Monday, October 13, 2014

Video screencast: 10 "Need to Knows" about Game Design

Note: I saw someone refer to this as 10 need to knows about tabletop game design.  No, this applies to ALL game design.

Text from the slides is below.  Remember, I say more in the video than is in the slides, so commenting only on the basis of the text makes no sense.

10 “Need to Knows” about Game Design
Dr. Lewis Pulsipher
What this is, and isn’t
This is for aspiring designers – pros likely already know
It’s NOT about the business, not about marketing, it’s about designing games, creating gameplay that entertains (or informs)
10 is an arbitrary number – in fact, I’ll be making another screencast for another 10.  I’ve tried to pick the 10 most important here

A List
You are most unlikely to get rich
Ideas are mostly worthless
Especially if money is involved, game design is sometimes unappealing work
Don’t worry about someone “stealing your ideas”
Innovation is Highly overrated
Games are NOT stories
The most important question is, who is your target audience?
The second most important is, what is the player going to DO?
Playtesting is Sovereign!
Your goal is to complete games!

You are most unlikely to get rich
You might hear of independently wealthy game designers
But they’re very rare
Most game designers don’t make a living, just as most novelists, playwrights, painters, sculptors, film-makers, and composers don’t
The tabletop games industry is very small, and there’s not much money there
Video games involve much more money, but there are so many games published that the average designer makes little
The tabletop mass-market is likely beyond your reach, and competition there is FIERCE

Ideas are mostly worthless
“Ideas are like ___holes, everybody’s got one”
What you think is a great idea, almost certainly isn’t
And likely has been thought of a hundred times and more
Ideas don’t sell, GAMES sell - no one will buy your idea
No one will make your game for you – they want to make THEIR games
Most game players think they have ideas for good games
But few ever complete a game design

Especially if money is involved, game design is sometimes unappealing work
It’s not always fun, and it definitely isn’t “playing games”
You’ll play fewer games if you’re a game designer
Playing games is pretty unproductive, isn’t it?
And you may enjoy game playing less
Because you’ll be seeing “the innards”, how the game is structured
The tedium of finding a programming bug, or of gluing together boards or cards, is just that: tedious

Innovation is Highly Overrated
“There is nothing new under the sun” – very little, anyway
Surprise is important in games, and a mechanic the players aren’t familiar with might surprise them
But most mechanics have already been used even if YOU don’t know it
Example: Stratego/L’Attaque
Where “new” comes into play in games is in the combinations of mechanics and settings you use
“The idea is like your finger, we all have them, but the implementation is like your fingerprint, everyone's is unique.”

Don’t worry about someone “stealing your ideas”
It’s a small industry (even video games)
If someone steals something, the word gets around
Game ideas aren’t worth much, and everyone seems to think they have good ones of their own
Parallel development happens often
Yes, there are lots of video game clones (deliberate copies), and that’s really annoying, but there’s usually nothing you can do about it because game ideas cannot be copyrighted
Almost always, cloning occurs after the original game is released

Games are NOT Stories
Games are activities.  Stories (traditional ones, anyway, novels, plays, film) are passive
Typically, when aspiring designers want to design a game, they think of stories instead of games
There are thousands of games that have no story
Yes, there’s always a narrative – an account of what happens – but not a story meant to entertain, with various standard elements
“An experience” is often a goal of RPG and video game designers – but they still do it through the mechanics of a game
If you don’t know what mechanics your game will use, you don’t have a game – maybe you have a story

The most important question is, “who is your target audience?”
Game design is always about constraints
The first set of constraints comes from your intended audience
No game can appeal to everyone – you have to CHOOSE
And then you have to understand that audience
And test your game with that audience

The second most important is,“what is the player going to DO?”

Games are activities
Players of video games have been conditioned to expect to be doing something more or less constantly
Visualize what the player is doing.  Is that enjoyable?  Does it fit with your target audience?
Get rid of anything that doesn’t contribute to what the player is going to enjoyably do in the game

Playtesting is Sovereign!
Game design isn’t like other individual arts such as sculpture, painting, composing
Because game playing is active, while enjoying those other arts is largely passive
You cannot be a good judge of the quality
You have to rely on representative members of your target audience
They play the game, you watch, you get feedback, you modify the game accordingly
The longest chapter in my book “Game Design” is about playtesting
Because it’s “the heart of game design”

Your goal is to complete games
No professional, no publisher, no funding person, is impressed with a partially completed game
You’ve got to prove you can make a complete game, the same way a would-be novelist must prove he/she can complete a novel
Another reason why starting with tabletop games rather than video is more practical, you don’t need programming skills
This is the most common advice I’ve seen for aspiring designers: “You must make complete games!”

All of these are discussed at greater length in one or another of my courses, usually in “Learning Game Design.” And there will be 10 or so more in another screencast.

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