Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
Classifying Fun Factors
Printer-Friendly VersionPrinter-Friendly Version
View All     RSS
April 24, 2014
arrowPress Releases
April 24, 2014
PR Newswire
View All
View All     Submit Event

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM TechWeb sites:

Classifying Fun Factors
by Jonathan Lawn on 10/30/10 05:39:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I was very interested to read about the Fun Factor Project, particularly as it hadn't been obvious to me how many were there were.  This is a work in progress I believe, but the last post offered 40 ways in which gamers can have fun.  I suspect it was part of the point of this list that it was unordered and unclassified but, given the person I am (which I suspect will come out further in future posts), I couldn't leave it like that.

I came up with three main categories, each with a similar number of subcategories. What's more, the categories fit a model that I think provides some extra insight.

Note that for details of the fun factors, you should follow the above link.  I've added the odd extra (mostly taken from the comments on that post), but they are hopefully obvious enough.

The Categories

Exploring the Game World

What will I see?
What can my avatar do?

Subcategories and fun factors

  • Discovering the new
    • The joy of exploration 
    • Sense of danger and surprise
    • Unique perspective experienced via non-human avatar
    • Exhilaration
    • Exploring and building relationships in a virtual or simulated world
    • Creating characters
    • Drinking in the atmosphere
    • Familiarity (from previous games or other media)
    • Hunting, collecting, and unlocking
    • Admiring and experiencing beauty
  • Experiencing the story
    • Interactively experiencing a good story
    • In-game humor
  • Doing things you mustn't or cannot get to do really            
    • Virtually interacting with familiar real-world places
    • Command            
    • Destruction        
  • Wielding extra power            
    • Power fantasy       
    • Heroically navigating a virtual architectural playground

Playing the Game

What can I do?
What will I get out of it?

Subcategories and fun factors

  • Real skills
    • In the zone play
    • Assuming responsibility
    • Hyperkinetic play
    • Simple mechanics, complete mastery
    • Casual play based on familiar real-world analogs
    • Learning nuances
  • Real thinking
    • Puzzle solving
    • Making the player feel clever
    • Immense challenges
    • Battle of wits
  • Real achievement
    • Intricate cooperation
    • Leading the least to become the greatest
    • Advance preparation enabling player success
    • Shared experience
    • Building and customizing
    • Competition
    • Beating the clock
    • Striving for the perfect run.
    • Social opportunities outside the game

Enjoying the Meta-Game

What's been done to give me this game?
What was the creator like?

Subcategories and fun factors

  • Good implementation
    • Tactile control of avatar
    • Fluid, responsive movement of character or vehicle
    • Technological wonder
    • Understanding the creator's work
    • Playing with physics
    • Exploiting the glitches
  • Jokes
    • In-jokes
    • Breaking the fourth wall

The Model

The three categories above are based on a model of three elements:

  • The player (P)
  • The game world (W), which includes what the players avatars or units can do in that world
  • The "interface" (I), which is basically everything else, including the GUI (menus, HUD, etc), the control schemes, level design, etc.

I see each of the above categories as being about the interface between two of these elements.

  • "Exploring the game world" is about what the interface allows you to do in the game world (IW).
  • "Playing the game" is about what the player can do in the game world (PW), which will obviously have to be through the interface but is not about the interface, and is sometimes despite it.
  • "Enjoying the meta-game" ignores the game world largely, and is about the way the player interacts with the interface (PI).

Why is this useful?

I think it's always useful to have a new lens with which to look at game design.  In this case, I think the categories are particularly useful in checking whether the fun factors for your game a distributed where you'd expect. Are you pitching the game right for the fun factors it actually delivers?

For instance, to take the example de jour, Minecraft currently scores well in all three categories, through allowing the player to explore its worlds (and experience its surprises), to build, and to enjoy the meta-game (e.g. by reading about Notch and exploiting the glitches). Will it be able to maintain all of these strengths as it heads for Beta and possibly the mainstream? Will some of the current audience lose interest if the physics glitches are polished out?

I realise that some of my categorizations may be controversial, and my nomenclature may not suit many of you, but I hope this sparks some interest, and look forward to your comments.

Related Jobs

Nexon America, Inc.
Nexon America, Inc. — El Segundo , California, United States

Web Designer - Temporary - 3 month
Darkside Game Studios
Darkside Game Studios — Sunrise, Florida, United States

Mid-Senior Graphics Programmer
Digital Extremes
Digital Extremes — LONDON, Ontario, Canada

Digital Extremes
Digital Extremes — LONDON, Ontario, Canada



Roberto Dillon
profile image
I had a look at the link to the fun factor project and my first thought, honestly, was "very interesting but what a mess!". A lot of information gathered together but completely disorganized, so I think your classification provides a good insight and is definitely useful! Personally, though, I'd prefer a categorization based upon the standard MDA ("mechanics, dynamics, aesthetics") framework as all these are still mixed across your categories.

