What Our Game Designer Thinks About Fun

What I see most in all the game design tutorials/articles I’ve read is a list of what my game should include. I’m a game designer, so this is my bread and butter. Most of the bullets are very straightforward and very understandable, but there is always this one element that slips away like it’s just another factor to consider lightly:  “Make your game fun.”

This is a big deal! Finding out what that “fun” factor everybody is talking is about can’t possibly be that easy. That’s what this blog is about.

Let’s start with the definition of fun:

Not that helpful. It’s short, very abstract, and subjective. For instance, the idea of fun for one of my friends is to go on long hikes; for me, the idea of hiking sounds like a torture. Alternatively, shooter games could be fun for one person, whereas puzzle games are fun for someone else.

I didn’t like Candy Crush Saga that much, but it’s one of the most successful games ever made. Of course, people can say that King uses clever psychology to access the pressure points of the player, and that their level design is built out of difficulty peaks to control the player’s pacing, satisfaction and frustration. But again, none of these “tricks” would’ve worked if the core mechanic wasn’t good or “fun.” So we are back to deconstructing what fun is.

Does my lack of connection to Match 3 genre games make them not “fun?” No, it just means that fun is interpreted differently by different people.


MDA framework

The MDA framework was written and defined by Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc and Robert Zubek back in 2001. It stands for Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics

Even though I didn’t invent this framework, this is something I modified and use on a daily basis with my own personal agenda, and which I tweak according to what I imagine, or when I try to explain features I’ve designed. I think it’s one of  the best tools I’ve come across, and even though there have been countless attempts to rewrite and modify this framework, the fundamentals are worth studying:


This defines the set of rules of the game. Basically, a set of rules that define the boundaries of the game.

A particular component of the game, at the level of data representation and algorithms.
Mechanics are the various actions, behaviors and control mechanisms afforded to the player within a game context.

Crossy Road’s mechanics includes: moving forward, backwards sideways, automatic screen scrolling, moving platforms and objects etc…



How the player can “function” within these rules. Basically, what we as game designers can do within the very rules we created, in order to enhance the player experience.

Describes the run-time behavior of the mechanics acting on player inputs and each other’s outputs over time.

Crossy Road (again) are using the Gacha machine in order to create curiosity anticipation for the player.

Mario Kart uses the Blue shell, AKA  “The Great Equalizer,”  making it both the most hated (frustration) and most desired (anticipation) item of the Mario Kart series.



They help us define what the players’ feedback (or feelings) are from our game, or from a specific in-game feature.

Describes the desirable emotional responses evoked in the player, when he interacts with the game system.

Common sense would suggest that aesthetics are a visual aspect. In my opinion, it represents feelings and how they correspond with the game flow–they are emotions.

In the paper, they mapped the word “fun” into 8 different meanings to make it easier to grasp:

  • Sensation – Game as sense-pleasure
  • Fantasy – Game as make-believe
  • Narrative – Game as drama
  • Challenge – Game as obstacle course
  • Fellowship – Game as social framework
  • Discovery – Game as uncharted territory
  • Expression – Game as self-discovery
  • Submission – Game as pastime

I liked the general idea of breaking down
fun into feelings, but here is how I broke it down even more to help better understand the process:

  • Excitement
  • Anticipation
  • Completion
  • Anger
  • Curiosity
  • Satisfaction
  • Frustration


*And of course, any other feelings that I find relevant according to the game vision.


Here are some examples of aesthetics in some selected games:

Clash of Clans: Fellowship, Expression, Challenge.

Pirate Kings : Anger, Sensation, Competition, Progression.

Don’t Starve: Discovery, Fantasy, Expression, Frustration.

Candy Crush: Fantasy, Progression, Competition,Challenge, Submission.

Another point that the MDA framework helps us understand is the difference in perspectives between ourselves (the game designers) and the players.

As developers, we tend to think about the mechanics first, and how they will lead the player to the dynamics and eventually to the aesthetic feel. Players, on the other hand, tend to talk about a game in reverse: discussions will usually begin by describing the aesthetic side of the game, then the dynamics, and maybe the mechanics (depending on what kind of gamer they are).


MDA Framework Tested With Pirate Kings


As you can see, I used a different set of emotions than what they defined, but I believe that every framework should be modified to fit your system.


How To Test Your Framework

  • After defining your game by using a workflow, you should try to reach a playable version as soon as possible (even using placeholders for art).
  • Play it and try to be as honest and objective as you can be about what it makes you feel and if it matches your intention.
  • Let people play your game as soon as possible. Try not to help or guide them, and see what their reactions are. I did this by creating a detailed survey.
    Start with your inner circle–people you trust both ethically and professionally, and as time goes by, expand that circle.
  • Even if the reactions weren’t what you expected, always ask why, and always keep in mind that maybe your game just didn’t fit that type of gamer (which is cool).


In Conclusion

All this is just my opinion, and the sharing of my intimate workflow, so you can feel free to agree or disagree. This framework doesn’t replace game core loops, game flows or a creative process, because it comes as a layer on top of all that. It helps roughly define what will be fun for your players, and what reaction you should expect to get from your game features. You don’t have to use it in the same drilled-down way that I just showed. You can approach it from a more high level aspect to help you and your team better define the meaning of the word fun for your game.

I hope it’s useful for you, and that you are able to take the basic elements of what I’ve written and modify it in the most convenient way for your purposes.

If you have any comments or questions, please write them here!



Our team is hiring! Check out our open positions here.


Barak Shelef

Game Designer


  1. fedor

    Although true at every point the article doesn’t present a systematic approach to the concept of “fun”.

    Books I recommend to read if not done so already:

    Raph Koster, “The theory of fun”
    Steve Swink, “Game feel – a game designer’s guide to virtual sensation”.
    Daniel Cook’s insignt on loops and arcs: http://www.lostgarden.com/2012/04/loops-and-arcs.html

    if you’re interested in something mindblowing then:
    Chris Crawford, “the dragon speech” given in 1991 still to come true.

    • Barak

      Thanks for the leads Fedor.
      I have red “Game feel – a game designer’s guide to virtual sensation”, i’ll check the rest of them.

  2. Enjoyed the post!
    Much as you guys say; fun is a poor word for use in game development. It’s a linguistic catch-all for all kinds of things.

    The MDA Framework seems a move in the right direction! Though I’m sure it’s not the end of story. It doesn’t seem to cover things like the joy of discovery or mastery which are core experiences in many games.

  3. Thanks for sharing great tips and its really such a nice post!

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