What is a Core Loop in a Mobile Game?

So what exactly is meant by the Core Loop?

A good core loop can be the making or breaking of your game. You can almost consider this as the structure or even engine system that underpins your game design. 

The core loop is essentially the very heartbeat of your game. It is a series or chain of actions that is repeated over and over as the primary flow of your players experience. It’s the core essence of why we return to play games over and over again.

Kevin Wolstenholme

Your core loop should be considered before you even press a single key on your keyboard.

For mobile games or hyper casual games specifically, core loops should be short, simple and easy to understand. It should make sense in your games universe or theme and support your games rules.

It’s helpful for you to think about how you would summarise your game in a single sentence and if your game can be instantly understood in short CTR Video.

In just a few shorts seconds the reaction you’re looking for is “ahh, ok yea I get it.” 

Examples of Core Loops in Games

So let’s take a generic city builder as an example.

I have to earn coins to craft various items and only once I’ve crafted my items, does my Town grow. I then rinse and repeat this process and my Town becomes a City. I want a City full of nice new buildings, so I complete the loop and I get my reward. It’s the core action of why we continue to play games over and over again.

So let’s take a look at a couple of real game examples.

Clash of Clans – Core Loop

Supercell - Clash of Clans - The Core Game Loop
Supercell Clash of Clans Core Loop

I’m sure you’ve probably heard of Clash of Clans or played it at some time, it’s one of the most popular games of its type by Mobile Behemoth, Supercell.

The Clash of clans core loop goes like this:

Collect Coins & Elixir / Build your clan/settlement.

Expand your Troops & battle to win more coins / elixir.

This goes around and rinses and repeats, but the aim stays the same:

Collect / Build / Expand.

Of course, there is an absolute ton of other stuff that goes on in within the game, but this is the core loop, the base from which it all works around. A genius game that has thousands of followers all over the world.

Now, clearly, Clash of Clans is a super complicated game under the bonnet, and most casual games don’t come remotely close in terms of complexity, although they hold the same game loop theory.

Stack by Ketchapp – Core Loop

Ketchapp - Stack - The Core Game Loop
Stack by Ketchapp - Core Loop

So let’s take a look of what a casual game core could look like, and let’s use Ketchapp’s Stack as an example.

Although Stack was released back in February 2016, it was really one of the pioneers in what is now Hyper Casual.

So as you can see, it’s not hugely different from the Clash of Clans core game loop in essence, slightly more basic of course, but these loops are present in every game you’ll see.

Play / Earn diamonds / Replay to earn more and unlock new game themes.

So why is a Core Loop important to you?

Your core loop is essentially the beating pulse of your game. Once you have firmly settled on your core loop, you can start to expand on this. 

It’s crucial however to ensure that your gameplay doesn’t deviate too much from the actual purpose of the game itself.

In short, it’ll keep you in check so the majority of things you will add to your game will stay true to this loop.

Once you have this solid foundation, you can start to think about your game structure and other game design systems and loops.

Adding “meta” around your games core loop adds depth and increases replayability. These elements build along side and dovetail from your main core loop adding layers of complexity.

Different types of Game Loops

  • Core Loop – General game actions, premise and rules.
  • Dual Loop – Just like the core but forks in 2 giving a choice to the player.
  • Nested Loop – These are choices and paths that lead back to the core.
  • Compulsion Loop – Routed in psychology, the additive, habit forming loops.

What about the Game Story?

Well, I’m pretty sure many would not clump these 2 fundamentals together in one post, and there’s certainly arguments for not doing so, but as we’re focussing really on casual, or hyper casual mobile games, rather than traditional console or PC games, stories are often non-existent.

They’re just really not applicable for casual phone games.

When we look at most of the top casual games on the App Stores, a huge majority of them are essentially high score chasers. If they are not high score chasers, then most likely they are level based or stage based, so, for me, the story actually is the core loop itself.

Final Thoughts

Once you understand the core loop and the critical part it plays in the designing of your game, you’ll have a super solid base around which to build your project.

If well designed, your core loop will invoke a sense of achievement, engagement and keep your players motivated and challenged whilst always being simple and easy to understand.

This is the essence of great game design.

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