Core game loops — what are they and why

Futuresalt Entertainment
6 min readFeb 23, 2023

Have you ever wondered why you feel the need to come back to a game and play even more? If yes, then you have a taste of what’s going to be the topic of this post — core gameplay loops. They have a gigantic impact on players' gameplay experience and most often becomes the axis around which the story, and actually the entire game, is created.

The core loop is essentially the very center of a game, technically speaking. It is a chain of actions that are repeated continuously and created in order to organize the plot of the game and maximize the player's experience. This is also the main reason why gamers keep coming back to playing games. Sometimes a loop will be so perfect that players keep coming back to the game a few times a day.

Today we will focus on the basic core loops that should show, in a simple manner, the main actions that users have to do in order to gain rewards and expand their characters. They are usually quite simple and easy to present graphically. The core loops should also explain the mail goal of the game. The main CGL that I wanted to describe today are loot, leveling, survivor and action loop.

The loot loop

The loot loop is all about collecting resources, checking and selecting the most necessary items, and then using them to improve the abilities, appearance, or stats of the character. The most popular games using this loop are Diablo, Destiny, or Path of Exile. The “loot loop” is a core game loop that is often used in action role-playing games (RPGs) and massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs).

The loot loop typically consists of the following steps:

  • Players engage in combat or complete objectives to gain loot, which can include items such as weapons, armor, and other equipment.
  • Players then examine the loot and decide which items they want to keep, sell, or used to upgrade their existing equipment.
  • Players use the resources and rewards they have collected to improve their character’s stats, abilities, and appearance.

This cycle is then repeated, with players engaging in combat or completing objectives to gain more loot, and so on. This loop provides a sense of progression and accomplishment as players see their character or equipment improve over time. The loot loop is also a motivator for players to continue playing, as they are always on the lookout for better and rarer loot.

The leveling loop

The leveling loop enables players to gain experience measured in points, skills, etc. Then, the player consistently raises the level of his character, unlocks new skills and thus creates a character that can compete with other players, e.g., on an online server. The most popular games using this loop are The Division, World of Warcraft or Elder Scrolls Online. The leveling loop is a core game loop that is commonly used in role-playing games (RPGs) and massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs).

The leveling loop typically consists of the following steps:

  • Players engage in combat or complete objectives to gain XP.
  • As players gain XP, they level up and gain access to new abilities and content.
  • Players use their new abilities and content to engage in more challenging combat or complete more difficult objectives, which in turn grants them more XP and the cycle continues.

This loop provides a sense of progression and accomplishment as players see their character’s abilities and stats improve over time. The leveling loop is also a motivator for players to continue playing, as they are always working towards the next level and the rewards that come with it. It’s also important to note that the leveling loop can also be used in other games genres, not only in RPGs, the only difference is that the rewards and objectives change accordingly to the game genre and theme.

The survivor loop

The survival loop is a model in which the player gathers resources, skillfully manages them and, through skillful management, uses them to increase the capabilities of his character. This loop is known from DayZ, The Long Dark or Don’t Starve. So, as the name indicates, it’s commonly used in survival games.

The survival loop typically consists of the following steps:

  • Players must gather resources such as food, water, shelter, and other necessities for survival.
  • Players must manage their resources and make strategic decisions on how to use them effectively, such as building shelter or crafting weapons.
  • Players must also manage their character’s health by avoiding hazards such as hunger, thirst, cold, and injury.
  • Players must fend off against wild animals and other hostile entities that threaten their survival.

As they progress and collect more resources, they can improve their equipment and base, which allows them to survive in harsher conditions and face more dangerous challenges. This loop provides a sense of immersion and realism to the players, as they must think and act strategically to survive in the game’s environment. The survival loop is also a motivator for players to continue playing, as they are always working towards the next step in their survival journey. It’s also important to note that survival loop can also be combined with other loops, like the loot loop or the leveling loop, which can add more complexity and depth to the gameplay.

The action loop

The last of the loops presented in this article is the action loop. In it, the player progresses in learning the game’s plot by taking part in combat and completing the main and side objectives in the game. Popular games that use this loop include Uncharted, Bayonetta and Doom.

The action loop typically consists of the following steps:

  • Players engage in fast-paced, intense combat against enemies, using a variety of weapons and abilities.
  • Players complete objectives, such as rescuing hostages, defusing bombs, or defeating bosses.
  • Players progress through the story, usually by completing levels or missions, and move on to the next challenge.
  • As players progress, the difficulty of the game increases and enemies become more formidable, requiring players to improve their skills and tactics.

This loop provides a sense of adrenaline and engagement to the players, as they are constantly challenged and rewarded with new objectives, weapons, and enemies. The action loop is also a motivator for players to continue playing, as they want to see what comes next in the story and how their character develops. It’s also important to note that action loop can also be combined with other loops, like the loot loop or the leveling loop, which can add more depth and variety to the gameplay.

(I’m currently releasing a game based on this game loop, check it out if you want — https://store.steampowered.com/app/1744070/Solomon_Snow_First_Contact/ )

As you can imagine, there are many different loops on the gaming market that are adapted to specific types of players or games. I hope that now, knowing about their existence and knowing their purpose and operating models, you will be able to recognize, name and understand them better. This should change your view of the story, mechanics, and games as a whole.

Thanks!

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