The folly of player-centric design

Role-playing survival game is willing to take risks

I’ve been meaning to comment on this phrase for some time, ever since I first read it in a game design book targeted at college students. As I think it is one of the most absurd concepts and a real threat to creative game design.

“Player-Centric” is a term used to describe game design where the designer makes a game that the player will beat, all design decisions are focused on letting the player get to the end of the game. Personality I think this is a flat out wrong idea to put into design. Now before I begin my rant I want to say that I am a gamer who likes a challenge, I don’t want to play a game where there is no challenge at all, in other words I want opposition.

The first problem with this ideal is that who is the player? I know gamers who only play simple match 3 puzzle games all the way to those who play the Dominions series. I can tell you right now that there is no one game that is going to attract both these groups, unless someone can come up with a 50 hour long match 3 game. There is no such thing as a video game with universal appeal and there are too many games for me to list that I love for not appealing to everyone. Many niche games attract their fan base for being made just for them and screwing everyone else, now let’s not get into a debate over making a game easier to understand as that is a completely different argument.

The second problem is that failure should always be an option. Now maybe I feel this way as a gamer of the 80s and 90s where “game over” was a constant presence. A video game should not be a gentle stroll from beginning to end; now again we could argue that creating a very cheesy hard game is also wrong but once again that argument is beyond the scope of this entry. Without challenge there is no reason to experiment with more complex forms of game play or to even concentrate on game play as evident with reviews of the new Prince of Persia game which many faulted the game play. I still feel that not being able to “Fail” in a game ruins it; yes I’m talking about Bio Shock once again.

Third which may be a bit difficult to explain, is that how do you know what gamers really want? Some of the best games of our time were released as completely new experiences at that time. X-Com, Star Control 2 and many other classic titles were really once in a life time games (since we’ve yet to see a true successor at this point). I don’t remember gamers clamoring for a squad based strategy title where you fight back against an alien invasion. If the right way is to only design games that people want to play now, then we will never be able to create unique titles as no one asked for them.

Now I will admit that I am taking an extreme attitude to this phrase, one because I’m bored and have nothing else to do. Two, because I read this in a book aimed at future members of the games industry and while I can tolerate casual games I don’t want that to be the only form of entertainment. Many of the best games to be released have gone astray from the norm in some way and I really don’t want to hear publishers turning down game ideas because they don’t follow the same way as every other game.

Lastly to end on a high note, happy New Year everyone hope everyone had a great time last night and here’s hoping that 09 is going to be great.


  • Олег

    Hi. I do agree with you. I actually don’t support the idea that X-com: Enemy Unknown (2012, didn’t play the earlier ones) is an original game because although its concept may not be literary repeated from somewhere else but it has such a number of cliches and its strategic component to such an extent does not try to deviate from usual mechanisms that I as a fan of strategies did not like it.
    So, to the subject. I agree with you and this tendency of casual games is so distinct that I can’t help thinking this is a plan to promote such kind of games. I dislike such games because they teach an easy get (if i put it right) and people get accustomed to cheap winning, which is bad for their lives. Yes, it is. They become too caressed and grow undue expectations (narcissism) in real life.
    What do you think?

  • Evan M

    I’m not one hundred percent sure you understand what a player-centric game is. a player-centric game is where all elements of the game are made with the player in mind, so that the developer(s) focus on trying to make sure the player feels the experience intended by the developer(s): have fun, feel pain, disgust, etc. most games made this way focus on the specific group of players that will play this game, and with knowledge of what their player group is like, will try to achieve the above. I don’t know where in the world you got YOUR idea of player-centric game design from, but that is definitely not what it is.