One thing that I have found to really help focus my project and get a good understanding of what I want to deliver is knowing your audience. There are all kinds of players out there and if you try to design a game that pleases all of them you will end up pleasing no one.
Throughout my research I have seen numerous theories about this topic and I would like to discuss two of them here.
1.) Ron Edwards GNS Theory
2.) 8 Types of Fun
Both theories have their merits and uses and I believe knowing both can aid you in creating a better game.
Let’s first take at a look at the GNS Theory. GNS stands for Gamist, Narativist and Simulationist and it states that all tabletop gamers fall into 1 or 2 of these categories.
Gamists are players who enjoy the aspects of a tabletop rpg that are similar to video games. Things like leveling up, gritty combat, skill checks. These players often focus on power gaming and making their character as effective as possible. In short these players look for something they can “Win”
Narativists are players who hold story above all else. They often create characters with rich back stories and are happy if at the end of the session some good story has progressed. Although these players enjoy roleplaying, their main focus is on an overarching plot opposed to the day to day.
Simulationists are interested in games that allow them to escape to another world. These players look for games where the world is vibrantly flushed out and as “real” as possible. These are often the types of players who like to roleplay out the mundane events like setting up camp or shopping.
The GNS Theory states that these player outlooks are in opposition and that no system can please all three. This is because at their fundamental level they are coming to rpgs for different reasons. A mechanic that works for one outlook will most likely not work for another. This is why it’s important to know which type of gamer you are appealing to before figuring out all of your mechanics.
If you wish to learn more about the GNS Theory, Ron Edwards wrote a great essay about the topic which you can find HERE.
The other theory I would like to talk about are the 8 types of fun. This theory states that there are 8 types of fun that can be conveyed through games. Although the theory was originally established for video games I find that it is very transferable to tabletop design. These 8 types of fun are as follows.
- The games ability to stimulate our physical senses. This accounts for the books art and layout
- A Games ability to immerse us in its setting and lore.
- The games ability to convey an unfolding story
- The games ability to generate difficult encounters
- The games ability to encourage camaraderie and teamwork
- The games ability to reward players for thinking outside the box.
- The games ability to allow players to self express
- The games ability to allow for passive play.
In contrast to the GNS theory, the Types of Fun theory states that everyone can enjoy all of these categories, but each person has a different hierarchy of which ones they prefer. In order to effectively focus your system design I have found it to be helpful to choose 1-3 of these types of fun to have as your core aesthetics, the reasons you want players to play your game. By knowing what kind of fun you want your players to have you can construct the system to be as good at delivering them as possible. I am not saying ignore the other types of fun, as having more types of fun will expand your audience. But do not let them take away from your core aesthetic.
If you wish to learn more about the types of fun theory, you can watch the extra credits video HERE.
In Summary, if you are looking to design a game, know your audience. Once you have your rough concept/mechanics ironed out look at who you think would enjoy playing it. Does the core concept work best for a Gamist, Narrativist, or Simulationist. Once you have that established look at what types of fun you can best deliver with the core mechanics. With these two concepts figured out you can now begin to elaborate on this system, adding fluff and surface mechanics. With every mechanic you add look at how it enhances the experience for you core audience.
Thanks for Reading,