10. Making the game too hard
You've created an elaborate puzzle game where the player has to pit their wits against a series of fiendishly difficult riddles, math problems and logic patterns, but your player has just spent the last hour trying to work out the code to get in the front door.
High-Profile Sinners: Myst, The Castle of Dr. Brain, The Legend of Zelda
Why it happens:
You've got some great puzzles for a game. They're going to really confuse your player but they're obvious if you think about it, right? Unfortunately you aren't always going to be around if your player can't work out why the door knob won't turn, even though you know it's obviously because they need to pick the lock.
Hot to avoid it:
Simply put, your player might need a little bit more of a hint. Is there a way you could use sound and pictures to suggest that the door is locked? Maybe a thunking sound or an animation that shows the door getting caught on something just as it starts to open? This is called player-feedback, and it lets your player know what reaction they see whenever they try to do something in the game. Player-feedback is critical, it helps the player feel more involved in the game and teaches the player some of the rules of the game (such as, sometimes you have to pick the lock to open a door).
9. Making the game too easy
You've got another great puzzle, but if you make things too difficult you're going to end up with a frustrated player. You give them hints and make everything as clear as possible. Suddenly you find no one wants to play your game because it's too easy. What went wrong?
High-Profile Sinners: Red Faction: Guerilla
Why it happens:
It happens when game designers try to make their game easier, but accidentally go too far and take away all the challenge by giving the wrong kinds of hints. Players are very happy to play a game that is challenging or difficult if they have clear objectives. Hints and player-feedback should not patronise the player by giving away every little secret or lighting the way to each little hidden treasure. Learning and exploring is what makes a game fun, don't let the hints take away the fun.
How to avoid it:
Be careful not to give too much away when your giving hints. Game Designers have to be very careful to balance what hints they give out and when. Hints and player-feedback are important, but it's the way you give those hints that are the key. As any writer will tell you: show don't tell. Instead of using huge swathes of text to signpost every little part of your game, maybe you could use sounds or images. Let's say, for example, that your player walks into a toxic gas cloud and falls ill. A game might flash a warning text on the screen telling the player where to run to for medical attention, but a good game might make everything you see turn green and the character might start limping and struggling to walk in a straight line. This sudden change leads to a sense of urgency and forces your player to engage with your game, to remember where they last saw a first aid tent for example.
Your player has just discovered a wonderful new magic power, or a fantastic new piece of equipment that suddenly makes even the most difficult enemy a mere distraction. It's fun playing with their new 'superpowers'. But then they're taken away, without warning, never to return.
High-Profile Sinners: Half-Life, Splinter Cell
Why it happens:
It's cool when you get a new toy, especially when that toy is a powerful mega-robot with hover jets and invisibility.
Game Designers love giving players new toys, and players love getting new toys. When done well getting a new 'toy' revitalises the game and gives the player more enjoyment out of familiar, predictable environments as the player effectively relearns how to interact with the game. The problem is that sometimes these toys are too powerful. Nothing is a threat to the player anymore. The game is no longer any fun without the threat of defeat. The Game Designer has realised that they've made a mistake by letting the player get so powerful. So the game pulls a swifty: a contrived reason is found for the player to lose these new-found toys - whether that be theft, betrayal or unexpected catastrophic meltdown. It's not clean and it's not pretty, but it happens.
How to avoid it:
Let me clarify that the problem isn't giving players these toys in the first place, in fact offering treasures and toys like this can be a great way to reward your player and keep them engaged in your game. The problem is the way in which these toys are suddenly yanked out from under your player. It's perfectly acceptable, and in fact quite fun, if there's a good reason for suddenly losing all your hard earned treasures. Good Game Design encourages a strong story. If you're going to give your player a toy, make sure they know why they're getting it and make sure they understand the limits you've placed on using it. For example, a catapult would be great fun to roll around a medieval battlefield in, reigning down unmitigated destruction. But once the battle is won, there's no use in a lumbering catapult when your actual job (monster-hunter) requires stealth and good aim. In fact, you only have such a machine because the King lent it to you, he may well order you to return his expensive contraption once you've saved the day.
We'll continue the list over the next few weeks until we reveal the number one most common mistake a game designer can fall foul of. Hopefully we'll see you all again soon.