Balance Challenge with Skill

4Avoid putting the boss fight at the beginning and let players get in touch with their inner chi. Flow, as Jonathan Haidt puts it in The Happiness Hypothesis, “is the state of total immersion in a task that is challenging, yet closely matched to one’s abilities.” Aim to create challenging, yet interesting and achievable goals that lead to an optimal level of engagement. In A Theory of Fun, Raph Koster says a game should always be giving the player new patterns to analyze and resolve.

To achieve this, it is essential to understand the knowledge and skill level of your audience. It is also important to give players the ability to select the level of challenge (easy, medium, or hard). Creating different game modes (beginner versus advanced), embedding easy and hard challenges into a single level, or introducing increasingly difficult challenges as levels progress enables all players to enjoy and learn. It also maximizes re-playability because the players can learn something new each time they play.

We designed our trivia game with three levels. Questions and mechanics increased in difficulty from simple true-false to more complex multiple choice as the user progressed through the levels. Our action game was also designed with three levels. The first level was a simple scenario in which players had to bind two molecules to a receptor. The second level was a more complex case in which players had to identify normal receptors, avoid abnormal ones, and interact with faster moving molecules. The third level tested the mastery of all of these skills. This type of problem solving, according to Dan Pink, is key to intrinsic motivation because it gives players “autonomy, mastery, and purpose.”

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