“Game design” is a very broad term; obviously it relates to the design of a game, but games are incredibly diverse and no game has a concrete formula that you must follow to successfully create it. Despite this, people always seem to wing it when it comes to the design of their games, and this usually ends up being their downfall later in development; just because you’ve played lots of games doesn’t mean you automatically know what to do in the design phase.
So, how does one avoid just “winging it?” Even if you’ve played many games and know the ins and outs of what makes them enjoyable, starting from scratch can cause the most seasoned gamer to draw blanks. There are two viable solutions to this: Getting more experience through doing, or acquiring external help to speed up the process. Obviously neither of these will lead to a successful “formula” immediately, which is off-putting for some, but they’re an essential step towards becoming a good game designer.
As mentioned before, when you’re designing your own game, you’ll find surprisingly often that you just don’t know exactly how to tackle a problem, even if you’ve seen thousands of examples in the past. When you’re designing a game, not only do you have to make it enjoyable on a basic level, but you also have to make sure the player will be engaged for a long time and want to come back for more frequently. Even the most fun video games will fade away if the player reaches the “endgame” soon after starting. Good examples of this include many flash games you see on the internet; they can be fun time-wasters for a little while, but they have little longevity.
So now it’s pretty obvious that game design isn’t all that simple despite an outsider’s perspective saying otherwise. How do you ensure that your game will last, while also being fun at the same time? How do you perfect something you’re known (or perhaps previously unknown) to be deficient at? If you can’t muster up a solution yourself, it might be time to find a mentor of some kind, be it professional or just a passionate fan. It’s not shameful to be lost or struggling to find a good solution; in fact, sometimes it can be a good thing! When you seek outside help, these mentors can provide unique perspectives that you would have never considered otherwise, and as a result they can provide unique avenues to fix the problems in your game that can also be recycled for future use.
Again, receiving outside assistance can help detect this before it becomes a problem that requires a game redesign in multiple areas to fix. Don’t get cocky; at the first sign of something going wrong, slow down and detect the problem if it exists, and receive help if necessary. Even then, occasional check-ups can help diagnose a problem you didn’t know existed; outside help is essential at one point or another, so don’t think requiring the assistance of someone else will make you look any less competent.
Important Takeaways: Learning from others is probably one of the best ways to level up your game design intuition. Game design isn’t easy, despite how easy it can be to make valid suggestions on how to fix a problem in someone else’s game. Sometimes designers may need the assistance of a mentor. Most of the time, this assistance will be directed towards the longevity of your game or specific areas of your game that you aren’t the best at developing. You, as a developer, should be able to feel intuitively if your game is fun or not and fix that problem, but your biases could keep you enjoying your game far longer than the average player will and overshadow real problems with player engagement. You might not know that something you designed was actually terrible until far into development, even if you think you know what it takes to make a good game.
I'm Daniel Doan, Co-Founder of Black Shell Media. Thank you so much for reading!
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