Keep it up!

Jonathan Lawn
profile image
I've had a glance over the Hunicke/LeBlanc/Zubek paper (, and I take it you mean the 8 categories of fun from aesthetics they list:

1. Sensation

Game as sense-pleasure

2. Fantasy

Game as make-believe

3. Narrative

Game as drama

4. Challenge

Game as obstacle course

5. Fellowship

Game as social framework

6. Discovery

Game as uncharted territory

7. Expression

Game as self-discovery

8. Submission

Game as pastime

This strikes me as still too long a list! It also appears to miss some things.

- Challenge (4) covers a lot.

- Surely Fellowship (5) should split into in-character and RL friendships.

- There's nothing here about the meta-game category, or in general things that make a viedo game more than just a game.

Interesting though. unless there's a more detailed analysis under the MDA banner, perhaps these fun factor lists (classified or not) can be considered a further investigation into the role of Aesthetics.

Jonathan Lawn
profile image
See also, which is again interesting, but I think only covers the "Playing the Game" category of fun. This theory suggests that fun is just part of the "satisfaction" motivator for playing games, whereas we've been looking at this the other way round (with satisfaction being one form of fun).

I don't think this is just a matter of scope (video games vs games in general). I think it's a matter of how you look at the mind. Considering fun to be primary is perhaps very subjective and therefore unscientific, but I like its naivety and lack of cynicism!

I've gone into this in more detail in my comment to

Shoshannah Tekofsky
profile image
Thanks for the reference, Jonathan. I reposted your comment to the page:

I don't how, but it had originally ended up on the defunct version of my blog.

In my theory I don't pose that "fun" is only part of the "satisfaction" motivator. All the 11 needs are motivators in themselves. Satisfaction, recognition, and achievement, are senses of "reward". It's the cookie you get for doing the right thing for your mental state. I'll go into a bit more in answer to your question:

You posed the question "why [we] should treat “motivation” as more important than “fun”?

The answer is, we play games becomes we are motivated to do so. That is the most basic-basic reason. Our motivations are to fulfill our needs. Games fulfill a number of our basic needs, and we derive 3 types of reward from this: Achievement, Satisfaction, and Recognition. All three of these can be paired with a sense of "fun"! Picking up skills ad knowledge is "fun" (
xt-books/). Competition can be "fun". Actually, EVERYTHING can be "fun". It's a meaningless criterium. It's like saying, this activity get's an emotional A+ from me. Well, that's great, but WHY does it get that A+?

On top that, sometimes we play games, and it's no fun at all, yet we get something out of it. Escapism offers relief from daily troubles. It's often not fun, but a lot better than keeping your mind on your problems.

Look at it this way: everything we do, we do for a reason (even if it's a bad one). Those are "motivations". We're motivated to breath. It's no fun. But it's a hell of a lot better than choking. "Fun" is just a word we use when an experience is pleasant to us, but it completely ignores "Why" it's pleasant to us. On top of that, a lot of things make us feel "better" without actually being "pleasant". Therefore, looking at "Why" we play games, should be a matter of looking at motivations, and not at "fun".

I hope that clarified things a bit :)

Jonathan Lawn
profile image

I understand the psychology (at this level at least). What I'm questioning is whether this psychological viewpoint should be how a game designer looks at their game.

After all, as a consumer, if I learnt some skills, and decided that that was so rewarding that I'd like to learn more, I'd play more sport, not video games. And if I was finding gaining knowledge rewarding I'd read wikipedia or something. And if I wanted friendship I'd go out for a drink.

Now I realise that some people are too young to be out with friends when they can still be playing WoW, and some don't enjoy sport, but I would say that most people can satisfy most of your motivators better with mechanisms other than video games.

However, games (and particularly video games) are "fun". They aren't the only way of having fun, but for it is almost the definition of what they do better than anything else. Isn't it easier for the game designer to take it as read that "fun" is what they can provide competitively with non-game activities, and to focus on maximising that? (Or the slightly wider category of "entertainment", if you want.) It is after all the terms in which both designers and players naturally think of the game, and it avoids the backlash that can come from thinking that you've been creating or playing in a Skinner box.

Or, if you want to use the psychological viewpoint (as I'm sure you do - I'm certainly wedded to the modes of thinking I used during my PhD) do you not need to incorporate competition into your theory, so that you not only talk about the reward of creation from video games, but also how it compares with that from cooking or Lego?

