Introduction to Game Design: Toy vs Game

In the last game design article I discussed a definition of a game. Another book, that quickly addresses that question is:

Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design

Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design

In the book, Scott Roger has the following:

Q: What is a game?
A: A game is an activity that:

  • requires at least one player
  • has rules
  • has a victory condition.

He goes on to answer this question:

Q: What is a video game?
A: A video game is a game that is played on a video screen.

So the question now is, what is a toy and how does that differ from a game?

Hopefully, with the game definition above (and the definition talked about before), it is clear that a toy isn’t a game. Why? Well, a toy can have a single player, but a toy doesn’t have rules and there is no victory condition.

Scott uses the analogy of hand ball.

Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design

He says the following:

Bouncing a ball against a wall without missing it is hardly a metaphor for reality; unless you lead a very boring life. Let’s face it, sometimes a ball bouncing against a wall is just a ball bounding against a wall.

He goes on to say:

Playing hand ball therefore may seem like a time-waster, but a time-waster becomes a game when you add rules and an objective. A rule may be to throw the ball with your right hand and catch it with your left, or to not drop the ball. A victory condition could be that you have to catch the ball ten times in a row. A failure state would be if you violated any of the rules or victory conditions. Once those criteria have been met, you have created a game.

In the book, I mentioned in the previous article about game design, The Art of Game Design – A Book of Lenses, the author Jesse Schell talks about the Lens of the Toy. He also talks about a ball:

Toys are fun to play with for their own sake. In contrast, games have goals and are a much richer experience based around problem solving. We should never forget, though, that many games are built on top of toys. A ball is a toy, but baseball is a game. A little avatar that runs and jumps is a toy, but Donkey Kong is a game. You should make sure that your toy is fun to play with before you design a game around it. You might find that once you actually build your toy, you are surprised by what makes it fun, and whole new ideas for games might become apparent to you.

Toys are fun to play with. Toys and games are not the same thing. Many games have one or more toys in them.

Think about a toy and then think about a way to turn that toy into a game by creating rules and a victory state.

What other things do you think make a toy and a game different? Let me know in the comments!

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