Mailbag: I want to become a designer

 Posted by (Visited 23521 times)  Game talk, Mailbag  Tagged with:
Sep 262012

Dear Raph Koster,

I want to become a Game Designer.

As a child I used to judge games very harshly on things like graphics and funness. Although as I’ve grown older I’ve seen there is a lot more to games then meets the eye. I don’t want to sound all professional and stodgy, I’ve just reached the stage in my life where I need to choose my path. Whether it is the correct one will be with the help of you.

I want to be a Game Designer. There are courses at Universities specifically for Designing games or Programming for games, (programming is what I would want to start doing in the industry) although it feels like I’m just the same as everyone else who picked up a controller or keyboard and said “I can do better than this”.

Simply put I was hoping you could give me some advice on how to achieve my dream. The fun is in the learning as a well written book once taught me (wink wink), and the Gaming industry is ever growing.

Thank you for your time,

H_____ P_____.


If you want to design games, you should start designing games. You can design games with a deck of cards. With index cards. And a pen, don’t forget a pen. You can do it with some poker chips, with some Lego bricks, with an old chess board. Your first lesson is “games are not their graphics.” Or their framerate. They are their rules. You can start making games with whatever you have to hand.

Learning programming is just going to give you a nicer set of index cards and blocks and chips and boards. It will let you use virtual stuff instead of real stuff. But the lessons you learn will work either way. If you can’t program yet, try GameSalad or GameMaker.

I would recommend that you learn to program. I would also recommend that you learn to draw. And to write. A designer needs to be able to communicate with people who do all these things for a living. That will likely mean drawing something to explain it to the artists, and writing something to explain it to the marketers and it might even mean programming something to show a programmer what you are trying to do. You don’t need to get really good at any of these things. Just get good enough.

Don’t choose a narrow education. Choose a broad one. History, economics, psychology, art, science. A classic liberal arts education is the best training for a designer.

Play games. But break them down as you do it. Don’t play for fun, play for analysis.

When you do sit down to start a game, you are probably starting with an idea. The idea is probably either an idea about rules, or an aesthetic idea, an experience. Whichever one you started with, go figure out the other one. Make sure they line up well together. Decide what your game is about.

Read or watch all these things, which are all free (and none of them are here on this site!)

I could say more, but I think I just gave a twenty year to-do list. Well, the reading will be done faster than that, but hey, there’s always lots more to read. 🙂


  32 Responses to “Mailbag: I want to become a designer”

  1. This was extremely helpful, thank you!

  2. When I taught a class in Austin for Game Design, I turned it into a project class (instead of the reading/quiz syllabus my predecessor used). I had them design a game. Card game, board game, miniatures, it didn’t matter, the point was that the only way to learn how to design games is to *design games*. Index cards and posterboard are cheap, and the process of developing and playtesting the games was the best way for them to learn what design is actually like.

    Generally I did an hour on deconstructing games into their design elements, and then an hour where they worked on their own and each other’s games (they could work together on a project in pairts if they wanted, but I also had them be each other’s playtesters and brainstorming group).


  3. Warning: this is likely to turn into a rant.

    It’s my opinion that game designers are born more than they are made. All we as educators can do is help speed up their development; we can’t turn people who aren’t in their hearts game designers into game designers. We can turn them into people who design games for a living, but that’s not the same thing. On rare occasions, we might be able to switch someone on to game design and give them a passion they never knew they had, but almost all game designers are already game designers in some fashion by the time we encounter them

    For example, game designers need to know a little about a lot of things – enough such that if they’re called upon to design a game on a particular subject, they already have a grounding in it and know enough to be able to find out more. Now we could teach that, but there’s no point: people who are designers-in-the-making already absorb this knowledge for the fun of it anyway. If they need to be told to do it, well, I guess the only valid reason would be because someone had given them bad advice and they were forcing themselves to focus on something narrow despite desperately wanting to read random Wikipedia pages about, er, I think it was the difference between the various editions of “On the Origin of Species” in my case two days ago. We know that game designers read up on a lot of subjects; we know that they need to do this; however, making someone read up on subjects doesn’t make them a game designer, any more than dressing them up as a police officer makes them a police officer.

