Game Designer’s Notes #7: Simplifying mechanics

Courtesy of Amos Kwok

Someone once told me that NASA spent several million dollars inventing a pen that could write upside down, underwater and in zero gravity so that their astronauts could write in space.

The Russians, on the other hand, reportedly used pencils.

I’m not sure of the story’s accuracy; however, its “moral” holds true. If there is a simpler way to accomplish the same goal, take the simpler path.

This holds up especially well in game design. Why? Well, because the simpler the mechanics, the more people can play. While it might be tempting to add a ton of complicated mechanics, it often makes the game more difficult, and sometimes, people lose track of their whole strategy. The point is, don’t let any mechanic get bigger than the game.

And here’s the thing: you may design a mechanic that works perfectly—however, it’s so confusing that no one gets it but you. And you may have a similar mechanic that works decently—however, this mechanic is easy to understand. Most of the time, I would recommend using the simpler mechanic—more people will have fun and less people will get grey hairs from playing.

While it might sound like a dumb move to pick the “weaker” mechanic, remember this: a mechanic that people understand is infinitely more useful than one they don’t. People enjoy things better, especially games, when they’re not walking around in a fog.

So what’s my point, exactly? It’s simple. In game design, be a Russian, not a NASA physicist.


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