Think Like a Designer

“Learn to think like a designer, not a player.”

You’ll hear this a lot from game developers giving advice to would-be designers. And it’s not wrong … but taken at face value, it leads to being a sub-par designer. There’s no value in mimicing what you think a stereotypical designer would do.

Better advice: “Learn to understand how different types of players (including you!) experience your game, and analyze that like a designer.”

Not nearly as memorable, but way more accurate.

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3 Responses to Think Like a Designer

  1. Lichjack says:

    Good advice. Whenever I’m working on a new system, I try to think about how different player archetypes (of which I am personally only one) will experience the system. I channel friends and coworkers I know, and think about what they would get out of a particular system. There is no objective “designer” perspective, just a long list of various subjective perspectives. It’s a designers job to please the “right” subset of those perspectives.

    Judging which are “right” is the catch though, heh. That and keeping your personal opinion separate from that judgment call. Different games cater to different audiences…

  2. Mike Darga says:

    Great point Sandra. Thinking about the playerbase is a huge part of this for me, but I think it’s still worth specifically mentioning one other thing.

    My comment got too long so here’s a blog post =)

    http://mikedarga.blogspot.com/2009/09/how-designer-thinks.html

    Mike

  3. Wolfshead says:

    “Learn to understand how different types of players (including you!) experience your game, and analyze that like a designer.”

    Well said!

    The key skill a game designer needs to have is the ability to empathize with the target audience that the video game is being marketed for. Since all designers are players, the designer needs to be able to put aside their biases and proclivities and be able to “walk a mile in the shoes of the player” for the betterment of the game.

    But just who is your player? How far do you go to create a game that may appeal to outlier players. Do you try to keep all playstyles happy and water down your content or do you try to keep a few player types happy and focus your content?

    Of course every designer has biases that seep through this filter. Without biases and preferences a designer would be devoid of any personality whatsoever and become a drone. Good thing that the very best designers have biases like Will Wright, Peter Molyneux or we’d never have the masterpiece games that they’ve created.

    So the designer needs to have his own unique personality as well as being able to empathize with the players.

    Another thing a good designer needs to have is the ability to predict and forecast the implications of design decisions. This is critical when it comes to MMOs and virtual worlds because one small feature not properly conceived and implemented can produce disastrous effects. A great designer needs to be able to play mental chess with his ideas and see what they might lead to before implementing them. Every possible ramification should be considered and evaluated before a design idea goes into the costly realm of production.