These come in via the contact form. Anyone who wants to write to me can feel free, though I won’t guarantee that I will answer. But if I get enough emails, maybe I will post the answers here. ðŸ™‚
Mr. Koster: I’m a college Sophmore writing to you for advice. I read your book back in High School and have recently reviewed it and read some things on your site. Since high school I’ve been trying to get in as many books as possible about Game Design and Virtual World Design between my studies. Essentially, I have aspirations of some day working a career in game design. I currently have a few table top projects that I work with rigorously and try to test/play as often as I can gather together the people to do so. As I said before I am also trying to read as much as I can to understand the ideas behind Game Design. I was wondering if you had any advice with regards to good reads, websites to keep track of, certain classes to take, or anything of the like to faciliate progression into a career in game design. Sincerely, Ryan
Well, to start with, although there are many books on game design, there’s really only a handful on virtual world design, and there’s only one that you absolutely must read, which is Bartle’s Designing Virtual Worlds. I realize it is pricey on a student budget, of course.
I actually wrote one of those Listmania lists for Amazon once, on what you should read if tackling virtual world design. If writing it today, I might add Lee Sheldon’s book rather than David Freeman’s (still read David’s, though — Lee’s is just more applicable to virtual worlds specifically). I’d also add in T.L. Taylor’s Play Between Worlds : Exploring Online Game Culture and Ted Castronova’s Synthetic Worlds : The Business and Culture of Online Games. I don’t think Julian Dibbell’s Play Money: Or, How I Quit My Day Job And Struck It Rich in Virtual Loot Farming is quite out yet, but it’s a sure addition too, because the issue of real-money trades is going to keep rising in importance.
A game design list is much tougher. Besides my own book and the game design books listed in the above list, I’d probably recommend Game Design Workshop: Designing, Prototyping, and Playtesting Games as a good place to start. It’s grounded and practical. The best path to being agame designer is to design lots of games. I’d recommend hanging out where game designers and those who love games hang out, sites like RPGNet, BoardGameGeek, GameDev, and so on. Join the IGDA, which offers a bunch of programs for students and active discussion forums.
Practice on board games. I described my game development toolkit here. And learn to code. If you are not a programmer, pick up something relatively easy like Flash, or dive into something like BlitzBasic. Being able to prototype is a really valuable tool.
As far as classes, I recommend a liberal-arts education for designers.
I am 30 years old and preparing to return to school in the field of game design. I’m planning on attending ITT Techs’ game design program. Basically im interested in any advice you may have for me as a person entering this field for the first time. Ive been a gamer for as long as i can remember(somehere around the time of Atari and Odessey). I understand that there is a massive difference between being a player and a designer. It seems like you talk to every player I talk to thinks he or she can design a better game than what they play. They seem to think its a simple task. Before I started looking into the field, I would say I thought the same thing. I should point out as a disclaimer that i first came to know your work in SWG. Well, thats not completely true. I flirted with Ultima for a short time but never came to know it like I did SWG. When I started reading some of your writings it was clear to me that you understand so m uch more than the programming side of the gaming industry. You seem to find the base level of whatever it may be that gets us excited about games, and build something from that base. At this time, all I have is the desire to do that and not the technical skills. So once again I ask you, what can a guy getting started a little late in this business do to be successfull. Thanks for your time.
There definitely is a big difference between a player and a designer, but it’s not that tough of a gap to close, really. It’s mostly a matter of perspective. Again, I’d recommend the “make lots of games” thing.
In your case, I’d say that you should start making indie games; with no track record, it’s going to be hard to break in. Career changes at a later age are always tough. Indie games will require that you try assembling a real small team, and start actually making stuff. You don’t have any technical background, so you will need to prove your design chops to some other indie folks who can be coders and artists. Mod teams manage this all the time, so it is doable.
I suggest you look around places where the small indie developers hang out; it’s a very helpful community, with lots of code sharing and the like. Some of the places that spring to mind are the forums for whatever language you end up using (so for example, there’s a billion Java ones; there’s Coders Workshop, and so on). Don’t be surprised if people start out by saying “I make my own games, why would I want to work on yours?” You’ll have to prove yourselves to them, perhaps by putting some complete designs out there and seeing if people like them.
And again, I’d learn to code a bit. It can only help.