Games hold the ability to take our minds off daily problems and to create a fantasy world where we can relax and drift between reality and imagination. When people play games, they live a particular experience, and this is what game designers are interested in – in creating not only an entertaining but also a meaningful experience that players would want to repeat.

Game designers bring life to games by implementing creative ideas together with an organized set of rules into a final product, which is the game itself. Similar to a good novel or a movie plot, games have many different elements and parts that have to work well together to keep the structure balanced. Making games is a creative process which involves constant decision making that ultimately defines the player’s gaming experience.

Here at Ilyon, we have a talented and creative team of Product and Game Designers who continuously work on new and exciting games for our users. They cleared some time from their busy schedule (working on exciting new projects of course) to discuss certain aspects of the rich and diverse world of Game Design. Guy Zaidenband (Product Manager at Ilyon) told me all about the psychology behind Game Design and Avi Kaisermann (Head of Game Design at Ilyon), discussed the core elements of Game Design and about how those rules apply when it comes to the mobile world.

So What is Game Design?

When we talk about game design, the first thing that comes to mind is the visual appearance of the game. When in fact, game design is the idea behind a game, it’s about figuring out how the game is constructed regarding the rules and the content. Each game has its own “recipe,” outlining all the core elements you must take into account when working on a game; storyline, mechanics, game economy, monetization, psychology, rewards, look and feel, etc. Considering these factors, according to Kaisermann, a game designer’s main concern is to keep the game balanced by defining every aspect of it. “The way we approach balancing the complexity of levels in our games is a mixture of learning our player’s behavior through BI reports and testing new gameplay elements,” Kaisermann explains.

A game designer has to see the “big picture.” Their primary focus is to build the overall structure of the game and to ensure that all the different aspects of the game connect. Their goal is to realize how to take all the various features, boosters, challenges, and events, and combine them to enrich players’ experience, and how to develop levels with a logical, natural flow that make sense to players without them having to think about it.

When developing a game’s concept and gameplay, the game designer always balances their audience’s motivations with innovation. New features, levels, and boosters are pointless if players won’t enjoy using them. “Usually, we will try different level layouts and combinations of old and new gameplay elements to see how our players react. We then follow our BI reports thoroughly to see in what way the update changed their behavior,” Kaisermann clarifies. “For example, we can test the many effects new items have on a level and compare the overall gratification and performance users get from interacting with them before and after having added the new items.”

Level Layout Option 1

Level Layout Option 2

The Psychology Behind Game Design

When you work on a game, you have to think about all the little details that ultimately shape the player’s gaming experience. Players build a particular relationship with the game based on an emotional connection. Zaidenband points out that even the smallest detail as a likable character or a catchy music tune can capture the heart of the player. If the game gives players something they can relate to, it enhances the chances that they will keep playing it.

The role of a product manager is to examine players’ behavior and to understand what motivates them, and how players interact with the game rules. “As a Product Manager, I can observe different groups of users (as paying vs. non-paying), measure their progress, daily engagement and amount of coins spent, and adjust the game accordingly so it will meet the needs of each group,” Zaidenband explains. We research our users according to a certain goal we have set or according to similar attributes. For example, we define a specific goal we want to reach as increasing the number of our games a user plays each day and then start our research. If we are looking to find a group of users who for instance play 10 games a day, the next step will be to gather all the common attributes of this group, such as how many times they play per day and whether or not they conduct in-game purchases. Once we have established the common characteristics of each group of users, we think of ways to improve their experience and to increase revenues.

One of the fundamental principles of game design is that the more specific the game rules are, the better chances that users will try to find ways to get around those rules. However, if a game has no rules, users will create their patterns like using only a specific booster to complete levels just because it proved helpful in defeating prior challenges (for example, in some of our Bubble games, we found our users prefer the Fireball). Mostly, each player creates his psychological patterns, and each one is experiencing the game differently. Grouping similar user behaviors help us to slowly and carefully uncover their patterns.

Game Design in the Mobile World

Video games often revolve around exploring fantasy worlds with a unique storyline, characters, and rules, and as such, they take players’ time, energy and investment. Playing a video game is more likely to be a decision that you make, something you plan and anticipate. However, it is not the case when it comes to mobile games.

People play mobile games when they are looking for some fun and casual activity to do to pass the time, and mobile games offer precisely that immediate experience.

Mobile games are a whole new area for game designers. Smartphones have become a commodity and the touchscreen technology wholly altered the gaming experience. You play those games on the go- when you have an extra few minutes while waiting for a bus or at a doctor’s office. Besides, we have to remember that mobile users make decisions very fast. If they like the game, they will continue playing and if not they will delete it and move on to the next one.

Some users are looking for challenges, and some users are looking for entertainment, some players like to complete levels and move on, and some want to challenge themselves. So how does a game designer, baring all these variables in mind, can catch the attention of the mobile user? Kaisermann and Zaidenband both agree that the primary goal is to figure out how to maximize user’s’ gaming experience- to keep users challenged and engaged with new content, in a short amount of time and to meet the needs of the different types of players.

Their advice for beginner game designers is to do your research and always stay updated with the latest trends, continually thinking about new ideas and elements to add to the game that will encourage the most interest and engagement with the game. Most importantly, remember to monitor these ideas once implemented and to examine the effects of the changes through player behavior or feedback.

And there is something to look forward to in Ilyon’s near future. We have a great lineup of new exciting games and special projects that will keep you entertained so stay tuned!