From Will Wright's MasterClass

Design Player-Centered Experiences

Will believes that failure is critical to helping players learn, and making failure fun is a key part of game design. Learn how Will keeps players entertained throughout their experience.

Topics include: Enable a Flow State • Failure Accelerates Learning • Design Nested Loops of Success and Failure • Make Failure Fun • Build a Smooth Ramp in Complexity • Create a Landscape With Different Paths • Rewards and Incentives

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Will believes that failure is critical to helping players learn, and making failure fun is a key part of game design. Learn how Will keeps players entertained throughout their experience.

Topics include: Enable a Flow State • Failure Accelerates Learning • Design Nested Loops of Success and Failure • Make Failure Fun • Build a Smooth Ramp in Complexity • Create a Landscape With Different Paths • Rewards and Incentives

Will Wright

Teaches Game Design and Theory

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One thing the game designers really should know is that, you know, it's about the player. You know, it's a player-centered experience. And the player is the one driving that experience. You know, it's the difference between being on a roller coaster and being in a car, behind the steering wheel. Now that player, because they're holding the steering wheel, they're responsible for where they go. They have choice they have decisions to make. And because of that, they take ownership. And that totally changes their relationship to whatever it is. You know, the fact that they were the ones to steer left or right, and because it went off the cliff, it was their fault, or because they, you know, won the lottery, they did it because they picked those numbers. So I think that that's the first and foremost thing, is that when somebody feels like they're in control of a process, they own it. And it now has a fundamentally more personal connection to them than something that's one size fits all, here's the ride, get on it, hope you enjoy it. [MUSIC PLAYING] Flow is kind of a state that the player can get into. And I think of it as basically something that's right at the limit of your abilities. It's pushing you mentally. But it's not too easy, not too hard. If it's too hard, it seems random, it seems arbitrary, it's frustrating. If it's too easy, it's predictable, it's boring. Flow is putting you right on that edge of your abilities, and really testing them. I used to actually race cars. And there was kind of a rule of thumb in racing that if you didn't crash 10% of the time, you weren't trying hard enough. You need to design the game such that failure is interesting and understandable, so that go back and say, aha, now I need to avoid the turtles or whatever it is in the game. And then you kind of build and grow that model. But also you're building your ability to problem-solve and strategize. Every player is can be different, different abilities, different skill sets. In a lot of ways, you want to make the game such that the player is the one adjusting the difficulty. You know, they can choose to go a little bit further, try for this harder thing, or stick with the easy stuff until they're more comfortable. So in some sense, a lot of it can be kind of player-paced. There are more advanced systems that are called DDA, or Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment, where the computer, behind the scenes, is kind of watching with the player's doing. And if they're failing too much, the computer can actually lower the difficulty level, or increase it, you know, if they're not being challenged enough. But in a lot of games, you know, by giving the player enough freedom but also enticing them to try for the hard things-- you know, if you try for this harder thing, you might get this bigger reward. So at that point, the player can kind of choose their own level, and put themself in the flow state. [MUSIC PLAYING] There is a whole topic known as f...

Explore the Possibility Space

Learn the art and science of game design with Will Wright, the mind behind SimCity and The Sims. In this game design class, Will teaches you how to create games that empower players and unleash their imagination. You’ll develop a tool set for understanding player psychology, as well as learn Will’s approach to generating and pitching ideas, prototyping, playtesting, and building a community.

Reviews

4.7
Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Great start to what I hope will be a window into a new world

I learned about a lot about first class systems and design mindset.

Even as a non game developer, I have enjoyed Will's games and now I can see why. His creativity is enhanced by his curiosity of the human mind and the decisions we make on a daily basis. I found this course to be interesting and insightful.

This course is the best course I've taken on masterclass! As a game designer/developer I learn so much from Will. Truly inspiring. Motivating me more to create my unique and impactful interactive experiences!

