It’s the single most important part of a video game. The engine to which the rest of a game is built around. So central to a game, the core loop is how players will describe a game to friends.
The core game loop is a base action or series of actions that are repeated over and over throughout a game. Initially, the core loop should be simple, ideally intuitive, and satisfying to execute. As the game progresses, layers of depth and demands on precision can be added to the core loop. “Easy to learn, hard to master” lays a 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 personally rewarding and worth investing time. This connection or lack thereof is what makes or breaks a potential relationship between player and game. A 2012 Playnomics Engagement Study showed that 85% of players do not return after their first day.
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. As children, we often simplified the core loop to just a pitcher and batter.
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.