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What makes a good game? Using reviews to inform design


Abstract and Figures

The characteristics that identify a good game are hard to define and reproduce, as demonstrated by the catalogues of both successes and failures from most games companies. We have started to address this by undertaking a grounded theoretical analysis of reviews garnered from games, both good and bad, to distil from these common features that characterize good and bad games. We have identified that a good game is cohesive, varied, has good user interaction and offers some form of social interaction. The most important factor to avoid is a bad pricing. Successfully achieving some of these good factors will also outweigh problems in other areas.
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What makes a good game?
Using reviews to inform design
Matthew Bond
Advanced Interaction Group
School of Computer Science
University of Birmingham, Edgbaston
Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK
+44 (0) 121 414 3729
Russell Beale
Advanced Interaction Group
School of Computer Science
University of Birmingham, Edgbaston
Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK
+44 (0) 121 414 3729
The characteristics that identify a good game are hard to define
and reproduce, as demonstrated by the catalogues of both
successes and failures from most games companies. We have
started to address this by undertaking a grounded theoretical
analysis of reviews garnered from games, both good and bad, to
distil from these common features that characterize good and
bad games. We have identified that a good game is cohesive,
varied, has good user interaction and offers some form of social
interaction. The most important factor to avoid is a bad pricing.
Successfully achieving some of these good factors will also
outweigh problems in other areas.
Categories and Subject Descriptors
H.1.2 User/Machine Systems
General Terms
Design, Human Factors.
Games, grounded theory, analysis
At present, video game development accounts for billions of
dollars of US expenditure, and US video game companies
directly employ 24,000 people. The market for games has also
been growing disproportionately fast [10]. Clearly, not all of
these games have the same degree of success; a game needs
certain properties to make it successful and to make the most of
this growing market. Gamers often rely on review sites to
make purchasing decisions, and so a game that receives a high
average review score will have considerably better sales than a
bad game. Therefore it is desirable to know what makes a game
get a good review rather than a bad or mediocre review.
The aim of this paper is to determine what earns a game a good
review, and, by extension, what features should be prioritised
during the production of a game to make it successful.
This paper tries to determine practical categories which should
be considered during game development and, to an extent,
marketing and distribution. It is different from most of the other
approaches in that it uses Grounded Theory [5] to develop a
hypothesis from the data source, instead of using an existing
hypothesis. We determine the elements that characterize good
and bad games from an analysis of the reviews of a wide range
of games, providing a bottom-up, practical approach to
determining factors that make for a decent gaming experience.
Csikszentmihaly’s paper on optimal experience
(Csikszentmihaly, 1991) first used the word flow. Flow
describes a phenomenon experienced in many fields, often
described as “being in the zone”. While experiencing flow, a
person will feel absorbed, lose sense of time, and focus entirely
on the task in hand. This state can be brought on by an
intrinsically rewarding task with clear goals, immediate
feedback, balanced difficulty and a sense of control over the
GameFlow, Sweetser & Wyeth’s [11] adaptation of
Csikszentmihaly’s model of flow [1] for game experience,
groups game-design criteria into each of these categories, and
shows that gaming is an example of flow experience. Their
approach makes for an interesting comparison, since it takes a
top-down approach, but emerges with similar conclusions to
Our own work developed in the opposite direction to
GameFlow, with no prior knowledge of flow theory. Both
GameFlow and our categories share similar ‘leaf node-criteria’;
it is the higher level categories which are significantly different.
Also, some of the specificity of our leaf nodes is not captured
by GameFlow’s criteria.
As such, we see our categories as a more practical abstract level
approach to game design than GameFlow, due to the more
domain specific terminology used. However the same low level
details were revealed by both studies.
Both GameFlow and our own work identified social interaction
to be a key part of gaming experience that was unaccounted for
by traditional flow theory. Whether this is something that
should be revised into flow or whether it is entirely domain
specific is still an outstanding research question. The
GameFlow model never brings into question the price of a
game, something we found to be of critical importance,
although it is debatable whether price contributes to the design
process of game development.
Kristian Kiili’s work on Game-based learning [3] applied the
idea of flow to educational game design. It determined
gameplay to be the most important part of game design, with
storytelling, graphics, sound and balance to be auxiliary factors.
© The Author 2009.
Published by the British Computer Society
HCI 2009 – People and Computers XXIII – Celebrating people and technology
Federoff [3] also outlines gameplay as the most important
factor, followed by ‘game mechanics’. Interestingly, our
findings contradict both of these studies in this respect.