    I therefore agree that a liberal arts education is great for game designers. A liberal science one would be, too, if there were such things. The main thing is that the prospective designer gets an education, rather than training. The problem is, although this kind of degree helps a game designer, it’s not going to get them a job in game design. If you go to a developer and say “I have a degree majoring in the history of Central America 1811-1822” then there’s no obvious reason why that makes you a good game designer. They’re not likely to employ someone with a degree in Game Design either, of course, because they have all the wannabe game designers they need: everyone who works at a game developer thinks they can design games. The programmers, artists, animators, producers, playtesters, CS reps, receptionists – they all think they can design games. The only reason they need game designers is because game designers actually can design games. Sadly, few people other than good game designers can recognise a good game designer.

    If you apply to a games company and say you want to be a game designer and these are the games you’ve designed, that’s a lot better. There are enough creative people in games companies that they’ll at least be able to recognise you was a kindred spirit and judge whether you have potential. However, they get so many applications that it’s very difficult for someone who has created games – especially non-digital ones – to get a hearing. If your games are pencil-and-paper or card or tiddlywinks, you can’t really send them through the post to a developer and expect a great result. They’ll be examining the computer games created with high-quality engines instead.

    I am nevertheless also strongly in favour of your advice to game designers to design games. Games are games: it doesn’t matter what the platform is. If someone is a game designers, they should be designing games in their spare time for fun. Computer games take so long to make that this can be a serious obstacle for the budding designer. When I’m interviewing prospective students who want to study game design, I ask them if they have designed games. I don’t care whether they’ve finished them, I just want to know if they’ve designed them and, if so, why. I want to know if they’ve made any of those designs real; I want to know if they’ve ever played with anything and made a game out of it. I also ask if they have lots of games they’ve read the rules of but never actually played, which is another typical symptom of being a born game designer.

    All this is irrelevant, incidentally, because what happens in practice is that so many students show up who want to design games only because they have an “I like drinking beer so I want to be a brewer” type of perspective; the ones who really are designers are lost among those who just like the idea of being one. There are also some who really are game designers (in that they want to use game design as a form of self expression) but who aren’t imaginative enough to succeed at it. I identified 2 out of 20 in my second-year module last year who had a future in game design, and one of those wasn’t even taking the Computer Games degree, he was doing straight Computer Science. Another three or four were close-but-not-imaginative-enough. Oh, actually there was another one who was very good, but he was a year-abroad French student so something of a one-off. Anyway, the problem I have is that if I give game design exercises, the actual game designers are overwhelmed by the non-designers. Groups are dominated by the loudest or most confident, and when ideas are debated among them the good ideas aren’t recognised as being good except by the designer; unfortunately, everyone thinks they’re the one with the design talent. It’s only when I roll up and ask what they’re doing and either hear some of their rejected ideas or propose some that someone else in the group has already proposed but the group has rejected (almost always because “we thought this other idea was better”) that I can tell where the inventiveness is coming from. I can ask them to design games individually, but then I have to spend most of my time talking to the ones who are staring blankly at a piece of paper with no idea whatsoever.

    What I’d like to be able to do is tell them to create a game on a different, given subject every two weeks, then have them bring the games in and play them in class. What would happen if I did that, though, would be that no-one would. The non-designers wouldn’t because they couldn’t (or couldn’t be bothered to unless they got marked for it, which means I would have to mark it, which means it would have to be an assignment, which means it would have to be submitted electronically, which, because it’s physical rather than digital, it can’t be); the game designers would initially create the games, but would soon stop because they don’t want to be thought of as swots by their peers.

    I do think there’s a huge gap for game design education. Unless you can guarantee that most of the students taking such a course actually are game designers in their souls, rather than in their imaginations, it’s going to be a tough one to teach. I think US universities have it easier than UK universities here, as you can give out course credit more easily, change what you teach in your modules more easily, and can arrange informal out-of-hours get-togethers for the better students.

    Hmm. Yes, I was right – it did turn into a rant.

  4. We have actually just set up a game designer starters course (online) at: (partly paid, but also with free tutorials, ebooks and resources). We have about 25 participants now and we teach them the basics of gameplay design, art design, gameaudio and gameprogramming. Unfortunately for most of you it is in Dutch only, but who knows we make an English international version of the school next year. You can check out the free part with Google translate though to make a first start.

