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Gabe Newell's game design advice: 'Get into an iteration cycle'

"It's the iteration of hypothesis, changes, and measurement that will make you better at a faster rate than anything else we have seen," Valve's chief advised during an "AmA" session on Reddit today.
"It's the iteration of hypothesis, changes, and measurement that will make you better at a faster rate than anything else we have seen."

- Valve chief Gabe Newell, writing on Reddit.

What's the most important piece of advice you'd give someone who wants to design video games?

Valve's Gabe Newell caught that question today during a brief "Ask Me Anything" session on Reddit, and his answer is (if perhaps unsurprising) worth reading for fellow game makers curious about how Valve's chief looks at the art and business of game design.

"The most important thing you can do is to get into an iteration cycle where you can measure the impact of your work, have a hypothesis about how making changes will affect those variables, and ship changes regularly," he advised. "It doesn't even matter that much what the content is - it's the iteration of hypothesis, changes, and measurement that will make you better at a faster rate than anything else we have seen."

This is well in line with Newell & Co.'s fondness for iteration in general -- in years past term has been bandied about in discussion of everything from the narrative design of Portal 2 to Steam Greenlight to Valve's hopes for Steam Machine manufacturers.

However, elsewhere in today's thread Newell speaks to some of the potential weaknesses that crop up when you're focusing your game design efforts on an iteration cycle and responding to faults in your work by shipping changes, rather than communicating directly with the community of people who are affected by those faults.

"When it comes time to respond [to the community], we generally use Steam - shipping updates that address issues or add functionality," he wrote. "Obviously this doesn't work for everything. Working this way imposes latency on our communication - it takes longer to ship and update than to do a blog post. This can lead to the feeling of an echo chamber, where it seems like Valve isn't listening. We’re always listening. So sometimes the latency is rough for everyone, including us when we want to address issues quickly. On balance we think it's usually worth the trade-off."

For more of Newell's comments on everything from what he's interested in now (brain-computer interfaces, for one) to what he wants to change most about Steam (the Support infrastructure), check out the complete Reddit thread

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