The Seven Sins of Game Design :: My Opinions on the “Don’ts” of Game Design

There are typically two types of gamers/developers: Ones who think Story is most important, and ones who think Gameplay in the same way. There are in betweens, as obviously, a game must have balance in order to be enjoyable in any way. However, designers everywhere love to do things to break this balance, in one way or another.
So, this is my personal list on the Seven Sins of Game Design.

1. Focus or rely too much on one type of gameplay.
– This is a big one that tons of games love doing. Sometimes, games do this and end up having half-decent gameplay, but most times, it keeps many games from being excellent. For example, a good game that avoids this sin is Contra 3 for SNES. While the game is primarily a run-and-gun platformer, it has three main gameplay perspectives from which the player controls their soldier. This helps not just break up the monotony of shooting guys, and not just keeping the game fresh, but also teaches the player to be always on their toes, and be prepared for anything, which is conducive to the crushing difficulty of the game. A game that falls prey to this is Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out for NES. While yes, it is a very good game, the exact same gameplay match after match gets increasingly repetitive, and keeps the game from being perfect. This is an example of a game using this sin, but still not breaking the game.

2. Vary the gameplay too much.
– In direct relation to the first sin, it is also vital to not vary the gameplay too much. This, in contrast to the first sin, however, can ALWAYS break your game. Every single time, guaranteed, this will always make your game that much worse, and is vital that you avoid it like the plague. The best example of this is, of course, the infamous romp of plagiarism that is CastleVania: Lords of Shadow. If you play this game, you’ll find gameplay all over the place, because it really doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s one of those games that is just inherently a mess, and this is why. This CastleVania sins one of the worst sins possible, and it throws the balance of the game off of a cliff. There are no good examples here, folks.

3. Treat the player like they are an idiot.
– We have all been there, and especially in most modern AAA games. Nobody enjoys a tutorial, and especially not one that holds your hand and explains and enunciates like you are a child. You should never teach the player be telling the player how to play the game except through level design. This is true with any game. The only time you should ever have to write it out is if it’s teaching a player about a button combination of some kind that they haven’t used yet. Otherwise, your game should just let the player fool with the basic controls until they get it. However, it goes further than control. Conveyance is crucial in any game, and especially in big RPG’s. However, you should NEVER straight-up tell the player where to go. It should be heavily implied through dialogue in a cutscene, shown to the player via signs that they may read, if they want, or trained for the player, like in basic NES games, where the players are taught to go right to progress by design. Games that give you a huge arrow, showing you where to go, are just being lazy, and are terrible sinners, in my honest opinion.

4. Give the player far too much credit.
– While your players are not idiots, they are also not mind readers. You have to give the player some conveyance on where to go. Just plopping the player into a world without any teaching tools, either through level design, dialogue, or tutorial, will always result in frustration and annoyance in the player. A horrible offender of this is the original Dragon Warrior. The game drops you into this huge sprawling world full of dangers, and you’re just supposed to not only know where to go, but also how to play the game, through control and progression. How are you supposed to know, going in blind, that you’re supposed to grind to level 5-6 and buy some new gear before doing anything? This, my friends, is an example of a sinner.

5. Be inconsistent.
– Just in general, you, reader, know what I mean by this. Inconsistencies can exist anywhere in a game, and should not exist in your game. They are the equivalent of a bug to be fixed. Inconsistencies can also be the reason why one of the previous sins exists, such as number 2. A game that isn’t consistent makes the player not trust it. Keep in mind, there is a large difference between inconsistencies and surprises. Surprises are still based around predetermined mechanics that you’ve taught the player, but are presented in a way that makes them unexpected, as the definition of surprise would infer. This is where the line is drawn, and it should stay there.

6. Difficulty Spikes. The extreme variety.
– We all know that one game that has this. In one way or another, we all know that game that, gives the player a generally managable experience throughout, then suddenly surprises the player with a leap in difficulty. This is a huge sin because it directly causes the final sin, When the Player Asks, “Why?!” More on that later, though. However, this sin does cause more problems. This also makes the player feel overwhelmed, and not want to finish their experience with the game. Your job as a designer is to do the opposite, and keep the player hooked from beginning to end. It’s been the same way since video games first began. This also holds true with the opposite type of difficulty spike, where the game suddenly becomes very easy. This is equally disastrous, as well, because suddenly the player will get bored, without any difficulty to pose the player a challenge, and will easily stop playing the game. I know so many games that have this, and it honestly boggles my mind on why it even exists. Difficulty should be a steady increase upwards, not a chart listing the profit margins of Myspace.

7. When the Player Asks, “Why?!”
– I mentioned this before, and this usually comes from number 5, inconsistencies. If a player fails a challenge, they have to feel like it is their fault, and the key is to allow them to try again, and as quickly as possible. A huge part of what makes difficult games fun is being able to jump right back in after dying and try again, knowing your own mistake. It really does make a difference how long the player has to wait before trying again. Dark Souls is a huge sinner here, actually, because it likes to throw these inconsistencies around, disguised as “fair challenge,” but instead triggering this sin and frustrating the player. The wait time to respawn, combined with the daunting difficulty of that area, the player feels cheated instead of challenged, and this is what separates a game like Dark Souls from Volgarr the Viking, or even Ghosts n’ Goblins. In those games, you always feel challenged by the game, but due to how quickly you are able to jump back in along with full knowledge of the controls and mechanics, it presents difficulty and fair challenge, albeit a bit cruel sometimes, instead of basically insulting the player, blaming them for a problem that they could not have possibly seen coming without memorization. This is a huge sin, and you should never include it in your game.

If you disagree with this list of sins, then that’s a good thing! It means that you’re a competent designer who has an opinion on how you think games should be made instead of just following what everybody else does. However, most people will agree with this list because it not just deals with the design of a game, but also the psychology of a game’s design. At it’s core, that is all game design really is: manipulation of the human mind. However, unlike games like Candy Crush Saga, FarmVille, and pretty much any game like those(even Team Fortress 2!), which manipulate the mind in devious and cruel ways that are inhumane to the point of affecting the mental condition of a player, a good designer of traditional video games will know that there is nothing wrong with a little manipulation if it’s purposes are helpful to the player, and make the player feel good in some way. That was the point of this article.


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