    Wouter Baars

  5. Heh… when I took a graphic design class, one of the exercises was to design a game. I’m afraid I blew the opportunity in order to make an arch statement on the design process which was somewhat amusing but a really crappy game. Lesson learned: even if an exercise seems pointless and irrelevant, find a way to make it relevant and put real effort into doing it well… lest you wind up a bitter old man designing nothing more interesting than low-grade business apps.

  6. Be forewarned, the ability to criticize, break down, etc. games, does not a game designer make. It is an important skill, surely, but it is as removed from the process as a movie critic might be from a director.

    The analogy to a director is not incidental; we’re familiar enough with moviemaking than we’d never expect to become a Director with a capital D before first “directing” student films or hobby projects in which we might very well play every role, write the screenplay, man the cameras and lighting, perform the music, and certainly do all of the editing.

    The role of a director in movies is similar to that of a designer’s in games in that it is, in its purest form, entirely ephemeral. In a practical form, however, especially for one wanting to get into making games, it’s not, it involves wearing many hats. Thus is Raph’s advice: you want to make games? Make games!

    The listed resources are excellent for hopeful and experienced game designers alike. If you choose to learn how to program, Code Academy is an excellent, step-by-step introduction to be basics. However, I would underscore Raph’s point to make card/board games first. These games are considered to be one of the cleanest expressions of the craft, insofar as their laying bare of the rules and underlying system interactions.

    Lastly, I will mention that joining a community of game designers/developers is vastly useful to motivate and inspire you, whether it be a university club or meetup, an online forum, or, as it was for me, a usenet group.

    Best of luck!

    Ebyan Alvarez-Buylla

  7. When I saw the H______ P_______, all I could think was “Harry Potter wants to become a game designer”.

  8. Thank you, this is so true. I would add to it that as a teacher the majority of my students that actually land design jobs in the video game industry started out as modders. I’ve never seen anybody get hired for their awesome ideas. Also, the thing they consistently tell me after they’re hired is to get used to (harsh) critique. Leave your ego at the door because the game isn’t about you and how awesome your idea is, it’s about the players.

  9. […] Raph’s Website » Mailbag: I want to become a designer […]

  10. […] Mailbag: I want to become a designer stickylearning: Learning & Design Thinking – part 1 This post and the subsequent part(s) over the next week or so are designed to accompany the visuals (below) from my session at the AITD 2012 conference. The posts are more or less the words that went along with my presentation, adding depth and detail to the quick succession of images in the presentation. My advice though is to begin by going through the presentation visuals, then after having a look through, come back to the following text to help you get a broader picture of the overall messages and ideas. Too often L&D seems to be stuck in a box labelled 'Formal Learning'. As participants for my session entered the room they were met with the short video/images of the man breaking out of the box and seeing a whole world of new idas flying by and towards the future! No prizes for guessing that the man in the box is a typical L&D professional (in fact it used to be me!). 10 Free Web 2.0 Tools And How To Easily Use Them In Your Classroom […]

  11. The “director” analogy is apt. A designer has to understand all the different elements that go into a game. Not necessarily be able to do all of them, certainly not at the high level required by AAA titles, but he needs to be able to discuss elements with specialists using their own language (and know when they’re trying to snow him). A director may not spend any time building sets, standing behind a camera, working an editing console, or acting a part, but he needs to know what each of those tasks (and many more, such as costuming, lighting, etc.) involve so he can tell the people that are actually doing it what he wants from them.

    By the same token, a designer needs to understand algorithms, system architecture, network protocols (for games where multiplayer is important), the aesthetics and core techniques of the various forms of artwork, and a wide variety of other disciplines. Even having all of those are not sufficient to make you a designer, which requires understanding how to use gameplay to create a user experience (just as a director uses narrative to create a film). They are tools and technique of making games, not in and of themselves game design (so they bear the same relation to game design as pigments, media, and brush technique has to being a painter).


  12. Excellent article and an awesome response, Richard Bartle. Bob Bates liked to use the term “designer genes” (play on “designer jeans” if you don’t use that term in the UK – Calvin Klein and such) to refer to the difficult-to-define characteristics that great game designers have in common.

