The core loop is the single most important part of a video game. It’s the core to build the rest of the game around. So fundamental, it’s how players will describe the game to their friends.

It’s a basic skill that must be performed throughout the game. Initially, it should be simple and ideally intuitive. As a game progresses, increased challenges require added skill. “Easy to learn and hard to master” lays the foundation for engagement and retention.

I can’t stress the importance of a player’s first impression with a game and it’s core loop. Psychologically, a player’s mind processes if a game is fun and if it’s worth investing more time. A 2012 Playnomics Engagement Study showed that 85% of players do not return after their first day.

Pac Man's Core Loop

Pac-Man’s Core Loop

What is a Core Loop?

Think about your favorite game. It requires a core set of skills that need to be learned and practiced. Examples range from shooting enemies while avoiding being shot, clearing dots in a maze while steering clear of ghosts chasing you, or collecting resources to build a strong offense and defense. This loop is repeated over and over throughout the game.

Consider the game of baseball. The core loop is comprised of the pitcher throwing the ball to home plate, the batter trying to hit the ball, and the catcher throws it back to the pitcher. In 9-innings of baseball, this core loop repeats itself on average over 100 times. Added layers of challenge, depth, and unpredictability give the game its charm. We as children often simplified the core loop to just a pitcher and batter.

pitcher catcher batter core loop

Baseball’s Core Loop

Building on baseball’s core loop, pitchers disrupt batters timing by throwing an assortment of pitches. These pitches make up balls and strikes. The batters try to hit the ball, reach base safely and cross home plate to score runs. Scoring runs enable two teams to measure their proficiency of the core loop against each other. So you see, added to baseball’s core loop is so much depth and variety that no two games are ever the same.

In games, a well-designed core loop instills a feeling of achievement, empowerment, and reward for beginners. All are crucial to building engagement and retention. Layers of depth and difficulty are then added to keep players challenged and motivated. This is the genius of good game design.

Core loops can be as simple and repeatable as punching an opponent until they are retired. Or complex, requiring skillful combo attacks while defending against opponents own attack. Mastering core loops separate average-skilled players from “gamers.” I enjoy a good skill-based game because it requires and motivates me to practice.

Core Loops continued – Part 2 of 2

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