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What game devs can learn about design from 24 years of Magic: The Gathering

"How do I make nice, simple, clean things that people can understand, but when you add it all together, it's something that there's depth to?"
"A really big part of trying to make Magic is figuring out how to find ... the depth in the simplicity. "

- Mark Rosewater on keeping things fresh while designing for a 24-year-old game.

Mark Rosewater has been designing for the TCG behemoth Magic: the Gathering for 21 years and has served as the game's lead designer for 14 of those. Compete, Kotaku’s competitive gaming arm, recently caught up with Rosewater to talk about some of the challenges that pop up when you’re regularly updating a game that’s nearly two and a half decades old.

While Rosewater’s experience as a designer hasn’t come from the realm of video games, much of the challenges he describes in the interview are the kinds of hurdles faced in the game development world as well. 

One of those challenges, he said, is finding ways to introduce new content and mechanics that are easy to understand for new players, interesting to veteran players, and mesh well with existing cards.

And if new content satisfies all those requirements, Rosewater says that, after 24 years of content, designers have to be mindful of power creep, or having new cards that overpower older ones and throw the game out of balance.

“Is there a way to create the illusion that the game is always getting more powerful, when in reality we’re not changing the power level?” mused Rosewater. “So the secret is, what you do is you change some things, and you put a focus on the things you’re changing, and then meanwhile, other things you depower.”

The delicate art of maintaining balance while still keeping a game interesting is just one the challenges discussed in the interview that game developers may be familiar with. For more from Rosewater on designing for longevity, take a look at the full story over on Compete.

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