Game Development Glossary
I realized that my texts are somewhat hermetic. My initial intention was to write them with people with some sort of game development background as an intended audience. With that in mind, I have been using game industry lingo in liberal quantities. However, this terminology is not consistent even across different gaming studios let alone beyond the boundaries of our industry. I am guessing that this has made my writings hard to follow to a lot of people.
In a feeble attempt to fix this, I decided to compile a short glossary of some of the terms that I have been using. The definitions are given as I understand these terms. Other people might go by different definitions, or in some cases I might be dead wrong.
I hope this helps. So here it goes.
Damage Per Second — The amount of damage that some gameplay element, for example, a weapon, a character, or a spell can cause to opponents or targets during one second.
This is another name for computer-controlled non-playable characters of entities. It is more usually applied to characters that act as enemies or obstacles in games as opposed to characters with which players have a verbal interaction. Good examples of mobs are Creepers or animals in Minecraft.
Non-Playable Characters — computer-controlled characters with which the player can come in contact inside of the video game.
Player vs Player — a style of gameplay where the primary objective of each player involves overcoming other players, i.e. human participants.
Player vs Environment — a style of gameplay where the primary objective of a player is to overcome the obstacles posed by the game system, i.e. the environment.
Time to Kill — An amount of time it takes to kill another player in a game. In many games, characters have a property similar to health. If a character is hit by some kind of weapon, a certain amount of health is deduced. Each such event takes some amount of time. Time to kill is the total time required to reduce the character’s health to zero.
Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate — a sub-genre of strategy games best exemplified by the Civilization franchise. The emphasis in these games is on an exploration of the environment, expansion of an area under the player’s control, exploitation of resources, and only eventually on the extermination of the opponents. On mobile platforms, this type of game is exemplified by games such as Game of War.
First Person Shooter — a type of game in which the player controls a single character. Most often the gameplay revolves around some type of combat, usually with ranged weapons. The point of view of the game is from the perspective of the player’s avatar, i.e. first-person perspective. The concept was pioneered in the early 90. by titles such as Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake. This is one of the most common types of games currently. Examples are numerous: Call of Duty, Battlefront, Far Cry, Apex Legends, Pub-G, Destiny, etc.
Massively Multiplayer Online game — a type of video game that can be played simultaneously by a multitude of people. These games are usually presented to users as persistent virtual worlds. This type of game is exemplified by games such as World of Warcraft, EVE Online, etc. This abbreviation can appear as a prefix in other abbreviations always denoting the same multiplayer aspects of the game.
Multiplayer Online Battle Arena — a type of game exemplified by titles such as League of Legends or Vainglory. The gameplay is usually a0 combat between two relatively small teams of players in a relatively confined area, i.e. arena. The objective of the game is typically the destruction of the opponent’s main structure, a tower, or a fort for example. The teams consist of characters with various abilities. Characters are usually designed in a way so that the combination of their individual abilities offers synergy within the team. The terrain is usually constructed to offer a relatively easy passage through several corridors, known as lanes while the rest of the terrain is a mix of various types of obstacles.
Role Playing Games — a style of games where the accent is on character development. A player may control one or more of the virtual characters. Each of the characters is characterized by a series of properties, some of them numeric. These properties represent various qualities of the character, such as stamina, speed, health, etc. The properties have a direct effect on the gameplay. The player can gradually upgrade the properties of each of the characters under his control.
Real-Time Strategy game — a type of game in which the player is controlling an array of units. The player can issue commands to units in real-time. The gameplay involves combat between two human players of a human and a computer. These type of games was pioneered by titles such as Dune II. The most prominent examples are Warcraft, Command and Conquer, Total War, and Total Annihilation franchises.
Turn-Based Strategy — a type of game in which two or more players, either human or computer-controlled, fight each other in a game of strategy. Each side in the combat takes its own turn to move one or more of its units. Similar to the game of chess. The best examples of this genre of games are the Civilization franchise, Europa Universalis and Advance Wars.
Game Design Terms
Card Collecting Game — a type of game, or a metagame structure in which the player is focused on collecting and upgrading a set of virtual or real cards. Good examples of these types of games are Magic the Gathering in the physical world or Hearthstone among video games. This type of metagame structure is used also in a wide variety of game genres, see for example Clash Royale.