Back in the early 1980’s, Malone [7] determined three criteria
for the creation of an enjoyable game and discussed applying
his findings to the creation of educational games. He found
challenge, fantasy and curiosity to be the most important
features in good game design. His findings are less relevant
today, overlooking the importance of variety and a social
aspect, and the importance and meaning of ‘fantasy’ is
In Simulation and Gaming, Myers’ identifies challenge, social
and meditation as the core elements of a game [9]. These
findings, especially the importance of a social aspect, tie in well
with our own findings.
Grounded theory is an empirical research strategy which works
from some raw data to form hypotheses about some situation
[2]. In this case, the exploration was to discover what makes a
game ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
Some introductory work was done to find an acceptable data
source. The criteria for the source were that it had to be up to
date and have numerical scores, as well as having some form of
text for coding. It is assumed here that a successful game is one
that will sell a lot of copies: however, sales data for games is
not published for many games, and has no body of text from
which to find a hypothesis, so we need to find a more detailed
source than just sales figures.
By comparing sales of Playstation 2 games as published by VG
Chartz [12] with their respective review scores from Metacritic
[8] there was a Pearson correlation of 0.3289 (i.e. reasonable
strength, but not strong), suggesting that a high review score is
reasonably indicative of strong sales. Metacritic is a review
aggregator, and only provides a numerical score. Gamespot
provide both a numerical score, and a body of text related to
each score. A strong correlation between Gamespot scores and
Metacritic led to the decision to use online game reviews from
Gamespot UK [4] as the data source, since it was the text and
phrases in the reviews that we needed to analyse.
Samples of particularly good and bad reviews from Gamespot
UK were analysed and coded to the near point of saturation.
Note that we are certain these categories are incomplete,
because full saturation was not reached: saturation in Grounded
Theory occurs when the data no longer adds to the current
The coded criteria for success and failure were then organised
into a hierarchical structure, based on emergent relationships
between those categories. This gave a set of core categories
summarising success and failure. These were then strengthened
by coding a second smaller sample of reviews into the
hierarchy. In total 25 reviews were used for the original data
Having established these core categories, the importance of the
categories was determined. This was done by comparing the
latest game releases at the time to the core categories, and
recording whether the review mentioned a category.
4.1 Categories
For game success, 13 core categories were found, and for game
failure, 12 categories were found. These give a good intuitive
overview of what to aim for in game design.
Good Factors Bad Factors
Gameplay Poor gameplay
Environment Poor environment
Storytelling Poor storytelling
User interaction Poor user interaction
Social Lack of social
Variety Lack of variety
Technical Technical issues
Cohesion Lack of cohesion
Price(value for money) Price (worthless)
Franchise Failure of Franchise
Quantity (lots) Quantity (little)
Table 1: Good and bad factors in game design
Table 1 shows the overview of what to aim for, and what to
avoid, in game design. However it offers no idea of the relative
importance of each category.
Each category has a sub tree of criteria, of which the category
heading is a summary. A sample of these criteria for ‘good’ is
given in Table 2. The full versions of these trees are very large;
however the table below gives a good feel for the criteria found
within each category.
4.1.1 Interpretation of good and bad factors
With the exception of quantity and franchise, a “good or bad x”
means that some or all of the criteria of x are covered in a good
or bad way, where x is a category.
The good and the bad factors, although apparently ‘opposites’,
have different importance data associated with them. Fulfilling
the criteria for a good category may outweigh (or be
outweighed) by fulfilling the criteria for the bad ‘opposite’
category. See the section on importance for more details.
Quantity and franchise are both unusual categories, in that the
‘good-bad’ divide is not as clear. Quantity refers to the amount
of a category that a game has, the more of a good thing, the
better it is, likewise the more of a bad thing, the worse it is.
Franchise being good is defined by using the franchise well,
staying true to it and improving. The bad side is betraying the
franchise, adding bad elements and changing things which
underpinned the original’s success.
The ‘opposites’ of customisation and maintenance do exist, and
were encountered during the importance ranking stage, but
were not coded during the original coding stage. They were the
inability to customise, and difficulty to maintain.
