The concept is when content elements work together in such a way to produce more possibilities, playable content, or engagement than the relative amount of added content.


A content gives you x units of gameplay

B content gives you y units of gameplay

(units of gameplay are however you'd like to measure them, hours of play, total items, actions/discussion branches, etc.)

A = x    
B = y
A + B = x*y*?

So that when the game includes both:

A + B

The gameplay unit increase could be:

x * y
(x + y) * c
x ^ y

This concept of expressing it mathematically leads me to want to call this Content Multiplication. But I haven't been able to find much on a specific term for this (most of my attempts have lead me to math games).


In a game like Minecraft, there's a mechanics and dynamics that define crafting. By themselves they produce a set of craftable items. Once a player crafts them there's less or no desire/need to craft them again.

Then a relatively small mechanic is added that causes loss, perhaps on death or through durability. The impact on player motivation and time played is much larger. Forcing players to either recraft items, or to craft extras preemptively. No new items have to be added to the crafting system, and having players lose items isn't a big change (not a lot of work).

Specifically if we look at just these two mechanics, and the expected impact they have together. Perhaps we're talking about Minecraft 0.1, and only crafting exists, and a decision needs to be made on what next feature to add, that provides us with the most benefit in gameplay content for development effort.


Is there a term to describe the intentional design of coordinated mechanics and system to produce larger sets of content with minimal effort?

Edit: Emergence

Emergence typically refers to unforeseen and unintended results rising from a rise in complexity. Emergent results are frequently hard to quantify, or to ascribe cause to specific elements.

What I'm looking for is an explicit, deliberate, and predictable outcome from the addition of a single element to an existing system.

Contrasting Example:

An example of emergence can be found in the original Deus Ex. Being able to place mines on walls and jump off of them. This effect was (likely) unintended, caused by the interaction of complex systems, and in cases where it could be used to skip content, actually reduced the amount of gameplay. Emergent Gameplay

While designing for emergence can be intended, the outcome is less certain or planned.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Something like this approach to design, yes? (Quoted from one of Jonathan Blow's programming language videos) \$\endgroup\$
    – DMGregory
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 17:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DMGregory "Combinatoric" actually does sound like a good start. If we use the concept from probability, we'd end up with a way to calculate how many new unique possibilities there are. Care to write up an answer? \$\endgroup\$
    – CLo
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 19:00

1 Answer 1


An emergent system, perhaps? I think you're describing something very similar to emergence, which is when an ensemble produces a set of characteristics not displayed by any of its individual components.

Tracy Fullerton's Game Design Workshop has an interesting section on games as systems, which might provide more insight.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Jesse Schell's "Art of Game Design" agrees. Chapter 12 has a section on emergent gameplay that says the number and combination of verbs (plus the flexibility of those verbs) that a player has available is what leads to emergence. \$\endgroup\$
    – tandersen
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 13:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes emergence is similar, but I'd say there are two key differences. First, emergence is typically a hidden or unanticipated result from a rise in complexity in game systems. Second, it's hard to quantify emergence. What I'm trying to describe is a deliberate and measurable result from a single change in a system. I'll edit the question to expound. \$\endgroup\$
    – CLo
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 15:38
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I'd say you're just describing unintentional emergence vs intentional emergence. \$\endgroup\$
    – tandersen
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 15:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Combinatoric" and "systemic" are two other related terms that might help emphasize the deliberate/mathematical amplification of outcomes that the asker is getting at. \$\endgroup\$
    – DMGregory
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 17:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @tandersen I think the idea of intentional emergence fits, but is an oxymoron. Though it probably is a matter of a degree of intent versus result. In practice, it wouldn't make sense to say, Feature A provides more emergence than Feature B, because emergence in its nature is not that predictable. Using a term that starts from the side of completely predictable, would convey that the intent is to be able to concretely enumerate and compare the effects of a decision. \$\endgroup\$
    – CLo
    Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 18:56

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