How to Make a Video Game Players Will Love
What’s one important part of making a video game that will sell well? Players must not only enjoy it, but enjoy it so much that they can’t wait for their next chance to play again. People who insanely love a game will keep buying the DLCs and new versions, and they’ll tell all their friends how much they need to get with the times and buy everything for that game too.
This is the concept of “rabid fans” providing free marketing and making a game more and more popular simply by word of mouth.
So how can you best set your video game up for this kind of success? You need to understand what makes video games addictive and find a way to utilize that to your advantage in the planning process. Beginning with these kinds of results in mind will help you build your video game up successfully from the start.
But also keep ethics in mind. At what point does intentionally creating something addictive in order to increase sales become unethical?
What Makes a Video Game Addictive?
For the sake of this article, we’ll use the word “addictive” in a positive sense to refer to the things about video games that make them particularly enjoyable to people.
Things that make video games addictive include:
- Hyperarousal, or the feel-good chemical that is released in the brain as a result of achieving something
- A good story with interesting characters, unusual missions, and unexpected twists
- Beautiful graphics that are on theme and aesthetically pleasing
How to Create An Original Addictive Video Game Idea
Outline the Main Story Idea
Start by outlining the main story idea. Who is the main character? What are they trying to do? Are there supporting characters, or just the MC? What is the main character’s primary objective? How does the story world affect the plot? What kinds of things will get in the character’s way and need to be overcome? Even though there could be a variety of paths and endings, you’ll need some idea of the main story plot.
It can be difficult to come up with a complete story concept, especially one that will thoroughly engage players. Basic story-telling principles says your story plot should have a few specific parts:
- inciting incident: an event that kicks off the plot and catapults the main character into their mission or duty.
- conflict: what troubles come up that keep the main character from fulfilling their mission or role?
- climax: where the conflict comes to a head and how the main character will usually ultimately triumph. In most games, the climax is in the form of an epic boss fight.
- solution: what is the result of the overall mission being completed?
No matter your story, it’s important to understand how aspects of your story can affect your players. Dopamine is a chemical naturally put off in the body as a result of achieving something. This chemical makes you FEEL GOOD! A good video game will trigger this chemical in players, making them want to play the game more. Make sure you story has many challenging yet rewarding tasks that must be completed in order to see the story through.
Develop the Story World
Next, start worldbuilding. Is there magic in this world? Advanced, futuristic tech? Does it take place primarily inside or outside, or both? Is it in the jungle? In a castle? In an oldtimey village? Underground? Consider how the landscape will affect the main character and his or her mission. What can you design into the world to help or hinder them on their way to keep things interesting? The visual aspect of the game is one of the most important factors in initially hooking players. Creating an interesting and unique world is important to getting your players’ attention. Take No Man’s Sky for example; in this game, there’s a vast universe for you to explore, each planet providing a different climate and habitation. No Man’s Sky instantly hooks players because the story world provides many different areas to explore.
A big aspect that will enhance your story world is the music you put to it. Music can help the player experience the climate and environment like no other. To learn about how to create music for your video game, visit my article Creating Music for Video Games: The Ultimate Guide.
Determine the Game Type
Before going any further, determine what type of game it will be. Is it a first person shooter? An RPG? An action-adventure? Without this framework in mind, your plan will be missing an important dimension. Choose what type of game it will be before making any other big decisions about the game.
While game type preference really comes down to the individual player, the game type can help you experience the world in a different light. If you have a fantasy open-world like Zelda: Breath of the Wild where half the fun is simply getting to explore the world and create your own version of Link, choosing a third person-perspective may be more fun for the player.
If you’re familiar with Stardew Valley, then you know of a perfect example on how 2-D games can be made addicting. The primary objective of Stardew Valley is to farm and harvest crops. On a 2-D grid scale, this makes planting and harvesting very satisfying. Crops can be put into certain grid rows and sections, making you feel accomplished by the organizational factor.
Design the Characters
Once all these things are drafted, start thinking about your MC and other supporting characters, if there are any, such as villains, friends, random barkeepers, etc. What motivates them in their everyday lives? Do the supporting characters have the same goal as the MC, or their own secret plans? What do they look like?
Your main character plays a vital role on hooking players. Firstly, how can you make the MC relatable? Most people respond to video games like they would movies when it comes to this topic; if the main character is unlikeable, would you stick around to watch the movie? Or in this case, play the game?
