The Problem

Every game must find a balance between the two opposing forces of luck and skill. You might not care, but your players do: if you don't consider this dynamic, then you risk alienating a large portion of your audience. Darran Jamieson of Sniffing Games

XYZ Studios, both a video game and board game developer, just completed a recent round of focus groups for one of their new products. Outrun! is a board game where players have to navigate a circular board by rolling dice and moving their player piece. When they make one revolution around the board, they win. Players move forward the number of spaces rolled, and on special locations, they pick up a bonus card from a center deck which allows them to move a random number of spaces in addition to their dice roll. Conversely, there are other locations on the board, dubbed "pitfalls," which make players lose a turn, or send them back a number of spaces.

Outrun! PrototypeThe results of the focus group showed an overwhelming negative response to the game. While the target audience was admittedly young, even the young demographic reported wanting more out of the gaming experience. The inference that XYZ made from the focus group data, is that American culture is becoming increasingly more adept at playing and understanding the nuances of games. Because of this there is a strong desire to play games that are complex and based around skill.

The game designers at XYZ met and analyzed the results of the focus group, but the designers have been re-tasked to other assignments, and have not been able to implement any of their findings.

Your task, as a freelance game developer, is to split into groups and completely redesign the game, for sale on the mass market, so that it includes a skill-based element that is easy to learn, but difficult to master.

The design team's minutes from the analysis meetings are below:

Skill vs. Luck

XYZ does not necessarily want a game that excludes any elements of luck. From the focus group, they believe that in order to sell the game to the widest possible audience, some element of luck must be balanced with the need for skill to win. This is to say that the competitor Candy Land already has a market-hold on a game that is 95% luck-based, whereas Chess is at the other end of the spectrum, requiring 95% skill. Chess does have elements of luck, but that luck is based on human error, which may be factored in to the game design concept. Candy Land, for the purposes of the XYZ redesign, does not allow players to influence the outcome of the game.

The Circular Board

After playing the game, post-testing interviews were conducted with the participants. While the interviewees could not pinpoint the feeling exactly, the testers had an overwhelming feeling of being “on rails” – probably because of the “pathway” style board design. The XYZ team came to the conclusion that a complete overhaul of the board design would be necessary to improve the game. In order to redesign the board, the team decided that the core dynamic would probably have to be changed first, because the board really only lends itself, at least intuitively, to race-to-the-end style dynamics.

The team did not get around to sketching the new board design, but it was decided that some features which gives the player more choices, and would make them slow down and make more careful decisions would be good for combating the simplistic "A-to-B" feeling of Outrun[!].

The difference between square and hexagonal grid-based games were discussed, but no conclusions were drawn about which direction would be the best route to take in the future.

Randomization

The results of the focus group show that there is a distinct difference between randomness and luck. The designers at XYZ started to analyze the difference between the two concepts, but did not come to any firm conclusions about the direction the new game should take. XYZ asserts that luck can change the outcome of a game entirely, whereas randomness has either a small effect on the overall game, or so much randomness occurs that the random nature of the game becomes statistically insignificant. A good case study to analyze these ideas would be games like Bejeweled or Candy Crush, or Tetris. The shapes and formations may be random, but over enough time, the results of the randomness can be accounted for by the player's skills.

Learning Curve & Mass Appeal

The CEO of XYZ originally tasked the company with selling the game to the broadest demographic possible. The original concept for Outrun! was developed in response to pressure from the CEO to appeal to both kids and adults alike. In order to do this, the CEO dictated that learning the directions for the game should take about five minutes and be understood by children as young as tweleve years old. In those five minutes, a player should be able to learn the basics, but XYZ failed to allow for skill progression over years of play. The game should have skills that are satisfying to learn and which encourage a player to strive for mastery.

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