Shoshannah Tekofsky
profile image
If I understand you correctly, you're making 2 points:

1. That looking at basic motivations for playing video games is not informative because we can fulfill those needs much better through other means than video games.

2. We should look at what makes video games uniquely worthwhile. You pose that this factor is "fun".

On the first point, I think you're missing the point (sorry couldn't help myself!). Video games offer need-fulfillment in a very particular way. The social interaction in MMORPG's takes away the stress of face-to-face contact while still allowing people to bond on experiences and conversation. While the learning in video games is full of instant feedback and worthwhile rewards (to some at least!). The competition of online leaderboards or deathmatches allow people to compete from the comfort of their homes at games that require a set of skills (reflexes, hand-eye coordination, strategic thinking) that they enjoy using, without having to go out to sports field, work up a sweat, or do whatever else they don't feel like doing.

So in response to your first point, video games fulfill many of our needs in a very particular way.

That "particular way" reflects on your second point. The thing that sets video games apart is not "fun". Watching a movie is fun, hanging out with friends is fun, exercising is fun. There is one unique factor to video games at which they utterly excell: They are "experience simulators". That is the core of a video game. It can simulate a puzzle, a hostile world where you need to survive by whatever means possible, a microcosm of make-believe people who you can lord over as a god. Video games are make-believe. A powerful form of make-believe. And we use that make-believe to fulfill our needs in the way we want. With a press of a button we can feel like heros, laugh at the antics of our avatars, feel on top of the world as we slay thousands of demonic beasts.

We don't even always use it to create "fun". Sometimes we use it to distract ourselves from daily life. Sometimes we use it to grind to the top of a leaderboard because we want to be number one. "Fun" is one of the experiences we can get from the video game simulator. But it's hardly the only one, and it's hardly the reason we do it.

And it is relevant from a design perspective to look at it this way, because once designers realize that they are crafting experiences, then they create a richer one. Think of Demon's Souls. Most fans will hardly say it's a rollercoaster of unending "fun". It's wildly popular with a lot of players, but they will all say they have hated the game and felt quite some "nerd rage" at many points in their playthrough. It was the experience that Demon's Souls offered that was appealing. A beautiful world, a fair but harsh design that strongly rewarded learning and skill acquirement (otherwise you'd never get anywhere). Those are two aspects, but there are more. The game deserves a full review in itself.

So all in all, video games offer us way of fulfilling some of our needs in a very particular way: by simulating an experience that is crystalizes out all the good things, and leaves away all the drag and nastiness. These simulations don't allow serve to offer fun, but also to bolster our ego's through competition or relieve stress, etc. It's relevant to look at it this way, because then games can be tailored to offer these rich experiences, instead of only supplying "fun".

Have I converted you? ^_^

Jonathan Lawn
profile image
You've answered my points well, but I'm still a little resistant, I'm afraid! I think it's coming down to a matter of viewpoint though.

Firstly, the definition of "fun" I've been using comes from the "Fun Factors" article, and encompasses quite a wide range of your motivators (like competition and interactions with other players). It's not quite as wide as your range of motivators, but then I think you are thinking about a wider range of games (e.g. training aids) that most people here.

Similarly perhaps, you have presented some further good examples of why your motivators might be better satisfied in a game than elsewhere. I agree that some people look in games for these things, but am inclined to think that most should be looking elsewhere, whether they find it easy or not. What I think they should be doing is probably not relevant, but I believe we have different pictures of the relative sizes of the groups. I can't believe that many people get more out of an in-game chat in WoW than they could in an online forum like this, for instance. I concede that your guess may be more educated than mine though.

Also, I still think that a level of detail is missing from your motivators before it a useful checklist for designers. I don't know if you plan to flesh this out yourself. Perhaps you could kick off a "Motivator Factors" project.

For the designer, it maybe that it comes down to how close the niche you're aiming at is to the mainstream. But maybe every designer should open their eyes to how many more of your motivators they could be satisfying as they design their game, particularly if they are going to implement it for Facebook. However, for now at least, my designs are likely to remain rooted around the more narrow but more detailed list of "Fun Factors".

Shoshannah Tekofsky
profile image
I respect that, and enjoyed the discussion :) I think part of it just semantics. You take a rather broad view of "fun", so within that view, you can see motivators as "types of fun".

I definitely want to keep working on the theory. I'm looking at what the next step would be. It's a bit of an exploration. I'm curious where your exploration leads you and look forward to reading more about the Fun Factors :)

One side note about mainstream versus niche: The research I found shows that other motivators besides "fun" (the narrow concept of "fun" that is) are quite dominant in the mainstream gamer. If you go to this blog article and scroll down, you can find the stats about it. Click the images to enlarge. I still need to make sure they don't get cut-off in small view :)