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Game Play vs Engagement Theory

Choosing the right game play is an extremely important step in realizing what the potential market size when releasing your game.

The gameplay element in the long run can really dictate the success of your game and inadvertently determine what your ceiling on Retention and Arpdau (Average user per daily active user) can be.

But before i get into the various game play styles, i would like to first discuss the concept of engagement.

Engagement is defined in the Cambridge Dictionary as:

an arrangement to do something, or to be somewhere:

When users first engage with a product they are confronted with 2 different choices

  1. The mental

  2. The physical

These 2 components informs the user that in any median of engagement a user is required to make a conscious or subconscious decision to perform the above action on a active or passive state.

What does this mean?

  • A player can be both actively or passively engaged in a product on a mental state


  • A player can be both actively or passively engaged in a product on a physical state

Layman’s terms

Let’s choose a very popular form of engagement everyone understands.

The Television.

The Television is a very retentitive median since invented back in the 1920’s. One of the bigger reasons why it’s such a strong median is because of its passive nature. Users can engage with a television ‘Mentally’ in both a passive or active nature. Meaning a user do not necessarily have to pay attention (Mental) to the television if he chooses not to. The user can leave the TV on in the background and engage or disengage with the media as the user pleases.

On an physical level, there is minimal engagement where the user is required to turn the median off or on and change the channel. After this engagement the median is immediately running on a passive state. Users hands are free to do whatever they please. Whether it be to eat their dinner or call a friend. This passive nature on the physical aspect in engagement leaves room for users to multi-task. Good or Bad, this is a key aspect in why Television and Radio for this matter will always be part of our daily lives in some form for generations.

Physically Active Median.

Now, let’s take a look at more of an active median.

Virtual Reality (VR)

A lot of noise was made the last couple of years on how disruptive this median can be due to the sheer impact it can have when ‘engaged’ with it, but there lies the biggest issue. Enjoying the virtual reality experience requires you to be active both mentally and physically as the headset locks you into a second world and the control schema allowing you to only engage in ‘this’ second world. This form of engagement limits a user to only engage in this median 'only' which may affect retention in the long run.

The limitation of multi-tasking is inadvertently the weakness’ in the product. Many are in awe with the initial engagement of the median but as time passes users have a harder and harder time re-engaging in the product due to the high demand in the engagement bar that it inevitably works its way out of the product engagement cycle in a users every day life.

Everyday Engagement Choices

Users are constantly confronted with median engagement choices by the minute and the brain subconsciously makes these choices for you to balance your stress level and objectives..

High Engagement

High engagement products usually yields high impact but wears off over time. As the return on impact diminishes users tend to weigh the pros and cons of the engagement platform and makes a choice on which This can be usually categorized as

Physically > Active Medians

Mentally > Active Medians

Moderate engagement products

Moderate engagement products required players higher mental engagement with minimal physical engagement.

Physical -> Passive

Mental -> Active

Medians like reading can be considered moderate as users these don’t necessarily have to engaged with the median to read articles, for example on the internet but if they are not mentally active, they won’t be able to understand the content of the article.

Low Engagement Products

Low engagement products can be categorized as medians where users can disengage or re engage in a product at whim and can actively perform other functions.

Physical -> Passive

Mental -> Passive

For both the Physical and Mental aspect of engagement to be passive this yields a UX that users choose to disengage or re engage in the median as needed and are usually hands off when necessary

As mentioned early in this post, the Television or the Radio are perfect examples of low engagement products, which is why it still exists in our everyday lives today.


When designing your mobile product, it’s very important to identify what type of game you want to make and attack your gameplay based on the level of engagement you want players to to fully enjoy the vision of your product.

Lets take for example, having a fully engaged, dual stick match 3 game is not something i would recommend as this market are designed fully around boredom busting and an extremely passive game model. Whereas if the objective is to create a competitive E-Sport on a mobile platform, creating features around mental and physical engagement will help create depth in the game.

Mental Engagement = Macro Gameplay

Physical Engagement = Micro Gameplay

The above equation I will save for another post but fundamentally, I want the readers to understand that determining the engagement level of your product will help dictate how retentive they are in the long run. High engagement medians requires the cost versus return to increase or else players will just lost interest. Especially in the entertainment space, the diminishing returns for re-engagement is inevitable, creating a a highly engaged lite game is almost like digging yourself your own grave.

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