August 21, 2019 Last updated August 19th, 2019 1,918 Reads share

Should you Focus on the Design or the Gameplay When Making a Game?

Focus on the Design or the Gameplay When Making a GameImage Credit: Deposit Photos

The gaming industry has been growing on a scale that’s never been seen before. In fact, it has grown to proportions that nobody would ever imagine.

There were certainly multiple suited high-position individuals in the past who would see gaming as nothing but a waste of time and the companies making these games as useless small-scale ventures that would never see something as essential as an IPO.

Well, now the joke’s on them as some of the best-performing companies in the world tend to have at least something to do with gaming. It could be the technology, the games themselves or consoles.

The spread of knowledge and the popularization of gaming has sparked interest in thousands of enthusiastic entrepreneurs in the world that are now yearning to use their coding and designing skills to create games that they enjoy and grab a quick buck out of it one way or another.

Naturally, the platform which facilitates the sales is Steam, and it’s pretty much overflowing with low-budget indie games and etc, but only a few of them manage to reach success.

Is there something these games do that make them stand out the most? Is it the gameplay that you need to focus on? Maybe it’s just the visual effects of the design you choose? Or is it just the marketing that does the heavy lifting? Well, let’s find that out.

Cases where it’s all about the gameplay

There is a whole slew of games that sell themselves based on how fun they are to play, but in most cases, they try to incorporate custom design and modern technology in the same game, therefore there are only a few that come to mind.

Naturally, we can’t really compare games from the 90s to relatively modern games as the technology difference is much different. Therefore, let’s focus on something relatively new, something that came out within the last decade or so.

Minecraft’s unique features make design worthless

One of the best cases for such a game is Minecraft of course. On the surface, the game looks extremely linear, with very little to do it seems, but the game designers and psychology experts have suggested that the less features a game could have, the less likely it is to get boring in the long-run.

Minecraft - gameplay is essential

It may sound absurd, but if you allow your player’s unlimited possibilities with the limited resources you provide them, you create a game that everybody enjoys in the long run.

Sure, Minecraft had its fair share of marketing, mostly from influencers that used to play it on YouTube, but it still managed to get to that point right? Simply because the gameplay was targeting a niche audience, in which it succeeded immensely.

To this day Minecraft is one of the most popular games being played and discussed. It’s on average one of the highest-grossing games and managed to make its creator into a billionaire after he sold it to Mojang.

Grab a niche and stick to it

So how did they do it? Quite simply, they completely ignored the design and poured all of their resources into sandbox gameplay that can’t be rivaled today.

What looks like a pixelated boring kids game on the surface, can translate into a perfect opportunity for somebody like an architecture’s major to make projects in. The gameplay is immensely simple. You get two modes, survival and creative. In survival, you fight to survive the monsters during the night and build things like houses and farms and go on adventures while you gather resources.

In creative mode, which is arguably the most beneficial part of the game, players have unlimited opportunities to build pretty much anything they want out of blocks, and that’s the beauty of it.

The lesson that any game developer can learn from Minecraft is that, as long as you focus your resources on one key aspect of your gameplay, which is the centerpiece, you’re going to get a devoted fanbase based on that key aspect.

For Minecraft, that was the creativity which allowed its players to show, recreating world monuments in the game and coming up with their own designs. As long as you focus on making your game unique in one single aspect, you’re going to dominate that genre. Much like Minecraft dominates sandbox based survival and crafting games, it’s possible to do so in pretty much any other genre.

As long as you have a niche and fun gameplay, players are more than happy to ignore the design aspect.

Cases where it’s all about the design

Now, it should already be obvious that a game without fun gameplay is not going to succeed regardless of how well it is designed, but there are several exceptions here as well.

The unique nature of Journey

One such example I can think of is Journey, which is a game that can leave you speechless from its visuals, although it is quite a linear game. Now I could mention how amazing games like Call of Duty or other modern shooters or high-budget games are with the design, but they mostly try to replicate reality.

Journey- design is paramount


Journey has its own style, it’s own feeling, and its own color-palette. Most of the colors you will see in it, will be different shades of red and yellow, with a hint of blue at times, but the scenes they’re able to generate are absolutely amazing.