M. Bond et al.
HCI 2009 – People and Computers XXIII – Celebrating people and technology
Table 2: Sample tree content for the 'Good game' tree
Annoyance never developed an ‘opposite’ despite being
important to avoid. It may be that ‘annoyance’ is a cumulative
effect of other bad factors, especially high quantities of bad
4.1.2 Relative Importance
This set of categories assumes all categories are equal, but
during coding certain categories were clearly more important
than others, occurring more frequently, for example. To
investigate this, for 33 different, equally varied reviews, it was
recorded whether a category was mentioned during a review,
and a first table of importance was developed shown in Table 3.
Quantity is not included here because it is quantity in a way
that is being counted to rank importance. Franchise is also not
included because despite being mentioned in nearly every
review, it was usually only in passing, and with no proper
knowledge of the franchise we could not establish whether it
was a positive or negative effect.
Gameplay and environment came out on top, being mentioned
most in the reviews, for both good and bad games. These results
did not quite reflect our expectations, as they put more
importance on these two items in relation to other categories
than we had expected. We therefore looked for a modified
4.1.3 Improved measure
We suspected the complexity of the categories was causing this
effect, with some categories encompassing far more criteria
than others, making them far more likely to be mentioned than
those with relatively few criteria. In a rough attempt to
overcome this, the count was divided by the number of criteria
for each category.
This produced Table 4, which was much closer to our
expectations from the coding stage. We do question whether
this is a valid approach. It addresses the fact that, for some
categories, there are many synonyms and alternative ways to
express the same higher level concept, and so some reviews
will use more words to explain the same thing. However, it
may also be that a review addresses subtleties and hence
multiple mentions of words in one category are commenting on
slightly different things, and so deserve being counted twice.
The point of grounded theory is not to be quantitative, however,
so we need to treat these measures as indicative, rather than
User interaction
16 16 12 4 14 7 8 2 10 12 11 7 24 18 15 14 1 1 25 18 5 5 4
Table 3: Categories discovered through grounded theory analysis
What makes a good game? Using reviews to inform design
HCI 2009 – People and Computers XXIII – Celebrating people and technology
User interaction
2 1 2 1 2 1 1 0 1 1 1 0 1 0 2 1 0 0 1 1 1 2 1
Table 4: Normalised categories
4.1.4 Interpretation
Table 5 summarises the our findings into 3 categories, where
categories that received a ‘2’ are of most importance, a ‘1’ is of
high significance and a ‘0’ is relatively unimportant.
Feature Variety,
Social, User
technical soundness,
good storytelling,
good environment,
good gameplay,
value for money
Avoid Bad pricing Lack of variety, lack
of cohesion, lack of
social, lack of
technical issues, bad
user interaction, bad
Lack of
Table 5: Simplified summary of key elements in game
If a game features an element of most importance, it will
overwhelm the effect of moderate and unimportant categories.
An example of this in practice is ‘F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin’,
which has storytelling and environment problems, but these are
overwhelmed by the excellent variety and cohesion
demonstrated, and so receives a decent overall score.
The four most important factors are variety, cohesion, a good
social aspect and good user interaction. The most important
thing to avoid is an unreasonable asking price.
One of the more interesting findings is that a bad environment
and bad storytelling do not have a very significant impact on
game success.
The intention of these results is to provide thought-provoking
heuristics for game development. They are in no way facts, and
should not be read in that way – they are summaries of human
opinion, with the inherent variability that that implies.
These results could be useful to game designers, to ensure they
are including the most important criteria in their game design
and by implications producing a product that scores highly in
reviews; to reviewers, to check they are covering the key
criteria well enough in their reviews; and finally from a buyers
perspective, both in assessing the expressiveness of a review,
and then in assessing whether a game itself is worth buying.
These heuristics are very general. A wide range of games, with
different genres, on different platforms, at different prices and
from different eras was coded. The core categories seemed to
apply across all of these ranges, though we feel that the
importance values for each category probably vary.
One of the most unexpected findings was that gameplay was
not featured as one of the most important categories to fulfil.
Other work has found gameplay to be the most important factor
[3, 6]. We will focus on the discussion of gameplay, however
these points also apply to the other categories.
There are three interpretations of the discrepancy over
gameplay importance. Gameplay may not be as important as
previously thought; we have developed a different set of
criteria; or there may be a mistake in our findings. It is likely
that all three interpretations make a contribution.
Our criteria for gameplay are certainly different to those found
in common literature. Early in the Grounded Theory coding
process, cohesion and variety were criteria for each of the other
categories. They were mentioned so frequently, in relation to so
many things, it was quickly apparent they formed categories of
their own. We removed them from all the other categories,
including gameplay. This lowers the chance gameplay will be
mentioned in a review because that element may well be
captured in a variety or cohesion criterion. A natural effect of
Grounded Theory is that the results ‘make sense’. This is good,
in that it does make sense, and is therefore easy to accept as
right. However, this may also make it harder to dispute where it
is wrong. It can also be seen as ‘stating the obvious’ to those
with prior knowledge in the field.
