Depth is the white whale of game designers, meaning most game designers are chasing the idea of maximum depth. Unlike complexity, very few designers will argues as to whether depth makes a game better or not. So what is depth?
Let’s start by defining what depth actually is. Depth can be thought of as the number of meaningful choices available and what effect those choices have on the diversity of further choices. This can manifest itself as a game that takes a long time to master or a game that provides a unique experience each time different choices are made. Low depth presents itself as a game system that requires little practice or critical thinking to master.
Depth creates replay-ability – Depth can provide meaningful choices at every point in the game, leading to systems that take a long time to master and in turn, require the player to play more than once.
Depth allows mastery to be quantifiable– With depth, mastery of game mechanics is quantifiable. With a high depth comes a wider skill range between different players, and in turn allows mastery to present itself as something that is measurable.
Depth can deter PvP engagement – The higher the depth in a Player vs Player game, the likelihood that players are evenly matched in skill goes down. If a player loses by a wide margin against a more skilled player, due to this wide skill gap, then depth becomes a hurdle that the player may be unmotivated to conquer.
Depth is not needed for all audiences – It can be argued that depth is not needed in many game designs. Games targeted at children still developing cognitive abilities does not require depth. Slot machines and various casino games does not require depth. Also, game systems that players need to master quickly should not require depth. For example, managing “super meter” in fighting games should not have very high depth as this system is one mechanic in a larger game system.
Does depth add complexity?
Depth does not inherently add complexity. Take the board game Go as an example, there is very little complexity to the game but there is a large amount of depth. Next time on Game Dev Corner, I will go into depth to compare complexity and depth.