What interesting things I learned from the book “Theory of Fun for Game Design” by Rafa Koster

What interesting things I learned from the book “Theory of Fun for Game Design” by Rafa Koster

In this article I will list the most interesting for me conclusions and checklists that I found in Rafa Koster’s book Theory of Fun for Game Design.

But first, just a little introductory information:

  • I liked the book.
  • The book is short, easy to read and interesting. Almost like an art book.
  • Rough Koster is an experienced game designer who also has competencies in music and literature. But he is not a programmer, so “other” development accents are felt, especially noticeable for a programmer reading it. Started with MUDs.
  • The book was published in 2004, which means that phrases in the book about the current state of the industry should be viewed with a fair amount of skepticism.
  • The book’s official website: theoryoffun.com [ 1 ].
  • Translated version of the book: Raff Koster: Game development and entertainment theory [ 2 ]. I read the English version, so I can’t say anything about the quality of the Russian translation, but at least it exists.
  • There are quite a few reviews of this book [ 3 ]. However, I set myself the task of collecting a brief subjective expression of his recommendations, so this article should not be considered a review.
  • This book is regularly recommended, including on Habré: 25 books for the game developer [ 4 ].

What is it

The book’s structure is divided into two roughly equal parts:
The first. Structured learning, what is interesting in games: an attempt to define; why play is interesting; when interest leaves the game. Very exciting and informative. There are many analogies and comparisons with other types of art: music, books, movies.

The second. Reasoning about the adult industry, the purpose of games, the responsibility of game developers to society. There are rare interesting moments, but mostly boring and uninformative. Amused the phrase: "Now, finally, the time has come when you can freely talk about gender differences without the risk of being accused of sexism." And he reasoned about these differences fairly freely.

The main indicated value of the book: to tell how to get interesting in the game. And the book really tells about it.

But here I have difficulty with the translation of the fun keyword into Russian. Russian publishers translated it as "entertainment." Google offers "fun." I will use the words “interest” and “interestingness”, although more satisfaction and fun could be appropriate.

But, in my opinion, this is one of those words that does not have an exact Russian translation, and all the translations presented are unsuccessful. This interest can be not only fun, but also depressive. In English, the word “funny” can make sense “dumb”, and the phrase “funny words” means indecent words.

Patterns in games

Patterns in games are basic behavioral patterns that our brain learns to recognize and train in them. The process of learning patterns is the main source of interest in games. When a player learns something new, he gets a chemical reward in the form of pleasure hormones.When a player fully understands everything that a game can offer, the body stops receiving such an award. This is the main idea of ​​the first half of the book, which is revealed from various sides with the help of various examples.

That is, the pleasure of the game comes from knowledge. Cognition is the training of skills that the brain perceives useful for the survival of a person or his tribe from ancient times, which means that a person should be rewarded for such training. New mechanics ( new genre or game platform ) and content ( plot, entourage, music ) provide food for learning.

From this it is concluded that any game is doomed to boredom, when a player pulls everything new out of it and becomes a master in it. If the main source of knowledge of the game is in the content ( the author calls it clothing on the patterns ), then the game will become boring after the first passage or viewing on YouTube ( the danger of YouTube for story games was not yet so obvious ). But the new elements of mechanics not only last longer, but also attract new players who have seen someone else's game. Largely due to monkey: when a person sees someone else's success ( fun ), he also wants to repeat it and compete.
(The usual translation of the word patterns is patterns that do not fit well. There’s probably the same analogy as with the design patterns in OOP)

Briefly phrases and ideas drawn from the book

  • The brain thinks patterns, not real objects;
  • The brain is greedy for new patterns;
  • Too new patterns of the brain can perceive as noise and abandon them as too unfamiliar and complex. So the older generation often refuses new technologies or fashion;
  • A completely new experience may be too unfamiliar and repulsive, so the updated old pattern is more secure ( there is an analogy in science "too much ahead of its time" );
  • Repeatedly old patterns lead to boredom because of routine;
  • The process of improving the pattern is rewarded with pleasure hormones, but after achieving perfection, the pleasure is given out for the last time and the issue stops;
  • Boredom is when the brain requires new information to learn. The brain does not necessarily require new sensations (unexplored experience), often new data are enough for it (new set of enemies, bosses);
  • A player can recognize an old pattern in a new game in 5 minutes. Clothes and entourage will not deceive him. If he finds nothing new, he will find it boring and close it;
  • A player may recognize a tremendous depth in the game, but may find it irrelevant to himself. Hence the boredom and the exit;
  • You will not please everyone. Too slow disclosure of new mechanics - & gt; The player will notice that for a long time there is nothing new - & gt; boring - & gt; output. Too quick disclosure of new mechanics - & gt; too difficult, patterns are not recognized - & gt; boring - & gt; exit.
  • The most basic source of pleasure in games: from honing skills in patterns - that is, from knowledge. But there are other additional ones: aesthetic; reflex; social.
  • Aesthetic pleasure. Based on the recognition of old patterns, and not on their study, for example, as a result of a plot twist ( example: Planet of the Apes movie, when the main character sees the Statue of Liberty at the end ).
  • Social interest (optional multiplayer):