    Richard’s response bothers me, however, because I really like the idea of “Mindset: A New Psychology of Success”, by Carol S. Dweck, and it’s theme is that nobody is “born to be” anything. Following that ideal, it isn’t that game designers are born to design games, but that we have put in the effort over a long period of time to improve skills that make us better designers.

    In my case, I played games all my life and have been curious about just about everything all along – I used to go through a dictionary or encyclopedia, first opening to a page at random, then following threads suggested by an article there. Today I still do the same thing quite frequently using Wikipedia or other web pages I happen to notice. Basic intelligence and curiosity are certainly important to game design! But I’m not sure to what extent they are innate, and to what extent developed by mental exercise.

    I would have said I did not design games as a child, but thinking back, I realize that isn’t correct. I made some custom board games, made my own Chinese Chess set after reading an article about the game, and later made a custom tarot deck, picked up D&D and wrote my own dungeon modules, etc. I also became interested in computers in Junior High and eventually made that my career. You could say I stumbled onto a lot of different pieces that made me a better game designer, or perhaps it was destiny because I was born with designer genes.

    Lori had a similarly eclectic background, but with a focus on the arts more than on science. She made up stories when she was a child, and studied creative writing and art in school, and animation as an adult. She also taught school, which gave her a head-start on leading a team. It was a very different path than mine, but once again taught her many of the skills needed for game design.

    So is a game designer born that way, or do life’s influences add up to turn random creative, intelligent people into game designers? I’m not sure, but I’m more inclined to the latter belief. Can a curriculum teach non-game-designers to become game designers? No, but I think that’s a matter of time constraints. If it takes ten thousand hours of meaningful practice to become expert at something, game design is no exception. You can’t create a mathematician, a poet, or a game designer in a few years of University training. They have to spend their lives becoming expert, and their degree program is just a piece of that. When you say that only 2 students out of 20 in a class showed real potential, I suspect that just means those two had a much better head start on learning – and caring about – the things they need to know.

    By the way, I’ve experienced the frustration of trying to get my game design qualifications across to people not qualified to judge them. In many cases, I couldn’t even get in the door for an interview. (Apparently, “look at my previous award-winning, best-selling games” doesn’t count as a qualification.) In other cases, I’ve talked to them, then they’ve decided someone in-house (usually the person who interviewed me) can do just as well. Usually they’re wrong, but there’s no opportunity to say “I told you so”. And I think I have enough humility to ask, “Is there really any reason to say that I’m better qualified than Person X, other than the fact that I’ve succeeded several times in the past?” After all, if that was the criterion, nobody would ever get to design their first commercial game. (This again supports Raph’s and Richard’s advice to make games, whether they’re on paper or have primitive graphics. Not only is it fantastic practice, but at least it gives you something you can show that says, “Yes, I not only can design games; I’ve already done it!”)

    There’s no substitute for hard work, for trying things out and evaluating whether they’re fun, and whether they seem to work in a game. A degree program can teach you some techniques, but it can’t hand you anything you don’t make for yourself. I was over 30 when I designed my first commercial game – What’s the hurry? 🙂

    – Corey Cole

  13. The example I give my students here is that of the English composer, Ralph (not Raph) Vaugan Williams, who collected and orchestrated many folk songs. In one of these, he included some harp music which the harpist in the orchestra found impossible to play. She asked Vaughan Williams how he expected anyone to play it. Vaughan Williams sat down at the harp and said, “Well, I thought like this”. He went through it note by note, very slowly, showing the fingering he had in his mind. The harpist followed what he was doing, and suddenly understood. She took back her seat, and played it through from start to finish flawlessly.

    The thing is, Vaughan Williams _couldn’t play the harp_. However, he _did_ know what _could_ be played on it. Game designers don’t need to be able to program, draw, animate or anything else, but they _do_ need to know that what they’ve asked for can be delivered.