Comments

Starla

The pottery class analogy is from the book Art & Fear by David Bayles & Ted Orland (at least, that’s where I first heard it) — Art & Fear explores the way art gets made and is totally applicable to designing a game.

XHXIAIEIN

# Chapter 06: Design Player-Centered Experiences --- One thing the game designers really should know is that, you know, it's about the player. You know, it's a player-centered experience. And the player is the one driving that experience. You know, it's the difference between being on a roller coaster and being in a car, behind the steering wheel. Now that player, because they're holding the steering wheel, they're responsible for where they go. They have choice they have decisions to make. And because of that, they take ownership. And that totally changes their relationship to whatever it is. You know, the fact that they were the ones to steer left or right, and because it went off the cliff, it was their fault, or because they, you know, won the lottery, they did it because they picked those numbers. So I think that that's the first and foremost thing, is that when somebody feels like they're in control of a process, they own it. And it now has a fundamentally more personal connection to them than something that's one size fits all, here's the ride, get on it, hope you enjoy it. --- # Enable a Flow State Flow is kind of a state that the player can get into. And I think of it as basically something that's right at the limit of your abilities. It's pushing you mentally. But it's not too easy, not too hard. If it's too hard, it seems random, it seems arbitrary, it's frustrating. If it's too easy, it's predictable, it's boring. Flow is putting you right on that edge of your abilities, and really testing them. I used to actually race cars. And there was kind of a rule of thumb in racing that if you didn't crash 10% of the time, you weren't trying hard enough. You need to design the game such that failure is interesting and understandable, so that go back and say, aha, now I need to avoid the turtles or whatever it is in the game. And then you kind of build and grow that model. But also you're building your ability to problem-solve and strategize. Every player is can be different, different abilities, different skill sets. In a lot of ways, you want to make the game such that the player is the one adjusting the difficulty. You know, they can choose to go a little bit further, try for this harder thing, or stick with the easy stuff until they're more comfortable. So in some sense, a lot of it can be kind of player-paced. There are more advanced systems that are called DDA, or Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment, where the computer, behind the scenes, is kind of watching with the player's doing. And if they're failing too much, the computer can actually lower the difficulty level, or increase it, you know, if they're not being challenged enough. But in a lot of games, you know, by giving the player enough freedom but also enticing them to try for the hard things-- you know, if you try for this harder thing, you might get this bigger reward. So at that point, the player can kind of choose their own level, and put themself in the flow state. --- # Failure Accelerates Learing There is a whole topic known as failure-based learning. failure is a loaded term, in that we think of failure as bad. I don't want to fail. There was a great story I heard. It was an art teacher in an art class-- it was actually a pottery class. And at the beginning of this class, the beginning of the year, he did divided the class into two halves. And the first half he said, OK, your final grade is going to be based upon one pot that you make. I want you to make the best pot you could possibly make, and your grade is going to be based upon that. The other half of the class, he said, OK, your grade is going to be based on how many pots you make. I don't care how bad they are. Just the more you make, the better your grade. At the end of the year, of course, it turns out that the half of the class that was building the most pots were also building the best ones by far. They had built so many bad pots, and had iterated so many times, they learned very rapidly. And by the end of the class, they were building these amazing pots. Whereas the other half that was spending all their time thinking about one pot that they were going to build, you know, never got anywhere. So it was the failure that accelerated their learning on the other half. When players play games, again, they are failing most of the time. And again, if you can make it understandable, humorous, enjoyable in some way, then that can be an enjoyable process, especially when you get past that first failure to the next level. --- # Design Nested Loops of Success and Failure So as a designer, we're constructing this middle model in the player. And it's important that we ramp that model up smoothly and gradually for the player. You don't want to pile all this complexity on them right at the beginning of the game. It's overwhelming. You should actually present them a simpler model. layers and layers of complexity onto it in their head as they encounter more and more things in the game, either through, you know, more elaborate world items, monsters, opponents, abilities, tools, whatever. So the designer, in some sense, is responsible for ramping that model in the player's head. Now, when you're playing an interactive experience, you're actually going through this set of kind of nested loops of success and failure. When you first start playing Mario, you start mashing the buttons, and you find out that that button makes him jump, this control makes him move side to side. About 10 seconds for you to kind of figure that out. So there's that kind of 10 seconds, I don't know how to control Mario, then I