O, victory! Thy favor bought
With screams of pain and endless thought
Yet without battles so hard-fought
’Tis a hollow prize, all for naught
CHALLENGE CAN CREATE THE suspense of competition and the thrill of victory. It can generate fascinating strategic decisions to engross the mind and teach fascinating lessons. And it can create the social experiences of defeating or helping others.
But any game that uses challenge—and most do—must deal with the issue of player skill. A challenge that is too hard for a player is frustrating. One that is too easy is boring. Good, flow-sparking experiences live in the Goldilocks zone between these extremes.
The catch is that the Goldilocks zone is different for every player. A rotating crib mobile is fascinating to a baby but pointless to an adult. A hyper-competitive tournament game like StarCraft is engaging to professional players but intimidating to the rest of us.
Dealing with skill means understanding the lower limit of skill below which a game becomes frustrating, and the upper limit beyond which it becomes dull. It means determining whether and how to expand those limits to include more players. And it means knowing how to create meaningful skill tests with real failure in the balance, without that failure destroying the experience when it actually happens. These topics are the subject of this chapter.
DEEP games create meaningful play at high skill levels.
The idea of depth describes how much there is to learn about a ...