Farmville2 Core Loop

Farmville 2 Core Loop

Continued from Part 1:

Zynga’s most successful games are built around a solid and repeatable core loop. Leaving nothing to chance, they hold the players hand step-by-step through the tutorial. Zynga teaches players how to play, and how they want them to play. And to their credit, they effectively teach learning by doing. But without the right motivation this core loop can become overly repetitious, mechanical and unfulfilling.

Good designers are experts at instructional design. Early engagement is built around an effective core loop. The learning, empowerment and rewards gained from core loops serve to intrinsically and extrinsically motivate players to take on deeper challenges.

Some game designers argue that the best core loops are based on real-world activities. I couldn’t disagree more. Real-world activities like farming may be intuitive to understand, but they lack mystery and discovery. Don’t underestimate the value of “aha moments,” where players feel they discover a skill or trick that other players might not know. For many classic games, a large portion of the fun was in the learning. You had to fail to learn.

Learning secret “tricks” at one time fueled the sales of gaming magazines. Today the Internet is where the public shares knowledge, so there’s very little anyone can keep secret. But timing and dexterity can’t simply be read and mastered. And it requires frequent practice. The best hitters in baseball need practice to stay sharp. Even then, failing two out of three times is better than average. The simple design of Flappy Bird (2014) succeeded on this premise and it’s “easy to learn, hard to master” nature. As often is the case with endless runners, the core loop was the game. And without depth, players soon lost interest.

Pac ManSuper Mario BrosGames with abstract core loops like Pac Man (Namco), Donkey Kong (Nintendo) Tempest (Atari), Frogger (Konami), Q-Bert (Gottlieb) and Super Mario (Nintendo) are timeless in their ability to engage players.

The F2P business model of today prioritizes key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure engagement (time on game), retention (lifetime on game) and conversion (in-app purchase). The thought is that engaging players for extended periods of time will eventually drive players to spend money. By this definition players could be bored out of their skull, but if still playing they are thought to be engaged.

BejeweledCandy Crush SagaIn 2001, PopCap released Bejeweled, the original “match three” game. It’s core loop: move tiles to create rows of 3. It’s simple to learn and play, but hard to master. Especially against a clock. For more than a decade it was hugely popular because anyone could play it.

In late 2012, King introduced Candy Crush Saga. Taking the same core loop and creatively injecting depth and variety, it revived what had become a stale genre. Candy Crush Saga became one of the highest revenue generating franchises ever.

Angry BirdsAnother example of a simple yet effective core loop is Rovio’s Angry Birds. The core mechanic is to fling birds from a slingshot towards a structure. The goal is to knockdown the structure.  It’s as basic as throwing softballs at bowling pins at a carnival. So basic and intuitive, even young children can play.

Designing virality and monetization mechanics into the core loop are also key to them being effective. It’s important that they feel like extensions of the core loop and not like afterthoughts only to separate money from players.

Good Core Loops Go a Long Way

Think of a favorite game of yours. Read the game instructions and/or press materials. How successful is the writer at explaining the game and how to play? For the sake of argument, assume it’s well written. The point of this exercise is to evaluate how easy the game is to explain and if the reader can comprehend it. A game that’s hard to explain and understand may lack a core loop or a solid structure around it. Every good game will pass this test.

Hopefully, I’ve made you a believer in how important core loops are to video games. In your design or next game you play, think about the core loop and its ability to engage and motivate you.

I’d like to hear what you have to say on the subject. Please share your favorite core loop with other readers. Thanks for visiting!

Want to learn more about core loops?

Adrian Crook – notes of Ali Sulemon’s (co-founder/CEO of Tiny Co.), “Designing Core Loops” at Casual Connect talk (2012)

Henric Suuronen – on Gamasutra, Studio Head at Wooga, “How to Make Killer Game Loops”

Gamasutra – Michail Katkoff, 10/13, “Mid-core Success Part 1: Core Loops




5 Responses to The Importance of Core Game Loops – Part 2 of 2

  1. Fool says:

    Have you heard of ‘game feel’ and would you be willing to write an article on your opinion about it?

    • Jerry Momoda says:

      Yes I have, but my definition might be different from others. I wasn’t aware of Steve Swink’s book and the work of others, but pleased to see the attention the subject has been given. Whether a market research analyst or the product manager, I considered myself to be the “voice of the player”. The proper “game feel” was essential to player engagement and I didn’t take it’s value lightly. It should be an elemental part of every game design, and never just an afterthought. Back in the day I used to perform evaluations of all new games. I was known for having good “game sense” and could put myself in the position of a player. Evaluating a game’s “feel” was key to my first impression. Considering the churn rate of today’s FTP games in App Stores, it’s importance can’t be trivialized. I plan to write a post on this subject. Thank you for your question.

  2. Altug Isigan says:

    The formula for a core loop is “Achieve x while avoiding y. If x, then p. If y, then q”. Example: Eat all dots in the maze while avoiding ghosts. If all dots eaten then next maze. If caught by ghost then game over. Another example: Destroy the pigs with less than three birds. If pigs destroyed before birds run out then next level. If not achieved with three birds then repeat level… Core loops are critical for an immersive game and I’m glad this article points this out so neatly!

  3. That was a really good explanation.
    What do you think about Donkey Kong?
    The core loop was basically avoiding obstacles to get to the top. You mentioned this loop was abstract? How so?
    The path you take to complete the core loop can be different for every user in a number of different games (very few games have very strict guidelines of what to do and how to do it), so how is the core loop an abstract loop?

    • Jerry Momoda says:

      Thank you for your question. Perhaps “abstract” is not the best word to describe these game’s core loops. My reasoning is to classify games whose core loops are not rooted in reality. In addition, “abstract” would not apply to baseball games that simulate the real game (MLB or NPB), even if their graphic style is 8-bit or anime (eg. Vs. Baseball, Nintendo 1984, MLB 16: The Show). However, if a baseball game incorporates unreal elements such as robot players or rule changes, I would classify it as an “abstract” interpretation of the game of baseball. I hope this helps you understand my intention.

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