new ways to play with the systems the game gives you.

Grand Theft Auto games get more mileage out of just building cool bits and socketing them into their world than a lot of fantasy Open World games because in GTA, a well-placed ramp is a new toy for you to experiment with. You could spend hours trying to use it to land your car on an impossibly high building or just enjoy throwing cars off it and laughing yourself silly, whereas, a random troll camp in an Open World fantasy game simply can’t be played with in the same way.

If you’re thinking about creating an Open World game, consider what your design approach should be. Do you want to conceive your world out of a patchwork of modules or would you rather create a single huge space and sprinkle dungeons, towns and encounters all over it? They both have advantages and they both work, but I’ve got to say, I’m looking forward to seeing a game crack the problem of providing modules and many adventures and tiny cohesive stories in a seamless Open World design.

How to make indie games

How to make indie games

how to make indie games

Over the past few years we’ve done a series of “So you want to be … ” episodes talking about what it takes to fill the various roles in the game industry. Lately we’ve got more and more requests for suggestions on how to get into Independent Games Development, since it’s something that James has worked with a number of people on, we figured “Hey why not?”. Hopefully this helps some of you take the first steps towards getting more fantastic games out to the world.

Without further ado, Lesson 1:

The first thing you have to know as an Indie Dev. is that you are not going to be making a game with the scope of a “God of War” or a “Call of Duty”. For your first project think simple, think small. Whether you’re self financing for a few million dollars, or you’re living off of ramen, doesn’t matter, you want to keep your first project achievable. Something you can get out to market and into the hands of real people. Your first time through this process will teach you a great deal, even if you’re already a wizened veteran coming out of the Triple A industry. It’s a totally different experience working with a small team, actually getting to help call all the shots. If you’re not a veteran the amount you’re going to learn from this is just staggering! I can guarantee you this, your second project will be so much better and go so much smoother than your first.

“There’s a lot more to succeeding in this industry then just “Build it and they will come””
When it comes time to start your second project, think simple, think small again. James has an enormous amount of experience estimating project timelines, to this day when he makes these estimates he always adds an extra 50% to the schedule and budget. These projects always end up with a thousand little pieces and complexities you can’t possibly foresee before you’ve gotten stared.

Lesson 2: Being an Indie Dev. involves a lot more than just building games.

I have known plenty of teams that were great at building games who’s studio died on the vine because they didn’t know how to do marketing, or p.r., or how to get the project distributed. There’s a lot more to succeeding in this industry then just “Build it and they will come”. This is where the fantasy of being an Indie separates from the reality. You’d like to dream about working on games all day, but honestly you’re going to be wearing a lot of hats. If this company is your baby you’re probably going to be spending almost as much time answering emails, taking meetings, worrying about taxes and money, and so on, as you are actually developing your game.

If you’re working with more than one person I would highly recommend getting a lawyer from the outset. You don’t have to use them much, until it comes time to deal heavily with contracts, but someone who can help you set up your company right can save you a lot of headaches in the long run. If you can spare the $500 -$1000 to hire a lawyer when you start to get serious about launching a game it will be well worth it.

Once you’re all set up the key as an Indie, assuming you’re not working with a lot of money, is how to get viability. The best method is going to differ wildly for different games and different studios, so here I would recommend really studying how other games have done it. Whether it’s building in to the game things that people want to share, like in Minecraft, or using spaces like Kongregate the way Team Meat did, there are a thousand different methods to help your game stand out from the every growing crowd of indie titles out there. Remember, going viral is something that you work for, you have to stay on top of it, it’s not something that happens by itself, at least not 99.9% of the time.

Beyond that you’ll need to figure out how you’re going to get your product distributed. Getting on Steam doesn’t just happen. Many of the much smaller digital distribution services aren’t going to glean you more than a few dozen sales. Really think about and give yourself at least six months prior to launch to work on pursuing distribution.

Lesson 3: Is budget.

This might seem simple as an indie studio, you just take the minimum amount you all need to live each month, multiply that by the number of months you expect the project to take and voila you got your budget! Wrong. No. It turns out there are licenses you’re going to have to buy, legal fees you’re going to have to pay, then there’s taxes, and of course somebody’s cars going to break down at some point. Then one of the computers is going to burst into flame, you’ll have to replace that, plus all the work that was on the hard-drive that people forgot to back up. All that’s just the start of it!