The biggest fault with our application of Grounded Theory is
that the categories did not reach a high enough level of
saturation. Normally, when a core category becomes apparent,
coding for other categories stops, and the core category is then
saturated, coming back to saturate other categories later.
The aim of our work was to identify the broad categories, and
not focus on one topic. Having identified 13 core categories,
there was simply not enough time to saturate each of them. This
means that the categories may be incomplete, and more
importantly, that there may be categories missing.
Because the GameSpot resource that we used has many authors,
this lessens the problem of a individual source being used for
this study. However this study could easily be extended to
include other review sites, and this may potentially add some
M. Bond et al.
HCI 2009 – People and Computers XXIII – Celebrating people and technology
new criteria, strengthen the categories found, and better balance
the importance findings.
Although the current importance ranking works as a rough
estimate of importance, it was massively oversimplified, and
does not use a large enough data set. The current scheme only
marks whether a review does or does not include a factor. This
does not seem to account for games in which a certain category
has many or all criteria fulfilled, instead providing a rough
Importance also varies from criteria to criteria. If the
calculation was done on a criteria level, and propagated up to
the higher level categories, the findings would be more far
more useful in game design, as for the most important criteria,
it could be asked “Have we included/prevented x criteria”,
whilst also providing a high level overview.
At present the calculation does not take into account review
scores. With the correct algorithm to calculate roughly how
much each category contributed to the final review score, the
general importance of each category could be better generated.
One possible implication of an improved calculation of the
relative importance criteria is that new reviews could be coded
based on whether the categories are fulfilled, and a review
score generated automatically for the review. It would be very
interesting to see whether this is possible or reliable, and even
more interesting to compare to the subjective scoring system of
the GameFlow scoring system.
At present the data set for importance was 33 different reviews,
however this should be far higher to improve the reliability of
the importance algorithm.
It is worth noting that improving the importance rating would
be futile without coding all the categories to saturation first.
The application of grounded theory to game reviews seems a
worthy one, and this research provided some similar findings to
prior work. It also identified some new criteria, and provided an
intuitive set of high level categories for analysing games. It
suggests that the most important elements of good game design
are cohesion, variety, good user interaction and some form of
good social interaction. The most important factor to avoid is
bad pricing.
These findings provide a cursory set of heuristics for use while
developing, reviewing, or buying a game. These findings
should be of particular interest to new development teams that
do not have the backing of a franchise, especially in the early
stages of game design.
This paper is primarily intended to inspire further work in the
field. Suggested work includes fully saturating the criteria for
each category, and using some form of learning algorithm to
determine the significance of each criteria in relation to the
review score given.
If importance data could be reversed and applied to new
reviews, it may provide a fairly objective method for generating
review scores.
If this were successful, another possible challenge would be for
existing games developers to try and generate a successful
game that disobeys the importance rankings found, in an
attempt to find innovative new techniques for making enjoyable
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[4] Gamespot. Video Game Reviews., February 27,
[5] Glaser, B.G. and Strauss, A.L. The discovery of
grounded theory. Aldine, Chicago, 1967.
[6] Kiili, K. Digital game-based learning: towards an
experiential gaming model. 8 (1).
[7] Malone, T.W., What makes things fun to learn?
Heuristics for designing instructional computer
games. . in, (Palo Alto, California, 1980), Association
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[8] Metacritic. Game Reviews from Metacritic., March 1, 2009
[9] Myers, D. A Q-Study of game player aesthetics.
