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What Makes a Great Survival Game? A Comprehensive Guide

Survival games have been on the rise in recent years, with players seeking to test their skills and endurance in virtual worlds. But what makes a great survival game? In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the key elements that every survival game should have to create an immersive and thrilling experience for players. From crafting and exploration to combat and survival mechanics, we will delve into the details that bring these games to life and keep players engaged for hours on end. So buckle up and get ready to discover what it takes to create a truly great survival game.

The Fundamentals of a Survival Game

Gameplay Mechanics

Crafting System

A well-designed crafting system is essential in a survival game. It should allow players to create tools, weapons, and other items necessary for survival. The crafting system should be intuitive and easy to understand, with clear instructions on how to craft each item. It should also be challenging enough to require players to strategize and make tough decisions about which items to craft first.


Exploration is a key element of survival games, as players must scavenge for resources and navigate their environment to survive. The game world should be large and varied, with different biomes, terrain, and weather conditions. Players should be rewarded for exploring, whether it’s through discovering new resources, uncovering hidden secrets, or encountering dangerous creatures.

Resource Management

Resource management is a critical aspect of survival games. Players must carefully manage their resources, such as food, water, and shelter, to stay alive. The game should provide realistic constraints on resources, such as the need to hunt for food or find water sources. Resource management should also be challenging, requiring players to make tough decisions about how to best use their resources.

Character Progression

Character progression is important in survival games, as it allows players to improve their skills and abilities over time. The game should provide a clear progression system, with players earning experience points or other rewards for completing tasks or defeating enemies. Character progression should also be tied to the game’s crafting system, allowing players to unlock new recipes and create better items as they progress.

Overall, gameplay mechanics are a crucial aspect of survival games. A well-designed crafting system, exploration, resource management, and character progression can create a rich and engaging gameplay experience that keeps players hooked for hours on end.

Story and Setting

A compelling story and setting are crucial components in creating an immersive and engaging survival game. These elements help players become invested in the game world and make the experience more enjoyable. Here are some factors that contribute to a great story and setting in a survival game:

Immersive World Building

Immersive world building involves creating a believable and cohesive game world that draws players in and makes them feel like they are part of the experience. This includes details such as geography, climate, wildlife, and cultural elements. A well-crafted game world can help players become fully immersed in the game, making the survival experience more realistic and enjoyable.

Compelling Narrative

A compelling narrative is the story that drives the game and gives players a reason to survive. It can be a simple tale of survival against all odds or a more complex story with multiple characters and plotlines. A great narrative should be engaging, with well-developed characters and a plot that keeps players invested in the story.

Atmosphere and Mood

Atmosphere and mood refer to the emotional tone of the game world. A survival game’s atmosphere should be tense, with a constant sense of danger lurking around every corner. The mood should be dark and foreboding, with moments of hope and triumph tempered by the ever-present threat of death. A game’s atmosphere and mood can be achieved through a combination of visuals, sound design, and writing.

Overall, a great survival game should have a well-crafted story and setting that draw players in and make them feel like they are part of the experience. Immersive world building, a compelling narrative, and a tense atmosphere and mood are all essential elements in creating a survival game that players will love.

Key Elements for Survival Games

Key takeaway: In order to create a great survival game, it is important to have a well-designed crafting system, a large and varied game world, a compelling narrative, a tense atmosphere, and challenging survival mechanics. The game should also have a well-balanced resource management system, with a mix of scavenging and crafting, and a sense of realism and survival realism. Finally, the game should have a well-designed character development and progression system, with a variety of skills, perks, and quests to keep players engaged.

Survival Mechanics

  • Hunger and thirst
  • Temperature and environment
  • Health and injury
  • Disease and illness

In any survival game, the mechanics that govern the player’s ability to stay alive and thrive in their environment are crucial to the overall experience. These mechanics are the foundation upon which the game’s challenges and objectives are built, and they can make or break a player’s engagement with the game world.

Hunger and Thirst

Hunger and thirst are two of the most basic survival mechanics in any game. They represent the player’s need for sustenance, and if left unchecked, they can lead to dehydration, starvation, and ultimately death. In many survival games, hunger and thirst are represented by a bar that gradually depletes over time, and the player must actively seek out food and water to refill it. The frequency at which the player needs to eat and drink can vary widely, from every few minutes to once a day, and the types of food and water available can also vary widely.

In some games, food and water are plentiful and easy to find, while in others, they are scarce and require careful planning and strategy to acquire. Some games also introduce hunger and thirst mechanics that are specific to certain environments, such as the need to hunt for food in a frozen tundra or to scavenge for water in a desert.