Often you build your first games simply to get people to know who you are, and to gather a small following of fans. To get people interested you as a company, and make your work stand out amongst all the less well crafted Indie games out there. Often, even if your first game wins some awards and gets some press it’s not going to sell phenomenally well. Honestly, just getting noticed is probably a more important goal for your first game then sales. That does mean that you’re going to need to plan a way to survive long enough to release your second game, just keep that in mind.

Another important thing to know, many game distributing companies aren’t going to pay you until thirty-ninety days after they start selling it. James has seen to many indie teams suffer because they ran out of cash while waiting for that first decent size check. Of course, it’s not the end of the world if this happens, if you’re game is selling well enough people will be willing to front you some money; but that money is going to be a lot more expensive then you’d ever want it to be.

Finally, Lesson 4: Mechanics trump content.

This advice is for your actual game design. As an indie you can get away with a game that’s short. Your game could be a five minute web game that touches us in some deeply emotional way, or even a gripping eight hour adventure. What it absolutely must not be is twenty five hours of ehhhh, it’s all right.

Polish and scale are the weapons of the Triple A world. Indies can’t really compete with that. Unless you already have something spectacular, or novel, to offer your focus shouldn’t be about building more of it. Instead, concentrate your efforts on making that play really stand out. To often I see new indie companies cobble together some baseline, functional mechanics and then start building levels and creating new content. Doing that feels like a games getting made, it feels like tangible progress. That is the wrong way to go about things.

If you don’t make sure your mechanics are right first, you’re just going to have to redo all of that level design when you polish those mechanics. Or, worse, you’ll be afraid to change your mechanics for the better because of all the level design you already did. You’ll be stuck shipping a mediocre game.

Remember to test early, it may scare you, it may feel like your game isn’t ready or that people won’t understand it, but it’s almost never to early to test. You can always get valuable feedback. It’s often our own egos, our fear of being hurt, of having this thing we love misunderstood or rejected, that keeps us from showing it to others in an unbiased environment. An environment where it’s okay for them to rip it to shred right in front of us. To succeed as an Independent Developer, that’s something you’re going to have to step past.

To review:

Lesson 1: Plan your game scope well.

Lesson 2: Know what you’re getting yourself into.

Lesson 3: Keep your budget realistic, with hopefully enough in the war chests to make another game if the first one doesn’t sell

Lesson 4: Mechanics trump content.

Good luck! We hope to be playing your game soon.

Games Can Improve Our Schools

Games Can Improve Our Schools

Games Can Improve Our Schools

Games are voluntary. You can’t impose games on people and expect them to get anything from it. Play is nature’s way of getting us to learn. It’s why it’s so great for education. Because it’s something we, and pretty much every other animal, or hardwired to want to do. Whether it’s a lion cub on the Serengeti wrestling with its brothers in order to learn how to better fight in the wild- or a human child in the twenty-first century, learning our world of electronics by poking at a tablet screen. The instinct to play is the most basic, innate, natural way for us to learn.

But a big part of that is that it’s something that we think we choose to do. That we desire and want to do for ourselves. So we’ll put more effort into it. Unfortunately, this isn’t fully part of the collective thinking on games and education in the US. Here, the approach seems to be a very “top-down” approach. The general idea seems to be that we will build games, we’ll put them in schools, we’ll make kids play them in class, and things will be better. And truth is, it might be. If well done, it’s probably better than some of what we’re doing today.

But it doesn’t really harness the full power of games. It doesn’t deliver on the magic of play that’s so powerful- that promises so much for education. You can’t just make somebody play a game. Any of you who have been play testers know that even the best game, when played over and over again because someone’s making you, isn’t fun or engaging. Play has to be an act of volition. It has to be something you engage in voluntarily. And fostering that desire, that drive to play games of worth, games that educate, is really how we’re going to succeed in using games to help bolster our ailing educational system.