  14. […] Raph Koster answering : I want to be a game designer. […]

  15. Fantastic list, Raph!
    While it is a good idea to start on the purer (and quicker) format of card or board games, I believe it’s also worth establishing the value of ‘video games’ specific design skills for aspiring game designers. Their understanding the principles elegant mechanics and system design is obviously of prime importance, but one won’t be a really great game designer without knowing some concepts which are more medium-specific. For example, I have seen some designers who have little appreciation of the more experiential side of game design; feedback, visual language, managed learning, sensory reward, controls & tactile interaction principles. I think this stems from game design learning materials giving a disproportionate focus on core mechanics and design theory, with a hesitancy to engage with the wider demands of everyday modern game development.

  16. Phil, that would be why I suggest learning code, art, music, etc. Code is needed to understand how to create those effects or to build them yourself; and virtually all of them are leveraging techniques from other media.

  17. Many folks over the years have asked me this same question. Raph outlines a great approach to designing games. Start designing now! I like to tell folks to start small and start with something you know. Turn your special gift of whatever you are good at into a game.

    Everyone has a special gift and specific knowledge of a craft. It could be art, carpentry, car engines, or whatever you are good at. With that skill knowledge, you can build amazing things and keep the depth of the game deep by drawing on your inspiration and understanding.

    You learn every time you design something new. The techniques for making a game are learned through the process of making something with your skill. It could be how to combine paints/color, how to use primitives in a 3D environment, how to assemble parts to make gears turn, etc. Once you begin developing something, you will see how deep and complex you can make a simple game.

    As far as education, I would focus on what designers really do. We outline the limits of what the game will comprise of to programmers in our documentation. Documentation is an iterative process, just like the development of a game is. With any project (large or small), you propose game designs (with many revisions), development is completed, and you review and tweak that development. A good designer understands all the development needed to complete a design.

    To understand all the development needed, you need to educate yourself on each piece of that process. I recommend programming classes, basic math (calculus is a plus), statistics (great for system designers), logic, and literature.

    Now, for the downside of what I have said. You will never design your own games with that education. To design your own games, you must understand business and run your own business. If that is the path you wish to take (I wish I had known this when I started making games), I would have gone for management of information systems with a computer science/art background.

    At this point in my life, I am broadly educated with physics, engineering, architecture, literature, art, and computer science (four AAA titles under my belt). I am currently learning more about the Unity3D engine (for the past year) and have developed over seven games with the engine. Unity3D has a great community supporting folks exploring game design and programming with it.

  18. […] Gaming legend Raph Koster weighs in on the question of wanting to become a game designer. […]

  19. First of all, thank you, to both Raph and the original letter writer! I’ve been on a similar journey for the last couple of years — or perhaps it should be reckoned in decades, if you count my BA in Philosophy from a decidedly liberal arts-friendly university — and am poised to take the next major step. It is both heartening and encouraging that many (if not all) of the steps Raph recommends are ones that I have already taken myself.

    However, I do have one question. This next major step I mentioned is that I have been accepted to a MFA-level program in game development, with an intention of focusing on game design, and expect to start with the turn of the year. For me personally, I think it is the right thing to do, as I am living in an area (small-town Middle America) that is not a hot spot (or even a cold spot) of the gaming industry, and do not have a professional or personal connection to anyone working in it (at least, not yet). I am curious to know what those who work in the industry think of these programs and whether the graduates they have worked with are well-prepared for working in the industry — as well as any advice you all might have for someone who is about to start one of these programs!

  20. I’m going to ignore pretty much all of the article and pick apart this little advice of your.

    “Play games. But break them down as you do it. Don’t play for fun, play for analysis.”

    What a dangerous advice! For how can someone analyze games without actually playing them for fun? For how can someone break them down without *FIRST* playing them for and ONLY for fun!? For how can someone learn anything about games if they never put themselves in the shoes of those to whom they mean anything? For what games mean to those who do not play them for fun?

    It is only after playing games for pleasure, and only for pleasure, that one should embark on the mission of breaking them down. Not before, not at the same time — but *after*. For if game design is science, and game designer is a scientist, then playing games for pleasure is nothing short of an empirical method. It is only through playing games ourselves, through experiencing pleasure ourselves, that we can start theorizing about what makes them great and what could make them even GREATER.

    And so, it is only in the eyes of those to whom games mean nothing but PROFIT that playing for fun is a waste of time. For it is only to them that research into what OTHERS find pleasurable is more valuable than research into what they, themselves, find pleasurable. And that I have nothing against at, so as long the real motives are stated clearly.

