Core Gameplay Loop in Fortnite, Mario and Dark Souls

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Core gameplay loop in mobile games

Core gameplay loop or core game loop is the most frequently used mechanic of your game. It’s the main thing the player will remember about your game. For example, the core loop game design of Mario is jumping on enemies heads, in Fortnite — tracking and shooting enemies.

mario core loop

Basically, the core loop is what the player will surely do in the first and last 15 minutes in the game. Game developers must create core game loops very carefully, as this is the essence of their game.

We will tell you in detail what the core gameplay is, how to make it better and what mistakes to avoid while developing the core loop.

What is a core gameplay loop in games

Core loop game is what the player will do from start to finish. It may be exploring the world, platforming, solving puzzles, managing a country, harvesting resources, etc. In detail, core gameplay is what defines the game genre. So you need to make it good to meet the player’s expectations.

fortnite gameplay loop

Now imagine the world where games consist only of basic core loops. Every platforming game would feel like Donkey Kong from 1981, with no powerups, funky enemies and tough bosses. And every FPS will be like Maze War: one weapon, one enemy and boring sprites as decorations. But nowadays we have a variety of platforming games, from No Internet T-Rex from Google Chrome to latest 3D Mario games. We got them because game developers were polishing, expanding and complicating those core mechanics for nearly 40 years.

core loop game

So the core gameplay of a modern game must be more complex than “Press X, press Y, press X”. It defines the gameplay experience, enjoyment and desire to play further. Good game designers create several loops and mix them together so the player will often get into fresh situations and get emotions from solving them.

How to make a good core gameplay loop

Let’s start with an example — Sunless Sea. This game is about exploring the sea located under the Earth surface — the Unterzee. You are a captain of a small ship with one cannon and a dozen crewmates. All you need to do is to sail in search of new islands, secrets and money. Sounds intriguing, isn’t it?

sunless sea core loop

But after the first 15 minutes of sailing the Sunless Sea becomes boring. All you need to do is to steer the ship, sometimes fight hordes of zeebats by pressing one button, sometimes buy food and fuel to continue the journey. There is nothing interesting aside from text quests and they quickly become boring too. It is a perfect example of how the game with good concept may be left unnoticed because of poorly designed core loop: press W to move forward, steer to not crash.

Why is the Sunless Sea boring? Because the player won’t get the adequate reward in the form of ingame resources, beautiful landscapes or satisfaction from passing a challenge.

Let’s move to another example — Sid Meier’s Pirates! The concept is not intriguing at all: you are a pirate of a Carribean, fin. But the core loop is much better designed. You must turn sails to the wind, trade goods, fight with enemy ships and take care of your crew. A short expedition to the neighbouring island is an enjoyable experience because there are many things that can happen while sailing. Also, every moment of sailing you need to fight the winds to sail faster.

But there is one more thing to make the core game loop enjoyable: adding the reward. In Sunless Sea successful sailing rewards you with new text quests which give you some strange resources: echoes, secrets, hearts. At first time you don’t know what to do with them and feel no satisfaction, because you aren’t experienced with the Sunless Sea economy system. And you won’t get experience because it is boring to play and learn. In Pirates! you’ll get a short cutscene for every successful action, also you’ll get reward in money and goods to trade.

game reward

Just compare “I took on board this caravella and got 20 tons of food! I’ll sell it for 300 gold and buy a new canon!” vs “I destroyed this ship and got… 3 hearts? What am I gonna do with them?”

So the good core gameplay loop must contain not only gameplay, but a reward for a small victory: experience, money, funny scenes, resources which the player knows how to use.

That’s why the hyper casual games are so popular — they reward the player for every action. Cleared the level within 1 minute? Here’s 3 stars and 50 coins, go buy a new skin for your character. It is simple and it works well.

Examples of gameplay core loops

Let’s explain some popular game genres: first person shooter Call of Duty, action game Dark Souls and mobile game Gardenscapes.

The core gameplay loop of any Call of Duty game is to place a crosshair on the enemy and to press the trigger. The same concept works both in single player campaigns and in multiplayer. But why do most of the players want to fight other players instead of bots? Because they get rewards: new weapons, skins and attachments. Also, in the campaign they get rewarded with cutscenes and story.

The core loop of Call of Duty can be explained this way: play the match → equip new items → play again.

Core gameplay loop of Dark Souls is fighting enemies to collect souls. The players get rewarded with souls, crafting materials, new weapons and armor. Loop is as follows: fight enemies → collect souls → find a bonfire → use souls to upgrade the character and equipment → go fight stronger enemies.