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[10] Siwek, S.E. Video Games in the 21st Century:
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What makes a good game? Using reviews to inform design
HCI 2009 – People and Computers XXIII – Celebrating people and technology
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Digital games are the fastest growing medium of our time. Their proliferation and prominent role in society have sparked public debates and led to the development of “game studies”, an academic field of research examining games, players, their contexts, and their interactions. However, regional differences in the production and consumption of games are empirically evident and pose challenges to the games industry and academia. A lack of systematic cross-cultural research within game studies significantly limits our ability to ascertain the applicability of empirical and theoretical contributions across regional and cultural divides and impedes our understanding of the transregional aspects of games, players, and play. This lack also results in a substantial gap in our knowledge on whether and how players’ cultural contexts influence player-game interaction and their experience and evaluation of games, making it difficult to explain differing patterns of player preferences and to model the processes of meaning-making during play. To close this gap, this thesis (1) develops a theoretical and methodological framework for the cross-cultural comparison of player experience and (2) uses this framework in an approximation of a most-different case design to compare German and Japanese players’ experiences of 18 selected Japanese games. The framework integrates ontological models of games and player-game interaction with an analytical differentiation of player cultures, and combines two highly synergetic methodological approaches, the analysis of user reviews and recorded play sessions using think-aloud protocol. 21,359 German and Japanese user reviews and 207 hours of think-aloud play sessions with 20 participants were analyzed, following a grounded theory approach. Based on the results, a dictionary for quantitative analysis was constructed and utilized to verify the findings. Results indicate that players’ national cultural background influences their experience of audio-visual and narrative game elements but not of game mechanics. Overall, sub- and transnational player culture appears more influential on the experience of game elements than national culture. This leads to an empirically grounded model of how culture influences player-game interaction and can be used to explain and predict patterns of user preferences and game evaluation across cultural borders. The framework and dictionary developed for this study can serve as a model for a broad range of comparative studies on media cultures and audiences.
... In contrast to meeting players social needs (where the focus is on musical genre) or the narratologically immersive needs (met through the evocation of time, place and mood), music that contributes to flow by helping players to achieve competence, (by providing information, or by motivating and rewarding us) or music that guides and supports players by making them feel like they are acting of their own volition, and that their actions are meaningful (fulfilling the need for autonomy) must be synchronized tightly to game events. The requirements to ensure that feedback is immediate (Bond & Beale, 2009;Laitinen, 2008) and that music is congruent with the game action (Wharton & Collins, 2011) represents the inherent conflict between interactivity and musical form. The compromise between "contextual responsiveness and musical integrity" (Bajakian, 2010) continues to challenge composers and implementers trying to avoid awkward or clumsy musical results (Munday, 2007;Bessell, 2002). ...
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The question of how interactive music should function in games is perhaps a misleading one, as there are many different types of games and many different types of players. One of the most compelling explanations for the huge popularity of video games is that they meet people's intrinsic psychological needs quickly, with consistency, and with great frequency (Rigby, 2010). The apparent drivers of the development of games and their marketing-such as the fidelity of graphics and audio, or as the popular press would have us imagine, the degree of violence-are far less significant factors than the drive to increase our sense of well-being through meeting the basic needs of competence (or mastery), autonomy (or volition) and relatedness (social connection) (Przblinkski, 2009) or the desire to become immersed in narrative worlds (Cairns, 2006). Since it is clear that player satisfaction is a product of "needs met" over "needs", it is important that we recognize that music should operate in different ways in different circumstances.
... Finally, a game involves some aspect of competition, even if that competition is with oneself" (Dempsey, Haynes, Lucassen, & Casey, 2002). This definition is further specified in an article by Bond and Beale (2009) by identifying the characteristics of what a "good" game, in terms of their rating in reviews, consists of. According to these authors the most important game characteristics are that a game should have variety, allowing for the player to make choices and to explore (non-linear), it should have fast and realistic feedback in response to a player's actions, it should be cohesive in that story and gameplay are integrated and, finally, a game should have social interaction (e.g. ...
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The aim of this research was to evaluate whether two types of health games, a single and multi-player, had an effect on learning and behaviour outcomes related to the subject of malaria as compared to textbook based learning and, secondly, whether there was a difference in effect between the two types of games on these outcomes. The games were commissioned by a local Kenyan health organization and were developed based on the primary school science curriculum of Kenya. The researcher assigned 90 pupils, between the ages of 10 and 14 years, of three participating primary schools to 3 experimental conditions: a textbook condition, a condition in which pupils played the single player game and a condition in which the multi-player game was played. To record the pupils’ responses on the outcomes, a questionnaire was developed in collaboration with local health workers. The questionnaire measured outcomes on three dimensions: knowledge, behaviour and attitude towards malaria. The results showed no improvements on learning and behaviour outcomes in the gaming conditions as compared to the textbook: pupils in the textbook condition performed better as compared to the single-player game and had similar results as compared with children in the multi-player condition. However, participants playing the multi-player game showed an increase in level of knowledge of malaria as compared to participants in the single player condition. Also on the behaviour dimension, participants in the multi-player condition reported to have taken more prevention measures than those playing the single player game. These results show that in Kenya, a developing ICT country, game based learning has yet to prove its value as an effective educational tool for learning and behaviour change. However, the results found might stimulate designers of health games to incorporate a social interaction component in their game to make them more effective.