Temperature and Environment

Temperature and environment are also important survival mechanics that can greatly impact the player’s experience. In many survival games, the player must contend with extreme temperatures, such as freezing cold or scorching heat, and must find ways to keep warm or cool down as needed. This can involve building fires, finding shelter, or wearing appropriate clothing.

The environment itself can also be a major factor in survival games. For example, a game set in a dense forest may require the player to navigate through dense underbrush and avoid dangerous predators, while a game set in a desert may require the player to conserve water and find shade to avoid heatstroke. The environment can also introduce other hazards, such as natural disasters or toxic chemicals, that the player must avoid or overcome.

Health and Injury

Health and injury are also important survival mechanics that can greatly impact the player’s experience. In many survival games, the player starts with a certain amount of health, which can be depleted by injuries, illness, or other hazards. The player must then find ways to heal themselves, whether through first aid, medical supplies, or rest.

Injuries can range from minor cuts and bruises to serious wounds that require immediate medical attention. Some games also introduce permanent injuries that can impact the player’s ability to perform certain actions, such as a broken leg that makes running difficult. Illness can also be a factor, with the player vulnerable to diseases that can spread through contaminated food or water.

Disease and Illness

Disease and illness are often intertwined with the survival mechanics of hunger, thirst, temperature, and environment. In many survival games, the player must be mindful of their health and take steps to avoid illness, such as washing their hands or boiling water to kill germs.

Some games also introduce more serious diseases that can be deadly if left untreated. For example, a game set in a post-apocalyptic world may introduce a deadly virus that spreads rapidly and can only be cured with rare and valuable medical supplies. In these cases, the player must carefully manage their resources and prioritize their actions to stay healthy and alive.

Overall, survival mechanics are a crucial element of any survival game, and the ways in which they are implemented can greatly impact the player’s experience. By understanding the key elements of survival mechanics, players can better navigate the challenges of

Combat and Danger

  • Enemies and threats
    • A variety of enemy types, each with unique strengths and weaknesses
    • AI that makes enemies challenging and unpredictable
    • A sense of danger and risk that keeps players on their toes
  • Weapons and combat mechanics
    • A diverse range of weapons, each with their own strengths and weaknesses
    • Realistic weapon handling and physics
    • Tactical and strategic options for combat
  • Stealth and survival tactics
    • Opportunities for stealthy gameplay
    • Consequences for being detected or making noise
    • Mechanics for managing hunger, thirst, and other survival needs
  • Boss battles and challenges
    • Epic encounters with powerful enemies
    • Puzzle-solving and strategic thinking required
    • Rewards for overcoming challenges and bosses

Crafting and Building

Crafting and building are crucial components of survival games, enabling players to create essential items and structures to support their survival. The following are some key aspects of crafting and building in survival games:

  • Gathering and Scavenging: Players must gather resources such as wood, stone, and scrap metal to create tools, weapons, and other items. Scavenging for supplies in the environment, including abandoned buildings and vehicles, can also provide valuable resources.
  • Crafting and Recipes: Survival games often feature a variety of recipes for crafting different items, from basic tools to advanced equipment. These recipes require players to combine various resources in specific ways, and the game should provide clear instructions and visual cues to help players understand the crafting process.
  • Base Building and Shelter: As players progress through the game, they must construct a base or shelter to protect themselves from the elements and potential threats. Base building requires players to gather resources, place structures, and arrange them in a way that provides optimal protection and efficiency.
  • Farming and Food Preservation: Food is a crucial resource in survival games, and players must learn to farm, hunt, and preserve food to sustain themselves. This may involve planting crops, raising livestock, and preserving food through methods such as smoking, drying, or canning.

Overall, crafting and building mechanics in survival games should be intuitive, engaging, and provide players with a sense of progression and accomplishment as they improve their skills and construct more advanced bases.

Character Development and Progression

One of the most critical aspects of a survival game is the character development and progression system. This system should provide players with a sense of growth and accomplishment as they progress through the game. There are several key elements that contribute to a successful character development and progression system in a survival game.

Skill Trees and Abilities

A skill tree is a visual representation of the character’s abilities and skills. It provides players with a clear understanding of what skills they have unlocked and what skills they can unlock in the future. The skill tree should be well-designed and offer a variety of skills that are relevant to the game’s mechanics.

Abilities, on the other hand, are specific skills that the character can use in the game. These abilities should be varied and offer different ways to approach gameplay. For example, a character might have the ability to craft tools, set traps, or hunt wildlife.