There are a few ways to make your MC relatable and likable. First, you want to give your players some way to connect or customize to make the character their own. Let them choose outfits, hairstyles, etc. When I play games with this option, I personally make the main character look as close to myself as possible. This will also help the players get more immersed in the game.
Other ways you can intrigue players with your main character is providing backstory or glimpses into their life outside of the main plot. You can have supporting characters comment on past events or joke about embarrassing moments your character once had.
Determine Game Objectives and Rules
The rules within your video game idea are perhaps the greatest asset in helping your players feel accomplished and wanting to come back for more. This aspect largely goes overlooked most of the time, and will usually be a contributing factor as to why a certain video game just doesn’t do it for you.
Let’s talk some more about Stardew Valley. One reason Stardew Valley is so addictive to play is because it sets clear parameters from the beginning so you as a player know what you have to get done each time you play. First, each day within the game is roughly 12 minutes long. That immediately gives you a time frame in which you need to get stuff done.
Secondly, the crops you harvest in the game must be watered everyday or they won’t grow. Rules like this encourages you to form a routine. While routine is nice, it can also get boring after a while. Just when you’re starting to get annoyed about watering your crops everyday for a month straight, you are then given an option to upgrade to automatic sprinklers. This is a big reward for you as a player and will definitely activate the feel-good dopamine chemical that makes playing video games so addictive.
The rules of your game idea should require much of your attention and imagination because without rules, your game will quickly become boring and meaningless.
Get Feedback About Your Video Game Idea
This is perhaps the most important step. How can you be sure that your new game will be addictive enough for players to buy and truly enjoy more than the average game? Get feedback from other gamers.
Obviously you won’t have the whole game programmed yet, but start by having some friends read the scripts you’ve come up with. See where your ideas could be tightened up, made more unique, or made more memorable. Be prepared to hear some critiques and to accept them professionally. Your friends aren’t there to destroy your game. The feedback they’re giving you now, if you take it to heart and use it to improve your game, will save you from hearing it in reviews later when it’s too late to make changes.
How To Invent Addictive Ideas in the First Place
Inspiration can come from anywhere.
- Consider games you’ve played in the past. What games or features of games made you feel impressed, excited, or in admiration of the creators? How could you take those things and use them in a new way? Could you create a new combination of those positive features?
- What aspects of games have you been disappointed by and scoffed at? What’s something you seem to always see in games and wonder why no one ever fixes them? How could you improve on those?
- What movies or TV shows have you seen and thought, “Wow, that would make such a fantastic video game”?
- What books or comic books have you read and been impressed by? If you’re not much of a reader, what friends do you have with similar taste in video games who also read? Consider asking them what books they’ve read and enjoyed enough to wish there was a video game version they could play.
- The act of people watching can net you some surprisingly fresh ideas. Not necessarily for the whole video game, but for characters and twists in the story. Sit somewhere in a mall or coffee shop and listen to the random conversations crackling around you. People are fascinating and strange and different and can be so unexpected. The random things you can pick up from something like this could be priceless.
How To Be Ethical and Not Just Manipulating Video Game Addictions
Mirriam Webster’s dictionary defines addiction as “a strong inclination to do, use, or indulge in something repeatedly.”
While video gaming can be a fun pastime to enjoy alone or with friends, there is risk for some negative side effects. The hyperarousal that occurs with each achievement in a video game can become an addiction as damaging as addictions related substance abuse.
Every time something is achieved, dopamine is released in the brain and the person feels good as a result. The problem arises when a brain becomes used to a certain amount of dopamine and no longer gets the same positive effects from it that it once did. Then, in order to achieve those positive results, more dopamine is required. This is often achieved by playing video games for longer periods of time.
It is unclear why some people are much more negatively affected than others by this phenomenon. Whether it could have anything to do with genetics is also still up for debate. How to continue to encourage safe and healthy gaming while preventing the negative effects is also a mystery. But something that should be considered.
In 2018, the World Health Organization officially added “gaming disorder” to their list of addictive behaviors. So keep in mind while you create your wonderful new game that you want your customers to enjoy it, yes, but not to become addicted in the medical sense. No amount of money is worth causing people mental health problems.
With that said, video games aren’t always necessarily bad for you. To learn more, visit my article 15 Ways That Video Games Are (Actually) Good For You.