Building Towards the Target

Post by: Grant Rodiek

Design pal Jesse Catron prompted me to write about designing a game towards a target audience. What components, themes, complexity levels, and marketing tactics should you use to reach your game’s target audience? Challenge accepted!

This is a difficult topic for to me to make decisive statements towards. I have never published a game, though I have had a board game published and I’ve been on the development team of many many digital products in the marketplace today. But, I consider myself a keen observer and a decent listener. Just because I haven’t done it doesn’t mean all of us cannot learn from those who have.

Defining the Target Grouups

For the sake of brevity, I’m going to address two market extremes: Casual consumers and Core consumers. I’m painting with a broad brush, which I think is reasonable as this is not a dissertation, but a theoretical exercise.

I define casual consumers as people who play games to pass the time, do not want to spend a great deal of time or money on games, tend to adhere to word of mouth for recommendations, and purchase most games from larger retailers (Target, Walmart, Barnes and Noble, Amazon).

Companies that serve this demographic well are Gamewright, Hasbro, 5th Street Games. Towards the outside leaning towards core would be companies like Days of Wonder and WizKids.

I define core consumers as people who play games with purpose. They gain satisfaction from victory, the challenge presented, and the camaraderie of the table. This is their primary hobby and they spend money as such. They listen to reviews, use hobbyist sites for information (Board Game Geek, Boardgaming.com, Twitter, Facebook), and purchase games from local hobby game stores and sites like Cool Stuff Inc., Funagain.com, and Amazon.

Companies that serve this demographic well are Plaid Hat Games, Z-Man Games, GMT, and every German publisher ever. I’d argue that Plaid Hat, like Days of Wonder, sits comfortably in the middle.

Component Considerations: Good casual components should help players quickly connect the dots on how to play the game. Dice are immediately obvious and well understood. Casual games should have fewer components as heft and a pile of pieces can be quite intimidating. Casual games should use simple iconography or as little text as possible as reading seems burdensome and for some will feel like work. A side effect of reading is that people’s heads will be down, reading, not up for players to make eye contact and engage with one another.

Good casual components should also look fun. Scallywags by Gamewright comes with a huge, awesome pile of gold pirate doubloons. The Big Fat Tomato Game, also by Gamewright, has little spongy tomatoes, big plastic tomato baskets, and huge hefty six-sided dice. King of Tokyo by Iello has awesome custom dice, big monster cut outs, and transparent green energy cubes. People should look at your game and think subconsciously ”I want to touch that.” Oh, and have amazing art.

Never forget that many casual players are very used to Risk and Monopoly. These games provide a sense of ownership (my territory, my army, my property) and use dice as a central element.

Core consumers share some of these characteristics. After all, board gamers love stuff. There are differences. Core consumers will lift your box to gauge its heft and weight. More is better. Core consumers may be leery of dice, or more leery, as it might be an omen of a highly random experience. Core consumers are less concerned about cards filled with text and are perfectly fine with a pile of punch board counters.

Core consumers like tableaus, reference cards, and lots of information. They want to know the card distribution and every side rule. If possible, core consumers also want miniatures. This often isn’t practical, but hey, we’re not limiting ourselves with reality for this post.

Seasons is a game box filled with fun, inviting stuff for more core consumers. Eclipse is wonderful and its components are magical. Don’t get me going on Mice and Mystics. These first two games will terrify more casual consumers — I’ve watched it happen. The last one listed hopes to attract them soon. We’ll see how it goes!

Thematic Considerations: Theme is a difficult one to nail down for either consumers. People of all types LOVE zombies. Just look at Zombie Dice (casual) and ZPocalypse (core). It’s cool to knock zombie games (I’ve done it, rudely), but it’s a mistake to overlook something so beloved by so many.

Orcs and spaceships are always a good path to take. Sometimes, combine them. Honestly, with proper art and mechanic design you can make farming the #2 game of all time (core), or a silly fracas (casual).

There are some general rules of thumb. For casual, focus on art and themes, or presentations of themes, that steer clear of violence and gore. Craft art that’s more silly, less serious. Make it very gender neutral, which is something you can do through a wide array of actions. Hire a real graphic designer — they’ll help. Avoid things that are too rooted in reality. Casual players don’t want to be reminded of war, famine, history, and things that are eerily similar to work.

For core, you can be more serious, darker (sometimes go way dark), and violent. You can use pictures of British Soldiers from a precise regiment or and orc carrying the head of a poor, defeated human.

