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Lessons 1-50 from a Decade of Play: #TheJoyOfGameDesign

You can only make a finite number of games in your career. Why not learn lessons while playing other games? This blog covers lessons 1-50 of #TheJoyOfGameDesign - each a bite-size thought on creating and improving your games.

Gregory Lane, Blogger

April 12, 2021

5 Min Read

In January, I hit my 10 year anniversary making video games! As I looked back at the start of my career, I think of a simple, impactful piece of advice I received:


Play games.

Play bad games. Play good games. Play weird art projects. Try free things. Play stuff you’re not normally interested in.


Seems simple right? The thinking is this: Every developer will only make a finite number in your career. Like it or not, that includes you. Don't eat up your development time by making the same mistakes or missing out on low hanging fruit. Learn by playing other games.


I began posting #TheJoyOfGameDesign this year as a daily lesson learned from 1 game on my list. For the remainder of 2021, I’ll be going through in chronological order in which I played them. There will be indie stuff, AAA games, prototypes, and professional work, looking at over 200 in total!

You can find a quick reference list here of the first 50 lessons. Follow me on Twitter @_TinHeart for daily posts in real time, or catch up here on Gamasutra with periodic #TheJoyOfGameDesign summaries.


On with the lessons!


#TheJoyOfGameDesign Lessons 1-50

Lesson 1: Learn how your team defines success.

Lesson 2: Consider what physics adds to your game.

Lesson 3: Show how far it is to the next goal.

Lesson 4: Client work can be weird.

Lesson 5: Know how to reach your target audience.

Lesson 6: Even losing can be fun.

Lesson 7:  Clearly mark the exits.

Lesson 8: Understand the expected mechanics of your genre. 

Lesson 9: Know how long your player has to think. 

Lesson 10: Be consistent with puzzle solutions.

Lesson 11: Add distinction with color.

Lesson 12: Be intentional with breaks in your core loop.

Lesson 13: If a publisher or journalist passes on your game, it’s not personal.

Lesson 14: Hexagon tile maps for the win.

Lesson 15: Given the opportunity, everyone plays games.

Lesson 16: Clean visuals reinforce clean design.

Lesson 17: Give players’ long-term goals short-term threats.

Lesson 18: Iterate on your Design Documents too.

Lesson 19: Horror can be all about timing.

Lesson 20: You will work on projects that get canceled.

Lesson 21: Calculate your top leaderboard score before launch.

Lesson 22: Your game’s title is potentially its strongest marketing tool. 

Lesson 23: Utilize nature to convey the strengths & weaknesses in your mechanics.

Lesson 24: Condense the play area over time to drive up tension.

Lesson 25: Tutorials don’t need to be intrusive or include text.

Lesson 26: A little physics goes a long way. 

Lesson 27: Luck & skill seem the same to a player when there is a delay between action & result.

Lesson 28: User interface changes can clarify or confuse goals.

Lesson 29: Celebrate incremental progress.

Lesson 30: Beware that selling things in-game can feel like losing progress.

Lesson 31: Make your game world robust with night levels or weather effects.

Lesson 32: Consider your directions as towards or away from objectives.

Lesson 33: Every room should have a purpose.

Lesson 34: If your goal is to educate, don’t make your game harder than the subject needs to be.

Lesson 35: When building a studio, think about how the strengths of your current game will improve your next one.

Lesson 36: Don’t shy away from the bizarre. 

Lesson 37: There is an audience for seasonal content.

Lesson 38: Make your enemy’s field of view easily understood during stealth missions.

Lesson 39: Decide which actions are fun, and which one can be auto-completed.

Lesson 40: Reduce player frustration with clear move choices.

Lesson 41: Increase the difficulty by layering risk/reward systems over time.

Lesson 42: Timing & patience are different mechanics.

Lesson 43: Dynamic lighting adds life & polish. (Even if it’s faked.)

Lesson 44: When blue sky brainstorming, consider blending genres.

Lesson 45: Game jam games are a world of lessons all their own.

Lesson 46: Progress doesn’t have to be linear numbers going up.

Lesson 47: Consider a playable ensemble.

Lesson 48: If there’s no romance, maybe limit how sexy your game is...?

Lesson 49: Hit boxes do not have to be a uniform size.

Lesson 50: Use clear icons instead of words to help localization & illiterate audience.


Bonus Charts!

The format of these lessons don't often lend the chance to talk about the platform or the role I had with each title.

*Studio Support: During this time, I was working at Candystand, and we created and published a number of games. While I didn't directly work on these games, I was involved in the following:

  • balancing the overall site token economy (taking game's top score into account),

  • help SEO optimization

  • write promotional copy

  • playtesting


Thanks so much for the read! I'll be back soon with tips 51 - 100. Catch me on Twitter to discuss any of these more - or feel free to use the #TheJoyOfGameDesign hashtag on lessons you've learned through play!


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