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

This was created for the benefit of relatively inexperienced game designers, as "pros" know it already. But summaries are often useful. The video (screencast) is more than 14 minutes long.

Lewis Pulsipher, Blogger

October 20, 2014

5 Min Read

Note: I saw someone refer to this as 10 need to knows about tabletop game design.  No, this applies to ALL game design.  Originally from my blog at http://pulsiphergamedesign.blogspot.com/

This is more than 14 minutes long.  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 online courses, usually in “Learning Game Design.” And there will be 10 or so more in another screencast.

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