Dodging Dissatisfaction in Game Design

Written by Matt Pavlovich

In our first article of the month, Alex introduced the topic of Satisfaction and concluded that we’re satisfied when games appeal to our senses of power, achievement, and affiliation; working within the constraints of “smart restrictions,” including having games creatively limit our options and end at an appropriate time, tends to provide the greatest satisfaction. The other side of the coin is figuring out what isn’t fun or denies satisfaction. This article looks at some common sources of dissatisfaction and identifies what designers can do to avoid them.

To give a quick idea of what we mean by “dissatisfaction,” let’s turn to a (fortunately) fictional game called Crazy Chase. If you’re unfamiliar, take a look at the Whitest Kids U Know explaining the rules.

The poor kids who got suckered into playing Crazy Chase are clearly dissatisfied with the game, but what does that imply about the game’s design? What do those kids find so dissatisfying?


Satisfaction Guaranteed – Laying a Foundation for Fun in Games

Written by Alex Harkey

We like to start off each year tackling the big questions in game design. This year we’re going to look at fun and specifically the ideas that generate enjoyment in games. Our challenge is that no matter how much discussion we have, we’ll never come to a consensus on a definition of “fun”; we all enjoy different things and that is part of what makes this hobby so great. Fun is in the eye of the beholder and we won’t try to disturb this reality.


We still think there is an opportunity to look at lesser explored areas of gratification in games so this month we’re going to look at Satisfaction. These are tasks, ideas and emotions that can provide a sense of fulfillment in gaming even if it may not lead players on the gigantic roller-coasters and thrill-rides we might ordinarily identify as “fun”.

So what is the value in satisfaction? These are some basic building blocks that can lead to fun in games. Some of the examples we’ll talk about might even be exactly what you find fun in game and this is where personal preferences chime in. More than likely, I’ll be describing some of the things that break up the monotony of games you don’t like or bring a smile to your face even if you don’t ever want to play that game again.

When it comes down to it we think this categorization has merit because whether you love or hate games, there is a middle-ground to find appreciation for a well-designed or aesthetically pleasing game even if you and I don’t find it to be fun in any traditional sense.

What is Satisfaction?

Castles of Burgundy

When I think of satisfying tasks both inside and outside of gaming I think of completing a big project like a large area in Castles of Burgundy. I think of checking items off a list like developments in Roll Through the Ages. I think of barely pulling off a risky proposition like completing an entire column in a single turn of Can’t Stop.

These things don’t necessarily fill-up my metaphoric Fun-O-Meter on their own, but they are some of the little things that add to my appreciation for these games and contribute to my willingness to play again next time. Whatever the end result is, I can point at something and say “I built that“. Sometimes “that” ends up being my eleven tile unfinished city in Carcassonne, but still, it’s about the little things.