What are Game Mechanics?
Game Mechanics are the things that make a game, a game. Game Mechanics allow the player to interact with the world in which they have been placed. If a game had no Mechanics, it would essentially be a film, as the player would not be able to control what was happening in any way, or interact with anything around them.
Achievements are extra content to a game designed to increase the longevity and replay value of that game. Achievements can be tied directly into the main storyline (such as receiving one for killing a certain boss, or reaching a certain point); or can be awarded for reaching secondary objectives (such as completing so many quests or finding a secret area). Whilst achievements do not assist the player with gameplay at all, they give bragging rights to the players who have obtained the most difficult achievements.
Appointment Dynamics is a mechanic that relies on time. This usually refers to the fact that events will only happen between certain times of the day (such as only being able to accomplish something between 4pm and 6pm). One Example of this is the game “Animal Crossing: New Leaf” on Nintendo 3DS. The game works on a real-world 24 hour clock, so the in-game time is the same as the real-world time. There are events that only take place on certain days and at certain times. For example, Halloween, which only takes place on October 31st, between 6pm and 1am. Another example of Appointment Dynamics, is when something takes a specific amount of time to complete, such as in “Farmville“, where crops take a certain amount of time to grow. It is possible to cheat the Appointment Dynamics system by changing the device’s or game’s, internal clock.
Behavioural Momentum is the act of repeating a certain task over and over again, in order to level up or increase your characters ability in that area. For example, in the game “Fantasy Life“, the player levels up their sprinting ability by sprinting around. The more the player sprints, the more experience they gain in that area. Another example of this is in the game “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim”, where the same process occurs.
Bonuses in games are usually awarded after the player completes a certain series of tasks in sequence. Bonuses can be in the form of bonus points, bonus levels, or bonus items. All of these can help the player catch up to their fellow players, or aid in their progression in the game.
Cascading Information is that act of releasing information slowly, in small, manageable amounts. This helps the player to remember what tasks they are supposed to accomplish when the list of tasks is not sat in front of them. Bombarding the players with information can be quite daunting and cause people to stop playing a game because they feel that there is too much to do, or too much to take in.
Collaboration is a game mechanic that forces players to work together to achieve a certain task. This is quite a common mechanic in MMORPGs and other online games, like “World of Warcraft” and “Counter Strike: Source” where players can join clans and other groups, and participate in PvP matches and Team Deathmatches.
Combos is a series of processes or tasks that are completed in quick succession. Combos are most commonly found in beat ’em up games, like “Street Fighter“. The successful execution of a combo move can mean that the player uses an extremely powerful attack on their opponent, significantly altering the odds in their favour. Usually, the more complex the combo, the more powerful the attack.
Countdowns are a mechanic used to limit the amount of time a player has to complete a task. Usually, this mechanic is found in racing games, where the player has to beat the time set around the racetrack in order to improve their racing ability. However, this mechanic also features in other games. For example, in “Enemy Territory: Quake Wars“, it is possible to set a time limit on each map you play, giving you a specific time that you play each map for, meaning that if the attacking team has not completed their objectives by then, they lose the map.
Discovery capitalises on the idea that players like to be able to discover things for themselves in-game, rather than being led by the hand through the game. A good example of discovery is the crafting system in the PC version of Minecraft. The difference with the PC version’s system to the other versions, is that the player has to figure out what items to place in the crafting grid, and where to place them, rather than being shown what they can craft with the current elements that they have.
Epicness is a not a specific game mechanic in itself, it refers to the mechanic(s) that cause players to strive to complete the most difficult tasks and challenges within a game. Whilst it not give any kind of reward in-game (save for perhaps, an achievement), the completion of such a task would give the player who accomplished it bragging rights to the task. In MMORPGS, players often work collaboratively to achieve such epicness. A good example of this epicness is part of the game Mass Effect 2, where the player must survive a Thresher Maw attack for a few minutes. It is, however, possible to kill the Thresher Maw in this time. Doing so gives no kind of extra reward, save for an achievement and a few changes to characters dialogue.