    1. gloating, when the enemy is a mess;
    2. praise, triumph for performing a difficult task, as a signal to the rest of the tribe that you are useful, meaningful and significant;
    3. patronage, when a student is successful, it is important for the survival of your tribe;
    4. pride, bragging about your student. This is a signal to the tribe of your importance and general utility;
    5. intimate courtship, indicating relative/local social significance;
    6. generosity, for example, sponsorship for other clan members, is an important social signal for the tribe about the benefits of having such a tribesman.

Elements of an interesting game

  1. Preparation. That is, the player must be able to pre-increase the chances of winning;
  2. Stable mechanics. A set of rules that is understandable and accepted by players;
  3. A set of obstacles, conflicts. Players must face various obstacles hindering the achievement of a goal;
  4. Many ways to overcome obstacles. For example, you can walk past the guards: performing heroic tasks, bribing, intimidating, or tricky climbing over the wall;
  5. Player skill affects success. That is, decisions made by the player really matter and lead to different results;
  6. The world. That is, there is a place for freedom and/or clear boundaries. It’s not very good if you throw a player into the open field without any background information.

For a gaming experience to be a learning experience, you must have:

  1. Variable feedback on the player’s actions: better solutions should have a better reward;
  2. An experienced player should receive as little reward as possible when solving the easiest problems. For example, if a player preys on other players, significantly weaker than him, then it should be “economically” unprofitable;
  3. Failure should have its price. In older games, this is a full Game Over, but now it should be at least a replay requirement or loss of profits.

Checklist of questions for an interesting game

  1. Do I need to prepare in front of an obstacle? (do preliminary exploration)
  2. Is it possible to prepare in different ways and still succeed? (bribe or intimidate guards)
  3. Does the environment affect the obstacle itself? (guards of the entrance to the castle and the small town behave differently?)
  4. Are clear rules of the game and its mechanics for overcoming obstacles defined? (not good, if guards unpredictably react to open theft, then ignore criminal behavior)
  5. Can a set of rules support a variety of obstacles? (too hard/poor rules limit the ability to develop levels)
  6. Can a player use different skills to succeed? (become a negotiator or brutal bouncer)
  7. At high levels of difficulty, is a player required to use multiple skills to succeed? (i.e., will he have to really sweat, and not just nagr ten levels on boars)
  8. Is skill skill required? (Clicking should not be an effective strategy)
  9. Are there several possible outcomes from success, so that there is not one guaranteed result? (it’s boring to look at the identical dusting of guards for bullying for the tenth time)
  10. Advanced players do not benefit from too light obstacles/challenges? (you can stop giving rewards for boars)
  11. Does the failure somehow make the player suffer? (failure, bad ending, or loss of profit)
  12. If you remove graphics, sounds, history from the game, will it still be fun to play? (i.e., is the base game mechanic interesting?)
  13. All systems used in the game should work on the basic idea (moral or game idea). If the system does not contribute to the solution of the idea, the system should be discarded. So did the developer RimWorld [ 5 ], who did not add mechanics that don't improve his “story generation system”. Therefore, he did not add complex craft systems.
  14. Players almost always want to take the easy way: to count, skip the story and the dialogues that do not work for their main interest, for which they downloaded this game. People are lazy.Does the game take into account such "lazy" behavior? For example, if a player launched your action RPG to wave his sword and not for the sake of the plot, then perhaps he should be given such an opportunity, without loading with long history (especially if they are banal and repetitive in the game).


It took only 8 hours to read the book. I indicated what I myself considered most valuable, so I could well have missed other important ideas. The book is easy and interesting to read, so I boldly advise it to all video game developers. Especially those who make games as a hobby, and they do not have the resources for traditional methods of drawing attention through stunning pictures, mountains of high-quality content and tons of professional advertising. If you are interested in such material, please consider subscribing to my next articles.


1. The official site of the book Theory of Fun for Game Design .
2. Translated version of the book: Raff Koster: Game development and entertainment theory .
3. Review on progamer.ru .
4. 25 books for the game developer .
5. How to create a “story generator”: RimWorld author tips .

Source text: What interesting things I learned from the book “Theory of Fun for Game Design” by Rafa Koster