    You see, there are too many people out there who confuse figuring out what can sell at this time with figuring out what a better game is. The first does not require playing for fun, the second does.

  21. Miroslav, much as a reader does not a writer make, or a movie watcher does not a director make, a player does not a designer make. A game critic also does not a designer make, but is closer along the spectrum by virtue of having an analytical, detail-oriented approach to playing games, which is Raph’s point.

    Ultimately, designing games, developing them, testing them, tweaking them, and throwing pieces, systems, or entire games away makes you a better designer, not playing other people’s games. It helps, certainly, to see how other people have solved specific problems, but it is a small part of the equation.

  22. I think the point is that before you can effectively analyze what makes a game fun, you have to experience the fun. Being a player doesn’t make you a designer, but you can’t be a designer without being a player. And the broader and deeper your experience as a player, the greater your ability to put yourself in the players’ shoes while designing.

    Or in other words… why would any artist choose to work in a medium that he or she doesn’t actively enjoy as a fan?

    Those of a certain analytical bent can’t help but pick games apart as we play — but that’s not a distraction or alternative to having fun, that’s part of the fun (sometimes a big part). And I think that’s why some of my favorite MMOs have a “design your own” component built in, and why sandbox titles are so hugely appealing to a not insignificant niche.

    Ooooooo, that reminds me! If you want to dip your toes in game design, look for titles that allow you to create and publish quests/adventures/missions/whatever. In the MMO realm, Star Trek Online and Everquest II have systems for rolling your own (City of Heroes as well, but they’re soon to be defunct barring some unlikely miracle). You’re working with predesigned set pieces, but you can pick up a sense of rhythm, flow, dramatic arc, and other transferrable skills. In addition, there are a multitude of single-player games that have editors and other mod tools, and active communities hungry for new and interesting mods. Those provide even more freedom to get creative.

    Eventually you’ll want to fly on your own, but it never hurts to have a platform to launch yourself from.

  23. Ebyan,

    If Raph said “Play and enjoy as many games as you can but also learn how to thoroughly understand what you like and what you dislike about them!” that would have been fine because that’s a perfectly sensible statement. Unfortunately, he didn’t say that. He said “Play games. But break them down as you do it. Don’t play for fun, play for analysis.”. The very last sentence betrays a player who has lost his interest in the medium long time ago.

    A game critic will play a game just like a player does, and that is — for fun. That’s the very job of a game critic, goddamit! The difference between a player and a game critic lies in two things 1) critics play ALL games and 2) they are capable of dissecting games and articulating what’s good and what’s bad about them. That’s all.

    Now, of course, to play games is not to design them, but to play them is to understand them, which is what theory is about, right? How else would you be able to tell what is a better game but by actually playing and enjoying a lot of games? You certainly aren’t telling me that you can simply look at what OTHERS claim to enjoy and infer from that? That’s how figuring out how to earn easy buck works, but figuring out what is a better game simply does not, should not and cannot work that way.

    For there are two fundamentally distinct types of designers: the artist and the entrepreneur. Contrary to the popular belief, they are both cool guys, but games mean different things to them. To an artist, a game is a pleasurable activity: to design games is to make even more pleasurable games. To an entrepreneur, a game is just a way to make a buck: to design games is to find a market for less pleasurable games. The artist makes great games and the entrepreneur churns out crap to bankroll the artist. They need each other.


    And this is a big BUT.

    There is a pandemic of degenerate player instincts and telling people “not to play games for fun” is just helping it spread further.

  24. “Fun”. I’ve come to cringe when I hear that word in regards to MMORPGs. Because it almost always means heavily designed quests made to pump sugar directly into the player’s veins. Not that that’s a bad thing in gaming, don’t get me wrong. But here’s the issue for me. That’s a great thing for single player games, where the player plays through the game a few times and that’s the end of it. But in an MMORPG, if it’s designed around this concept, it means the continual experience of the persistent world is doomed to fail at some point.

    MMORPGs have been designed (mostly) around this concept. It was great “fun”…for a while. But now we’ve come to the very predictable point (and anyone who remembers my posts for the last years, all single digits of them, knows I’ve done just this) that experienced players have played through the fantastically designed sugar content. They’ve had the “fun”, but it’s been played and it’s over.

