Skillz Blog

Key Considerations When Designing Your Game’s Core Loop

Author: Evan James, Head of Product Marketing

The “core loop” is the single most important aspect of a great game. It is the system of actions that drive the game forward and create a sense of progress in the game. Players engage in actions repeatedly in a looping sequence until the game’s end conditions are reached. For example, in Pac-Man, the core loop consists of navigating a maze and eating dots until the screen is clear or until Pac-Man dies. The player repeats this loop again and again until they run out of lives and the game ends.

When designing and developing a game, the core loop should receive more attention than any other aspect of your game. The reason is fairly straightforward – if a player doesn’t enjoy the core loop, they won’t return to playing that game. Some important factors to consider when designing and tuning the core loop of your game:

  • Offer A Clear Goal – The core loop of the game should have a clear goal that can be explained to players in just one or two sentences. Players should not have to figure out what the goal of the gameplay is; a new player should quickly understand what they need to do to succeed in the game.
  • Provide Feedback – For the core loop to be compelling, players must be able to clearly see the results of their actions as they engage in the loop. In Pac-Man, each dot you eat earns raises your score, which provides clear, positive feedback to the player. If the core loop of a game does not provide clear feedback, players may easily become confused about what to do or lose motivation to continue playing the game.
  • Generate Forward Progress – It is crucial that the core loop of a game generates progress toward some sort of game completion. No one wants to play a game that goes on forever, and players will often quit a game out of frustration if they feel they aren’t progressing in a timely manner. Displaying forward progress can be as simple as including a countdown clock, which tells the player that the end of a game is in sight. The most compelling core loops, typically illustrate to a player that their game progression is leading to “winning” or unlocking a new piece of content. In Pac-Man, each eaten dot gets you closer to beating the level, allowing you to move forward to new challenges. That said, the levels go on nearly forever, which is why the core loop of Pac-Man can become tedious once you get good at it.
  • Strategic Depth – To give players the opportunity to show their skill, a variety of interesting choices should be built into the core loop of the game. Good games typically require short-term “tactical” choices based on the player’s immediate situation, as well as longer-term “strategic” choices which test the player’s overall plan for winning the game. Returning to the previous example of Pac-Man, a variety of choices are present. At each intersection in the maze, the player must make a tactical choice about which way to turn based on the positions of Pac-Man’s enemies and the locations of any uneaten dots. Additionally, a layer of strategic depth is provided by the power pellets, which are used to defeat the ghosts and earn more points. Only more advanced players are able to strategically plan ahead and eat them at the right time to maximize their overall score.

Core Loop in a Competitive Tournament Format

When designing the core loop for a competitive tournament game, the gameplay should ideally be completed in under five minutes. The competitive format should have clear goals, intuitive scoring, and an inevitable end condition to ensure that the game reaches a conclusion.

The starting conditions or “content” of each match should be different, to provide users with a fresh challenge each time. For example, in a Solitaire game, this would be the shuffle of the cards. In a match-3 game, it would be the game board and initial arrangement of objects in the grid. Each match needs to be different enough that players cannot succeed in the game merely by memorizing game levels or by making the same plays each time.

All of this considered, remember that a good core loop should place the player in a state of flow. The goal is to get players fully engaged in the game free of distraction from the task at hand. Simultaneously, the user should feel challenged and motivated to improve their skills with practice. Skillz is always looking to partner with game developers that take game design of the core loop very seriously. If you are a developer interested in turning your game into a competitive mobile eSport, then check out the Skillz Developer Console!