Does a Win/Lose Condition Affect A Game’s Fun?

Jason Dookeran
5 min readMar 11, 2024
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I’ve been spending a lot of time on Threads, and it’s opened up my mind as a developer to many things. Most recently, a friend of mine on the platform talked about how he felt less fun in games that didn’t have a win/lose condition. If a game doesn’t have a lose condition, is it still a game?

Goals Are Important

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Anyone who has spent some time trying to “find themselves” knows that goals are necessary, but the actual goals don’t have to be clearly defined. A goal can be simple: “I want to walk every day for twenty minutes.” It doesn’t have to be complex, but just outlining it in terms like this gives it form and gives you an idea of what you’re doing. The same goes for games.

The Types Of Conditions in Games

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Developers who have done simple game state machines know that there are three potential situations that the player can find themselves in — win, loss, or end. Sometimes, loss and end are the same state, but that’s not necessarily the case. Look at Chess, for example. The stalemate occurs when one player has no valid moves. In such a case, the game is at an end state, but neither player has a win or a lose state attributed to them.

Why Are These States Important?

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One of the most basic ideals of any game system is that there should be a win-or-loss condition. Both of these are not necessary, but at least one is. Sometimes, the win condition can be something amorphous like “survive X days” or “Obtain Y Amount Of Gold.” Lose conditions, on the other hand, can be a lot more specific.

Generally speaking, win conditions are the overarching compulsion for the player to keep playing. In the original The Legend of Zelda for the NES, Link has to collect eight pieces of power, but his lose condition is running out of hearts. As anyone who’d played it can tell you, Link only completes the win condition once, but players die repeatedly in the game. The lose condition is always a looming threat.

Does a Win or Lose Condition Make a Game More Fun?

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The biggest concern for anyone looking at game design and development is whether their game is fun. Fun can be many things, from the design of the narrative to the mechanics the player interacts with. Yet, what are the stakes if there’s no way to win or lose?

Consider open-ended games like Minecraft. There is no defined win condition, but there’s always a chance that something will blow up and kill your character. What makes a game like this compelling is partially because the environment can become hostile at a moment’s notice. There’s no real win condition, as there is a constant lose condition right around the corner. And the stakes make building anything a risk, but that risk is fun.

Push Your Luck

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In the board game space, there’s a mechanic known as “push-your-luck.” In many games, players can decide to settle for what they have or risk what they have for further gains. Push-your-luck mechanics play into that risk at the heart of a lose condition. You might not lose outright, but there’s a chance (sometimes calculated) that you might lose a significant amount of your resources.

Lose conditions make games more fun because they add stakes to the game. They make the game something the player might lose just because they sought to reach higher or further. And while this might seem mean-spirited, it teaches a lesson — no action is free of potential consequence.

Building a Fair Game

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Returning to lose conditions, players like certain types of lose conditions, and dislike others. Lose conditions can come in two varieties:

· Controllable: Controllable losses happen through player error or because they did something that the game punished them for. These are predictable because the player knows the rules of the game.

· Uncontrollable: An uncontrollable loss occurs when the game itself has bugs or is flawed. This means that the player dies or cannot complete the game because of factors outside their control. Maybe there’s a key that the player can’t get because it comes after the door, for example.

To make a fair game, you must limit the number of uncontrollable losses. Fair games will always be more fun than unfair ones.

Win Conditions and Lose Conditions Are Important

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It might be difficult to fathom that winning and losing are a vital part of play, but psychologists have confirmed this fact. While a game may not need both of these, having one of them gives the player motivation. However, lose conditions are far more compelling to avoid than win conditions are to achieve for a large portion of the population. If you must choose one for your next game, put in a lose condition. It makes the game a lot more fun if the player can actually lose.

Hi, I’m Jason, and I’ve been an indie game developer for over a decade. I’m also a writer, and I’ve put this space online to share what I’ve learned through my study of games with people who may not be aware of the things I’ve discovered so far.

If you want to follow along my journey to becoming a proper developer or just like reading the stuff I write about games, their rules, their psychology, and their motivation, follow me on Medium or subscribe to get my updates. And remember, win and lose conditions are essential, but if you have to choose one, always put in a lose condition.



Jason Dookeran

Freelance author, ghostwriter, and crypto/blockchain enthusiast. I write about personal finance, emerging technology and freelancing