30 June 2022

What Makes a Hit Game? (Blog by Steve Lewis)

I would never consider myself a ‘gamer’ despite the amount of time that I spend creating games with children. My last PlayStation was the original! But I am fascinated with game development. What is the difference between a hit and a flop? Is there a secret sauce that separates the top-grossing games from the rest? Graphics? Playability? Storyline? These questions and more were answered when I read ‘Code the Classics’ (Free download courtesy of the Raspberry Pi Foundation). It is a fantastic introduction to computer game development using Python and the Python library Pygame Zero. It walks you through how to make games in the style of some absolute classics. But what made them classics?

Below, is an excerpt from the book 'An interview with David Perry'. One of the gaming industry’s most successful developers. If anyone is going to know the answer to these questions, it’s going to be someone with over 30 years of experience in the industry. Selling more than $1 billion of computer games. Enter David:

I get asked ‘What’s the secret to making your game design a hit?’, but I only explain the ‘simple’ version of the answer: all addictive games need to incorporate skill, risk, and strategy at every moment. If you’re missing one of these, it’s going to get boring fast! Tetris? Yep. Call of Duty? Yep. Angry Birds? Yep. But, just for you… I’m going to give the full answer to the question. So here we have the real secret to making your game design a hit. There has to be blame. The player must blame themselves for any loss. If they blame the game balance or things outside their control, you lose. There has to be a retry rate. The player must be able to try again – in seconds – if they fail. Tetris would have failed if we had to watch a CG movie before we could try again.

There has to be progress. Players must see progress after everything they do. We used to have scores, and that’s also why World of Warcraft levels up constantly. And there has to be feedback. If you do something impressive or amazing, the game should respond accordingly. Like Bejeweled would get crazy if long chains fall into place. Or when pinball machines would enter super multi-ball mode with all lights flashing. Think of the game as having its own emotional state. Now here’s the X-factor. These are multipliers to make your game even more addictive: Revenge. Let gamers fight back someone or something that’s been really frustrating them. ‘Payback time!’ Yes, you can even remind them: ‘This guy over here, killed you last time!’ Social / multiplayer / viewers. Other people, even if they are only spectating, definitely add to the experience. So, embrace other players and community as much as possible. Time accelerators. Surprise the gamer by letting them make progress faster than they expected. This is why you see ‘experience boosts’ in massively multiplayer games: they are incredibly popular as they save time. My final tip? Humour. It’s the most rare and valuable thing in the video game industry. People never forget the games they laugh at. Even a slight bit of humour helps: for example, there were lots of boring catapult games before Angry Birds became a big hit. If you follow these ideas, you’ll have a fantastic head-start on other people that want to make games. I can’t wait to see what you make!


Thank you for reading. I hope you found this post interesting and informative. I can’t recommend ‘Code the Classics’ highly enough. Take care and happy gaming!


*Above excerpt used under Creative Commons license from ‘Code the classics’ (2019) by Raspberry Pi trading. Published by Raspberry Pi Press.


by Steve Lewis


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