Similarities Between Video Game and App Design

Video game designers must teach the player to play the game while keeping them engaged enough to master it.

I recently wrote a post about similarities between screenwriting and app design. I posit that the hero is the user, and it is the screenwriter’s job to employ narrative devices to transform the hero from helplessness to mastery.

While the similarities may seem buried in narrative tricks of the trade, the similarities between video game and app design is much more apparent. Not only is the hero the user, but in a video game, the user is the hero!

The video game designer’s job becomes clear: It is to teach the player to play the game and to keep them engaged enough to master it.


Modern video games favour leading the player through a series of simple tasks designed to help them familiarize themselves with the controls, rules, and story of the game. The tricks range from displaying on-screen instructions in mid-combat to pointing out elements in the heads-up display.

Instructions for basic attacks appear as soon as you start the game. More instructions appear as you unlock new special attacks throughout the game.

For app designers, similar tools in their arsenal could be blank slates and/or tours.

Engagement/Activity Loops

Although the goals of a player and a user may differ, the mechanisms to reach these goals are fundamentally the same. Players and users must both react to short and long feedback loops that allow them to master and eventually beat the game.

The player uses a defeated boss’ severed head to reveal hidden loot that gives the player more powers. I’m not making this up, this game’s not safe for children.

For players, it means the deployment of side quests and bosses required to learn the skills and accumulate the powers that are necessary for winning the game.

For users, it means the deployment of well-placed instructions and well-timed notifications to help the user get the most value out of the app in the most effective manner possible.

Apples to Apples

The similarities between video game and app design are uncanny, but it’s no surprise. Both are interactive systems designed to take a player-user from point A of not winning to point B of winning. And designed properly, both experiences should keep you coming back.