Perks and Upgrades

Perks and upgrades are additional bonuses that the character can unlock as they progress through the game. These can include things like increased health, increased carrying capacity, or the ability to scavenge resources more efficiently.

Perks and upgrades should be balanced and offer meaningful benefits to the player. They should also be spread out across the skill tree to encourage players to explore different paths and make strategic choices.

Quests and Storylines

Quests and storylines can help to flesh out the character’s backstory and provide context for their actions in the game. They can also offer additional challenges and objectives for the player to complete.

Quests and storylines should be well-written and offer a sense of narrative progression. They should also be varied and offer different types of challenges to keep the player engaged.

Multiplayer and Cooperative Gameplay

Multiplayer and cooperative gameplay can add a new dimension to the character development and progression system. Players can work together to unlock new skills and abilities, and share resources and knowledge to survive in the game world.

Multiplayer and cooperative gameplay should be well-implemented and offer a seamless experience for players. It should also offer a variety of modes and challenges to keep players engaged.

Overall, character development and progression is a critical element of a survival game. By offering a variety of skills, perks, and quests, players can feel a sense of growth and accomplishment as they progress through the game. Multiplayer and cooperative gameplay can also add a new dimension to the character development and progression system, offering players the opportunity to work together and share resources to survive in the game world.

Replayability and Replayability

Randomized elements and permadeath

One of the essential aspects of a great survival game is its ability to provide a unique experience with each playthrough. Randomized elements, such as the placement of resources, enemies, and terrain, can significantly impact the player’s experience. These elements add an element of unpredictability, forcing players to adapt their strategies and keep them engaged.

Permadeath is another critical factor that contributes to the replayability of survival games. This mechanic adds a layer of tension and challenge, as players must make every decision count, knowing that a single mistake can lead to the end of their game. Permadeath encourages players to experiment with different strategies and learn from their failures, making each playthrough feel distinct and rewarding.

Multiple endings and paths

Survival games can offer multiple endings and paths to the player, which adds depth and replayability to the game. By providing various ways to achieve objectives or reach the final goal, players can explore different strategies and approaches, creating a sense of discovery and excitement. Multiple endings can also add an element of mystery, encouraging players to explore different paths and outcomes.

Challenges and achievements

Incorporating challenges and achievements into a survival game can help increase replayability. These challenges can range from completing specific objectives to overcoming difficult enemies or environmental hazards. Achievements, on the other hand, can reward players for their progress and encourage them to push themselves further. By offering a variety of challenges and achievements, players can experience the game in different ways, keeping them engaged and motivated.

Modding and user-generated content

Allowing players to modify and create their own content can significantly extend the lifespan of a survival game. Modding communities can create new maps, game modes, and even entirely new games built upon the existing framework. User-generated content, such as custom scenarios or challenges, can provide endless replayability, as players can experiment with unique gameplay experiences. By embracing modding and user-generated content, survival games can become a platform for creativity and community engagement, fostering a long-lasting and dedicated player base.

Balancing Challenges in Survival Games

Difficulty Balancing

  • Accessibility and player expectations: Survival games should cater to a wide range of players, from casual to hardcore. To achieve this, difficulty levels can be introduced, allowing players to choose their preferred level of challenge. This also helps in meeting the expectations of players who may not have the time or inclination for a game that is too difficult or too easy.
  • Challenge and satisfaction: The difficulty of a survival game should be set in such a way that it presents a significant challenge to players, but one that is not insurmountable. Players should feel a sense of accomplishment when they overcome obstacles and complete tasks, and this feeling of satisfaction is closely tied to the level of difficulty presented in the game.
  • Pacing and progression: A well-balanced survival game should provide players with a sense of progression as they play. This can be achieved by gradually increasing the difficulty of the game as players progress, while also providing them with the necessary tools and skills to overcome new challenges. The pacing of the game should also be considered, as a game that is too slow or too fast can affect the overall balance and enjoyment of the game.

Resource Management

Resource management is a crucial aspect of survival games, as players must gather and conserve resources to stay alive. In order to create a compelling and balanced survival experience, developers must carefully consider the scarcity and abundance of resources, as well as the balance between crafting and scavenging. Additionally, realism and survival realism should be taken into account when designing resource management systems.

Scarcity and Abundance

The scarcity and abundance of resources can greatly impact the difficulty and enjoyment of a survival game. If resources are too scarce, players may become frustrated with the constant struggle to stay alive. On the other hand, if resources are too abundant, players may lose the sense of urgency and challenge that is essential to the survival genre.

