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  • Video (screencast) 11 More "Need to Knows" about Game Design

Video (screencast) 11 More "Need to Knows" about Game Design

L Updated
There Will Be Games

This 12+ minute screencast is primarily for aspiring designers, not for professionals.

This is a followup to "10 'need to knows' about game design"

The text of the slides follows.  Of course, there's a lot more to the screencast than this text.

11 MORE “need to knows” about Game Design

Dr. Lewis Pulsipher

“Game Design” channel on YouTube

Original 10 Wasn’t Enough

I started with 10 “ntk”

But I thought of more than 10, so here some more.  Keep in mind, the first 10, taken as a whole, are the most important

But these 11 are also important


The List

Focus on the essence

Professionals design for other people, not for themselves

Professional game design is about discipline, not self-indulgence

Game Design is not Mind Control

There is no perfect game

You probably won’t be good at game design, at first

Games are not just Mechanics

Making a good game takes a LOT of time

Piracy is everywhere (for “digital” goods)

You’re an Entertainer, or a teacher, not a gift to the world

“Fail Faster”


Focus on the Essence

My motto: "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."  (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

Another form, about Japanese gardening, is "Your garden is not complete until there is nothing else that you can remove."

If you’re making a puzzle, complexity might be a goal; If you’re making “an experience”, simplicity may not be a goal.  For most games, the goal is to keep only what you absolutely need


Professionals design for other people, not for themselves

 [As this has been misunderstood by someone who didn't listen to the screencast, I interject the following: Your primary goal (for most games, recognizing there are specialized such as educational) is to entertain other people, not yourself.  The goal is to entertain, the design is for other people.  As such, any list of features that you think will make your game a surefire hit will likely turn into a soul-less mess.  So perhaps I could have worded the slide, "Professionals work to entertain other people, not themselves".]

Your job is to entertain or enlighten other people

You are not typical, or you wouldn’t be designing games!

So what you like, may not be typical of what large groups like

Don’t rely solely on your own opinions about the worth of a game

I recently had a game published that I didn’t think was a Big Deal, just a nice little game – but others had different opinions

And I have had games I thought were outstanding, but have not been published


Professional game design is about discipline, not self-indulgence

Many designers are self-indulgent, often thinking of themselves as “artists” who are blessing the world with their brilliance – so they do whatever they want

POPPYCOCK! (Though you can do this if you’re not interested in selling any games . . .)

Do player-centric, not designer-centric (or art-centric) design

Game design is compromise.  It’s never “perfect”


Game Design is not Mind Control

Some designers want to, in effect, control all that the player is doing and thinking

And if you think about it, a novel can be approached in this way

Though most novelists want to influence, not control

Linear video games can approach this ideal

But most game players want to have the ability to control the outcome of the game (and want “agency” as well)

Better to think of game design as offering players opportunities, not forcing anything on the players


There is no perfect game

There are dozens of genres for a reason

Tastes of game players vary as much as tastes of music-lovers.  (I dislike rap.  I like classical.  Some people love rap.  Some hate classical.  And so on.)

And there’s no room for perfectionism in professional design

You need to get games DONE.  Especially in video games

The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns sets in quickly for professionals, less so for hobbyist designers

So at some point, you have to finish even though the game isn’t perfect


You probably won’t be good at it, at first

How often do you start to do something complex, requiring a lot of critical thinking, and yet you’re immediately good at it?  Never!

Most complex things worth doing, take a long time to do well

Even playing a game well can take a long time to master

Some theorize that you need a great many opportunities to fail/succeed before you can become good at something

And there’s the “10,000 hours” notion, too, though I don’t take the quantification seriously


Games are not just Mechanics

What matters is the impression you make on the player(s)

MDA: Mechanics, Dynamics, “Aesthetics” (I prefer “Impressions” for the last)

Collections of mechanics can feel soul-less

If you choose mechanics based on a model, they tend to fit together; if they’re just collections, they’ll often not fit together


Making a good game takes a LOT of time

Most of what happens in game design takes place in the mind – of the designer, and of the players

Outsiders/non-practitioners tend to minimize the difficulty because they don’t see it happening

Moreover, it’s easy to get a game to 80%, it’s the last 20% that takes most of the game design time and effort

And then, if it’s a tabletop game, scheduling and manufacturing can take many months

Mayfair recently published a game they’d had for 8 years

I have a game that may be published in 2015, publisher accepted it in 2005 [sic]



Piracy of “digitally”-produced games is rampant

And there’s practically nothing you can do about it

Free-to-play helps (in video games), but even the in-app purchases in F2P are pirated regularly

Fortunately, not much piracy in tabletop games (unless it’s primarily a rulebook, such as RPGs)


You’re an Entertainer or a Teacher, not a "gift to the world”

That is, if you want to be a commercial game designer

Publishers are in business to make money (mostly, but especially in video games)

Yes, you can self-publish

But a lot more people want games to entertain or enlighten them, than want games to be “art”

“We want to entertain people by surprising them, so I really don’t think we are psychologists – we are nothing but entertainers.” -Shigeru Miyamoto (Zelda, Donkey Kong, Wii Fit, etc. )

Reiner Knizia (over 500 [sic] published games) also says his purpose is entertainment


“Fail Faster”

You want to find all the ways your game can fail, and eliminate or fix them

So the faster you fail, the quicker you can eliminate or fix the failures

Or start over!

Get a playable prototype done as soon as possible – there is NO Substitute

If you’re doing a video game, try to make a paper prototype first, to try things out



There Will Be Games
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