Three FAQs for Juicy Game Design

What is juicy design?  The general idea is expressed poetically here: “the satisfying feeling we get when potential energy is converted to kinetic energy. That point where we release energy from a design in a way that creates surprise, delight,…”

Most hit casual games are loaded with examples, but Popcap’s games are most commonly cited, with good reason. Plants vs Zombies, Peggle, and earlier games all are amazing tutorials on making tiny actions, whose meaning is vanishingly small, satisfying and building holistic player satisfaction.

Let’s discuss the concrete implications (aimed at the beginning game designer, as a FAQ).

Q: How is Juicy different from basic good software interface design practice?

A: Most designers are comfortable with logical or factual design lenses: e.g. a “click” sound helps the user realize they clicked a button. Simplify  the screen so the important ideas pop out. These make sense.   By contrast, Juiciness is not as logical. Juiciness is an emotional lens on design.  A well-designed juicy game matches the players subconscious feelings of fairness and reward/punishment “I did that well, so something good should happen.”

Q: So, Juicy means good reward / punishment, Skinner Box type game design?
A: No.  Juicy is about tiny player action.  When you collect a coin in Plants vs Zombies, after doing a successful move, notice your FEELING of expectation of “good stuff”.  Notice the satisfaction of the coin appearing. Then, before you click, imagine the coin just vanishing when you clicked it.  Now, click it. That little flash and spinning of the coin, traveling to your points? That’s juiciness. It’s all the small stuff.

Q: So, Add fancy animation and your game is juicy?
A: Maybe.  A poorly-design juicy game has fancy animations that don’t relate to the player’s experience. It will feel ‘tacked on’, or unrelated to the core game activity.  Or, it’s overdone: Imagine audience cheering sounds for every tiny decision. It is too much – it feels false.

Q: Does juicy relate to the big picture – the game’s purpose – or is it more about UI in the moment?
A: It’s both, in a gluey way. Good juicy features connect the moment to the big picture. reward system.  When user intention is responsive and satisfyingly reflected back by the game.

Q: Is a Juicy design approach better than other ways of designing games?
A: No. “Juicy” is merely a narrow but useful lens to view a game’s design.  One cannot simply “make a game juicy” and be certain it’s better.  For example, consider characters in a casual game.  A mascot game character, like the Bookworm worm, reacts to player choices and personified game outcomes. The worm’s primary function is to mirror and validate the player’s internal, emotional state (though it also provides hints).  This is “juicy” character design.

Now consider the player character in a serious first-person immersive war simulation game.    Can the enemy see the player’s head above the barrel?  This is not an emotional, “juicy” design decision. This is a rational design issue.  The player’s character is highly functional: its shows the player’s position in the field, the action the player chose, and the reaction or impact.

The primary purpose of most 3D game player characters is not to reflect the player’s emotional state (though it is part of the purpose – for a richer discussion see Gee). Imagine “improving” the game by having player character thinking snarky comments, celebrating head shots or wiping tears away, when the game is primarily strategic.  Hopefully it’s obvious that making this character more “juicy” could easily hurt the player’s overall satisfaction.

Your comments or critiques are welcome.