…there isn’t much resembling a science for designing the abstract game features, or at least not one that is well-known and accepted. Even some of the better-known designers such as Daniel Cook and Raph Koster seem to consider their work to be more about casting an enlightened eye over trial-and-error, relying on play-testers to tell them what is fun. While nobody would seriously argue that you don’t need some sort of play-testing – just like graphics programming requires the programmer to actually look at what is being rendered – it seems a bit defeatist to assume that it’s not theoretically possible for a knowledgeable enough designer to be able to create a compelling game experience without needing to have others try it first.
via The importance of abstraction « Tales from the Ebony Fortress.
I’ve certainly made games that were fun right off the bat. It’s an exhilarating experience when it happens — though arguably, I played them in my head before playing them in code or on paper, in my first prototype. But I have definitely gotten prototypes to fun before showing them to other people. In fact, I generally don’t show them to other people until I get them to some semblance of fun.
So sure, it’s possible, and we don’t need to be defeatist about it.
What I have never done is gotten them to be as fun as they can be without someone else’s eyes on them.
I suspect this isn’t any different from any other creative medium; writers need editors, theater needs rehearsals, etc. Workshopping and dry runs are classic tools used in the arts for centuries, regardless of how much we manage to turn art from craft into science.