    Worse yet, these same players have come to recognize the sugar “fun”. They see it coming, not the content itself but the experience. And they now know that it’s just a sugar high and it will go away. And that means that every time they see it coming now, they also know that that’s all there is. The sugar high was less and less as they played the content, and now it’s less and less as they know it’s coming.

    “Big deal, been there done that, is there nothing more?

    MMORPGs are different than single player games. They are expected to be playable for extended periods of time, not just a few play-throughs.

    So my point is, when you’re making a game, consider what you are after and then consider what the point of the fun is in that game. There are different kinds of “fun” and it must fit the concept of the game.

  25. I just sort of assume that a novice always plays games for fun, so I was just counter programming.

    I do think that it gets harder for an experienced designer to play for fun. But it doesn’t mean you stop!

  26. For me, it’s not the knowledge of what “fun” is, it’s that “fun” isn’t fun. I like fast-paced on the edge of your seat gameplay where I have tons and tons of tools and different strategies i can use and lots of bad guys that want to kill me and lots of ways it can go wrong. But sadly it seems a lot of games want to oversimplify it so that it’s “fun”. And that usually means it’s slower-paced and less detailed and more predictable. Pretty soon, I discover that they all have about the same level of depth.

    I need more depth.

    And then there’s the mudflation thing. That’s the reason I’m here. I googled it and it led me to a post by Raph in 2007. I think games could make more money if they had progression characters or if they sold their older content on a cheap subscription. For example, if the full game is $35 + $15/month then let me play it at $2.50 + $2.50 per month per expansion. This way i can progress through each layer of the game and be a progression player while spending less money. If my goal wasn’t to be a progression player and/or I had more money to spend then I’d just buy more expansions to speed up my leveling pace (taking advantage of mudflation that exists with the activation of additional expansions). Alternatively, consider selling a payment plan that’s $2.50 + $2.50 per month per expansion that gives me an innate hp/dps/spell/etc boost. This is useful when playing in games that have lots of tough content made for groups. Since the content is old, it doesn’t have enough players to start groups. So the innate stat boost helps me to do it on my own.

    I’m sick… sick… of mudflation. Sick of old content that’s ignored and unused. As a player and a person who thinks about mmorpg/rpg design on my spare time, I LIKE old content. This is specially true when I’m new to a game and have to wade through all of the mudflation that has happened. I want either progression gameplay to be legitimized as a playstyle (and thus given more attention in these games) or to have older content be a cheaper form of subscription than the full game.

    Seriously… this single issue really gets me angry sometimes. I’m not exaggerating.

  27. The game has 5 expansions and 75 levels and 400 aa points.

    So lets say a typical player does this:
    $35 to purchase access to game files
    $15/month to gain full subscription
    6 months to achieve level 75 and 225 aa points
    total cost: $125

    ME…. I’m a progression player:
    $4/month per expansion per month
    at the end of 3 months: $0, level 45 and 15 aa points (original game is f2p)
    at the end of 6 months: $12, level 50 and 55 aa points (1 expansion)
    at the end of 9 months: $36 (2 expansions)
    at the end of 12 months: $72 (3 expansions)
    ….. and so on.

    I play in old content so why should I pay as much as someone playing in new content? Ultimately, I may pay MORE if I keep playing, but that’s my own choice to make.

    Another critical thing is that I can pay for specific content. I want the developer(s) to know that I’M a progression player and that I’m paying to experience the old content. I think that by me directly paying for the old content the developers can no longer just assume that the money I spent is for something else. They now know it’s for old content and can’t make things up.

