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Game design tutorial at the GDC

One of the most beneficial parts of the GDC was the Game Design workshop during the first 2 days of the conference.

They covered a very cool framework to think about game design, which they called the MDA framework. The letters stand for Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics. Here’s a quick PDF about the topic:

Click to download

Here’s the quick gist of it – basically the idea is that the “feelings” that a game imparts is covered under aesthetics. These feelings are being driven by human behavior that arises from playing the game, which they call “dynamics.” And finally, these behaviors are driven by the actual literal rules.

An example, using Texas Hold ’em Poker:

The game of Texas Hold ’em inspires huge swings in emotions, both positive and negative. First, you have moments of triumph, such as the “in your face!” feeling of winning. You also can feel clever, or powerful. Yet when you lose, you can feel tricked, betrayed, or a set of other negative emotions.

These aesthetics are being driven by dynamics within the game. For example, what are the most dramatic moments in poker? Probably, you are thinking about things like:

  • Going all-in
  • Bluffing
  • etc.

Note that these behaviors are NOT written into the rules. They simply arise from the rules due to things like private/public information, or trying to signal confidence to other players, etc.

And finally, there are the actual concrete rules of the game, which describe how many cards you draw, how turns work, etc., etc. This is the boring stuff, yet, this is what the game designer has control of.

How does this apply to the web?
A very good question is: How do you use this in the context of your web app? Ultimately, it comes down to WHAT you want people to feel when they use your application. If you are doing a consumer based site, it seems clear that you ultimately have to tap into some deep emotions, in and around the activity you’re trying to support.

For dating, that might be thrill and excitement. (I’ll write more on this topic, and why Match.com presents the exact opposite of thrill and excitement). For travel, it might be escape and fantasy. For shopping, it might be safety and luxury.

As the designer, all you can work with are the actual mechanics of your application – which buttons do what, how users move around pages, etc., but these mechanics ultimately impact the user behavior, and thus, the aesthetics of the site. I’ll go into more detail on this topic later, but in the meantime, check out the PDF and think about what emotions your product is trying to trigger.

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