Sep 10

Sideways play

‘Know thy player’ is a handy maxim when developing any system or feature they will interact with.

Sideways play is my shorthand term for a particular play style. Not quite the same as MinMaxers, but in the same realm.


I’ve covered various play styles before, as have others, but this one came up in design discussion today so it’s sharing time.

Sideways play is where a player advancing a character through a leveling system, or physical linear space, will stall forward progress in favor of extracting all they can from their current level. Thus a designer working on a product with a system capable of this, should be aware of this style, and if desired holistically, factor it into the breadth of sideways play.

Further, this includes deliberately  experiencing aspects of entertainment that you have to wait for.

Examples of this play style:

  • Anarchy Online. MMO with levels and badges and tiers and and more. However, AO has a simple toggle in the options to turn of acquisition of XP. You’ll continue to grind away for loot or something rare and not level up until ready.
  • Borderlands 2. A lesser version of above, where players will return to lower level areas in order to defeat special mobs for unique loot or to complete challenges.
  • Any fps with hidden glyphs, gold skulls, logos, etc.
  • N.O.L.F. / N.O.L.F 2 – Sneaking around when you don’t have to just to listen to the redshirts chat to each other.

This differs from the total play style, where a player will seek out and ‘play’ every part of everything as the desire to sideways play ebbs and flows with the tempo of the game.

Likewise, this differs from the non-player, one who is playing within the game but by their own rules.



image by Metro Centric