The Core Gaming Loop in Mobile and Social Games

What is the Core Gaming Loop within a Mobile or a Social game?  The Core Gaming Loop is what models the full play session from the mechanics point of view.  Meaning, the Core Gaming Loop comprises the core mechanics of the game that a player attempts to accomplish during their play session.  The method in which the exact core metrics are implemented vary greatly from game to game… but let’s explore the basic mechanics that make up the core loop of any successful mobile or social game.

The Core Gaming Loop



First there are actions.  These are the basic game play elements that a player performs.  The things that a player can DO within a game.

In FarmVille, you can plant, water, harvest, etc your crops.  In Plants vs Zombies you can place a plant, fire at a Zombie, etc.  In Angry Birds you can fling a bird across the screen and so forth.

The exact actions that your player does vary greatly from game to game.  The exact action is not what is important.  What is critical is the purpose of the action.  If the action is there just to create clicks, then there is little value.  A successful action leads to a certain reward.  Let’s explore the reward.


The rewards component is the result of an action.  The reward is a payment, as it were, given back to player rewarding them for the time and energy they just spent into the game.

There are two types of rewards.  These are “Goal” based awards and “Participant” based awards.  Goal based awards are given only if the players actions reached a certain goal or end result, such as completing a level within a certain time frame.  Participant awards are different in that they are given simply for doing an action, whether or not the action itself was successful and regardless of any goals reached.  Goal based awards provide more engagement for the user, however making the goals too difficult or too numerous can make the game too challenging.  Even to the point that the user does not enjoy the game.


Expansions are the sought after items within the game.  These are generally levels, items or extra features that are only available after completing enough actions or acquiring enough rewards.  Most games use the concept of Experience (XP) and Player Levels to track player progression.  An example of an expansion is when an item is unlocked and made available to you once you reached a certain level.

Expansions are critical to drive your engagement.  This section of the core loop is also considered the “Elder Game”, or the portion of the game that entices your highest level players to continue playing.

What about Social and Monetization?

You might be asking yourself, what about Social? What about Monetization?  While those are key components to growing a great game, they are not necessarily required aspects of the core loop.  Almost any successful game maker ensures that their game has these elements (social, monetization, etc) baked into the core loop, but the focus first on the Actions, Rewards and Expansions first, then they add in the monetization and social aspects on top.

Without a strong core gaming loop, your monetization efforts will fail.  Without a strong core gaming loop your users will not want to share or invite their friends.  Get the core gaming loop done first, then build upon it.

The Core Loop

In order to make a successful game that grows, retains users and drives minimization, these critical components need to be in your game.  The most successful online and mobile games incorporate all components and make them flow seamlessly together.

What’s your favorite game?  Can you identify what the actions, rewards and expansions are?  Share them with us below.

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