Positive Feedback Loops

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Rule systems that affect the game state so that future similar affects will have greater impact on the game state.

Players that perform well in a game typically receive some form of reward. When the reward makes performing the same action again easier, this creates a Positive Feedback Loop. However, the "positive" aspect simply denotes an increase and not a positive effect for the player; another type of Positive Feedback Loop in a game is to provide harder challenges to players that succeed with the existing ones.

Wikipedia has a page on Positive Feedback Loops. The chapter Games as Cybernetic Systems in Rules of Play[1] look extensively at positive and negative feedback loops and their use in games.


Chess and Monopoly both exhibit Positive Feedback Loops in that players that have a lead in number of pieces or money (respectively) tend to expand that lead more and more until they have won the games. Managing to build effective decks in Dominion, Mystic Vale or Thunderstone lets players get better cards that further improves the effectiveness of those decks.

Games that are built very strictly around one Positive Feedback Loop include FarmVille, Cookie Clicker, Cow Clicker, and Progress Quest.

Using the pattern

Providing players with the possibility to create Gameplay Engines is a typical reason to have Positive Feedback Loops in games. Another is to the wish that the game should have certain systemic properties as part of a Critical Gameplay Design.

A general approach to creating Positive Feedback Loops is to make use of Geometric Progression for Rewards or effects of player actions where the Rewards and effects also make the actions easier to do in the future. Since such Rewards often take the form of Resources (or access to Units), the use of Positive Feedback Loops heavily affect how these work in a game.

Quite naturally, Resource Caps work against the pattern if applied to Resources affecting the relevant player actions (by definition Negative Feedback Loops related to the same parts of the game state also work against the pattern).

Several different Positive Feedback Loops can exist in a game. For example, in Dominion players can have Positive Feedback Loops related to gaining Cards with actions or purchase ability or those related to gaining Cards that increase their Scores. Knowing when to start focusing on the latter due to the game being about to end is a skill in this game, and shows how the presence of the Construction/Scoring Phase Shift pattern can affect Positive Feedback Loops.


Positive Feedback Loops can create a Runaway Leader and thereby also Predictable Winner. For this reason, Positive Feedback Loops work against Player Balance and Team Balance (while Negative Feedback Loops can work for them). However, such situations also promote Predictable Gameplay Time since one of the players may be likely to be able to exploit the Positive Feedback Loop before certain amount of gameplay time has occurred.

When the Positive Feedback Loops are focused upon the challenges players met (rather than players' Abilities, Gameplay Engines, Scores, etc. that lead to a Runaway Leader), the pattern can create Ever Increasing Difficulty in a game. Using Geometric Progression to create Positive Feedback Loops often makes Combos exist in games as well as offering players Higher-Level Closures as Gameplay Progresses and Value of Effort when that effort is connected to making the Positive Feedback Loops occur. When the Geometric Progression occurs through Investments, the Positive Feedback Loops that occur can also give rise to Tension (if they can be lost) and Timing (in that one may need to know when to collect on one's Investments).


Can Instantiate

Critical Gameplay Design, Ever Increasing Difficulty, Gameplay Engines, Predictable Gameplay Time, Predictable Winner, Runaway Leader

with Geometric Progression

Combos, Higher-Level Closures as Gameplay Progresses, Value of Effort

with Geometric Progression and Investments

Tension, Timing

Can Modulate

Resources, Units

Can Be Instantiated By

Geometric Progression

Can Be Modulated By

Construction/Scoring Phase Shift

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Negative Feedback Loops, Player Balance, Resource Caps, Team Balance


New pattern created in this wiki.


  1. Salen, K. & Zimmerman, E. 2003. Rules of Play. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-24045-1.