When I was a kid, I discovered that I could reach into claw games through the prize door with my skinny little arms and steal stuffed animals. They deserved it cuz they’re evil, like slot machines for children.
Crane machines were designed to be deceptively difficult to win. Look at the big claw! And all the defenseless animals just waiting to be grabbed! Easy, right? What the player doesn’t realize is that the claw actually has the tensile strength of a Spaghetti-O.
People don’t actually care about the stuffed animals, but people like winning. That’s why humans invented sports (wars cost too much human capital). The problem is, once you win, you take your prize and go home. Games need to be harder than they appear.
Slot machines frequently display near wins to make gamblers feel like they’re getting close to the jackpot. A close win doesn’t pay out money, but the gambler is as excited as if he had won second place (gamblers are irrational).
I made my first game this past weekend at the Cardinal Game Jam. I was lucky to have a team of awesome game designers who shot down my idea of a Princess Dress-up Game (shut up) and taught me the first rule of game design: Make the player feel good.
That means lots of instant gratification. Happy noises for collecting coins, and points for stomping on bad guys. Did points even matter in Super Mario? Who cares, the number went up and that meant we were WINNING!
In the end, all Mario wanted to do was slay the dragon. Most of us never got that far, but every little coin and turtle made us feel just a little bit closer.