succeed, and finally know how to control him, which brings me kind of to the next level of interaction, which is maybe more a minute. I started encountering objects in the world. Is that good? Is that bad? I learn from that. And then you go from kind of a very tactical, very granular, to longer and longer loops of success and failure. Now, every level, you're probably going to encounter failure. And the failure actually is something that-- most people are spending most of their time in a game failing, really, at different ways and different loops here. And it's not that you don't want the player to encounter failure, but you want them to understand the failure, and build a model around that failure so that next time they will succeed. That's part of the motivation, is now I understand that that's good and that's bad. Next time I will not get stuck by that. Let me show you an example of that on the whiteboard here. In a game like "The Sims," you know, basically you have little characters that you're controlling here. And initially, you need to understand first of all, just how to make them move, and walk around, and interact with things, So in some sense, that's kind of like the very first game loop we're dealing with here. On one side of that, is failure. this is me not being able to control my character. And once I've learned how to make them walk around, interact with things, you know, then I've succeeded. And this is, you know, this is called interaction loop, After that, you know, I start dealing with-- they have these little needs. They get hungry, they get tired, they want social, they want entertainment. And those things fail. So right off the bat, you know, they're sitting there, and they're crashing on energy, they're bored, they're basically unhappy. And so the next level loop I really have to kind of do is figure out how to bring that happiness up. So that's kind of like the happy loop. And that's a little bit longer timescale. You know, that takes several minutes within The Sims. And again, there's kind of a success side to that and a failure side to that loop. Now there are also things, within these loops. And we kind of keep going, the next one might be economic. At some point, they want to start improving their house, getting a job, getting skills, So let's call that Jobs, and that's an even longer loop here. But a lot of games like "The Sims," or creative games, also involve, basically, orthogonal creativity. so in addition to playing the game, in addition to kind of dealing with all these game loops, I'm doing this weird stuff, like telling a story with this, or trying to replicate my family, or just exploring, seeing, I wonder if my Sim could do that. And so there are probably, other loops that are in a different dimension, really, than this-- kind of more like there-- that don't have a lot to do with me succeeding on the overall game's success curve, but have more to do with the player exploring their own creativity, their own expressiveness. And some players, get totally invested in this, and eventually start ignoring that, But most games have some version of these different loops, And it might be learn to shoot, then learn to unlock the door, then learn to defeat the evil boss at the end. this is pretty much, the same graph of the player building up this mental model. So the player's, model-- the player's up here, controlling this game, in their head, you know, they're basically building this mental model-- kind of one layer at a time-- of your game. And those layers of that model are very much aligned to these interaction layers. --- # Make Failure Fun As players are going through these loops, and slowly building this model, again, really it's that most of what they're going to experience is failure-- again, and again, and again-- which doesn't sound very fun. But it's the game designer's job to present that in a way that's entertaining, and informative, and that it's not frustrating. I don't want to be failing on, you know, exactly the same thing over, and over, and over, especially when I know why I'm failing. Some games-- some platform games, you have to time it exactly right, and it's really hard. And those can kind of get very frustrating, when you know that you have to acquire the skill, and you can't quite acquire it. So you're not failing because you don't know what you need to do. It's just that it's so hard for you to kind of get into that skill set, that sweet spot, for some people it becomes frustrating. So when somebody fails in a game, you want it to be understandable, you want to be something that they can overcome once they understand it. Also, again, humor can be a great tool to alleviate the frustration. when somebody fills in a certain very basic thing in a game, sometimes you want to actually have a variety of failure states that become humorous. So at least when they're failing again, and again, and again, it's not exactly the same repetition over and over. you might just have different animations for the same failure. But again, the humor, I think, can be a great tool here. But if presented right, players get very m hy they failed, to then go back and do it again. --- # Build a Smooth Ramp in Complexity The kind of games I tend to make tend to be more system-level games. And they frequently-- like, "Sim City" or "The Sims" involve you constructing something that, gets more and more elaborate over time. As you achieve success, and your city grows, or your Sims, get more stuff in their house, you're adding more complexity to their world, in "The Sims," there's kind of this promise that, oh, you buy this crap for your Sims, and it'll make them happy. Get them a big-screen TV here, or a better bed there. But in some sense, as you acquire more and more of these items, they become time bombs. Each one of these things has a failure state, or some