Last week I was lucky enough to give a talk at GDC Europe in Cologne, Germany (here are the slides from the talk). This presentation was very important to me because it brings to light a game development process that I have been trying to perfect for many years. This is the idea of Data Driven Design or more specifically how the scientific method can be applied to game design.
In a few future blog posts I will break the talk down further, but for now I want to focus on why this method and process is important.
Game developers are passionate people. It can often be very hard to understand how an entertainment experience will change or grow based on design shifts. Data is the grand equalizer in these debates and allows for the team to focus on creatively solving the right problems in a measurable way. By including data from analytics or playtests, the discussion can be elevated past opinions, which is essential for paving the way for the best idea to win.
Ed Catmull discusses the importance of candor at Pixar in Creativity Inc. and I think it directly applies to this.
Games are organic. They grow in unpredictable ways and at times it can feel like a game has taken on a mind of its own. This process always loops back to the larger goal, with an emphasis on charting the windy path from detailed design decision to high-level impact. This means that when a game or a team gets into the weeds on low level details, there is still a breadcrumb trail back to the genesis of the opportunity or problem. It is important to give plenty of room for the game to grow and shift but it is also necessary to have a view above the fray to make sure the direction the game is going is still what was initially intended.
Finally, this process has a built-in method of self-evaluation and learning. In each pass through the cycle, the team should learn something new about their game and about some specific design idea. Without some amount of effort put into a process like this, it can be easy to let opportunities to analyze slip by, which means that the team may have no idea why a specific game or feature or mechanic was successful. The best designers are constantly learning and perfecting their craft and this provides a solid pathway to evaluating ideas that can give concrete results.
As I mentioned above, I plan to expand on this topic in future posts with more specific examples and lessons we have learned implementing this process.