Breaking the rules: Magical secrets of game design | Pocket

Creating Memorable Game Experiences: Tips for Game Design to Drive Retention

Developing a successful and memorable game is no easy task. Not only do developers require a solid core idea, but they also need to execute it well and present it to players in a way that keeps them engaged and hooked. In a market saturated with countless video games, standing out can be challenging. However, by breaking down the rules of the game and understanding how each one impacts the player, developers can create something truly magical.

In this guest post, Oscar Clark, author, CEO, and games industry insider, shares some valuable tips on game design to enhance player retention and create memorable experiences. Let’s dive in!

Unveiling the Magic Tricks of Game Design

Game designers possess a unique ability to perform magic tricks, much like famous magicians such as Penn & Teller or David Copperfield. Just as magicians use tools, gimmicks, and audience expectations to create entertainment, game designers employ similar tactics. They construct intricate game worlds with realistic characters, but at its core, gameplay can be reduced to simple principles.

Every game revolves around objects with rules that dictate how players interact with them and overcome challenges. These rules are cleverly embedded within a narrative arc, creating the illusion of an expansive world. While players may not appreciate the technical processes involved, they should simply enjoy the game itself. Without the constraints of a “Magic Circle,” game developers can freely share their tricks and techniques to create delightful experiences for players.

Making Rules to Break

Let’s start by thinking about games as a set of rules. These rules establish the fundamental principles of player interaction within the game world. Whether it’s movement mechanics, button inputs, or resource management, the laws must remain consistent to maintain the game’s integrity. From there, designers can define a set of simple, predictable actions that align with these rules.

However, the true magic lies in subverting these rules to confound player expectations. Game designers can create moments where players must think outside the box and exploit the space between the established rules to succeed. This could involve utilizing drift mechanics in a racing game or strategically combining moves in a brawler. The key is to introduce unexpected interactions that delight and surprise players, enhancing their overall experience.

Tapping into Potential

When designing games that utilize touch screens, there is immense potential in tapping interactions. Taps can be applied to various UI elements on the screen, offering versatile gameplay options. For instance, designers can incorporate tap, tap and hold, hold and move, hold then release, double tap, timed taps, and more. Swipes and multi-touch gestures further expand the range of interactions.

While this toolkit provides endless design possibilities, it’s crucial to consider the player’s context. Just like a magician, game designers must keep the player’s focus on the gameplay itself, avoiding distractions or cumbersome interactions. If the game requires impractical hand movements or compromises the player’s comfort, it becomes frustrating rather than enjoyable.

Confounding Expectations

Once the core principles of player interaction are established, designers can further explore how these interactions drive gameplay. Are players selecting and moving objects, targeting enemies, or finding optimal paths? Understanding these interactions enables designers to get playful and experiment with game mechanics.

One effective approach is to challenge designers to design multiple variations of a health potion using only health and time as variables. This exercise encourages creative thinking and forces designers to reevaluate the limitations of the game’s rule set. It also reinforces the idea that gameplay elements can be adjusted to subvert player expectations and create delightful experiences.

Designers can also play with timing, information distribution, and resource management to shape the game’s tone and feel. By considering factors like delays, regeneration rates, and resource gathering, designers can enhance game activity and create unique player experiences.


Creating memorable game experiences requires a combination of solid core ideas, exceptional execution, and a deep understanding of player psychology. By breaking down game rules and exploring the potential interactions, game designers can create magical experiences that keep players engaged and yearning for more.

Remember, the ultimate goal is to delight players and immerse them in an enchanting world. With the right mix of creativity and careful planning, game designers can captivate players and leave a lasting impact.