Game Design— Difficulty Settings

Thomas Steffen
3 min readAug 7, 2023


Difficulty settings empower players with the freedom to decide how they want to play the game. Some players may prefer a more relaxed and story-focused experience, while others enjoy a challenging and intense gameplay experience. By offering different difficulty options, game developers can accommodate a broader range of players and create a more inclusive gaming environment.

Difficulty settings can be applied to various aspects of the game, such as combat, puzzles, AI behavior, resource management, time limits, and more. This allows players to customize the level of challenge in different gameplay segments. Some games even allow you to customize this experience on a more detailed scale. For example, some games allow you to change resources gained, starter items, how quickly a stat can be drained, or how much damage players/enemies do.

Players have varying skill levels and experience in playing video games. Difficulty settings provide a means to tailor the gameplay experience to match the player’s expertise. Novice players can start with easier difficulty settings to learn the mechanics and progress gradually to more challenging levels as they become more proficient.

Properly balanced difficulty settings can enhance player immersion and engagement. When the challenge aligns with the player’s skill level, it creates a sense of achievement and satisfaction. On the other hand, excessively difficult settings might lead to frustration, while overly easy settings can result in boredom.
For example, in the Resident Evil series, an easy mode would allow you to shoot most enemies from a distance and more easily navigate the world to solve puzzles. While in the more difficult modes, you would need to conserve your ammo for bosses, navigate around enemies, and even sneak past certain areas.

Difficulty settings contribute to the replayability of a game. Players who complete the game on one difficulty level may be motivated to play again on a higher difficulty setting to experience new challenges and achieve higher scores or rewards.
For example, in the older Diablo series, the player would unlock the next difficulty after beating the game. This would keep the player’s character progress, but open up stronger weapons, loot, enemies, and even varying boss strategies or attacks.

Some games use difficulty settings to influence the narrative and storytelling. For instance, higher difficulty levels might unlock additional storylines, alternate endings, or reveal hidden details about the game world. Some games even limit the levels you could complete on certain difficulties. Personally I hated this in games, but I do understand the reasoning to engage the players, keep them playing, and hoping they’ll improve enough to complete the game.

Game designers must strike a balance between challenge and fun when designing difficulty settings. Too much challenge may discourage players, while too little can diminish the sense of accomplishment. The goal is to create an engaging and rewarding experience that keeps players motivated to progress.

Some games incorporate adaptive difficulty systems that dynamically adjust the challenge based on the player’s performance. If the player struggles with a particular section, the game might automatically reduce the difficulty or display a prompt to the player to lower difficulty to provide a smoother experience.

Personally, I enjoy games that have a simple category for difficulty, but also as an option to allow for a customized setting which breaks down each aspect of the game’s challenges. This is especially important for multiplayer games and dealing with custom experiences, challenges, and time management for a group of players. But again, this also depends on the game, it’s genre, and how you design it.

Overall, difficulty settings are a powerful tool in game design that caters to players’ individual preferences and skill levels. By providing players with the option to choose their preferred level of challenge, game developers can enhance player satisfaction and extend the longevity of their games.



Thomas Steffen

I am Virtual Reality Developer, UI Systems, and general programmer with a passion for Unity software development.