Game Development Reference
DEEP games create meaningful play at high skill levels.
The idea of depth describes how much there is to learn about a game. A
deep game has enough nuance and variation to provide new lessons for a
long time. Chess, football, poker, and StarCraft are all deep games because
players can study them for decades without ever running out of new les-
sons to learn.
The opposite of this is a shallow game. For example, tic-tac-toe is shal-
low because once you know the trick, there is nothing else to discover. The
game is only interesting to small children who don't yet fully understand it.
To an adult who knows how to end every game in a draw, it's pure tedium.
Ironically, players will try their hardest to solve a game, but they will
hate the designer if they ever succeed. Players cherish the experience
of breaking through skill barriers, of being able to do today what they
couldn't do yesterday. A solved game is worthless to players because it
provides nothing to learn, no uncertainty, no victory, no defeat. It becomes
an exercise in following a set of well-defined steps toward a guaranteed
outcome. Skill games are only worthwhile to people who don't fully un-
A game's SKILL CEILING is the level of skill beyond which there is no
way to improve performance. If this skill level is beyond the abilities of
human beings, the game is LIMITLESSLY DEEP and can never be fully
solved by anyone.
One quick way to measure depth is by considering the performance
difference between a player who is theoretically perfect and a player who
is as skilled as is humanly possible. If their performance is the same, the
game has a skill ceiling that players will eventually reach. If the theoreti-
cally perfect player is better than any human, the game is limitlessly deep
and players will never run out of things to learn.
For example, chess can be played better by a combined human-
computer team than it can by a human grandmaster. This means that
even after lifetimes of practice, these grandmasters are not playing per-
fectly. They have not yet reached chess's skill ceiling, so the game is probably
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