To really adapt or disrupt we have to consider game design as a hypothesis.
That means it needs testing as early as possible; rather than waiting for a minimum viable product. That means we need to think smaller, earlier and faster. It can help by breaking down the game design into three core elements:
- Mechanic: What we play in terms of the actions we do to resolve the challenges/dilemmas we face.
- Context: Why we repeat the mechanic and how the game communicates purpose and progression.
- Metagame: Why we keep playing in terms of social collaboration, lifecycle fit and cultural context.
Your design should consider all these elements in order to maximise the long-term impact of your game, but different experiences may put more emphasis on different elements.
Get the mechanic right using data from real-world players before looking at the context. If it is not fun, kill it.
Once we find the fun, we need to know we can sustain it, so that means building up the context aspects and how that helps to build up engagement.
Narrative games are almost all about the context, whereas hyper-casual games have no narrative, relying on leaderboards to show simple progression. The key is finding the tipping point where you are still adding to the engagement of the player.
In almost all of the games where I’ve been asked to help, the problem has been down to lack of focus on the context loop.
Once we have confirmed sustainable engagement then we can look at the metagame and start to build lasting spending communities through events and promotions, as well as content and feature updates.