Core Game, Core Gameplay, Core Interaction, or Core
This is a set of actions that the player will perform and a set of goals that the player will try to reach in every (or almost every) gameplay session. It is what is usually recognized as the basic gameplay. For example, jumping on platforms and over obstacles is the core gameplay of the Super Mario Bros game. Kicking the ball with your feet and trying to score a goal is the core gameplay of Soccer. All other aspects of the game can be considered a part of the Metagame.
First-Time User Experience — also known as user onboarding, the initial part of the game. Everything that happens between the player and the game during the first play session or even several initial play sessions.
Frames Per Second — number of frames that computer hardware can generate and display in one unit of time. This is one of the most common measures of gaming hardware performance.
Head-Up Display — In 3D games this is the part of the UI which consists of 2D elements superimposed over the 3D world. In a way similar to HUDs used in the military jet fighters.
A boundary that separates the game world from the real world. The game world is the place where the gameplay takes place Within the magic circle normal laws, patterns of behavior and social conventions are temporarily suspended and replaced with the rules of the game.
Metagame, or Meta
These are all aspects of the game which are not part of the core gameplay. For example, a single level of the Super Mario Bros game is its core game. Everything else, including the overworld and the leaderboard, is a part of the metagame. Metagame can include the level progression, various gameplay modes, character building, unlocking and upgrading logic, lore, a system of leagues or tournaments, etc. In a broader sense metagame can include activities that players undertake outside of the game itself. For example, organizing clan discussions via 3rd party software, or trading on 3d party websites can sometimes be considered a metagame.
Minute to Minute Interaction
This is another term used to describe the Core Gameplay.
Microtransaction Store — in free-to-play games this is the part of the game UI through which a player might perform purchases of virtual items, i.e. exchange of real-life money to some type of virtual items.
Rock, Paper, Scissors — a game design pattern where gameplay elements, items, characters, etc. are divided into three or more categories. Each category is superior in some aspects to one of the remaining two categories and inferior to the other one. The name of the pattern is derived from the classic playground game.
User Experience — the term that denotes the way a user perceives the product. In the case of games, this is the holistic view of how a player perceives the game. In a more narrow sense, it is the player’s perception of the UI of the game, its ease of use, functionality, etc.
User Interface — the part of the software that facilitates the interaction between the player and the game. In a more narrow sense, it is a set of audiovisual elements, icons, menus, static screens that players use to navigate through the game’s software. The UI also includes the audiovisual elements that convey some information about the state of the game to the player, i.e. status bars, score counters, life counters, etc.
Experience Points — in some games this is a quantitative measure of a player’s experience, i.e. the amount of time or effort that the player has spent in the game. Typically, a player will be granted some amount of experience points for performing certain actions within the game. For example, killing an opponent, finding a new item of a new type, uncovering a secret location, or simply chopping a virtual tree. XP can be used as an unlocking criterion for other game functions or features. For example, a player can be required to reach a certain level of XP in order to unlock a specific powerful weapon or to gain access to a location.
Usually pronounced as Triple-A is a business term denoting games that have made more than in cumulative revenue that is above a certain threshold. Over history, this threshold has been steadily moving upwards. In a more general sense, it refers to the top-of-the-line games. These games have very high production values, accompanied by very high development and marketing budgets. Consequently, they have the corresponding revenue expectations.
Average Revenue Per User — total revenue of a game collected in a given time period divided by the number of users. This is one of the most common KPIs used to evaluate the performance of games run as an online service, very common in F2P games.
Average Revenue Per Paying User — similar to ARPU only calculated taking into account just the paying users in contrast to all active users.
Average Revenue Per Spender — See ARPPU.
Cumulative Average Revenue Per User — how much revenue in total and on average has an individual player contributed over some time period (e.g. D7 CARPU is CARPU over 7 days). It is calculated for example for all players who installed the game on the same day.
An act of a player abandoning a game.
A place within the game at which the player abandons a game. Often it can be an indication of the cause of a player’s churn.
The percentage of players that have abandoned a game up until a particular point. Inverse of retention rate.
A percentage of the total number of unique users that make at least one IAP purchase within the game.
Cost Per Install — This is one of the metrics used to evaluate the performance of user acquisition. It represents the cost of the acquisition of a single new user of an application or a game. It is calculated by dividing the total cost of the marketing campaign by the total number of users that have installed the game after seeing the ad.