Online connections and virtual world have dominated the last few years of our social life. There has been a lack of each other’s physical presence. The aim of this paper is to create an experience to connect with people in a physical space. The project is named as Connect. Connect is a series of nostalgic games to be played in a spatially augmented environment. The experience aims to inculcate feel-good emotions and enhance socialization and collaboration. Connect involves the intersection of projection mapping, game design and experiential design. Two nostalgic games, Snake and Pacman, are developed for the experience. Several iterations are made and tested simultaneously. The games are made multiplayer and tested by projecting in different spaces. The final execution is done in Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE) where people play both the games. The participants felt good after playing and were seen socializing and collaborating with each other. Verbal feedback along with post experience questionnaire confirmed the same, expanding the future scope of the project.KeywordsSpatial Augmented RealityGame designExperiential designSocializationCollaboration
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This article investigates computer-game aesthetics using Q methodology. Four criteria (fantasy, curiosity, challenge, and interactivity) useful in evaluating computer games in past research are isolated. A naturalistic Q-sample of statements based on these criteria are then rank ordered by "frequent" and "accomplished" computer gameplayers. Factor analysis ofthe Q-sort indicates those aesthetics associated with "all games, " "video games, " and "home computer game&" Further results compare video-game aesthetics with home-computer-game aesthetics. Suggestions for further research discuss the advantages of basing game evaluation and criticism on subjective elements ofplay.
In this paper, I will describe my intuitions about what makes computer games fun. More detailed descriptions of the experiments and the theory on which this paper is based are given by Malone (1980a, 1980b). My primary goal here is to provide a set of heuristics or guidelines for designers of instructional computer games. I have articulated and organized common sense principles to spark the creativity of instructional designers (see Banet, 1979, for an unstructured list of similar principles). To demonstrate the usefulness of these principles, I have included several applications to actual or proposed instructional games. Throughout the paper I emphasize games with educational uses, but I focus on what makes the games fun, not on what makes them educational. Though I will not emphasize the point in this paper, these same ideas can be applied to other educational environments and life situations. In a sense, the categories I will describe constitute a general taxonomy of intrinsic motivation—of what makes an activity fun or rewarding for its own sake rather than for the sake of some external reward (See Lepper and Greene, 1979). I think the essential characteristics of good computer games and other intrinsically enjoyable situations can be organized into three categories: challenge, fantasy, and curiosity.
Online games satisfy the basic requirements of learning environments and can provide engaging learning experiences for students. However, a model that successfully integrates educational theory and game design aspects do not exist. Thus, in this paper an experiential gaming model that is based on experiential learning theory, flow theory and game design is presented. The model stresses the importance of providing the player with immediate feedback, clear goals and challenges that are matched to his/her skill level. The flow theory is used as a framework to facilitate positive user experience in order to maximize the impact of educational games. Especially, the factors that contribute to flow experience are discussed. The experiential gaming model can be used to design and analyse educational computer games. However, the model works only as a link between educational theory and game design and does not provide the means to a whole game design project.
Although player enjoyment is central to computer games, there is currently no accepted model of player enjoyment in games. There are many heuristics in the literature, based on elements such as the game interface, mechanics, gameplay, and narrative. However, there is a need to integrate these heuristics into a validated model that can be used to design, evaluate, and understand enjoyment in games. We have drawn together the various heuristics into a concise model of enjoyment in games that is structured by flow. Flow, a widely accepted model of enjoyment, includes eight elements that, we found, encompass the various heuristics from the literature. Our new model, GameFlow, consists of eight elements -- concentration, challenge, skills, control, clear goals, feedback, immersion, and social interaction. Each element includes a set of criteria for achieving enjoyment in games. An initial investigation and validation of the GameFlow model was carried out by conducting expert reviews of two real-time strategy games, one high-rating and one low-rating, using the GameFlow criteria. The result was a deeper understanding of enjoyment in real-time strategy games and the identification of the strengths and weaknesses of the GameFlow model as an evaluation tool. The GameFlow criteria were able to successfully distinguish between the high-rated and low-rated games and identify why one succeeded and the other failed. We concluded that the GameFlow model can be used in its current form to review games; further work will provide tools for designing and evaluating enjoyment in games.