Complexity Considerations: I feel like this goes closely hand in hand with my components comment. But, I’ll quickly go over a few points. Dave Chalker, designer of Get Bit, commented on Twitter that casual gamers find the rules for Fluxx overwhelming. You scoff, but it’s true. You’d be surprised just how often questions are asked of me about Farmageddon. Questions about content that I thought was straightforward.

With a casual game, it’s all about simplicity. Keep it simple, keep the game quick, keep it focused. Pick one mechanic and make sure the game ends in a half hour or less. Never forget that casual games are designed to appeal to people who play Texas Hold ‘Em Poker, UnoMonopoly, Dominoes, Go Fish. You can never test too much and you should never make an assumption.

For core gamers? Well, go nuts. But, be warned. I sincerely believe that with the Internet, Kickstarter, growing traditional publishers, Table Top, and more, a time of great growth for our hobby is upon us. Yes, you can make the four hour brain killer. And frankly, you should. There needs to be something for everyone. But, if you go too far off the deep end of complexity, you may overlook a huge, eager audience of new gamers. People who may get their hands dirty with Munchkin and then move on to YOUR game. How cool would that be?

Marketing Considerations: Casual consumers are way more price conscious than core consumers. By this, I mean anything over $20 will cause a casual consumer to pause at the point of purchase. Core consumers are also price conscious, but their point of pause may be far higher. Hell, I am personally only limited by personal budget and a guilty feeling if I spend too much money on games.

Casual consumers don’t use Board Game Geek. They don’t care about Board Game Geek. To get to them, you need to be on retail shelves (difficult), build word of mouth (slow), and get them onto a mailing list (slow). Core consumers know all about the Geek, review sites, friends and forums, and will actively seek new content to add to their shelves. They will also buy more if they hear the word of mouth, see it on a big retailer’s shelf, or happen to be on your mailing list.

Casual consumers are way more likely to gravitate towards a company’s brand/logo than remember a designer. Core consumers are more likely to care about the designer. Casual consumers will provide face-to-face word of mouth, whereas core consumers will post ratings on the Geek, Tweet, and use social media to excitedly recommend your game to others.

Both groups greatly respect good value, treating customers well, and being consistent. The Golden Rule will carry you far where marketing is concerned. Be good to others and make great products. Consumers will treat you well in return.

Where are my assumptions off? Did I make any points that resonated? Where does your game fall? Comment below!

Salmon Run: An Interview with Jesse Catron

Almost a year ago, Jesse Catron mailed me a prototype for a game then called Pond Farr. It was a very clever, well-designed, and highly entertaining game about Salmon Racing. He told me in confidence then that the game had been picked up by Gryphon Games and it’d be on Kickstarter. Delays unfortunately occur, but, the wait will have been well worth it. The Kickstarter launches August 15.

I told Jesse months ago I would do what little I could to help him promote his game. This is the first of two posts on the subject; an interview with the designer. Learn about the game, Jesse, and his development process on this really fun game.

Hyperbole Games comments are noted with HG. JC is from Jesse Catron.

HG: Introduce yourself!

JC: I’d be glad to! My name is Jesse Catron and I live in Maryland with my fantastic wife, Eileen, our 6 dogs (sorry no Corgis!), and various other pets.  I love to play board games, but I love to design them even more.  The upcoming game Salmon Run (formerly known as Pond Farr) will be my first published game.

HG: Tell us about Salmon Run. What is the game? 

JC: Salmon Run is a race between salmon to swim upriver past waterfalls, rapids, and hungry bears to reach the spawning pool. The game is for two to four players and usually takes 20-45 minutes, though I have seen a few particularly contentious 4-player games last an hour.

The game uses a path-dependent deck-building mechanism. You start with a swim deck of basic movement cards.  As you use these movement cards to progress upriver, you may add more powerful cards by landing on special hexes.  The deck you build depends on the path you choose.  The added cards include enhanced movement cards like Double-Swims and Wild cards or interactive cards like Bears, Eagles, Rapids, and more.

The game also has a fatigue mechanic using cards added to your deck to slow the salmon down if they overexert themselves or encounter bears.  The river uses modular boards so it can be different each game and can be customized by difficulty and length.

HG Note: The fatigue mechanic uses a negative feedback loop as wonderfully explained by Jesse in this guest column about positive and negative feedback loops in game design. 

HG: How long has Salmon Run been in development?

