Failure Analysis Framework

I think that within the field of game design, an important cornerstone is being able to inform yourself about what types of failure exists in your game, and more importantly, becoming aware of what they do.

I am working on a framework for failure analysis in games. The purpose of the framework is to provide information about a type of failure and awareness about the effects it can impose on your game and its players. Such information can be used to help determine whether or not the different types of failure works as intended.

Although you will likely get the most out of doing the analysis by having observed different kinds of players playing the game in question, you may sill get a new perspective on the types of failure in your game without observations other than your own.

The framework is a work in progress. Feedback and comments are most welcome.

Failure Analysis Framework

What is this?

  • It is a framework is intended for anyone who wants to have take a look at what failure means in their games.
  • It is supposed to help you see challenges and failures in your games from a different perspective.
  • It is supposed to help you think more about challenges and failures, not necessarily to reach any hard-line conclusions.
  • It is intended for analyzing one type of failure at a time.
  • It is not required to follow it step by step in a strict manner to be useful.
  • It is a form of analysis that will likely turn out most useful if you keep the writing short.
  • It is likely to be a lot less useful if you perform it on a game you haven’t played.


A – Identification and naming

  • Find a type of failure within the game.
  • Give a very short description of the context in which the failure occurred.
  • Add a screenshot or draw a quick sketch if possible.
  • Give the type of failure a name.

B – Designed failure or unintentional failure

  • Is the type of failure designed or unintentional? If it is not a game you designed, can you explain why you think it is one or the other?
  • If there is a doubt, do you think it is designed to be perceived that way?

C – Variations and uniqueness

  • Is this a completely isolated type of failure within the game or one of several variations of a type of failure.
  • If possible, briefly describe different variations of this type of failure.
  • Is this type of failure common in the game, or is it likely to only rarely occur?

D – Visual and auditory description

  • What does it look and sound like when the failure occurs?
  • Are there any specific visual elements or auditory cues presented specifically to warn the player of the challenge associated with this type of failure?


E – Identification

  • Describe the kind of challenge this type of failure is associated with.
  • Describe observed causes as to why the player failed.
  • Describe how the challenge is supposed to be overcome by the player.

F – Difficulty

  • Can the challenge be considered easy or difficult?
  • Can the type of failure be considered mostly a soft failure or a hard failure? How so?
  • Are there other variations of this type of challenge that have a different level of difficulty or a different level of punishment for failure?
  • Is the type of failure new to the player, or has it been introduced at an earlier point?

G – Skill, time investment and chance

  • Describe whether this type of failure is caused primarily by lack of skill, lack of time investment or by chance.
  • Does it vary from time to time? Are there factors that changes which of the three that the challenge is dependent on?
  • Are there any factors that changes which of these three that is the primary cause for failure?


H – Punishment and accomplishment

  • Describe how the player is punished by failing the challenge.
  • Describe how the player is rewarded by overcoming the challenge.
  • Are punishment and reward in balance and how so?

I – Player emotions and reactions

  • What initial reactions to this type of failure have you observed?
  • Try to describe the most common emotions that you observe players having after experiencing this type of failure.
  • Does the reaction vary a lot from person to person?
  • Does the player appear to find the failure more or less punishing or devastating if the failure repeats itself? Is it perhaps the opposite?
  • How does the emotions and reactions you have observed line up with what was intended with this type of failure?
  • Does the seriousness in the tone of the failure match or contrast the emotions that players show?
  • How long does it take before the player no longer appears to be emotionally influenced by the failure?

J – Outside the game

  • How does the player physically react to this type of failure?
  • Do players often react in the same ways?
  • Have you observed reactions from spectators?
  • Do you find that the failure is more painful to watch for spectators than for the player to experience?


K – Benefits and positive points

  • Try to write a strong argument as to why this failure type is important to the game.
  • Are there other benefits and positive things worth mentioning?

 L – Concerns and negative points

  • Write about any concerns you have with this type of failure.
  • Describe any significant risks that you believe this type of failure could pose for the experience.
  • Does the “pain” of experiencing the failure seem proportional to the reward of avoiding it in the long run?

M – Discussion

  • Describe what useful information you have gathered from doing the analysis.
  • How would the game benefit or suffer from the removal of the failure (and the challenge associated with it).
  • Can anything be done to reduce negative points and reinforce positive ones?
  • Try to rate how important the failure type in question is for the game (on a scale from 1 – 10).

Concerns about the framework:

  • Perhaps there are too many steps in the analysis for it to be convenient to use.
  • Perhaps not all of the steps in the analysis are important.

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