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I'm a new hobbyist game developer but have yet to come up with something original that I found to be really fun. The hardest part I find about game development is this:

  • You have an idea that in your head looks like it would be really fun.
  • You build a quick prototype and you realise that in reality its not so much fun for the user.
  • You realise that your brain was tricking you by giving you the impression that you had a complete idea but in reality it was skimming over lots of missing details that prevent you from reaching the fun that you envisaged.
  • You come up with lots ideas to fill in the missing gaps and hopefully make it fun.
  • You try these ideas one by one but it seems none of them really get you to where you wanted.

When do you know to stop trying these ideas and admit the overall game concept sucks? Do you just keep on iterating on them and hope you find the magic formula?

Do people have any rules they follow in this process?

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There is a very good article on this topic Evaluating Game Mechanics For Depth by Mike Stout – Kimau Jul 22 '10 at 11:34
The articles about game design on Lost Garden have a lot of interesting ideas about evaluating fun. – AShelly Jul 22 '10 at 17:53

10 Answers 10

I like to analyze any ideas of mine that don't seem fun and break them down into a few components. The reason behind this is that there's probably SOMETHING you can salvage from any given failed game project for a future one. Maybe the arena combat gameplay doesn't match with your theme of atmospheric horror. Maybe most of the game is generic crap but there's on really COOL idea that kept tricking you into thinking the project was going somewhere. Figure out the bit of your concept that's the most interesting to you and see if you can jumble it up with a few ideas from other projects you've worked on our outside sources.

And by trying to mash up these ideas you may stumble on something that makes your original basic concept work. I'd say the best advice is to not think of games as really having a SINGLE concept, but instead being a collection of ideas that may be better off in a slightly different form.

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You said that the game you're imagining "looks like it would be really fun."

When you close your eyes and imagine yourself playing the game, imagine every detail of how you're playing it. Is it still fun? Where's the fun? Then how is that not matching up with what you're prototyping?

If it's not really fun, move on. If it is, just make your real-life implementation more like what you're imagining.

And be willing to shoot your sacred cows. If you have this click-heavy procedure for shifting the weeble-blatz left so that the snork-cannon gets an aim-bonus and getting that aim bonus is awesome(!) but doing the five hundred mouse clicks to get there sucks eggs, you need to either make the aiming-the-snork-cannon minigame fun on it's own or ditch the entire subsystem. And sometimes the idea for your entire game started out with the snork-cannon aiming and you really, really, really don't want to cut it because it's your baby. Shoot it in the head.

Also, it depends on your situation. Do you have to ship something? Do you have to buy groceries? Are you doing this in your spare time as a matter of passion?

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"Kill your Darlings" really is advice that can not be overstated. – Textmode Sep 20 '13 at 2:14
You just saved my project. This is awesome. You're awesome. Thanks. – Oren A Oct 1 '15 at 11:24

In my opinion fun should be the core mechanic. It shouldn't need bells and whistles to make it fun - the fun should be there without the bells and whistles, you add those to make it deeper. If the core mechanic ain't fun, no bell or whistle will make it fun (unless one of those bells or whistles is the core mechanic. Having said that, I once worked on a game where while coding it I realized it was missing that one thing that made it fun and something did pop in my head and was what made it tick. The core mechanic we defined simply wasn't fun. But in the end you should be able to point at one defining element that defines the fun factor in your game - what is it that turns it from interacting with a simulation to actually feeling challenged.

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Really, you don't really know what is fun until you have shared the idea with two or more ardent game players.

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Move on to another idea for a bit. If your brain drags you back to the first idea, revisit it. But don't let yourself get stuck.

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I think the key point here is that you can trick yourself that what you're working on is actually fun, but only when other people come into contact with it will you really be able to see whether it is. Which means that you want to do that as early in the process as possible.

The moment you have your first prototype, you should be having players test it, and watch how they experience it. Maybe even before your first prototype (if you can figure out how to prototype the game in words and on paper).

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There's no perfect method for knowing a mechanic is "fun" but by intuition and experience. Prototyping it and finding out whether it works or not is really the time-tested procedure.

Remember a bad mechanic in one context may work in another, or with different tuning. Platforming, for example, can feel like a chore or smooth and agile depending on how you adjust speeds and accelerations.

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If the game is a RPG or MMORPG, you can always try playtesting these ideas on Pen & Paper, before doing so actually prototyping.

While it may sound weird, restricting PnP gameplay to what would be allowed in a video game can actually help you find out what is fun and what is not. Why is it fun? Why isn't it? Your players can help tell you, when you test your gameplay and game mechanics.

When in doubt, replace unknown mechanics with a PnP game ruleset that closely mimics what would be the mechanics.

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If you have to ask that question, you've already answered it!

Additionally, try to sum up your game in one sentence. If you can't make this sentence exciting, its because the core game foundations aren't fun and no amount of polish will change that.

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Does that mean "run around and shoot things," which sums up 90% of first person shooters, qualifies as fun? Obviously it can be, but it can also be mind-numbingly repetitive. – Wade Williams Aug 21 '10 at 5:50

Unfortunately, I think a lot of it comes down to experience. If you feel like you're beating your head against a wall and you have no other ideas, it's time to get rid of the idea.

On the bright side: you can continue to come up with other ideas. The real limiting step here is not usually ideas, but time to work on them. If you kill one game idea, it gives you the time to work on your others. If you have no other ideas... well, then I guess you keep working on your current one until a new idea occurs to you that you want to try.

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