GameDev Thoughts: How To Address Difficulty In Game Design

It’s a well known fact that people want a challenge in their video games. One thing that people don’t want, however, is an extreme challenge with no alternative. Your game can be amazing, but if it’s too hard to grasp nobody will play it and you won’t get any useful feedback. This is one reason why you should have your target audience involved from inception. Game designers require an outside perspective if you want to appropriately challenge your players and also if you aim to create a unique gaming experience.

Now, people still do want a challenge, but if it’s stress inducing and frustrating your players will leave before getting far into the game. A little bit of frustration in the game is usually fine, but if you go too far then your game will suffer as a result. If you’ve conducted proper market research and collected necessary data from beta testing and game analytics you should have a fairly good idea of what the average player’s skill is, and as a result, you’ll know how to create difficulty levels that correspond to that appropriately. In addition to the average skill level, make sure to always have options that account for both lower and higher skill levels; if the game is too easy or too hard, a portion of your playerbase won’t want to continue through the game and might give negative reviews as a result.

Your first goal as a game designer should always be to give players the motivation to continue playing on. This usually means having an early hook and consistent rewards throughout the experience, without imbalanced difficulty in either direction. Even if your game is perfect, however, only a small proportion of the playerbase will actually make it to the end of the game. If this is due to the steady difficulty increase overcoming the player’s skill level, you can alleviate the problem with the option to change difficulty mid-game. This will allow the player to switch to whatever they deem appropriate for their mood, and thus have a stronger desire to keep playing.

Important Takeaways: Games should be tailored in difficulty to the target audience, but even if the target audience is one of the extremes, hardcore or casual, there should still be the option to tailor the experience to the individual playing. Without this, a portion of the playerbase will abandon the game after time either due to the lack of a challenge or frustratingly hard gameplay. Feedback from testers is important so that you can appropriately tune your various difficulty levels.

Difficulty can be a barrier for continuing on as previously mentioned, so one way to fix this problem is with an in-game difficulty option. If the player can adjust the difficulty on the fly, any particularly easy or hard sections for that particular player can be made more appropriately challenging. A system like this can help retain a large portion of the typically lost playerbase, although even if your game is perfect, a significant number of players will never make it to the end.