Depth is one of the key components of any game that you want to have replayability and longevity in, but it’s even important in micro-games that may not be intended to have much replayability. To start things off, there are two parts of game design that are involved with depth: having clearly defined objectives and having meaningful skills that will be utilized to complete those objectives. It sounds easy enough, but here’s an example to think about. Let’s say your challenge is to just push a block from point A to point B. This challenge has virtually no depth to it, as getting to the objective requires no meaningful skills in the sense that it can be completed just by holding a button forward for a few seconds. If we wanted to add a bit of depth, that challenge should be something like “the player should push the block forward, wait for lasers to disappear, jump to the other side of a gap, wait for the lasers to disappear again, and then pull the block to the goal on that side with one of their tools.” Obviously, this challenge is still moving something from point A to point B, but it involves a situation that you can demonstrate game mastery in, utilizing meaningful skills like timing and knowing what tool to use to pull the block.
On the other hand, what happens if you don’t have clear objectives at all? We just went over an example that had a clearly defined, but simple objective. In the opposite case, depth is also non-existent. You might think that “deep” mechanics by themselves should lead to the player creatively solving the problem, but if the objective isn’t clear most players will resort to trial and error. This method of blindly trying to make progress without knowing specific objectives, won’t lead to increased depth. True depth lies in having many potential solutions but having the ability to accurately point out one that should work best based on the knowledge you have gained thus far. In game design, remember to clearly define game objectives, as, without a clear definition, players won’t really know how to focus on optimizing their play.
With both of these out of the way, what can you do to increase depth? In most cases, it’s adding some complexity to a particular challenge, enough for the player to have to utilize game knowledge to complete it but not enough to confuse them. Remember to not only focus on visuals, though. For Example, you might have to push blocks onto a button, roll a ball into a goal, or bring a bomb to a door to destroy it, but all of those are identical to “push a block from point A to point B” in every way but aesthetics. Adding variations of an already utilized objective is fine and dandy, but make sure each objective you create utilizes a different set of meaningful skills and truly forces the player to change up their playstyle.
Important Takeaways: Depth is important to include in games for maintaining attention and replayability, so here are the parts that make it up and how to inject it into your game. Depth requires having clearly defined objectives and the use of meaningful skills, those that you learn to utilize by playing the game and gaining knowledge. If your challenges lack one or both parts, they will feel shallow or confusing to the player. Conversely, if the player doesn’t know where to go because of a lack of a clear objective, there is no depth due to the fall back of trial and error that most players resort to in that case. If you tell them where they need to go, however, they can then appropriately find a solution to get to the said objective and, again, depth has been injected into the challenge. Make sure you don’t try to introduce meaningful skills through only visual changes, though. If your visual variations play out identically to one another apart from how they look, they won’t create any additional depth as a result. Seek to create real meaningful differences in your game mechanics.