Mastery is a tricky thing to understand when designing games, expectedly. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with a game being hard, but it has to do with why it’s hard.
Games with depth or rewards are the best at providing an environment where mastery is put to use the best.
Games like Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom are both good examples of using depth where a player is pushed to be the best through pure competition and depth; this is what I call competitive mastery. Games like Jetpack Joyride, by Halfbrick (creators of fruit ninja), promote mastery through rewards by giving the player milestones to hit, and items to unlock (which I call feedback mastery.)
These are two types of mastery that almost every successful game employs, but obviously in their own ways. Games need some form of mastery to keep player attached to the experience and keep them coming back. Even the infamous Zynga model for developing games employs mastery through competition, but they took it to a whole new level.
When playing a Zynga game, except for Empires and Allies, you’re competing with friends on Facebook without even being aware of it. They give you energy to limit the amount of time you spend in the game each day, promoting an even greater level of master – doing more in less time. You need to find efficiency, true efficiency, in the way you’re playing the game to be the best at it. Empires and Allies of course had this right out in the open; the trick is realizing that they do this in every game they make.
Mastery is not REALLY something that’s hard to put in a game, but it’s hard to first understand and implement into a game. A process goes through someone’s mind when they’re making something from nothing, all I’m saying is to keep mastery in mind when making a game and you’ll be miles ahead of the competition.
Zynga may have thought of it all along, or they may have gotten lucky, but Capcom’s been employing this in their fighting games since the 90’s, and just look at how well it’s served them.
Competitive mastery or by feedback mastery, you choose.