Who doesn’t like getting something for nothing? This is the idea of the free lunch mechanic, that the player is granted a large reward for something, when other players have done most of the work, and the player has done comparatively little compared to their reward size. However, this mechanic can be used to scam players in some games. For example, a message could offer access to a beta test, along with a free reward for players that take part. However, when a player clicks the link, their account details are stolen.
Infinite gameplay allows players to play a game indefinitely, i.e. the game has no defining ending. Generally, the longer a person plays, the harder the game gets. One example of a game that uses this mechanic is the game Jetpack Joyride, where the aim is to make it as far as possible without dying. The game has no defining end point, it is always possible to get further than you last did. This ability to constantly refresh is common in casual games, but does appear in many other games as well.
Levels are a graphical representation of a players skill in-game. They allow the player to increase their stats, or skills when they have enough experience. Some games also allow players to level up their weapons, items, and equipment, so that their effects are increased. A good example of this mechanic is the game Dino Run, where the player has the ability to increase their dino’s stats when they have collected enough eggs during the levels.
Loss aversion refers to the human nature of not wishing to lose a reward that we have been given. This is a common mechanic in demo versions of a game, where a player is granted an extremely powerful item, but must purchase the full game to use this item. Another example of this mechanic is in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, where players must be a certain level to use some of the items. Rather than sell the item because you can’t use it, most players will hoard the item until they are able to use it.
Lottery is a game mechanic where a player will gamble for something, and the outcome is completely randomised, not based on a players skills or abilities. One example of this is when the player dies in Jetpack Joyride, having collected a token in-flight. The player plays a slot machine, where they may or may not win a prize ranging from a few coins to a second chance. Some games allow players to pay real world money for a greater chance of winning.
Ownership is a mechanic where players feel that they really own the digital assets that they have acquired in game. They can feel a great emotional response when these items or beings are lost, broken, or killed. One example of this is the Nintendogs game, where the entire point of the game is to look after a dog, as if you owned it in real life.
Points are the oldest form of rewards in a game. The numerical representation of points is displayed on the screen, telling the player how well they are doing. The points in the game Angry birds are based on how much collateral damage the player causes to the pig’s fortress, how many pigs they kill, and the number of birds left unused at the end of the level.
The productivity mechanic is based on the ability of players to perform tasks in the most efficient way. An example of this is the potion system in Fantasy life. Once the player reaches a certain ability with an item, they can choose to produce many of that item at once, at lower quality, or produce one at a time, with a larger chance of high-quality items.
Progression is a visual representation of a players progress in the game, usually through a progress bar in one corner of the screen. A good example of this is the map in an Enemy Territory: Quake Wars GUI. This shows the player what missions have been completed during the current match, and the missions that are left to complete to win the match.
Quests are the tasks or challenges within a game. These tasks may advance the story onwards, or they may allow the player to gain extra items, or experience to aid in character development. One example of this mechanic is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, where the player recieves quests that advance the story, and other quests to gain more experience.
A reward schedule is a reward system that works on a time element, such as having to complete a task in a certain amount of time, or perform a task for a certain amount of time. For example, in Transport Empire, some mission must be completed within 24 hours of them being issued to the player.
Status within a game refers the the in-game rank that a player has. Many players strive to achieve the highest rank possible for bragging rights. One example of this is the game Rainbow Six: Vegas 2, where the player ascends through the military ranking system when they have enough experience.
Urgent optimism is the act of doing something immediately in the belief that you will succeed. This could be levelling up before facing a boss battle, so that you will not find it difficult to defeat it. A good example of this would be in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, where players can defeat easier monsters to help level up to face more powerful ones.
Virality is the mechanic in a game that allows sharing between players in order to advance the game. One example of this would be Farmville, where players can invite their friends to play, in order to help develop their farm, and their friends farm. Players can also send in-game gifts to each other in this way.