5 Things Experienced Game Designers Wish They Knew From The Start

Advice from experienced game designers

Any game designer who has been in the industry long enough can relate to the old saying: “if I knew then what I know now…”

Like any occupation that demands passion, creativity, and hard work, the road of a game developer is one where mistakes are to be expected. Although learning the hard way is sometimes the best way, it would do every aspiring designer some good to consider all of the following pieces of advice….

1. Don’t Let Mistakes Get You Down

If there’s one thing to expect when designing a game, it’s that everything is bound to change. You may have an initial design that you think is perfect but will eventually realize how many elements and mechanics conflict, requiring you to make adjustments. The mistake most designers make is letting this essential step discourage them since having to make changes means that the first design failed.

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” -Thomas A. Edison

Instead of giving up, learn from your setbacks so that the next time you come up with an idea for a new game mechanic or entirely new concept you can avoid the same oversight.

All it takes is a bit of research to realize that some of the best games out there were initially planned to be something entirely different, forcing the developers to adapt while conquering their fear of making another mistake.

2. Planning Is Everything

Gone are the days when you could leave a school project or essay to the last minute, stay up all night to do it, and still get a decent grade. Much worse than a bad grade on your paper is the negative feedback you’ll receive from players and fellow developers after they check out your project – a game that didn’t receive the necessary preparations and thus was hastily put together.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” -Abraham Lincoln

The sooner you realize the importance of a game design document, the better. It is a living document that helps you plan every aspect of your game, make note of any changes, and keep the team organized. So before you get to work on your first project, sit down and write a game design document detailing everything about it. It will save you time discovering problems with your concept while writing the GDD, as opposed to while playing a build you’ve already spent hours programming.

3. Follow Industry News and Keep Playing Games

It sounds silly to tell a game designer to never stop playing games, but you’d be surprised by how many veterans admit to only checking out one or two titles a month. While the role of game designer is a challenging and time-consuming one, you should always find time to play games being made by other passionate developers.

The exercise of playing a game to analyze what worked and what was a poor design decision will never stop being useful to you. You’ll become a better designer by sharpening your ability to take a design that doesn’t work and come up with ideas to improve it.

“Study while others are sleeping; work while others are loafing; prepare while others are playing; and dream while others are wishing.” -William Arthur Ward

While you’re at it, make sure you don’t fall behind in this fast-paced industry of ours, or else you’ll find yourself designing games that no longer appeals to most gamers. Even though we all want to design something irrelevant to what is popular, we have to accept that paying attention to current trends will increase the chance of our game being a success.

It will help you think twice about implementing a game mechanic into your project when you realize that another title with a similar idea received a negative response upon release.

4. Seek Inspiration Outside of Games

Like we said in the last piece of advice, don’t get so lost in your project that you lose interest in seeing how other games have turned out. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with receiving ideas from sources not directly related to video games. All it takes is a look into your hobbies to find the creative spark that will help you craft the next big hit, or at least something you’re happy with.

“It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.” –Vincent van Gogh

Take Shigeru Miyamoto, an industry legend who needs no introduction. He has often admitted to getting game ideas from his childhood and hobbies. He came up with Pikmin while watching ants carry leaves, while The Legend of Zelda was inspired by his time exploring the wilderness surrounding his hometown. Whether it be sports, movies, or comics, find your source of inspiration.

5. Feedback From Playtesting Is Priceless

Even if you make a game that is absolutely perfect for you, it won’t matter if others don’t enjoy it. Unless you’re designing games specifically for your own entertainment, your job as a game designer is to create experiences that others will love. For this reason, you should always playtest your games, even the earliest playable build, to see how players react. There’s no better way to find elements about your game that need to be tweaked, expanded on, or removed entirely.

“Testing leads to failure, and failure leads to understanding.” -Burt Rutan

Playtesting is also a valuable tool for seeing how solid your level design and game’s difficulty are. If new players keep getting lost to the point of frustration, something needs to change. It could also be that the game is too easy or too hard, which can be hard to determine based on your own playtime since you only represent one skill level.

Click here to see how you can get the most out of your playtesting sessions.

Conclusion

While making games for a living can be fun and satisfying, it can also sometimes be very taxing on both mind and body. For this reason, among many others, a lot of designers are abandoning their childhood dreams in favor for another career.

Whether you’re new to the industry, or already have years under your belt, don’t forget the tips you’ve just read to avoid discouragement and continue growing as a designer.

Learn more about the School of Game Design at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

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