Day 1/2/7/30 — abbreviation denoting the particular number of days since some event. In the context of games that are run as a service, especially free-to-play games, this denotes a specific number of days after a user has installed the game. The Retention Rate of the game is calculated usually using these days as milestones. For example, the D7 retention rate is the number of players that still play the game one week after installing it divided by the total number of players that installed the game.
Daily Active Users — number of people, unique users that interact with a game during one day. This is one of the most common quantitative measures of the performance of a game, especially games that are run as online services. DAU is often used as a KPI.
End of Day — a deadline for something, implying that the deliverable should be ready by the end of standard working hours.
End of Year — a deadline, implying that the deliverable should be ready by the end of the year. The year can be a calendar year ending on 31 December or a fiscal year. Fiscal years can end on different dates depending on the context. For example, the fiscal year of the US government is the period beginning 1 October and ending 30 September the following year.
Free-to-play — a business model employed by some games. The game is distributed for free. Usually as a digital download. Players can play the game without the need to pay for the privilege. The game is usually financed via optional purchases or ad placements. This business model is especially popular with games on mobile platforms.
High Definition — The term usually applied to the quality of graphics of a video game. It refers to either screen resolution or a certain FPS value. In a broader sense, it is used for all games that run on platforms that support such visuals, namely consoles and PC, as opposed to mobile games. In this context, the actual video performance characteristics are not important.
In-Application Purchase — a monetary transaction that takes place within an application. This is the way most microtransactions within F2P games on mobile platforms are implemented.
Key Performance Indicator — a quantitative measure that is used to evaluate the success of a particular game. Games that operate as online services can use a range of such measures including DAU, MAU, ARPU, ARPS, etc.
Lifetime Value — this is the sum total of all the money that an individual player has spent in the game from install until churn.
Monthly Active Users — number of people, unique users that interact with a game during one month. This is one of the most common quantitative measures of the performance of a game, especially games that are run as online services. DAU is often used as a KPI.
The retention Rate for various days is plotted on a graph.
One of the common quantitative measures used to estimate the performance of a game run as a service, especially free-to-play games. It is calculated as the number of users still interacting with a game after a certain number of days divided by the total number of people that had installed the game. For example, the D7 retention rate is the number of players that still play the game one week after installing it divided by the total number of players that installed the game. This is one of the most common KPIs.
Quarter 1/2/3/4 — each year (both calendar and fiscal) is divided into four quarters each consisting of three months.
Year Over Year — a way of comparing two quantitative measures on an annual basis. It is commonly used in finance and business. For example, the revenue in the 3rd quarter in the current year can be compared to the revenue in the 3rd quarter of the previous year.
User Acquisition — is an act of acquisition of new users for a game, an application, a service or a platform. In a more narrow sense, it includes all active efforts organized with this goal in mind, for example, marketing campaigns, promotions, offers, etc.
Performance-Based Marketing — a marketing model in which the performance of a particular advertising campaign can be monitored directly. This usually refers to digital advertising platforms, where technology permits the gathering of data about user behavior indicative of marketing performance. This can include the number of clicks on the ad, the percentage of players that have watched video ads until the end, etc. This data can further be used to modify the marketing strategy, justify the usage of funds, evaluate the performance of particular visuals, etc.
Community Manager — a person in charge of communication and engagement with the player community of a particular game or a gaming studio. A sort of a PR of the game or the studio. This person is usually in charge of the social media accounts, such as Discord Servers, Forums, Web Site, Subreddits, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook Pages, Twitch, TikTok, etc. etc.
Customer Support — these are the people corresponding directly with the customers. They are the ones usually handling the direct complaints and requests submitted by individual players, via specific official contact channels, such as contact emails, official forums, specific in-game features designed for this purpose etc.
Executive Produces — Key vision holder of the game. This role is supposed to formulate the vision of the game and the strategic direction of the live service; to communicate this vision to all the team members and to guide, oversee and facilitate the operations of the team.
Game Manager — usually the most senior person in charge of a project. Quite often this person is the main vision holder of the game. The requirements of the role may vary from team to team, but in general this person is supposed to determine, organize and oversee the team, facilitate the development of the game and the operations of the live service.
Game General Manager — pretty much the same as the above.
Product Manager — the person usually in charge of the business side of the game development and live service operations.
Quality Assurance — these are the people responsible for testing the implementation of the game. They are supposed to play the game with specific attention to newly added features and content, spot bugs and report bugs. After the bugs have been fixed by the developers, QA is supposed to test the same bits of game all over to verify that the bugs have been fixed correctly.