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Game design – psychological tricks you should know

In the extremely complex process of designing games, the technical aspects, visuals, sound design, and storyline are only part of the producers’ concerns. Above all, they also need to think about ‘playability’ – an aspect that eludes simple definitions. Therefore, to create a game that reaches its target group and meets its needs, it is worth drawing on the psychology of the players. For many years, science has provided developers with answers to questions about game design, such as how to engage players, keep them motivated, and design a good HUD or soundtrack.

In this article, we have gathered a handful of information and psychological tricks to use when designing a game to give players the best possible experience.

How to design an intuitive HUD?

How to design a HUD to perform its function well? How to maintain a proper balance between showing the player all the necessary information and avoiding the unnecessarily cluttered interface?

The human brain can only process a limited amount of information in short-term memory. It is assumed that this number is from 5 to 9 elements.

When there are too many elements to pay attention to, it can lead to cognitive overload, ruining the fun for the player. How to deal with it? Here are two good ways:

  • HUD that appears only when needed – e.g., in Ghost of Tsushima, the health indicator appears only when the player draws a sword. However, when we calmly explore the world, we do not see it, so we can enjoy beautiful views unobstructed by unnecessary interface elements.
Ghost of Tsushima brak wskaźnika zdrowia poza walką, game design, sztuczki psychologiczne, psychological tricks
In Ghost of Tsushima, we don’t see the health indicator outside of combat.
game design, sztuczki psychologiczne, ghost of tsushima, combat, walka, psychological tricks
Ghost of Tsushima: During combat, the health indicator is shown in the lower left corner.
  • Diegetic interface – the interface that is part of the game. It is a method that increases the player’s immersion in the game. The HUD elements are part of the environment or objects used by the character, rather than separate “artificial” elements that the player feels compelled to monitor. This type of interface is excellently used in Dead Space The main character’s health bars and hypostases are built into his outfit. They don’t obstruct the view, making it easier for the player to focus on what’s going on in the game. Also, the ammo counter is a part of the weapon itself. In Alien: Isolation, the minimap is a device that our character can take out when we need it. The diegetic interface is also an additional challenge for players – they most often have to decide whether, for example, they want to draw a weapon or a map at a given moment.
dead space health meter, game design, psychologiczne sztuczki, psychological tricks
Dead Space diegetic interface. In the center of the character’s back we see the health meter, on the right side the stasis meter.
alien isolation minimap
Alien: Isolation – the device held by the playable character is used as a minimap.

Effective HUD design is primarily about finding clever solutions and proper understanding of which information the player needs at a given moment and which is not. A good way to find out how players use the HUD is to test with an eye-tracker, i.e., a device that records the player’s visual activity.

To reward or not to reward – that is the question. How to keep the player motivated to play?

What keeps players motivated to play? Of course, there could be plenty of answers – almost as many as there are games available on the market. But undoubtedly one of the primary methods of inducing motivation is rewards.

This begs the obvious question: is it a good idea to frequently reward players? The answer is: it depends.


This is the end of the article teaser. Further on in the free part of the article, you will learn:

  • What tricks should you use to engage the player in the game?
  • How to increase the attractiveness of the game with abstraction?
  • How to improve a player’s mood with the weather?
  • How to make the player remember some of the sequences in the game better?
  • How to provide feedback to a player using sounds?
  • How to give your game a catchy title?
  • How to choose when to start a game’s Steam page?


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