LECTURE: What Makes A Good Game

I’ll admit it, I was the geek in the back last night taking feverish notes during Mike Hirtle’s lecture entitled  “What Makes A Good Game.”  Now, before the sassy comments come streaming in, it wasn’t because I don’t know what makes a game good – it’s more I that I wanted to be able to share his thoughts with you.

the-gamemakers-book-webWhat I found interesting is that he referred to George Parker’s criteria for a good game.  For those of you who don’t know George Parker (at left) was THE original Parker brother and of course now Parker Brothers is apart of the Hasbro family.  George Parker was an interesting and savvy man and I highly recommend you read Phil Orbanes’ book about him entitled “The Game Makers: The Story of Parker Brothers from Tiddledy Winks to Trivial Pursuit.” (you can purchase the book on Amazon)

So here are the criteria, and I’ve expounded upon them based on what Mike said…

1. Is it fun to play?

Yea,  we all believe this is an obvious one but when designing a game it is essential to remember that people will be choosing to play your game and sometimes after a long day at work.  Therefore, it needs to be fun!

2. Is there a reward?

What’s the point of the game?  Why are you playing it?  What experience are you getting out of it?  A game needs to be more than just a way to kill time.

3. Is it challenging?

Do you have to think and plan ahead?  Games can’t be based all on chance, a person’s choice needs to have an impact on the end result of the game.  And difficult choices are great!

4. Is the game non-frustrating?

A game can’t feel unfair, too easy — or conversely too hard.  Games that are too difficult to the point that they are unbeatable, or unfinishable are frustrating.  Mike cited the common house rule where you get money when you land on Free Parking in Monopoly.  This adds to the length of the game so instead of the game being (relatively) quick and drags on to the point of frustration.

5. Does the game have repeat play value?

This is just as important today as it was in George Parker’s time.  People have to want to play a game over and over and over for it to be a good game.  If it’s a one and done what’s the point?

6. Is there “magic” to the game?

George had a crazy list of things that might bring magic to a game including puffs of air and light beams, but a game that has in interesting or magical centerpiece is intriguing and creates a “wondrous” experience.


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  1. Skip Maloney

    It’s important, too, as you peruse these varied and useful criteria that define a good game, that term definitions will vary according to reader/player. What’s fun, challenging, and non-frustrating, with a touch of ‘magic’ for one person is not always the same thing for another person. Just because you think a game is fun, doesn’t mean it’s going to be fun to someone else. Conversely, your determination that a game is boring is not going to hold for everyone.

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