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Flow Theory in Game Design

Here is an in-depth analysis of how the Flow theory works and how you can implement it in your games to change the feel of your game instantly.

After covering “10 Basic Principles of Game Design”, it’s evident that Flow Theory is considered to be an essential element in the Game Design Process. Flow Theory plays a vital role when it comes to player engagement and game immersion. This term first came into existence by a psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who evaluated experimentally the Flow and later coined it to be “Flow Theory”. The experimental research made by Csikszentmihalyi led not only the Game Industry but also helped cinematography, sports and so on to maintain the stability of the production and the outcome. While in Game Design, Flow Theory is considered to be the major backbone for a game which could result in success and a lifelong experience. Here is an in-depth analysis of how the Flow theory works and how you can implement it in your games to change the feel of your game instantly.


Elements of Flow Theory

The flow of a game decides the user engagement and how the player adapt while responding to the game. To make a game immersive it is essential to keep a few factors into consideration so that the player could have intense and long-lasting gameplay without anxiety or boredom. Here is a list of the elements that could influence the user experience of a game:-


Rewards: - Rewards are an intrinsic outcome of a game. Rewards could be a small success for players which could potentially motivate them to crave more. This always ensures to keep a good balance in the pace of the game.


Clear Goals: - As the goal is the ultimate result for which the player is playing, it is crucial to make it clear and precise for the player progression. Clear goals help the player to concentrate on the path rather than the result.


Emerging in the game world: - The Flow of a game is considered to be successful if the Player tends to emerge in the Game environment. This is a state where a player automatically conducts certain actions without thinking about them much. The player’s action and awareness are merged which leads to an immersive experience.


Loss sense of time: - It’s a common feeling between the players and the top quality games with a good Flow, is the lost sense of time passed. This is, however, a consequence that happens due to the intensity and pace of a game. The player is hooked with the activities that he couldn’t realize how the time flies away.


Direct and immediate feedback: - The Game Designers implement Direct and Immediate Feedback to their games to keep the player engaged and influence the minds of the player to focus on the game activity. The feedback helps the player to attain concentration and maintains the pace of the game.


The balance between player skills and challenge: - This is one of the most important factors which decides the game success rate. Being an obvious parameter to consider later become the major reason for a game failure. The balance between the Player skills and the challenge should be kept well so that the player stays engaged playing the game. The challenge and the player skills decide the pace of the game and the interest level of the player to play it further. Making this factor right will ensure high user retention in games.


The ability of the player to control the situation: - A player needs to know his presence matters and the choices he makes will lead his path likewise. The player should have enough power to control the particular situation at that particular moment. Even if he doesn’t have the required skill set at that moment, the player should still have the ball in his court to defend the situation. The decision it takes later shapes his way accordingly towards the game endings.


Types of Flow

The Flow type completely depends on the game and its feel. Further, the Flow Type is divided into two types, Micro Flow and Macro Flow.


Micro Flow

Micro Flow is termed to be a series of small achievements. It sustains for a short period but is emotionally intense. This is repeated over a loop of the gameplay to retain the users playing the game. It’s a positive response for the player to play the game and keep himself emerged. Positive feedbacks and reward systems could be a great way of implementing the Micro flow which leads the player to immerse within the game. The pace of the game could also help to boost up the journey of the player during the game and eventually it can become more addictive.


Macro Flow

The most common and admired technique by the Game Designers, Macro Flow is related to the Difficulty curve comparing the Player skills to the Game Progression and challenges. This, in turn, is long term and occupies the entire game length and decides the overall user engagement. This is the most useful and essential parameter taken into account for maintaining user retention in a game. The main objective of the Macro Flow is to keep the player in a range between the boredom and anxiety so that the player could experience a quality game. The player should have the adequate skill set to face the challenge or else he will be failing into boredom. This will make him lose the charm of the game and there is a big chance that the player would never play the game again. Alternatively, if the challenges are too hard to fight the player might be failing into anxiety which may lead him to stop playing the game as he can’t complete it. Game Designers primary job is to keep the player in the Flow zone and maintain the progression of the game with an adequate skill set for specific challenges. This will eventually ensure the game progression and improve the immersion of the user in the game.


However, this is a brief introductory article on why and how the Flow Theory works for Game design. So far it can be visualized clearly that Flow Theory is a great way of increasing User Retention and the performance of the game.


With Love From VOiD1 Gaming