“Because curiosity really is more powerful than even the threat of punishment.”
Because any of you who have really sunk deep into that desire to play, know how much of your brain’s base it takes. When you’re driving somewhere your brain’s busy thinking of optimal strategies. When you’re stuck sitting in a boring lecture, you’re sneakily writing out builds in your notebook or brainstorming ways to optimize the run you’re going to do when you get home. You know how you love to research the game and find out more? To really dig in and learn spawn-timers or drop rates? And do the math and memorize the geography? You know how it gives your brain something to work and cycle on all day? Something to engage with when otherwise you’d simply be zoning out or otherwise not tuning in? That’s what we want to harness. That’s what we want games and education to do. That’s what we need them to do.

But to do that, we can’t just impose games. We can’t just assign them as homework. Or tell you that, “From eleven to twelve this is the game you are going to play.” That’s antithetical to engagement. That works against everything we’re building games to do. So we need to think about more than just building games. We need to think about how they’re going to be used. How they’re going to be implemented in the classroom in a way that doesn’t abandon the best things they give us.

And I’m not even going to pretend to have the answer for this problem. This is a subject we’re just starting to explore. Something James, only just over the last few weeks, realized was a huge disjunct in how we view games for education. It may be part of a much larger re-think of how we view the classroom and how we see the role of the teacher. It may be part of the growing need to shift the teacher’s role to one of the mentor, tutor, and guide- rather than lecturer. It may be part of an over-arching requirement that twenty-first century education be more about focused exploration. About using the vast resources available to us, to help us teach ourselves under the guidance of a caring adult, who’s been down this road before. Rather than simply having facts drilled into us. It may be part of revamping the educational system. To make sure that personal desire for knowledge is a stronger motivator than a fear of punishment. I’m fairly sure the answer lies somewhere circling those three, but right now, it’s beyond my ken. We need more time to think and hear more dialogue on the subject.

Which, is why we’re doing this episode. I am sure we’ll do a follow-up episode later if we find a more concrete approach. At the present, all I can say for sure, is that it can be done. Because it is being done in a thousand different individual cases. I see small examples everywhere I look. They’re just too specific to point the way to a general solution.

As I say all this, I am thinking of the Reality Ends Here game being run at USC. It’s a subversive game about film-making to help launch students into creating. To get them excited and interested in do-it-yourself cinema. And then, providing them with creative challenges and intellectual prompts along the way. It lures students into a world where they want to do the thing they’re going to school to learn. Where they desire to practice it in their time off. Rather than just longing to get away from the subject they’ve been studying in class all day.

It’s amazing because it relies on almost no technology. It’s a card game essentially. It’s also a little bit of an ARG and a wee bit of a mechanism for social interaction. And the portal into the game relies, not on assigning it, but rather on piquing the student’s curiosity. Letting them drive themselves toward it. Letting them want it. Letting them desire to discover and play this game. While at first glance that may seem risky, last I heard, they had almost a one-hundred percent uptake rate. That’s way better than the number of students tuning into your average classroom. Where they’re being graded and where their future is at stake. Because curiosity really is more powerful than even the threat of punishment.

I’m just gonna leave it at that for now. As we so often do, I’m hoping the things left unexplored propel you to look further and dig deeper. This time we’re kind of counting on it.

Design Teaches Us Without Words

Design Teaches Us Without Words

Design Teaches Us Without Words

Do you ever wonder why when you walk up to some doors, you don’t know whether to push or to pull to open them? Whereas with other doors, it just seems natural how they’re supposed to open. That’s often because of how they are designed.

The next time you are at a public building, look at the doors. If both sides of the door are the same, it is confusing, but if one side of the door has a bar that goes horizontally, and the other side has a bar that goes vertically, you intuitively know what to do. This is because your body knows how to interact with these two objects. The vertical bar is just natural to grip, and it’s much more ingrained to pull something we’ve grasped with one hand than it is to push it, especially if it is the size of a door. Conversely, the horizontal bar matches the breath of your body and practically asks you to put both hands on it. Once you’ve done that, the only intuitive thing to do next is to put the weight of your body into it and push, rather than try to back up ad pull with both of your hands fixed on the door.