maintenance requirement, or whatever. So as you fill your house with all this junk, what you're really doing is these things are potential time sinks down the road, which add complexity to their world, and make it much more difficult to play the game. Same with "Sim City," first you're just, zoning a few little plots of land, and building a few roads. And you see a few things pop up, and pretty soon, they need power. OK, you give them power. Now they need water, now they want a school, now they want a hospital, now--And so as they make progress in the game, and the system is growing, the complexity is growing as well. And so it's a very natural, smooth ramp in complexity. It's not like, OK, you finished level 1, now here's level 2, where we're adding two more rules. It's very smoothly based upon-- and in some sense, the player is asking for it. as a player, gets their city to that size, of course they need a hospital now. So it totally fits, and it didn't feel arbitrary either. It kind of feels natural in that way. --- # Create a Landscape With Different Paths It's not just how much difficulty is in the path, but also how many paths are there. I think that the really interesting games are ones that allow different paths towards some kind of success. And in particular, the kind of games I do don't even make success that explicit. in "The Sims," you can decide you want them to have a good job, or want them to be happy. Same in "Sim City," you can want the biggest city you can build, or the happiest residents, or the least crime. So in some sense, the player is choosing the goal state. Now each one of these goal states is going to have kind of a different path of difficulty. And so for me it's more about, there's a landscape here of paths that the player can take, and each one has different peaks. But none of these have a cliff, where you hit the cliff, and all of a sudden, now it's really hard to get up. they all have kind of different motivations of slope up those achievement peaks. And that's something that, again, it's really hard. It's an emergent property, so it's very hard to just say, OK, here's how we code that. A lot of times, players will find exploits around it. Or it'll turn out that, again, pressing the red button is not that obvious. So this is, again, something we actually will capture metrics on. We will actually have a lot of people, as we start getting more and more testers, we're capturing metrics-- how long is somebody spinning in that stage or this stage? How many people are failing on this point or that point? And so that's stuff that you all want to make fairly parametric, that you can adjust fairly granularly in testing. --- # Rewards and Incentives Rewards in the game can come in many forms. there's just the advancement-- how far did I get in the game, or there are special abilities that you might gain that now allow you to achieve things you could not achieve before. I think sometimes rewards are a little overly-relied-upon, when you have power-ups and stuff in a game. It's just it gets, rote, boring, a little too obvious. I think a lot of the really interesting player rewards are things that they think they came up with himself, or they discovered this thing in the game. And I think discovery is a huge part of this, is that if you leave areas of the game that are maybe closed off to the player, but at some point, just open one of these little gates and let them see that, hey, there's a lot of stuff hidden in here if you look a little bit deeper or try a little bit harder. And players love that. You see things-- you know, people playing "Grand Theft Auto" or whatever, and they manage to get on top of places they weren't supposed to be able to, or do things exploits. Then of course, they make a movie of it, and it becomes kind of a machinima of sorts. I remember back in "Sim City 2000," which is a very old game, we had of course landscape, train, rivers,But we actually programmed in that, you know, once in a very, very seldom while-- like if you were playing the game for 100 hours, it might happen for, a few seconds in 100 hours-- we actually had this little Loch Ness Monster appear in the water, pop his head out. And there was kind of rumors amongst the players that, I think I saw a monster in the water. No, no, no, I've never seen that. Somebody, once, eventually got a screenshot of it. It was like this very hard-to-achieve reward. Just kind of capturing a screenshot of this one little thing. And it didn't help them in the game at all. But they were so motivated to do this, and capture it, that it became-- actually a lot of players were trying to discover and take a picture of the Loch Ness Monster. Rewards are just a mechanism in a game that you put in there, maybe to help guide a player in a certain direction or achieve certain levels. But the incentive in a game really is coming from the process of the player playing that game-- whatever that is, And I think that's something that's coming internally from the player, not externally from the game designer. But the process that they're going through-- and it might be a creative process, it might be a skill-based process, it might be a social, you know, kind of challenging process, that's something that the player kind of innately has a desire to achieve. And that's a much, much broader thing, and it's a much deeper thing, too. You know, I think that's why people really will get really hooked on a game, is their own internal incentive. You know, I want to get to a level 30 in "Warcraft," or this or that. They come up with their own goals, really, for that. Rewards in a game are really like these little mechanisms that the, you know, game designer puts in there which kind of moderate the gameplay. So I'd say they're very, very different things. And the player incentive is really the much more important one.

