Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group

What is a good game designer? A CLWG Hive-Mind Response

Bees in a hive

Last week, Jim Wallman posed a question to the CLWG Hive-Mind: What, in your opinion, are the three (or four) top characteristics of a good game designer?
What did the Hive-Mind decide?

Contributors: Dave Boundy (DB), Rex Brynen (RB), Brian Cameron (BC), Nick Luft (NL), Peter Merritt (PM), John Rutherford (JR), Deborah Southwell (DS)


1) knows what they want to achieve with their game and why
1.1 Identifies the game objectives and designs to the objectives (DB)

1.2 Listens to and understands the sponsor’s needs (in a professional game). If you don’t do this, nothing else works. This may be a dialogue, in that the sponsor’s objectives cannot be fully met in a game and their expectation may need to be modified. (RB)

2) understands their audience/participants
2.1 ……
o what they expect (DB)
o what they enjoy (DB)
o what they hate (DB)
o how to work with them as co-designers or play-testers etc (DB)
o how the player will engage with the game. (NL)

2.2 Gets into the mindset of the intended audience. (NL)
o What constitutes “fun” for a gamer?
o What are important decisions?
o How does the player interact with other players?
o What are the challenges the player faces?

2.3 Knows the players and imagines the player experience. (RB)
o Will the game (complexity, duration, style/presentation, etc) be appropriate for the intended players? (RB)
o Will their interaction with game systems be fluid and enjoyable or frustrating and “clunky”? (RB)
o Will it generate immersion that benefits the game (not all immersion does in professional settings)? (RB)
o What do the participants know and what can they do now? then, what do the participants need to know / understand / be able to do /learn / experience / be challenged by at the end of the game? (DS)

3) creates an environment that gets the participants from where they are now to where they need to be in terms of knowledge, understanding, skills etc

3.1 Has a clear vision of how a game will work, especially its scale in player numbers, time and space, and of what players will actually be doing during the game. (JR)

3.2 understands …
o the game model / background that the GD wants to design (DB)
o systems and feedback (DB)
o a subject well enough to turn the details (history, maps, personalities etc) into a balanced game. The game needs to be simple to play AND YET complex enough to have satisfying choices. (JR)

3.3 is able to:
o Establish the design parameters (time available, budget, number of players, target audience knowledge/skillset, need for analytical results – and your objective, i.e. ‘fun’ or more informed, sober reflection) (PM)
o Double or treble the estimated development time (PM)
o Turn ideas into the minimum of solid, easily explained mechanisms by which players will interact with the game and each other. (BC)
o Reify: turns concepts into quality materials: rulebooks, briefing notes, maps, counters. (JR)
o Reduce the cognitive load on players so they can focus on what is important (DS)
o Manage the fidelity/playability trade-off.
– Can the designer combine accurate modelling of key dynamics with an elegant game system that is “playable”?
– Where a game is on this continuum depends on the market (or in a professional game, the client/sponsor).
Playability may be more important than fidelity in much of the commercial game space.
Fidelity may be more important than playability in some professional settings (The important thing is the utility and reliability of the data output, not whether Lt X is enjoying her/himself). (RB)
o Ensure that players are able to make decisions and have resources to put them into action ie ‘agency’ (which is not players being able to do absolutely anything they want to do, regardless of history, etc) (BC)
o Play test and revise without getting overly complex or defensive about the ‘final’ design; the first way you thought of may well not be the best way to do something. (PM / BC)
o Take a machete to initial drafts if the play-testers find problems (PM)

Attributes of a good Game Designer
o Tenacity: to actually do something and not be put off (DB)
o An open mind (DB)
o Creativity (BC)
o Organisational ability (BC)
o Enthusiasm
– Love (rather than know) or at least respect your chosen subject (PM)
– A huge enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, the subject and whether there’s a game in it. (BC)
– a fanatical devotion to……. (PM)

The good Game Designer’s Toolbox
o Plenty of knowledgeable and kind friends: to debate, discuss, playtest and work as umpires. (JR)

What do you think?

Any suggestions? changes? Additions?

Let us know and I will add to the list.

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