10 Design Lessons From Magic: the Gathering

This week we're going to study some fundamentals that can help you build great experiences. 

These ten rules or lessons were shared by Magic the Gathering head designer Mark Rosewater who learned them over twenty years of designing one of the world's most popular collectible card games. You can find the original GDC talk here

Lesson #1

Fighting against human nature is a losing battle

You should know your target audience which can a complex structure. The thing here is that people tend to be stubborn. You can't change people to match your game, so you have to change your game to match the audience's needs. You don't want to get yourself into a fight you can't win.

Lesson #2 

Aesthetics matter

Humans like to perceive things in a certain way and if you decide to fight that, it draws attention away. Basically, you just have to think carefully about perception and build aesthetics that doesn't cause disconnection. "People expect the components of a game to have a certain feel," noted Rosewater. Think about how the game pieces are put together. Do they feel right?

Lesson #3

Resonance is important

Players launch your game having a life's worth of experiences, iso you don't have to start from scratch. The designer noted that people already have a preexisting emotional response you can build upon. The important thing here is that some of your tools come from the players themselves, so you just need to learn how to use emotional equity.

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Lesson #4

Make use of piggybacking

Piggybacking means that you should use "preexisting knowledge to front-load game information to make learning easier." For example, flying is so easy to teach because it's an intuitive thing and people get it instantly. "Using your audience's preexisting knowledge to your game's advantage can make teaching much simpler," noted the designer. 

Lesson #5

Don't confuse "interesting" with "fun"

There are two different kinds of stimulation—intellectual stimulation and emotional stimulation. "The first is about stimulating the ways in which you think. The second is about generating an emotional response." The designer noted that people are much more motivated in their decision-making by emotions rather than thoughts. If you're speaking to a player on an emotional level, you're more likely to create player satisfaction.

Lesson #6

Understand what emotion your game is trying to evoke

You have to be constantly thinking about how a player reacts emotionally to the game. You should define what exactly it is you want your audience to experience. "You have to continually ask yourself, "What impact will this game choice have on the player experience?" If a component doesn't contribute to that overall experience, it has to go."

Lesson #7

Allow the players the ability to make the game personal

Another important thing for players is to have a personal connection with your game. "The more the player feels the game is about them, the more positively their brain will think of it." How do you achieve that connection? One way is to provide your players with a number of choices. 

Lesson #8

The details are where the players fall in love with your game

Details matter, so more little things will make your players bond with the game. The smallest details might only matter to a tiny percentage of people, but that could be the things that make the player fall in love with your game.

Lesson #9

Allow your players to have a sense of ownership

Another good rule is that you're more attached to things that you had a hand in creating, so you might use that as an advantage. Just add more customization options and your players will have more tools to make your game personal.

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Lesson #10

Leave room for the player to explore

Try telling your players a piece of your story and then make them ask you a question instead of just telling your audience the whole plot of your story. Why? Because people would be way more invested this way. 

Would you like to learn ten more rules? Come back in a week for ten more rules from Mark Rosewater. Make sure to check out the original GDC talk here

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