Daniel B.

For anyone doing the assignments that hasn't played Celeste, I recommend this video of someone playing the game and losing many times. Search on YouTube: Celeste (Nintendo Switch) Death Supercut: Stage 1

Rich C.

Here's an example of making failure fun. I'm sure many of you are familiar with traditional roguelike games like NetHack, Linley's Dungeon Crawl (aka Stone Soup), Diablo, etc. I've enjoyed this category of games for a long time so eventually I decided to make one. There are plenty of appealing traits in roguelike games, not the least of which is a "randomly" generated world, so the game is different and surprising every time it is played. However, one trait in particular can be a deal breaker for many, if not most, game players: permadeath. (Permadeath means that there are no saves allowed in the game. When a character dies, the game ends. That's it. Start a new game and a new player character.) Another trait of roguelikes--traditionally--is that they take a long time to complete. A roguelike may take 25-35 hours to finish. Unfortunately this means that if your player character perishes after many hours of careful playing, you get angry. This failure is unbearable to all but die hard roguelike players. So, they never play the game again. Can you blame them? What if you could make permadeath fun, or perhaps it's better to say a positive experience? (That's still something worth thinking about.) In this case, a solution presented itself due to the particular take on the roguelike form that I had in mind, which was to reduce size and scope considerably. Sort of distill the best of what roguelikes are about down to something that takes minutes, not hours, to complete. This approach also suited the size of the team of people working on it which, at the time, was three. : ) Some may remember the old Lay's potato chip slogan "I bet you can't eat just one!" What I'm driving at here is that if your character dies permanently after only a few minutes, you may feel frustrated--but you can jump right back into the game and start a new one right away. (Minutes and seconds is a lot better than days and hours!) You're still learning each time you do this, and that, and mounting curiosity as new and different things are revealed, outweighs the frustration of failure. What happens is that the player gets hooked and will say to herself "Okay, I see what worked and what didn't - I'll play one more time" indefinitely. Just one more potato chip. Permadeath is a good thing. It supports tension and makes every step the character makes count. But we don't have to clobber people with it. What I think about is that a player needs to feel emboldened or encouraged by failure rather than be punished for it.

Luca M.

If anyone is interested in a more in-depth reading on this topic, I would suggest reading Gordon Calleja's "Player Involvement Model". Though the model actually deals with immersion (Calleja calls it incorporation), the model is basically an understanding of how players internalise functions within the game world and in turn it helps them be more involved in the game.

Shan K.

Hi guys, (In this lesson, Wright introduces concepts of the player flow state phenomenon, nested vs core vs orthogonal game loop types, and rewards vs incentives). I thought it was interesting how evidence proves that performance failures improve further and future game performance bc play incentives can be more motivating than game rewards.