GameDev Thoughts: How To Design Hardcore Games For Hardcore Players

Let’s talk about how to design a good hardcore game with solid hardcore gameplay. However, let’s keep in mind that “good hardcore gameplay” does not always make for a good game. Good gameplay is measured by interactions that tests skills, engagement, and technique. It is temporary and is only scored by the next challenge, and whether that next challenge is too easy or difficult will determine the engagement level of the player. Therefore, a good game is an entire concept based on a combination of solid game mechanics, compelling storyline, a congruent aesthetic, a clean user interface, and much more. Good games that have been around a long time score high in most, if not all of these areas. They did not think about good gameplay or mechanics in a bubble, but they thought about all the things that make a good game and then made sure that all the pieces fit together in a most elegant package.

So then, onto hardcore games. One thing that most hardcore games have in common is that they have a great onboarding tutorial. They allow the player to experience that game, rather than being told or shown what the game is about. A good tutorial allows the player to get to know the mechanics of the game while also growing as a more strategic player. It is not composed of so much text, but it provides brief and clear instructions as to what the player should learn next, expanded on over the course of gameplay. Tutorials that are too long can make a player feel disinterested, and it might make them more likely to quit if they already feel mentally exhausted from the tutorial. Tutorials that are streamlined, and demonstrate what the player should do and how the player’s action will lead to their success in the game are the best tutorials. Think of a tutorial as a first impression, so make it a good one. When you’re designing a game with more hardcore appeal, the mechanics will be complicated, so it’s important to gradually layer each subsequent mechanic on top of each other as you’re guiding the player along.

Next, most hard core games have a good level of depth. They explore the player’s expectations for what should happen and gives the players different ways of defeating a level by giving them choices. While games that only have a superficial level of depth are good for a quick onboarding experience, they will not be impactful for the long term because they don’t challenge the player to continually be exploring new interactions. Introducing new skills, progression pathways, and weapons and unique environments are all good ways to keep your player interested for the long-term, because in this type of environment, they’re constantly sharpening their skills and learning new strategies to get better at the game.

Next, even though a game is presumably hardcore, it would be best if the game could be virtually played by all ages. Rarely do you see players of different generations playing the same game but when you do you know that they enjoy the game for similar reasons. You also know that the game mechanics are simple enough that anyone could easily grasp them and use them to their advantage. Simple mechanics and interesting gameplay are at the heart of what make hardcore games. Hardcore games don’t necessarily need to appeal to only a small target demographic, rather it is their deep gameplay systems wrapped in a digestible shell that makes them so good.

Finally, good hardcore games stand the test of time because they have something unique about them. Whether that something is a unique or interesting game mechanic, a strong and congruent visual aesthetic, or a very compelling and unpredictable storyline. A game that does all three while adhering to the basics of solid core gameplay are games that usually will become classics in their respective genres. So then, if the basics of making a hardcore game are so easily outlined, then why cannot every game designer make a game that will ship, sell, and remain popular throughout the ages? Well, making a good hardcore game is hard. It makes for such a complex equation based on an ever-changing market, and most designers tend to focus only on one element in lieu of others, or they halfheartedly attempt to cover too many elements and fall flat.

Important Takeaways: Knowing and understanding what makes hardcore games is the first step to designing one. But to succeed in today’s market you need to do something outside the box to even get your game noticed. You need to plan ahead and do your research. Launching a successful hardcore game is about creativity and execution. If your ultimate goal is to launch a super successful game, study up on some of your favorite games and critique them internally. Ultimately, designing a hardcore game or one that will ripple throughout history is not so much following trends or designing for the future, but designing for today and following proven results. Sometimes as a designer you can get bogged down with being following current trends and mechanics that you lose sight of just creating a good experience using a base of solid mechanics, excellent onboarding, proper demographics targeting, and a crisp and clean visual aesthetic.