    This is kind of how I see it. As a progression player, if I want the game to be easier, I can buy cash shop complimentary innate/etc bonuses. This would be helpful in old content that needed groups to complete. Complimentary bonuses don’t replace the “game” and thus still require you to play the game and use its resources to their full extent. The goal is to play the game, not skip it. Preferably, all of a player’s innate stats and/or skills can be improved in one go with the bonus(s). Whether it’s healing or using a weapon or natural regeneration or crowd control or spell casting or whatever, it should all still be used to keep the game interesting and reduce the repetitiveness. A wrong way to do it is to overpower one or two stats and thus make most other actions a player can perform redundant. Another wrong way to do is to give the player powerful items like weapons and gear. This is bad because not only can it have the same problems since it’s specific, but it eliminates the gearing portion of the game – which is a form of progression and integral to the fun factor! I was going to the bathroom while thinking about this and what I imagined was that my body has all these different tools: feet, arms, hands, eyes, ears, brain, speed, weight, endurance, etc. I use these tools to accomplish tasks. But lets say that one single feature grew to immense proportions and lets say that the challenges I face are so overwhelmed by this single feature that no other feature I have is of any import anymore. So to preserve ALL of my tools, I need to improve all of them at once! Otherwise, I’d be stuck with a game that has been greatly reduced in its diversity of tools. You see this with classes where they specialize in specific skills and/or stats that’re much greater than their others. Rogues will focus on sneaking and dps. Tanks will focus on defensive close combat. Spell casters will focus on magical ranged defense and offense. This is because their strengths are spread over a narrow range of skills and/or stats. If only a SINGLE stat or skill is increased to gigantic levels then one would expect it to have a similar effect on the game. Thus, if a game’s appeal depends on its diversity of strategies and tools, it should NOT then reduce them.

    If you don’t have access to an expansion then you receive none of its direct benefits, such as trade-able items or advancement features or bonuses or other things. Of course, you cannot go into its areas to gain experience either (this is obvious).

    Anyway I’m done .I’ve ranted enough. Just trying to quickly summarize the thoughts I’ve had the past couple days. I have to get this out of my system or the anger will just eat me up.

  28. If some person (an adult, not a child) would ask a musician “how do I become a musician”, or ask an surgeon “how do I become a surgeon” or ask a cleaning person “how do I become a cleaning person” I would send this person home. Immedeately.

    I understand that a lot of people are drawn to game design at the moment, a lot of money is supposedly to be made. Game design is not trivial. Just the opposite. You need to understand a lot of things before your first prototype will make an impact on players apart from your friends and family.

    If you need to ask a celebrity this simple question, you will probably not make it.

    Very sorry to spoil the party.

  29. And that’s why you should utterly ignore people who tell you to give up.

  30. I don’t really need the boost because my ego is ———————– that big 😛 , but hearing R&R saying that you are born a designer and that you should design card games makes me feel good anyways. I’ve been doing that my whole life.

    The comments about liking the idea but not the reality remind me of my Japanese professor. He used to say that all the time, some people like the idea of speaking a foreign language but they hate to do the work.

    I only took basic computer programming classes in school before I got bored and quit, but I recall so many people who couldn’t seem to perform the simplest program without quite a bit of instruction but they all thought they were quite good.

    My advice from personal experience is that you will meet a lot of people who tell you you are trying to do something too hard given your experience, or that you should start making games by re creating pong, this is quite a popular response on places such as game dev, and you need to be able to tell them to fuck off. If they aren’t an authority figure you have to placate for a piece of paper their opinion of your capabilities is irrelevant.

    I would also say that it is just as useful to ask writers how they got their first book done if you can’t find a lot of prominent game designers to ask about their experience in games. The most common response by a large margin is that they had to shop their book to dozens of publishers before it god picked up. The system isn’t quite identical but the premise that you need to brush off rejection quite a lot is the same.

    One last thing to note is that while modding might give you some decent design skills modders are not game designers or developers. Probably the most obvious model for this is Universo Virtual. They were a collection of modders who had worked on the popular EU3 mod Magna Mundi. Their mod was incredibly popular and Paradox offered to publish a whole new game on the EU3 engine. Their attempt at game design was a total disaster. After 18 months of extensions and quite a bit of scheming and lying by the UU employees and owner the game had to be shelved as an unplayable mess and UU even tried to sue Paradox.

    If you choose to ignore the advice of various people like those at gamedev, its not a big deal as long as you truly understand the magnitude of the task in creating an entire video game.

  31. […] of Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies fame recommends that budding game developers acquire a broad education, not necessarily a specialized game design degree. Learn to program, draw, and write, he says, but […]

  32. […] Learning programming is just going to give you a nicer set of index cards and blocks and chips and boards. It will let you use virtual stuff instead of real stuff. But the lessons you learn will work either way.  -Raph Koster […]

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