JC: Though it sometimes seems like forever, in truth it has been in development  for two years.  It has gone through a lot of refinements and a lot of testing.  The original version had a fixed board and simultaneous turns! This didn’t work well at all.  Fortunately, I was able to work these issues out and make a fun and balanced game.

HG: What was the initial inspiration for the game? Why Salmon racing?

JC: While working on another design, I started thinking about all the good times I had playing board games with my brothers in my youth.  I wanted my nephews and nieces to have a similar experience.  I stopped working on my medieval siege warfare game and started to brainstorm for a theme that both they and myself would enjoy.  I looked to nature and animals.  I figured there had to be a compelling and unique theme in nature that could make a good game.  Firstly, I thought about migrations. Then for whatever reason, salmon came to mind.  Perhaps because I had made an abstract game with fish and a shark a few weeks earlier?

Nevertheless,  salmon swimming hundreds of miles against the current, most of them dying along the way via bears or exhaustion,  seemed like a compelling theme to me.  While salmon may not be the coolest animals, you have to admire their persistence!  Plus, bears and eagles are awesome.

HG: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced developing the game? How did you solve them?

JC: One of the biggest design challenges was balancing the power of the current. For those who haven’t played, there are a series of arrows on most hexes of the board representing the flow of the river. When the current is activated, all salmon must move backwards in the direction of the current arrows.  I always knew I wanted to simulate the power of the river and the struggle of the salmon against it.  I really wanted the current to be a major factor in the game.

In early versions, the current would activate after each round, sending all the salmon backwards. This made for a very slow and frustrating race.  I tried a few tweaks, but nothing really worked. A race shouldn’t feel like running on a treadmill.  Eventually, I decided to put the power of the current into a card and put the current card into the starting deck.  This both lessened the frequency of the current and gave players some nice decisions on when to play it.  This was a tremendous improvement but not a perfect solution.  With everyone having a current card in their starting decks, the game was still too slow.  Players were getting sent over waterfalls repeatedly, gaining fatigue card after fatigue card.

The final solution was to remove the current from the starting deck and to enable players to counter the current by discarding a current card of their own from their hands.  Players now have to acquire the current cards over the course of the game by moving over special hexes. While the current is not as much of a factor in the race as it once was, it is still a very powerful card both offensively and defensively.

The current card itself led to another design challenge.  Sometimes solutions to one problem lead to a new problem! The special cards that you can add to your deck often come in balanced pairs and the board often offers a choice between them.  For instance, the Double-Swim card represents speed while the Wild card represents maneuverability.  Because the current was now a card, I needed a card of similar power that would be a viable alternative.  I came up with the Rapids card, but it was a real struggle to match the power of the current. The Rapids have gone through more versions than any other cards combined!

At last, I decided to yoke the power of the rapids with the number of current arrows on the board.  This gave it the same situational feeling as the current;  the timing of when the card is played is important.  Stifling the players options via discarding cards from their hands seems to be a viable alternative power to the current.  It also can make a nice combo with the Eagle card.

HG: You use modular boards, which is a feature I and many other gamers love. Did any challenges come with creating a modular board system?

JC: Absolutely!  Like I mentioned earlier, early versions of the game had a fixed board.  From the outset, I knew a modular board would be better, but I was unsure how to properly make one. I wanted to first focus on the basic mechanics. 

The foremost challenge in designing modular boards is deciding how they will connect.  Each board must be able to seamlessly connect with every other board.  Each board’s exit/entry (i.e. edges) needed be compatible, especially with the currents of the river.  Being a race, the size of the boards was also a big factor.  Too many large boards would make the game too long, too few large boards and there wouldn’t be enough variability.   Short but wide boards made the most sense.  Because they are wide, it gives me enough space to make interesting features and build in spatial decisions.  Because they are short vertically, I can use a higher number of different boards to increase the variability of the river’s set-up.

The other challenge in using modular boards is balancing how the features of each board affect the system as a whole.  When the board is large and fixed, you can balance its elements over the entire span of the board.  You can more easily balance the number of special hexes, left turns, right turns, the spacing of the bears and waterfalls with a fixed board.  With modular boards,  I found it necessary to somewhat balance each river section individually while still keeping in mind how it will affect other river sections.

For instance, the numbers of each type of special hex should be similar across all boards. However,  it’s not possible to achieve the same degree of control over the boards’ features with modular boards as you can with a fixed board.  Invariably, some board combinations will be better than others.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just something you have to accept in using a modular boards.  In fact, I think it is desirable.

