Spiky Features : Make Your Game Spiky


Have you ever wondered what makes a game successful and turns it into a hit? Perhaps it's marketing? A game, no matter how high-quality it is, cannot sell if no one knows it exists. Maybe it's the graphics to make it attractive to potential players? The gameplay? Sound design? Level design, perhaps?

There is a principle that encompasses all of these areas and can explain the reason for these successes. It's called "Spiky Features."

What are Spiky Features?

Here's a quote from Charlie Cleveland that perfectly explains what a spiky feature is:

"The spikes, the differentiators, are the things that make a game not necessarily good, but different." Charlie CleveLand

He also illustrates this in this video with these diagrams.

generic and spiky features picture
Schema by Charlie Cleveland about generic and Spiky games, at Svilluparty in 2016
spiky features picture
Schema by Charlie Cleveland about Spiky games, at the Svilluparty in 2016

Each game is a cell that, in the multitude of games, blends into the crowd. But "spiky" games stand out from the others.


Darkest Dungeon

spiky features of Darkest Dungon
Schema by Charlie Cleveland about Darkest Dungeon, at the Svilluparty in 2016
  • Art: Darkest Dungeon has a very different art direction than many minecraft-like, or low poly games.
  • Stress: A mechanic where your hero can be stressed and go insane. You don't see this often.
  • Permadeath: A very hard game that don't let you save. A popup appear at the start of the game, basically telling you: "you're screwed".
  • True RnG: Unlike most games where the game tends to be more forgiving when the player experiences a stroke of bad luck, this game is completely random. Even if you play flawlessly, you can still die just because of bad luck.
  • Narrator: A skilled voice actor who perfectly fits the role and enhances the game's atmosphere.


spiky features of Subnautica
Schema by Charlie Cleveland about Subnautica, at the Svilluparty in 2016
  • The Abyss: A game inspired by the movie "The Abyss". Which was a first at this time.
  • Big creatures: Bug, giant creatures. Giving Thrill to players when they see them.
  • "Terror" Game: A game that provides a thrill to players who are scared of the unknown, even if there is nothing beyond that unknown.
  • No guns: A survival game where players never receive guns, despite frequently requesting them.
  • Submarine: A game that allows players to create and pilot a submarine, which at the time had no other games with that feature.

How to use it ?

This part is not complicated. After defining the spiky features of your game, you need to ask yourself, "does this idea reinforce one or more spiky features?" If the answer is no, then it will not fundamentally improve the game, and you should put that idea aside. If you find an idea that is both easy to implement and reinforces one or more spiky features, you can generally say that you can integrate it directly into the game without debate.


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