Hero Games Design Principles

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Why, When, How, For Whom?

3. Gameplay First

4. Familiar yet Different Gameplay

5. Simple yet Deep Gameplay

6. Step by Step Approach

7. Polish Along the Way

8. Avoid the Grand Reveal

9. Make Everything Overpowered

10. Control is King

11. Uphold the Hero


“Hero Games” consists and will always consist of people who love playing games as much as making them.

There are inherited core values such as “
Gameplay First, Be A Hero, Play Together, Try Hard, Play Nice & Fair, Improvement in Every Step” that form the culture of the studio which then reflect upon the design principles when Hero Games team decides to design or improve a game.

In this very document we will describe these core design principles. It goes without saying that as the founders’ favorite game studio, a lot of these principles are inspired from old Blizzard Entertainment’s design values.

Why, When, How, for Whom?

Before and during designing a game, feature, meta or mechanic, these four questions must be answered separately.

Why are we designing this? What is the goal and benefits of this design? What are the potential disadvantages?

Most of the time without considering this, the said design might feel very exceptional or mandatory. But it might turn out to be trivial, unnecessary or way too resource consuming.

When are we designing or implementing this? What is the window of opportunity? Is it really urgent to design and implement this as quickly as possible?

The logical order of design and implementation is often very critical as for example designing a huge meta system before the core gameplay itself is somewhat proven is way too risky and time consuming.

Also designing an outdated or overused gameplay is often dangerous as the competition or interest might be at risky levels.

How are we designing and implementing this? Is our team capable of delivering this product in a feasible time table? What are our ideation methods? What are our design-expression methods?

The ideation methods and their variety is very important as the design team can get stuck on a design block. It is best to then rely on other methods such as researching, looking into other similar games or designating the concept beforehand to proceed from there.

Coming together with other disciplines such as Art, Development, Production, Q/A and discussing whether the said design is within the capacity of the team is also very important.

Also, game design can be expressed in different ways such as sketching, documentating, vocally explaining or directly implementing through the tools provided by developers.

It is crucial to use visual tools and mathematical formulas visible in graphics and tables to give an estimation to the team about the scaling, longevity, methods and systems of the game.

For Whom is perhaps the most important question here. Do we know the target audience? Do we know their demands and needs?

Players often vocally express what they want, but they don’t always know what they need. It is up to us as Game Designers to discover what they truly crave and keep them coming back to the game as retention metric suggests.

It is extremely important to research around and recognize the target audience to meet their demands.

a) Does the target audience really exist?
b) What is the volume of this target audience?
c) What is the competition to cater to this target audience?
d) What are the retention, monetization, social interaction and meta reaction behaviours of this target audience?

These questions should be answered before designing a game, feature or mechanic.

Gameplay First

Easier said than done, “Gameplay First” means prioritizing gameplay and its core loop from the earliest stage of alpha as possible until the end of the game’s lifetime.

At every stage of development, the main focus must be on fun. Is this game fun? What can be done to make it more fun?

The entire studio must focus on making the gameplay fun in every aspect. This includes making the game functional, playable and reflect the overall vision of the game.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that Game Design is not more important than other disciplines as ideas are nothing without proper execution.

Familiar Yet Different Gameplay

While designing and making our games, we focus on the ratio of 70-80% proven features, 20-30% innovation.

This ratio rule allows us to create gameplay that is somewhat familiar to players as there are similar games already successful, while giving them a new way and aspect of gameplay to not push them too far out of their comfort zone while not boring them with the exact same mechanics.

Examples can be like fusing three or two well known games together to form a new game with the component games’ advantages while trying to eliminate their disadvantages on the new resultant.

Also another example is choosing a currently popular genre (like Mobile Runners) and innovating on top of it to create an edge against competitors.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that proven mechanics, features and genres will always have high competition as a lot of studios tend to copy successful games.

Simple Yet Deep Gameplay

This principle stands for making the core gameplay as clear and basic as possible while progressively offering new challenges and aspects of the game that scale with player knowledge and experience.

Depth is a key factor for a lot of games when it comes to longevity, replayability (the urge to play the game again many times due to different possibilities) and overall success of the game. A game that looks very simple might end up being very deep, like Chess, if this principle is enforced properly.

Naturally, depth can bring complexity and complexity can bring depth. The important thing here is preserving core gameplay simplicity while slowly introducing depth to the players without overwhelming them with information and possibilities.

First experience with gameplay must always be accompanied with the simplest of mechanics and clear objectives. As the general motto for this principle is “Easy to Play, Hard to Master” on the PC market, we should not forget that the mobile audience might not be compatible with extremely hard challenges of a game.

Step by Step Approach

This principle represents our motivation for taking our time to walk the walk and focus on our path one step at a time. It is never too late to learn and improve and as long as we are improving we can make better games and features.

From hyper casual games to “e-sports ready” games, the road is long and the learning is immense.

We must gather experience and add up to this experience with each small step, eventually generating something the masses would love to play on a daily basis.