Another great thing about using modular boards was the ability to rate the difficulty of each river section.  Players can customize the game by difficulty as well as length.

HG: How did you come up with your Action cards? What was the mix of mechanical and thematic inspiration?

JC: You may be surprised to hear that the Jumping mechanic came first.  I borrowed the idea of combining two vectors into one movement from the abstract fish game I mentioned earlier.  I knew that’s how the salmon would get over waterfalls. Consequently, the movement for the game would use cards and the cards would indicate directional movement.  The race is linear, so the movements would be forward, right, and left (though right and left are really diagonally right and left).  I really wanted to simulate the long enduring struggle of the salmon upriver, so the movement system needed something more.  I wanted the players to have to choose not only the direction they swim, but also the pace at which they swim.  Usually in races there is only one speed: go as fast as you can.  Salmon are not in a sprint but in more of a marathon.  I needed a way to reward pacing and punish overexertion.  The answer was Fatigue cards that would accumulate in the player’s decks and make a  deck less effective as the race goes on.  This necessitated individual player movement decks and deck-building.

I always knew bears would be a large part of the game.  I wanted them to be a threat on the board and a way for players to interact and affect each others’ progress.  It seemed natural to make the bears add fatigue to the salmon.  I’ve already mentioned the Current and Rapids cards.  With the Eagle,  I really just thought about how eagles catch salmon.  They just swoop in and snatch them out of the water.  It’s very quick and precise.  I thought the best way to emulate this in the game was to have the Eagle card pluck a card from the  targeted opponent’s hand.

HG: Now that you’ve designed a game with a deckbuilding mechanic, what are your thoughts on the mechanic? Would you create another game with deckbuilding?

JC: I am quite enamored with the deckbuilding mechanic. I know there is a lot of deckbuilding fatigue out there right now from gamers.  Perhaps it’s justified with all the Dominion clones out there? However, I believe there is a lot left to explore with the mechanic.  The key is to see deckbuilding as an integral mechanic and not as the core of the whole game.

Deckbuilding allows the players to build an evolving engine and to receive nearly immediate feedback on how well they built it.  The power of the deckbuilding engine grows depending on the input you put into it. I find this positive feedback system fascinating.  I believe there are many  innovative ways it can be used.  Just look at games like A Few Acres of Snow, Mage Wars, and Eminent Domain.  These are games that utilize deckbuilding as a mechanic for a greater purpose and not as the game itself.  I see Salmon Run as a racing game that uses deckbuilding rather than a deckbuilder with racing.

I would absolutely create another game with deckbuilding.  In fact, I am currently working on two different deckbuilding games!  One is a sci fi game about smugglers in space.  In it, your deck represents your ship and its different weapons and systems.  It’s basically a pick up and deliver game that uses deckbuilding for ship upgrades, combat, and navigation. HG: Several months ago I worked on a ridiculously similar design about smugglers in space. It used a deckbuilding mechanic as well. I shelved the game for various reasons, but I’m glad you’re doing it. I’m sure it’ll be a superior game!

My other deckbuilding game in the works is called Strangemare.  In Stangemare, players are trying to wake up from the prison of their own nightmares. The player’s deck represents his or her mind and is riddled with nightmare cards that he or she must purge.  Both are early in development.

HG: These ideas both sound excellent. Feel free to write about them here. One thing I always loved about the game (Salmon Run) is just how accessible it is. Was this a goal for you at the outset? 

JC: Yes, this was a goal and it was something I had to keep in mind throughout its development. As a gamer, I have a natural tendency to want to ramp up the complexity to make things more interesting. At least for me, it took a concerted effort to resist that urge and keep it simple.

I really wanted Salmon Run to be a game that non-gamers and gamers would enjoy playing.  It can be a tricky line to walk.  You have to keep it simple and engaging enough that non-gamers can grasp it, but have enough depth, tactics, and choices so that gamers will find it interesting.  I believe I have succeeded in this regard.  I remember demonstrating the game recently with a family of four at a convention.  It was pure joy for me to see a gamer mom, a gamer dad, a teenage son, and a preteen son all having a blast playing my game.

HG: This is a very difficult line to toe and it’s one I foolishly take on for every game I design. My randomly determined turn order mechanic for Empire Reborn raises eyebrows from many core gamers, including you!

