I was reading some old posts from Chris DeLeon’s Hobby Game Dev blog (a fantastic resource for all indie developers), and he mentioned a type of approach to game design that begs to be written about. While he didn’t give it a name, I’m referring to it as the ‘give and risk’ approach to game design: giving the player or allowing the player to earn something special, then tempting them to risk it all on one big move.
DeLeon explains in his own words using an example of one of his favorite games, Bubble Bobble.
“In Bubble Bobble, the power-ups only last until your character dies. So you could have longer range bubbles, faster rate of fire, you could have improved running speed, and you would be wary of taking chances or dying because you wanted to save these things. But then you would be tempted when another power up would appear, and you want that. You know it’s going to vanish soon, and if you don’t get to it soon you’re going to miss your chance to get that other power-up. In the process it creates a situation where you take risks as a player, and you’re more likely to make a mistake while you’re rushing and get sloppy, and then you lose your accumulated power ups. Part of the thrill was in those constant temptations to risk it”
DeLeon is on to something, and it’s the reason why I (and millions of others) are hopelessly addicted to Blizzard’s Hearthstone. For example, if I get an awesome card from my deck at the start of the game, I’m ecstatic. As I start playing, I usually have two choices to make:
- I can use the card early and maybe get ahead, thus potentially winning the game early before the other player has a chance to recuperate.
- I can conserve the card and hope the other player doesn’t have a game plan for wiping the floor with me in a few moves. After all, if I play the card too late in the game, I’ve squandered the opportunity.
It’s the epitome of ‘give and risk,’ which can make your game hopelessly addicting just like Hearthstone. If you think about it, it makes sense: by giving the player something awesome and teasing them with the idea that they may want to consider risking it, there’s rarely a dull moment in the game. We see this type of gameplay all the time in strategy games such as Civilization and Command and Conquer: should I risk these units to destroy this unit, or should I consider this other approach?
Heck, it’s the basis for most of our favorite board games!
It’s a fantastic way to ensure that your players are always paying attention, and you should consider implementing this ideology into your future indie games. Do you have any examples of using the ‘give and risk’ approach for your own indie games? Have any thoughts on the idea in general? Let us know in the comments below!