Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment

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Games that during gameplay adjust their difficulty depending on how well players progresses.

Providing the right level of challenge for players in a game can be difficult for game designers to achieve solely through creating challenges in advance. While they can let players have influence on this, e.g. through a scale of difficulty settings or by choosing their opponents, Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment is rules in the game system that adjusts players' challenges depending on how well they are gaming.

There is a US patent related to Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment[1].


Borderlands, Fallout 3, and Oblivion all uses Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment systems to within certain limits scale the strength of enemies to those of the players. While changing this is quite natural for these combat-oriented games, Racing Games such as Mario Kart series and Super Monkey Ball series instead typically increase the maximum speed of the last racers to help that player catch up.

Board Games can also have Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment systems. Shadows over Camelot increases the difficulty of other challenges when quests are solved, and Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game has mechanisms for balancing gameplay halfway through game instances when playing with a odd number of players.

Using the pattern

Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment is in Single-Player Games used to try and reach a certain level of challenge, possibly set by players through Difficulty Levels, while for PvP it is instead used to achieve Player Balance. In games with TvT, Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment systems are also applied to achieve Team Balance. A prime choice for these systems are if they should be possible to turn on and off, i.e. if they are Optional Rules - if always active they may not be revealed to players to give them an Exaggerated Perception of Influence. One reason to make them optional is that they can they work as a form of Difficulty Levels; another reason to make Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment systems optional is that the decrease the Value of Effort possible in games.

The main way of achieving Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment is through Negative Feedback Loops, typically by measuring gameplay progress and then giving Decreased Abilities or Increased Abilities as appropriate. Common examples are affecting how Damage is given or received, and affecting top speed for Movement. Number of Enemies and the performance of these and AI Players are other design solutions used frequently. A low key way of providing Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment is to give failing players Clues on how to progress better.

While all games can have Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment, Dedicated Game Facilitators can do them secretly and without causing any extra Excise to players and Game Masters can do the adjustment on the fly depending on the specific context of gameplay.

Interface Aspects

When optional, Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment is typically selectable through Secondary Interface Screens but in other cases they may be completely hidden from players.


In Single-Player Games, Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment acts as a Balancing Effect, not necessarily making gameplay even between players and the system but towards reaching Casual Gameplay or Challenging Gameplay depending on the game design. If players can choose to have Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment it can due to this function as Difficulty Levels and can also help preserve a sense of Value of Effort. In games with PvP the systems can give rise to Player Balance and in games with TvT gameplay, Team Balance. For games with Drop-In/Drop-Out support, the latter also gives players a Freedom of Choice to game less depending on how this will affect the other players.

Systems for Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment are Balancing Effects, both in themselves and as examples of Handicap Systems. They can give players Exaggerated Perceptions of Influence, if not revealed to them. If they are known to players this may still occur by this is a volatile state - if may just as easily work against it if players can note specific cases when the system rather than the player had the deciding effect. When Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment systems forcefully but secretly change outcomes of game events, they give rise to Fudged Results.


Can Instantiate

Balancing Effects, Casual Gameplay, Challenging Gameplay, Exaggerated Perception of Influence, Fudged Results, Handicap Systems

with Drop-In/Drop-Out

Freedom of Choice

with Optional Rules

Difficulty Levels

with PvP

Player Balance

with TvT

Team Balance

Can Modulate

AI Players, Damage, Enemies, Movement, PvP, Single-Player Games, TvT

Can Be Instantiated By

Clues, Decreased Abilities, Dedicated Game Facilitators, Game Masters, Increased Abilities, Negative Feedback Loops

Can Be Modulated By

Optional Rules, Secondary Interface Screens

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Exaggerated Perception of Influence, Value of Effort


New pattern created in this wiki.


  1. United States Patent 4285517 for an adaptive microcomputer controlled game.


Ian Bogost