Did you have a difficult time finding a publishing partner for the game? Orcs and space marines are so typical that it’s delightful to see a game about salmon making a…eh hem, splash.

JC: I feel very fortunate to have found a publisher as quickly as I did.  I submitted Salmon Run (then called Pond Farr) to two publishers, one of which was Gryphon.  Gryphon contacted me a few weeks later asking for a prototype.  They conducted their own testing and a few months later offered me a contract.  I believe the key was having a well-polished and tested game with some unique attributes both thematically and mechanically.  I have a feeling that the bizarre theme of salmon racing may have helped catch their attention!

The other important aspect was choosing a publisher that was a good fit for my game.  I looked hard at what type of games different publishers put out and who their target audiences were.  I made my pitch accordingly, emphasizing what set my game apart and why it would be a good fit for their company.  I am very pleased to have partnered with Gryphon.

HG: Anything else you want to add?

JC: Foremost, I would like to thank you for a great interview and especially for all the playtesting and feedback you have given me.  It really was invaluable and helped immensely.

HG: The pleasure is all mine. This is a good game and people need to play it! 

JC: Secondly, the Kickstarter Campaign for Salmon Run starts on August 29th and is sponsored by Gryphon Games.  Please consider supporting my game.

Note: The game is available on Kickstarter now if you’re interested. I dove right in, myself! 

Game Design Gone Loopy

I bumped into Jesse Catron on The Game Crafter chat when I first joined the small online board game design community. Jesse sent me a copy of his prototype Pond Farr and it was a real hit with my group. It’s lighthearted, has a good degree of take-that and player interaction, and beautifully incorporates a deckbuilding mechanic into a board game. It’s a really clever game and falls into the “I wish I thought of that” category.

By playing Pond Farr (soon to be published by Gryphon Games as Salmon Run) and interacting with Jesse, you quickly learn two things: One, Jesse is really clever and thoughtful. And two, he’s a ridiculously nice guy. I was really glad he took the time to write a guest column for this blog.

Guest Column by: Jesse Catron

I was honored when Grant asked me to write something for his blog, but I really had no idea what to write about, nor did I know whether anyone would care to read what I have to say.  I certainly don’t presume to be an expert in game design, nor an expert in writing articles. Nonetheless, after a few weeks of drawing blanks, I finally thought of a topic that I find interesting and relevant to game design. It’s also one which hasn’t really been covered (at least not to my knowledge).  Despite the title, I will not be writing about crazy game designs or crazy game designers.  I’ll leave that for another article.  Instead, I thought I would write about feedback loops and how they relate to game design.

Feedback loops are fairly common in many aspects of life. Some examples include the thermostat in your home, the hormonal systems of the human body, and even the guitar sounds of the late Jimi Hendrix. All are controlled by feedback loops. In general terms, a feedback loop is a control of a system in which the output of the system cycles back to affect the input of the system. This feedback can either be positive or negative. Note that it is not positive and negative in a sense of good and bad, rather that the feedback amplifies the output (positive) or diminishes the output (negative).

When your home’s heating system heats the house to a certain temperature, that higher temperature triggers your thermostat to turn off your furnace.  If the temperature falls too low, the low temperature triggers your furnace to turn back on. You can quickly see that feedback loops of this nature can be good at regulating a system into stability.  This is the hallmark of a negative feedback loop. The initial output of the system (increased temperature) affects the input of the system such that the future output of the system is regulated or diminished (your furnace turns off so the temperature will not continue to increase).

Just as negative feedback loop stabilizes a system, a positive feedback loop tends to destabilize a system. The self-perpetuating nature of the amplification in a positive feedback loop will send the system out of control. It’s like holding a microphone too close to a loudspeaker; the audio output of the speaker is looped into the input of the microphone, which then results in increased sound (output) out of the speaker. This increased (louder) output of the speaker is again picked up by the microphone and results in an ever-increasing output of sound until nothing but a high-pitched squeal can be heard.  Left unchecked, a positive feedback loop will spiral out of control.

So what does this have to do with board games?  If you analyze board games in terms of feedback loops, you can see how commonplace they are and how useful they can be in game design. The ability to recognize feedback loops and identify how they can cause or solve design issues is a useful skill for a game designer.

Let’s take a look at how a feedback loop can cause a problem in a game. One that comes to mind is the run-away leader. In this scenario, one player takes an early lead and can’t be caught by the other players. This is often, but not always, caused by a positive feedback mechanism.  When dealing with a run-away leader problem, you either need to eliminate the positive feedback loop or add something to keep it in check, often a negative feedback loop.

