Gameplay defined

The following was originally written on March 19, 1999 by me, but never published.
As I reread it just now I thought it would make a good post for this blog, so here it is.

The gameplay of a game is exactly that part of the game that influences the final score.

This is a surprisingly simple definition, but it works very well!! We want our definition to filter out such things as marketing hype and the beautiful graphics, but leave in the controls and the difficulty ramping. Amazingly, all we have to do is ask ourselves: Does this property influence the final score of the game? If not, then it’s not part of the gameplay.

Examples: The funny background story in the manual, the background music, the packaging, the price, the horrible TV ad, are all NOT part of the gameplay.

The rules of the game, the controls, the way the rules are conveyed to the players
are all part of the gameplay.

Here’s another example:

In tic tac toe, the grid, the rules about getting three in a row to win, the rules about who starts are all part of the gameplay. In fact we might suspect that this is an example of a
pure game, one that only consists of gameplay. But then even such a simple game has
graphics, and the graphics aren’t usually essential to the gameplay.

Here, the fact that the players use circles and crosses to indicate their moves is not part of the gameplay. The fact that their symbols are easy to draw and easy to distinguish are part of the gameplay.

This leads us to a related question:

When do two games have the same gameplay?

We can then take the equivalence classes of this equivalence relation and use those to define gameplay.

An operational definition: When expert players don’t care which of the games they play.

Examples: Two chess players won’t care if they use a fancy or a plain chess board. They might not even care to use a chessboard at all and just us algebraic notation.

Another possible definition: We record the actions of each player, and can interchange the
recordings and we still get the same score at the end.

Are the graphics part of the gameplay? Yes, but only in a rudimentary way, i.e.
it’s important that different graphical objects are distinguishable by the participants, or not, as required by the game design. For example in chess we want to be able to distinguish the king and the queen and to know which is which, but we don’t want to see differences from one pawn and another.  In card games we want the backs of the cards to be unmarked or cheating becomes too tempting.


About Franz Lanzinger

Franz Lanzinger is a classic video game developer with video game credits for Atari's coin-op Crystal Castles, Tengen Ms. Pacman, SNES Rampart, and the Gubble series. He has a degree in mathematics, wrote "Classic Game Design", a book about how to make classic video games, and is a professional pianist, accompanist and piano teacher.
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