Notes from BFIG Talks 2017: 4 Ways Losers Have Fun While Playing Games

BFIG Talks is a game dev conference run by the Boston Festival of Indie Games. It features both digital and nondigital game devs, and there’s a lot to learn in the crossover. The rest of my BFIG Talks notes are over here.

BFIG Talks speakers: Please contact me (carolyn at if:

  • I included something you said that should not be included, or
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4 Ways Losers Have Fun While Playing Games

Speaker: Tim Armstrong

Winning/losing is less important than what happened during the game.

Games like party games and RPGs have no win condition. This is also true for Minecraft and similar games.

1. Learning things is fun.

This is the primary reason people have fun while playing strategy games. What produces fun here is the experience of improving and getting better.

In these cases, the depth of the game is equivalent to how replayable the game is. Tic Tac Toe is a shallow strategy game and the learning promptly stops. Go and Chess are deep strategy games and there is always more to learn.

How does the experience evolve over time? Deep strategy games stay fun and shallow strategy games don’t.

Some games (Star Realms, Splendor) have an optimal strategy. They become less fun once that strategy is mastered.

Competitive play requires depth of play. Super Smash Bros. Melee was a deep strategy game and therefore popular and competitive. The version created for the Wii was much shallower and much less popular.

2. Social interactions are fun.

This is what has been driving the resurgence of tabletop board games, though less so with regards to video games.

Social games create the framework for people to hang out together.

Example: Circle of Death is a drinking game that gives rules to the experience of drinking alcohol together. This creates a social framework for drinking.

Any situation with 2 to 4 players in person immediately creates social fun. Even bad games can create social fun.

Some games rely on social interactions in a different way:

  • Mafia/Werewolf require you to leverage existing social info sourced outside the game.
  • Cooperative/teamwork games require you to rely on and trust other people.
    • These often bring people together. “I don’t know this person, but our team rocked!”
  • Limited communication games (Codewords, Hanabi) drive social interaction through finding new ways to communicate.

These techniques are often commonly used in HR teambuilders.

3. Building things is fun.

Some games rely on strategic choices, but others rely on creative choices.

Video games are particularly good at this, such as Minecraft and Terreria.

The RPG character creation process relies on this kind of fun. “Your character sucks, but it’s yours.

This is also one of the ways Magic: the Gathering excels. People feel intense ownership over their decks.

4. Spectacle is fun.

This is a large part of the fun in Jenga, especially giant Jenga: it’s very exciting to see the tower fall.

Some games that rely on fun-through-spectacle:

  • Party games
  • Drawing games, where you can watch other people draw badly
  • Cards Against Humanity

Spectacle is memorable. When it’s happening, it always dominates the moment.

A game that excels at spectacle is a game that is fun to watch even when you aren’t yourself playing.

The four items above aren’t a checklist, but when a game isn’t fun to lose, take a look at them. Which of these is your game trying to achieve? What does it actually achieve? What can you do to enhance one or more of these types of fun?

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