Unwinding Core Loops: Detecting Patterns for a Successful Game Launch
Today is the final day of Pocket Gamer Connects Helsinki 2023, and one of the highlights of the Game Maker Insights panel was a session by Dave Cross, game architect at Crosshatch Games, titled “Unwinding core loops: detect these patterns early to avert a failed launch.”
In his talk, Cross chose to focus on the failures rather than successes he has encountered in the games industry. He delved into the science of a game’s core loop and emphasized its importance in the player’s experience. According to Cross, the core loop is where players spend 90% of their time. It should provide both challenge and reward, with each step in the loop logically leading to the next. For example, a player may slay a monster, earn rewards, and level up.
To illustrate his concept, Cross used the metaphor of a screw and a piece of wood. The player’s progress is represented by the screw entering deeper into the wood, with the player acting as the screwdriver. By playing the game, the player drives the screw into the wood and progresses through the core content loop.
The Importance of Gates
Cross introduced the idea of “gates” in the game’s content. These gates serve as obstacles that players must overcome to progress and monetize the game. They add elements of difficulty, skill, grind, and time, which contribute to players feeling a sense of achievement. Without these gates, players may feel like they are not accomplishing anything.
Cross also discussed the role of in-game content in motivating players. He used the same screw metaphor to explain that if a player gets stuck, offering in-game boosters can help them progress. This ensures that players can continue pushing through the core loop of the game.
Case Study: June’s Journey
As an example, Cross analyzed the mobile game June’s Journey. The original prototype failed because the core loop did not work effectively. Players would find items that would contribute to a collection, which in turn allowed them to trade for currency and decorate their island. However, this gameplay loop failed because the progressions did not align. It was either too easy and trivial, or too challenging and prevented players from decorating their island.
June’s Journey eventually adapted and found success by introducing a new core gameplay loop. The concept of collections was reintroduced but as an additional feature that complemented the core loop without impacting it.