Developers must strike a balance between scarcity and abundance, ensuring that players have access to the resources they need to survive, while also creating a sense of scarcity to keep players on their toes. This can be achieved through a variety of methods, such as randomized resource spawns, dynamic weather systems, and time-limited events.

Balancing Crafting and Scavenging

Crafting and scavenging are two of the primary ways that players obtain resources in survival games. While crafting allows players to create new items and tools from scratch, scavenging involves searching for resources in the environment. Both methods have their own advantages and disadvantages, and developers must carefully balance the two to create a well-rounded survival experience.

For example, crafting may allow players to create more advanced tools and items, but it may also require more resources and time. Scavenging, on the other hand, may be faster and more efficient, but players may not always find the resources they need. Developers must carefully consider the balance between crafting and scavenging, ensuring that both methods are viable and rewarding for players.

Realism and Survival Realism

Realism and survival realism are important considerations when designing resource management systems in survival games. While some players may enjoy a more arcade-style survival experience, others may prefer a more realistic and grounded approach.

Developers must consider factors such as hunger, thirst, temperature, and other environmental factors when designing resource management systems. For example, players may need to hunt for food, collect water, and build shelter to survive in harsh environments. These mechanics can add depth and realism to the game, but they can also make the game more challenging for players.

Overall, resource management is a crucial aspect of survival games, and developers must carefully balance challenges and rewards to create a compelling and balanced experience. By considering factors such as scarcity and abundance, crafting and scavenging, and realism and survival realism, developers can create a survival game that is both challenging and enjoyable for players.

Pacing and Progression

The pacing and progression of a survival game play a crucial role in its overall experience. It is important to have a well-structured and engaging progression system that challenges players while also providing them with a sense of accomplishment. Here are some key elements to consider when balancing the pacing and progression of a survival game:

Introduction and Tutorial

The introduction and tutorial phase of a survival game sets the foundation for the player’s understanding of the game mechanics and objectives. It is important to provide a comprehensive tutorial that covers all essential aspects of the game, such as crafting, building, exploration, and combat. The tutorial should be designed in a way that gradually introduces new mechanics and challenges as the player progresses, ensuring that they are not overwhelmed with information.

Midgame and Endgame

The midgame and endgame are the phases where players face the most significant challenges and are expected to apply the skills and knowledge they have acquired throughout the game. It is essential to balance the difficulty of these phases to keep players engaged and motivated. The midgame should provide players with opportunities to explore, gather resources, and improve their skills, while the endgame should offer challenging content that tests their abilities and knowledge of the game mechanics.

Balancing Exploration and Combat

Exploration and combat are two key elements of survival games, and it is crucial to balance these aspects to provide a well-rounded experience. The game should encourage players to explore the environment, discover new locations, and gather resources, while also providing opportunities for combat to defend themselves against enemies. It is important to strike a balance between these two elements, ensuring that players are not overwhelmed with combat or discouraged from exploring the environment.

Overall, balancing the pacing and progression of a survival game requires careful consideration of the player’s experience and expectations. By providing a well-structured and engaging progression system, players will be more likely to enjoy the game and be motivated to continue playing.


1. What is a survival game?

A survival game is a genre of video games that focuses on the player’s ability to survive in a hostile environment. The player must gather resources, build shelter, and overcome obstacles to stay alive as long as possible. Survival games often have a strong emphasis on exploration, crafting, and resource management.

2. What are the key elements of a survival game?

The key elements of a survival game include exploration, resource management, crafting, and survival mechanics. Exploration allows players to discover new areas and resources, while resource management involves gathering and storing essential items such as food, water, and shelter. Crafting allows players to create new items and tools from collected resources, while survival mechanics involve managing the player’s health, hunger, thirst, and other vital signs.

3. What makes a great survival game?

A great survival game offers a compelling and immersive world, challenging gameplay, and a sense of progression. It should provide players with a sense of accomplishment as they learn to survive in increasingly difficult conditions. A great survival game also offers a sense of danger and risk, as players must constantly be on guard against threats such as hostile creatures, harsh weather, and limited resources.

4. What are some popular survival games?

Some popular survival games include Minecraft, The Forest, Rust, Don’t Starve, and Subnautica. These games offer unique worlds and gameplay mechanics that challenge players to survive in different ways.

5. How can I improve my survival skills in a game?

To improve your survival skills in a game, it’s important to practice good resource management, crafting, and exploration. Pay attention to your health, hunger, thirst, and other vital signs, and make sure to conserve resources whenever possible. Take your time to explore the game world and discover new resources and tools that can help you survive. Finally, be willing to take risks and make mistakes, as this is often the best way to learn and improve your survival skills.

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