When it comes to the gameplay, it’s clearly seen that the developers of Journey didn’t deem it as necessary as there are only two things the players can do, Jump and “Sing”.

Design is important where gameplay is limited

But what are other cases of design winning over gameplay? Well, for that we have to delve in the not-so child-friendly segment of the gaming industry, and those are wagering games. You know, right? The games people play to make some money through combinations of spinning some symbols. Although it’s not the most ethical of gaming genres, it’s still a great example of the point I’m trying to make.

According to Amanda Derham, a senior designer at Playamo Australia:

“The design of the game is pretty much the only thing that can help it stand out among the thousands of other options available on any platform. As long as the company can find that niche design which could be cartoonish, realistic or blocky, they’re going to have a much larger chance of landing a big audience.”

Basically what we can interpret from this comment is that nearly every single game that has to do with wagering is very similar to its core. They all have spinning mechanics and several combinations of symbols that lead to players making a profit. In most cases the players of these games use them as a method of relaxation, therefore the design aspect is paramount.

As long as the developer can implement a design that is thematic to the subject of the game, they’re going to have a much more successful experience on various platforms and here’s why.

Maintaining a similar style of design in the wagering world helps the company stand out from the rest. Simply because they pour most of their efforts in the design aspect, means that the number of games will be limited. However, wagering enthusiasts always perceive low numbers as quality instead of quantity.

Therefore, in this aspect, it’s much more beneficial to have fewer games with amplified design aspects, compared to linear and limited games that come in the dozens.

Cases where it’s all about marketing

Naturally, there are other alternatives as well, and they come in the form of indie games that have no real stand-out features in terms of both gameplay and design.

In most cases, the indie games we find on Steam are more or less similar in both of those aspects. That’s simply because they’re usually designed by a small team of one or two people. And in that aspect, there are very few developers that can do both the programming and the designing of the game, so they have to use pre-made resources available online.

However, there are few that manage to stand out compared to the rest based on how much they generate through sales. It all comes down to the marketing of such games,

Frustration leads to challenge which leads to players

One example I can think of a game that pretty much got millions worth of free marketing is “Getting over it”. The game’s design is extremely simplistic through pre-made resources available online, and the gameplay is quite simple, in fact, players can play by only using their mouse.

The only unique feature of this game is that it’s extremely hard and frustrating. Players need to balance their character on slippery edges of the map and somehow go to the top and win the game. The fun is in the challenge which becomes the key selling point of these games.

Getting over it - the importance of challenge

The reason why they become so popular is due to YouTube and Twitch influencers that play these games because of the challenge. Their clearly visible frustration and struggle to beat the game entice their audience to try it themselves, even if the influencer doesn’t directly call them to action.

This is what I like to call the influencer syndrome. Viewers see their favorite influencers that they perceived as experts or at least knowledgable players of a certain field fail at a game that looks so simple. This entices that to try the game themselves, just to see if they can rival these influencers.

This influx of players leads to the game’s rating to increase and in a few weeks or so, end up on the recommended page of video game platforms if they’re able to stay relevant for that long, and with “Getting over it” that was indeed the case.

I could’ve also talked about “Flappy bird” but that game had a very similar story as “Getting over it”, it’s just that the latter is newer.

So which one should you focus on?

We’ve come to the conclusion that all three of these aspects can work amazingly when combined, but they can also be a great boon when focusing on them individually.

When it comes to gameplay, as long as it’s pretty much endless players will ignore the design as they will feel they’re getting a real bang out of their buck.

In regards to design, developers should look at it as a method of standing out from the crowd and creating a devoted fan base based on their visuals. Wagering games are an amazing example because the design is their only tool to do so.

And in the end, as long as a video game regardless of its scale can grab the attention of at least one or two influencers that fail to beat it, will have the opportunity to spread like wildfire thanks to the predominant challenge, and through word of mouth.

Video Game – Deposit Photos

Giorgi Mikhelidze

Giorgi Mikhelidze

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