Gardenscapes is a mobile game based on puzzles. Its core loop is based on progression: play puzzle → get coins → use coins to unlock new puzzles → play next puzzle.

How to create core gameplay loop

At first, you need to think about what the players want to receive from your game. For example, if the main feature is an exciting story, every finished gameplay cycle must reward players with story pieces. It’s how the RPG like the Witcher and Mass Effect works. The player destroys enemies for 10-15 minutes to enjoy the 2-3 minutes dialogue or cutscene. Loot doesn’t matter, because in next 15 minutes the player will find a better sword or rifle.

If the game is competitive, reward the player with experience and ways to improve his gameplay. Every point earned in Call of Duty brings the player closer to unlocking new weapon attachment which will help to earn more points. Every kill in Counter Strike gives the player money to buy better weapons to make victory easier.

If the game is about pure gameplay, like hyper casual games, rogue-like or arcade games, you may reward players with new challenges. Every Mario level is harder than previous. Every 100 points earned in Tetris make the game faster and harder to play further.

When the reward is chosen, you need to think about loops transition and mixing. For example, in Counter Strike, Valorant and Battlefield the players can choose the equipment after death. In farming games and city building simulators the players must collect different kinds of resources and combine them to progress further.

gameplay loop explanation

In the end, the core gameplay loop is really a loop: player uses mechanic #1, which leads him to mechanic #2, which leads to mechanic #3, which leads to reward and mechanic #1 again.

Analysis of the Darkest Dungeon core gameplay loop

We want to talk about the Darkest Dungeon because it has a very clear core loop design which doesn’t change till the game’s end. The loop is following:

  1. town management — upgrade the buildings within the town;
  2. heroes management — heal mentally wounded heroes, upgrade their skills and weapons, distribute trinkets;
  3. party management — hire new heroes and form a party for the next embankment;
  4. preparation — buy provision, torches and shovels for the expedition;
  5. expedition — go through catacombs, fight monsters, loot treasures;
  6. victory or retreatment — see how much experience and gold the party got, return to the town;
  7. town management — use the looted resources to upgrade the buildings.

Every mechanic the Darkest Dungeon has is included in this loop. And this loop repeats for every gameplay session. There are no mechanics that start out nothing and lead to nothing — and that’s why the game is so good.

darkest dungeon gameplay

So how to design a core loop for mobile game

We assume that you have written a Game Design Document or at least know what mechanics you want to include in your game. Make the list of these mechanics and try to sort them in logical order, from one mechanic to another. Let’s say, you want to develop an arcade game with jumping, avoiding obstacles and collecting coins. The loop will look like this:

  1. Run forward, jump.
  2. Collect coins.
  3. In case of victory go to the next level.

Does it look engaging? No. Let’s make a core loop:

  1. Run forward, jump.
  2. Collect coins.
  3. In case of victory get all coins collected.
  4. [In case of defeat] lose all coins collected in this level.
  5. Spend coins to open the next level.

We sorted the mechanics into logical order and made the reward (coins) more valuable to the players. The next thing to do is to make run-and-jump mechanics unique and entertaining, but now we have a strong basement to build on.

Possible mistakes in designing the core loop

Although the gameplay loop concept is simple and it is possible to create a playable game from almost any mechanic, there are a few common mistakes in creating the core loop. You need to avoid them at any cost, if you want to develop a profitable and popular mobile game.

Mistake #1 — there is no reward. We explained this on the Sunless Sea example — the players don’t understand why they are playing because they don’t receive a visible reward. Do not forget to reward a player with something that will make a start of the loop easier and quicker.

reward mechanics

Mistake #2 — the loop isn’t looped. If the player can complete the game without using half of it’s mechanics, it means that they are not looped and not necessary. Let’s say there is an RPG game with “fireproof” characteristics the player can upgrade, but there are no enemies with fire attacks. What’s the point with upgrading it?

Mistake #3 — no visible progress. One of the valuable parts of motivation for playing the game is the “I’m getting better at it!” feeling. If the game won’t show it in any way, the players will lose interest in the core loop and the game itself.


Every popular game is built around a core gameplay loop. Even tic-tac-toe. Those games are so popular because their mechanics form a strong core loop with some kind of reward.

Developing unique game mechanics is good, but including them in a loop in a natural and enjoyable order is the best thing you can do for your game. Many indie games were successful only because of entertaining loops. And many of them failed because cool mechanics were left aside from the core loop.

If you have troubles with core loop design — ask us to help you. Fill the brief, explain your game and its mechanics, and we will try our best to design a core gameplay loop the players will love.


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