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Let's take Candy Crush for example. The player is given 50 turns to complete a certain level.

How is such number determined? Are there educated ways to reach such numbers?

I also presume that these numbers are refined through game updates, but there must be a reasonable starting point to keep the player interested enough without making it extremely difficult or too easy.

Note: I'm only using Candy Crush as an example. I'm looking for general answers to this issue.

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If a game is relying on static values such as fixed player/enemy stats, allowed moves or frequency and effect of power-ups, those are usually refined through extensive beta / play testing until a good balance is found (those values might be adjusted for different difficulty levels within a game).

One thing to take into account when defining "good" starting values for a game is that the developers itself have a superior understanding of the game and its mechanics. This advantage needs to be considered when setting values for the average gamer to prevent frustration.

As opposed to static approaches, there however is also a growing research interest in figuring out approaches to dynamically react to the player capabilities and the game progress to always keep the game challenging without building up frustration for the player due to constants failures. The common terms for that field are "Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment" (DDA) or "Dynamic Game Balancing" (DGB). The respective Wikipedia entry gives a broad overview regrading some approaches and games utilizing such approaches.

Additionally, some research papers that might be helpful in that regard:

  • Paper: "A Temporal Data-Driven Player Model for Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment" from Georgia Tech University
  • Paper: "Game Challenges and Difficulty Levels: Lessons Learned From RPG" from National University of Singapore
  • Paper "AI for Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment in Games" from Northwestern University
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I'm a big believer in simplicity.

If you're trying to determine a starting value or even a max value of something like player lives, turns and so forth. Then this is where statistics and research come into play. Simply testing the game with players, analyzing the results and comparing it to similar games can help you find the sweet spot for anything.

There is no need to dive into the psychology of the human mind to find out how many lives players should have. You should, like statistics, let the data speak for itself and tell you that sweet spot for any given mechanic or system.

For example with unlimited turns: 80% of players completed this puzzle in 10 turns or less on the first time of playing the game.

With that piece of information, I have a pretty good idea of the turn value for that particular puzzle for first time players. Everything else falls into place and adjustments can be added later based on the actual players and not some research paper.

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