Instead of directly designing the most complex gameplay, systems, meta or experience, we should start from the most basic version and periodically improve it in sync with our learning curve.

This is also related to our method of constantly testing our games, evaluating the data and shifting the game towards players’ apparent liking.

Instantenously pinpointing player desires is near impossible, but designing a strong foundation and slowly but surely improving it to reveal the product’s ultimate potential is possible with the “Step by Step” approach.

Polish Along the Way

Very similar to the “Step by Step” approach, Hero Games focuses on polishing the game on each step and version of the product.

Appreciated amounts of polish do not appear out of nothing during the wrapping up of the product. It must be applied slowly on the current product to keep it improving.

There is also a very critical case of overpolishing a game before certain aspects of it are proven. An example would be spending too much time generating very impressive visuals for UI, characters or levels before even receiving data about the core gameplay.

As the game proceeds to its next steps, the polish quality must match it, if one of them falls behind the development might also fall into instability.

Last but not least, before a feature is decently polished to serve the “Gameplay First” principle and is ready to test, the team must not proceed forward to implement another feature.
Finish your plate first!

Avoid the Grand Reveal

As designers, the more we spend time working on an idea the more we get attached to it. If we isolate ourselves from our team and prepare for a big feature reveal, it might backfire and result in wasted time or resources.

Even though it feels like preparing a huge document with new and surprising ideas and getting ready to present it all together is the right way, the actual right way is to design features, systems and mechanics piece by piece and share it with the entire team in each step.

Team members, especially from other disciplines, might have different ideas or approaches when considering game design. Therefore, sharing the upcoming design with them as early as possible is paramount in implementation consistency.

It might feel like Game Designers make the game, but in reality it's a combined product of art, development, testing and design. So the entire team’s input should be taken on each design step instead of stacking a huge document and revealing it all together.

Avoiding the grand reveal also helps developers and artists feel more involved with the design process, motivating them to help the game feel better. Also, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the development and art leads usually have a better grip on what is doable and what isn’t, to the desired quality, of course.

Make Everything Overpowered

This means detecting the edge of an entity, be it a story element, an enemy, a class or a minion and exaggerating it to a point where it feels very iconic, epic and effective.

The word “Overpowered” can be used numerically, visually or both in this case.

a) Making a specific aspect of an entity very strong. If there is an enemy that looks like it is going to attack fast, make its attack speed extremely fast.

b) Making a specific aspect of an entity visually exaggerated. If there is a giant, make it much larger than regular characters.

c) Making a specific aspect of a level very immersive. If there is a fire-themed level, put extra fiery effects and maybe fire-related hazards to it to boost the feeling. It doesn’t cost much to make something feel epic.
d) Making a specific gameplay balance intentionally steer away from spreadsheet math balance. If everything is balanced through mathematical point of view, the ability to perform and view unexpected gameplay greatly shrinks.

Even though game balance is very important, when there aren't enough distinct differences between entities, the game might become boring very quickly. A good example is how Clash Royale has a great number of minions yet they all feel very different and strong in their own way.

Control is King

Control is King refers to the way players interact with the game. The controls must be as responsive and clear as possible. When the game reacts badly or late to the player, this passively hinders the fun of the gameplay.

Most of the players will not understand if a game feels “clunky” or slow or unresponsive. They will subconsciously understand it as just “how the game is” and they won’t even be able to tell why the game is not fun.

Focusing on “Control is King” principle and influencing the development and art team to also focus on this principle greatly improves the fluidity of the game.

Sometimes a feature might seem very cool and enjoyable but still disrupt the control feeling of the game, in these cases it's better to decide not to implement the feature to uphold the player’s feeling of control.

Also, in another form of control comes “information”. When players are responsible for information they cannot receive clearly, they also get frustrated.

An example would be having a camera angle that does not let the player clearly see what is coming up next, but forcing the player to be prepared for it and punishing it for not preparing for it.

The player must be challenged through things they are in control of. If players start blaming the game instead of themselves, they are much more likely to churn.

All things considered, providing the player with fluid controls, understandable gameplay and meta flow and adequate information is key to keep them entertained.

Uphold the Hero

Last and perhaps one of the most important principles is “Uphold the Hero”.

Every member of Hero Games is currently, or is going to be, a hero. These heroes all acknowledge the core values and design principles of Hero Games and try to perform accordingly.

On top of their core qualities such as teamplay orientation, respectful behavior, gameplay prioritization, they each also bring a unique perspective and aspect to the table.

Some of the heroes will be more disciplined than the others while some are more creative. Furthermore, some of the heroes will be more motivational while some of them will be calmer.

The culture of Hero Games is that every member bolster each other with their unique characteristic attribute and perspective. Therefore regardless of position, every opinion and every voice matters.

Game designers, artists or developers are to be susceptible to the feedback of every single member of the team. Everyone is allowed to share their thoughts and everyone should really feel listened to.

At the end of the day, the entirety of values that make Hero Games what it is and the entirety of principles that make this studio’s Game Design unique must be upheld and supported to the end.

Thank you for reading.
Mert Dinçer