From the Mailbag: Breaking In

 Posted by (Visited 10986 times)  Mailbag
May 262006
 

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. 🙂

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.

  26 Responses to “From the Mailbag: Breaking In”

  1. Original post:From the Mailbag: Breaking In by at Google Blog Search: online game

  2. costs and takes time, since it’s a skill to learn and refine like any other. There is an interest by Tunnell with GarageGames to write this, but good to see at least one professional being helpful. Oh, and Raph has a great primer on the design side onbreaking into game design.

  3. Original post:From the Mailbag: Breaking In

  4. […] 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 FarmingFarming bezeichnet das endlose Sammeln von bestimmten Ressourcen an den dafür optimalen Stellen des Spiels. Oft um es dann bei Auktionshäusern zu verkaufen. 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. Link: From the Mailbag: Breaking InWeitere News zum Thema: Diskussion im Forum:Raph Koster, wie beginne ich ein MMO Design? […]

  5. Raph mentioned communities of people developing games. If you’re interested in learning programming skills, the forums of the smaller graphics engines favoured by some basement developers are great places to meet people interested in (and often trying their hand at) building and designing games.

    A list of game engines can be found here and here.

    Another of my favourite places to hang out and discuss (or rather lurk and listen) games and game design are any of the forums listed on the right of Raph’s site. Raph, I hope you don’t mind me mentioning another, but you’re missing mmoroundtable.

  6. http://www.multiverse.net is also a good place to go, if you’re interested in MMOs and want to find a team to work on. Some teams (unpaid, volunteer types, a lot of the time) will even take people with no experience.

  7. What happened to the advice of: “Try running a MUD” ? Is that outdated?

  8. Actually, not it’s not, and I should have said that as well. Time was I would have recommended MUD-Dev, but it seems to be dormant right now, which is a real shame.

  9. You need luck and “contacts”. Having good friends in the right places is more important than anything else.

    Be in the right place at the right time. Raw knowledge is rather irrelevant. Reading books won’t make anyone a designer.

    And going indie is for 98% of those who try just a dead end and source of frustration.

    Just putting things back into the correct perspective 🙂

  10. I’m pretty much in the same boat myself. I’m very interested in getting into game design, but I’m sitting at the bottom rung of the ladder.
    I came to the conclusion that the only way I’d get anywhere is to actually make a game myself to show off, so I decided to put my self-taught programming ‘skills’ to use and create a browser based multiplayer game.

    I think I still have some naive optimism stored up somewhere to think that I could get somewhere with it. 🙂

  11. […] Want to Design Games… …more:https://www.raphkoster.com/2006/05/26/from-the-mailbag-breaking-in/(Post a new comment) Log in now.(Create account, or useOpenID) […]

  12. Oh, and tuebit, I think I have all the blogs that individually make up mmoroundtable already listed…

  13. […] Comments […]

  14. I’m no game professionnal, just a passionate with a hobby, but here’s what I did to dive in. Maybe it can give someone some ideas.

    Being an analyst/programmer mostly doing web applications, a web game was obviously the easiest way for me to give it a try. Having no graphic skills and no particular desire to involve someone else in my project, a web text game was my choice.

    It surprised me how popular those games are. You only have to take a look at http://www.hattrick.org or http://urbandead.com/ to see that a simple idea can become an incredibly popular game. Web games have probably become what MUD used to be I guess.

    So I started playing a lot of those games, trying to find out some popular patterns while trying to find an original idea. My first goal wasn’t the game itself but more an experiment to see how one could slowly build an online community.

    After some months and a lot of writing, I finally had what would become my game. Having played a lot of those games, I’ve been able to eliminate common mechanics that made a lot of those games looks like each others. I didn’t want an “I win” formula, just something different if not unique.

    Coding the game was actually the easiest part. Same thing can’t be said by the last step of the project, getting the game known. Just dropping a new web page on the internet is like spitting in the ocean.

    So I registered my game to numerous portals like http://apexwebgaming.com/ and used Google Adwords (and the last one was much more succesful than what I would thought).

    At the top of popularity of my humble web text game, I managed to have near a hundred players wich was more than enough for me to call my first shot a success. I guess that learning to appreciate what you have (even if it wasn’t much compared to other games) is the key here. Of course, I didn’t make any money with it but I had a lot of fun doing it.

    Unfortunatly, free time slipped out of my hand some months later and I finally let it die, not being able to keep up. I learned a lot while doing this little project and I’m now working on a draft for the next one.

  15. Raph, there’s a forum associated with mmoroundtable, that has, for me, some interesting discussion.

  16. Abalieno:

    I’m sure the education and personal or small team projects are no where near a guarantee of success, nor will reading books as you point out. But all roads have a beginning.

    I agree the probability of success via the indie route is low … but the probability is lower still if no attempt is made. 😉

  17. And going indie is for 98% of those who try just a dead end and source of frustration.

    That 2% is reserved for teams that create such projects as 0 A.D., which has received several inquiries from major publishers.

    The IGDA Indie SIG is an excellent resource for those starting out; in addition, Tom Sloper’s advice is a worthwhile read. Dan Marchant’s website also provides useful information.

  18. Also: Knowing people is useless if they think you’re an ignorant fool. =P

  19. Hmm, that’s too bad that MUD-Dev is dormant. I enjoyed it.

  20. Is there somewhere on the web or in any of the books a (more or less complete) structure of a MMORPG design document?

    I just like to start writing one for the fun of it. However, to also learn how it’s done right, I would like to know what the structure looks like exactly and what headlines are used etc.

    So far I just found design documents about other games, which are very different from what I think a MMO GDD should look like.

  21. […] From the Mailbag: Breaking In […]

  22. […] I’d also recommend reading Raph Koster’s article on Breaking In to game design where he answers some other people’s questions about this topic. […]

  23. […] Breaking In by Raph Koster […]

  24. […] Breaking In on Raph Koster Breaking In on Raph Koster Quote: […]

  25. […] making this decision more difficult than necessary. Breaking Into Game Design by Raph […]

  26. […] a board game. All games can be played as board games, including Doom and World of Warcraft. Raph’s Breaking In article gives some good […]

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