For example, in Settlers of Catan, the player with the most productive settlements will generate the most resources, which enables him to build more settlements and gain even more resources. This is a positive feedback loop. A player with favorable rolls and/or strategically well-placed initial settlements can often take an early lead. However, there are several factors in place to mitigate this potential run-away leader.  Firstly, the randomness of later dice rolls may slow this player. However, relying on bad luck is not a good method of hampering a run-away leader. A more useful method is to introduce a negative feedback loop to the system, which is often known as a catch-up mechanic. In Settlers, this is done via the Robber. The Robber is placed on a resource hex to prevent production at that location. In a game with a clear leader, the other players will invariably place the robber on location that will most hamper the resource production of the leading player, slowing down the leader and allowing the others to catch up. The Robber is not a flawless catch-up mechanism, however. The leading player will likely have the greatest ability to buy Soldier cards and move the Robber to lessen its effectiveness at slowing him down. The run-away leader is also regulated by the trading mechanic in the game.  Most players will be less likely to trade with the leader, or if they do trade, they drive a harder bargain. This is usually quite effective.

You may be thinking that negative feedback loops (stability) are always good and positive feedback loops are always bad (instability).  While often true, this is not always the case.  For example, in Monopoly (I realize not the best game design), there is a positive feedback system in which the player collects monopolies or properties that generate wealth. This allows the player to collect more and better properties and therefore collect even more wealth.  Granted, there are mitigations to the loop like the luck of the rolls, but the positive feedback system in Monopoly is essential to drive the game to its conclusion and prevent it from dragging on forever. One player’s wealth must grow and grow (amplify) until the other players are bankrupt.  Many player-elimination games are designed this way.

Perhaps the best example of the usefulness of feedback loops can be found in deck-building games. Let’s use Dominion, the granddaddy of deck-building, as an example.  If you think about it, what are you actually doing when you play Dominion? You’re essentially trying to build the most efficient and powerful positive feedback system.  Let’s set aside the Victory cards for a moment and examine the Treasure cards. You begin with a number of weak Copper cards. You play some Copper cards to gain a better Silver card. The output of you playing Copper cards is a Silver card, which in turn affects the future output of your deck. That Silver card will cycle back into your hand, which gives you more buying power and therefore enables you to eventually purchase Gold. The buying power of the deck is amplified with each cycle. This is a basic positive feedback loop.

Though a bit more complicated, the Kingdom cards work in a similar fashion.  Most Kingdom cards amplify your deck’s ability to play more cards per turn and/or make more purchases (or better purchases) and those abilities are compounded with each cycle of the deck.  A few Kingdom cards, like Militia or the Witch, work by introducing negative feedback into your opponents’ positive feedback engine, but these are exceptions.  Being that Dominion is a game centered around creating a positive feedback system through the Treasure cards and most of the Kingdom cards, would it therefore have an inherent run-away leader problem?  No, and the reason it doesn’t is the genius of the design in my opinion.  Donald X. Vaccarino wisely used a negative feedback system as the victory condition. The Victory cards hamper the positive feedback system you are building, yet are essential to winning the game.  Deck-Building games are great examples of the effective use of both positive and negative feedback loops.

As an aside, while most early deck-builders like Dominion utilize the construction, development, and management of these feedback systems as the whole of the game, the future of this game genre is to use it as one component of a greater game with a larger scope.  This is already occurring with games like A Few Acres of Snow and Mage Knight.  I digress.

Clearly, both positive and negative feedback loops can be used effectively in game design.  Positive feedback loops can, but not necessarily, cause run-away leader problems.  It is vital to be able to recognize them when they do cause problems and to know how to effectively use negative feedback loops to keep them in check. In my own design, a deck-building racing game called Salmon Run (the game formerly known as Pond Farr), I had to be especially cognizant of its positive feedback system and utilize sufficient negative feedback systems to keep the leader in check.  No one wants a run-away leader in a racing game!  Fortunately, I succeeded and most games are very close.

Thank you for reading! I hope you find this article useful in your game designs.

What are some other examples of games with good (or bad) positive and negative feedback loops? Contribute in the comments below!

Update! Daniel Solis created a really cool infographic to visually break down the post written by Jesse Catron (and others, as cited on Daniel’s site). I wanted to include it here so that you have the WHOLE enchilada in one place.