theory of fun


An Attempt to Define Fun – Effort/Feedback Ratio

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What is “fun”?  Can the concept even be defined and broken down into a few key components?  I’ve had the amazing fortune to work professionally in the video game industry for 20 years, and in my career have seen this topic come up in countless design meetings and brainstorm sessions, usually leading to pointless arguments about who is the most up-to-date on current trends and which competing games have sold the most – as if this is some holy grail of how to measure the fun factor of a game.  The tough thing is that it seems everyone has a different perspective of what fun is and how to design for it.  I can’t say that I have all the answers, but I do have some thoughts that I’d like to share with you – mostly because my partner and wife, Anna, is tired of hearing me rant about it all the time and I need a new outlet!

Fun Component #1 – Effort/Feedback Ratio

Think of the last time you were at a party.  Did you have fun?  Maybe you didn’t know anyone and were forced to initiate conversation with a stranger.  Maybe you knew everyone there and felt very comfortable, allowing you to let your guard down.  Now think of a specific conversation you had with someone at the party.  How did the conversation go?  Did you get the feedback you were looking for?  Now let’s break this conversation event down into an effort and feedback ratio, in other words every time you initiate a thought or topic to the conversation was your “effort” and what you receive back from your audience was the “feedback”, or your returned response for your effort.

When you offer something to a conversation, you are hoping for the maximum output response you can get for the effort you just gave.  Let’s say on a scale from one to ten, one is no response and the audience ignored you,  and ten being laughter, flirting, or shouts of praise.  What would be the most fun? Read More