This entry is about the overall formula for what makes something fun. In a nutshell, here is the formula to fun: Set Expectations, Engagement, Tension, Discovery... in that order. That's really it. But there are a lot of details on how to do all of these steps well. The best way to explain how this formula works is to walk through it backwards.
Fun is essentially discovery that the user cares about. I like to say that learning + engagement = fun, and learning - engagement = school. You can't have fun without discovery, and you can't have discovery without tension. If you knew what the answer to the question was already, then there wouldn't be any tension. You need to add an unknown factor to have tension. When you add tension, then the discovery moment really pays off. I like to call tension the volume of fun, the more tension you have, the more fun will be had when the tension is cut. Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz once said "laughter is the cutting of tension", and he's absolutely right! How do you create tension? There are a lot of ways to do this across all forms of media and disciplines of entertainment, some cross over, some don't. We'll go over all of them in the coming blogs, in my twitter, instagram, and especially in my book. But you can't have tension unless you have engagement. It's impossible. Tension means the user cares about the outcome and you can only care if you are engaged.
Engagement is essentially focus. If the user is not focusing on whats going on in your product, they will never build tension, and they will never get to release that tension. You need to make the player focus on what you're doing in your product, almost at all times. Again, there are a TON of ways to create engagement in your product. For the next step, you can't have engagement without setting expectations.
When the user knows whats about to happen, or they have an archetype to follow, or they know they're watching a comedy movie, then they have expectations. One quick and easy way to resonate and set expectations is to use familiar IP (intellectual property) like Spongebob Squarepants, or a known genre like a First Person Shooter game, or something easily readable like a haunted house for a theme park attraction. Expectations allow for tension, some people call it sizzle (Michael Jackson), others call it anticipation. You cant have engagement without these expectations being set.
All happiness and sadness is either going over, or under someone s expectations. But you can never do that if you don't set expectations in the beginning, that's why it's always better to have a clean and clear product. A lot of designers always emphasize the simplicity of things. Everything has to be simple, because it's easy to understand something when it'[s simple, you wont get confused, and the expectations are easy to set and are very clear. If you're confused, you cannot get engaged, if you're not engaged, you'll never have tension, and if you don't have tension you cant have discovery (fun).
The formula is pretty is easy to understand, but the devil is in the details and there are a ton of details in this formula that I will be going over in the coming months, years, centuries.