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Design & Style

Will Wright’s 5 Tips for Writing Game Mechanics

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jun 2, 2020 • 2 min read

Game mechanics are an important aspect of every video game design. Game designers implement core mechanics to teach the player how to interact with or use different game elements, which is how the gamer learns how to play in order to achieve the game’s goal.

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What Are Game Mechanics?

Game mechanics are the rules of the game, the objective nuts-and-bolts algorithms. They are the subsystems and processes of interaction that constitute the underlying structure of the larger game system. They are objective—the “if” levers that produce predictable “then” outcomes within your system.

Your core game mechanics dictate how basic gameplay functions, like how the game responds, rewards, or penalizes the player’s actions. When a player starts conversing with a game system through its game mechanics, the conversation produces the game dynamics, or the whole game system in motion—which determines the entire player experience.

Will Wright’s 5 Tips for Writing Game Mechanics

Game mechanics are the backbone of its functionality. Read below for expert tips from Will Wright on how to write game mechanics:

  1. Work backwards. When selecting game mechanics, think about the experience your game is creating. Then work backwards to find the mechanic that will improve that experience. Sometimes that means borrowing a common mechanic from another game, and sometimes it means creating your own.
  2. Study other mechanics. The best way to get good at using game mechanics is to start recognizing them in other games. Play games with an analytical mind. Break each system down into its component parts, and eventually, you’ll see how many mechanics are shared across games and systems. Strive to become a mechanics collector, gathering things from here and there that you’ll eventually use in your own designs.
  3. Incorporate probability. Many game mechanics will use some form of probability or randomness. A simple dice roll is an example. Use randomness when you want to create interesting variability in play, or add tension to a certain moment within your game.
  4. Don’t reward randomness. Never apply positive feedback to an element that is essentially random, because that fools the player into thinking that they did something significant. Similarly, if you apply randomness to moments that are supposed to be precise and vital to success, the game begins to feel arbitrary. Instead, introduce small, mathematically simple elements of chance throughout your game. Those elements will play against one another and eventually present as game intelligence to the player.
  5. Give players more control. Allow players to mitigate randomness in your game by giving them access to tools that influence probability. For example, if you’re building a digital card game that relies on random draws, allow your player to build their own deck. If you’re building a war game that detects hits and misses by using a probability table, let players add equipment that improves their probability. This way your player has control and agency over how randomness affects the game state, and their failures won’t feel arbitrary.
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