Saturday, May 22, 2010


What I do when I design a tabletop game is something like what a novelist does when he or she writes a book. A book has an author, one or more editors, and (we hope) readers. So does a game, but players instead of readers.

A tabletop game designer is responsible for most of the content of his game. Playtesters provide some of the rest, and the publisher may assign a "developer" (formally or informally) who also contributes to the game. The developer, like a book editor, may make big changes or only small ones. In any case, the game is primarily the product of one or two minds, plus the work of the artist who makes the production components.

A big difference between games and novels is that there is little or no "playtesting" of the novel. (There's more for a non-fiction title, possibly peer reviewers as well as editors.) Novels are not interactive, games are. Reader "testing" is much less important for a novel than gamer testing is for a game, because that interactivity takes some of the control out of the game-author's hands.

Looked at another way, the most important part of novel writing is the writing. The most important part of tabletop game creation is the playtesting.

What a video game designer in a AAA video game does is more akin to being head of a software project, or at best, being writer of a movie. If you know much about movies, you know that what's written is heavily influenced beforehand by the chiefs of the project, and then is often modified heavily by the director and crew during production of the film. For AAA games, hundreds of people may be involved in making the game. With rare exceptions, I'd suggest, the chief designer of a video game rarely has more than 25% influence over how the game plays, while the designer of a tabletop game has 90-99% influence in many cases.


Enrico Colombini said...

While I certainly agree about the difference in designer's influence between tabletop games and video games, I'd like to point out the existence of a middle ground between novels and games: interactive fiction (IF).
From the text adventure games and gamebooks of the '80s to modern interactive ebooks, IF requires writing skills, game design skills and extensive playtesting, while (usually) being simple enough to be created by a single person, thus allowing the author almost full control.
For a few examples of modern approaches to IF, including my latest work, see (in Italian) the site of the newborn ebook publisher

Eric hanuise said...

In boardgames the roles are pretty clearly defined, since there's an Author, and one or several 'Developers'. Playtesters sometimes also are developpers, but only the author authors.