3 Game Design Tips Extracted from Pokemon Games
Game designers have a lot to learn from the Pokemon franchise considering it has sold over 279 million games as of 2016 according to Famitsu.
How did a Japanese role-playing game (RPG) created for the original game boy, spawn a franchise that is now dominating the global videogame market? Well here are three reasons that game makers should take note of:
1) “Catch ‘Em All” using Psychology
Sigmund Freud postulated that people collect things because of our need for an object of desire.
The creator of the Pokemon series is Satoshi Tajiri and the objects of his desire when he was a kid were… bugs. His fondness for insect collecting was so great that his classmates had taken to calling him ‘Mr. Bug.’
Tajiri eventually became an avid gamer and his dream of becoming an entomologist was superseded by his desire to become a game creator. But his love for bug collecting never left him, in fact, he has even influenced generations of kids into becoming collectors of weird creatures.
That’s right, one of the most influential games in history has its roots in bug collecting and therein lies its ingenious game design. So many fans are obsessed with this franchise because it taps into our psychological tendency to collect things. We were after all encouraged to “catch ‘em all.”
2) Small in Scale but Large in Execution
Every game developer worth their salt entered the industry because of one goal: making their dream game.
Unfortunately, the doorway to reality is a rather narrow one, requiring dream games to shed a lot of their features before they can pass through. This is a game design concept that goes over the heads of most aspiring gaming companies. Which is why too many games end up hidden at the backend of Kickstarter’s game category, which is a digital graveyard full of uncompleted games and unfulfilled dreams.
Compare the feature-bloated games of today to Pokemon Red, which contains 10 locations to explore, 151 pokemon to collect, and 13 major trainers to defeat. All the while implementing an elemental version of rock-paper-scissors as its battle system.
Pokemon Red’s scope is limited but every one of its features are polished to near-perfection. The locations though small, have immersive atmospheres; the battle system is simple but strategic; and the pokemon are relatively few but each one is distinct and brimming with personality.
It might be unfair to use the first game as an example, considering every game after that has consistently increased in complexity and scale. However, Ken Sugimori, Tajiri’s co-creator and the artist behind the original 151 pokemon, stated in a 2016 interview that they are now returning to their simple yet well executed roots.
3) Designing Shareability into the Game
Recent games, especially mobile and web games, have been rewarding players for sharing snapshots and game achievements on their social media accounts. While this feature is quite effective at boosting the exposure of particular games, relying on external rewards and incentives to motivate players reeks of lazy game design.
Game development revolves around the desires of the players, and a clever developer knows how to direct a player’s motivation through in-game mechanics. Giving players a bag of gold or a bunch of overpowered items in exchange for free marketing is a crude tactic to say the least.
The Pokemon games are amazing at motivating players to share their experiences without resorting to ‘bribery.’ The way Tajiri designed shareability into his game has once again something to do with bug collecting. Collectors are most proud of their rarest items; pride that compels them to show off and meet other collectors.
While most modern games shower their players with an abundance of resources, Pokemon games thrive on the concept of rarity and a sense of community. The introduction of shiny pokemon is a great example of rarity helping with a game’s marketing. These pokemon are so rare that a player would be hard-pressed not to share their experience of catching one!
Other features that add rarity to the aforementioned games are: the one starter pokemon limit, evolution through trading, version-locked pokemon, and randomized stats and personalities. Due to the nature of the game’s mechanics, players are intrinsically motivated to share their in-game experiences with other people and with each other.
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