So, why do we care? Because that’s what we call an affordance, and they are an important part of game design. You see, affordances in traditional design are things built to be naturally, almost physiologically intuited. The most common example is the handle of a teacup or a tea pot. Without being taught it is the part of the object you’re supposed to grasp, it is the first place a persons hand goes because, well, in the simplest terms, it is a hand shaped hole. Clearly for something meant to contain hot liquid, that is an important feature. That is just something you need people to get. Well this is a concept we have taken in game design and run with, extending far beyond our physiological understanding.

“You see, affordances in traditional design are things built to be naturally, almost physiologically intuited.”
We’ve had to work hard to get players to intuit things in a virtual world by trying to link them to their understanding of the real one. This pervades every part of game design, from controls, to mechanics, to narrative. The first, and the most obvious example, is simply modern controllers. We’ve tried to do everything we can to get players to naturally put their hands in he right place on a controller in order to play games based around moving, looking, and shooting simultaneously in a 3D environment because, while this may be second nature to most of us at this point, getting 3D shooters to feel even remotely right on the console was a huge challenge at one point. In fact, I would argue that most of modern controller design is based around that problem. Look at how the shoulder buttons have evolved to make it more intuitive to rest your fingers there instead of gripping the side of the controller. Look at how the thumb sticks went from being bowed out, to being curved in so they naturally seem like the place to rest your thumbs.

The concept of affordance in games goes well beyond this. We use it anywhere where form implies function. How do you know that those crazy sci-fi guns in your game, set in the distant future, even are guns? Well, they share a shape we already have associations for. How do you know to drop that boulder in that hole? Because the hole is boulder shaped and heck, getting back to controls, how do you know that the right trigger is used to accelerate and the left trigger is used to break in pretty much every game with vehicles there is? Because they are matched to the petals in your car. This is just the most basic level of affordance. It is important, and if you don’t think of it as a designer, you’ll fail to produce intuitive games. It is completely essential for puzzle design, and the lack of it was one of the biggest stumbling points for old school adventure games back in the day, but that’s just the beginning.

Let’s blaze through some of the more interesting uses. First, navigational affordance. We’ve talked about this a little in a previous episode, so I’ll keep it short, but how do you get your player to go where they need to? By making it the natural place to go; by implying where to go with a path, or a doorway, or a break in the barbed wire, or a brightly colored carpet, or whatever, directing a player down a specific path. Then there is environmental affordance. This is one of the most fascinating ones and I can’t take any credit for it. Harvey Smith turned us onto it a few years ago at a South by Southwest. Before the generation of super high res video gaming, designers often had to get you to understand what blurry textures or awkward graphics were supposed to be. In fact, the player has to intuit those things to stay immersed in the world.

Even today with third person games, we’ll often have objects that are simply too small for the player to see clearly, and yet, they’re the little details that make the world feel whole. So how do you get someone to understand what these things are? Affordance. Green rectangles and silver circles mean nothing to a player on their own, but if you put them next to an overturned cash register, wallah! Suddenly, they become dollars and coins in the mind of the player. Understanding how to use the objects in your environment to give definition and to make distinct the pieces of the environment that might not otherwise make sense, is a huge boon as an artist or a designer.

Lastly, let’s talk about systemic affordance. Spearmen beat horsemen, horsemen beat footmen, footman beat spearmen. How do you know? Because it just makes sense! Of course you could use a system like this without calling the units spearmen, horsemen and footmen. Technically the systems would be the same no matter what you call them. They could be broccoli, bean sprouts and a beluga whale, but no, you call them horsemen, spearmen and footmen because simply by labeling them in this manner, we offer the player an affordance. Instead of having to understand all of the math underlying your game upfront, the player can instead intuit how they should play.

There are hundreds of other examples of affordance in games, I’m sure you’ll easily pick out as you play, because as designers, we’ve got to do everything we can to make this inherently strange and remote task of playing a character on a screen, feel intuitive, and even natural. It has become even more important as we explore the uncanny world of touch-screens and motion games. We can’t do the concept justice here, but I hope I get you thinking on how to use it and how it’s been used on you in games. If you want to dive a lot deeper, I recommend a reading, The Design of Everyday Things. It is about physical design, but I think it’ll get you thinking about game creation in whole new ways.