Jeremiah Baker
United States
Kansas
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Greetings game gurus,

I am a neophyte game designer with very little experience. However, I have read all the warnings; "don't believe for a moment that you'll get rich", "your first games are going to be crap" etc.

So my questions to you fall firmly in the philosophical regime of game design. If I believe that I'm not going to sell my game and I can not count on my ability to turn out a quality game (at least at this early stage), then what should my goal be as a novice game designer? What can I look for to be able to say to myself "ok, you did it, you did the thing that novice designers do"?

If I may pose the question in another way, how long and hard should a novice work at a experientially useful but ultimately doomed project before realizing it has served its purpose? Or again to look at the mirrored question, how do I know I'm not giving up too quickly on an idea, notion or concept?

Thank you for your time.
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Adam Stapley
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As with most endeavors of this "type," you need to have intrinsic motivation. Much like a person who plays in a garage band, or someone who writes fan fiction, you are creating games because you enjoy it, and I think it should start from little more than that. Extrinsic motivations aren't realistic in the game design front, usually, because of the reasons you listed.
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Iffix Y Santaph
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For me (as a designer of more than 60 unpublished games and still going), my goal has been to find something I haven't seen in another game and try to implement it. It also helps to see if you can build a decent following of people willing to give your game a shot and provide reasonable feedback. If you're ever to succeed, you're going to need all the help you can get. I do agree with others that trial and error are what to expect going forward, lots of error. But try to not make the same errors everyone else already made; make them uniquely your own. I don't have major goals to get published. That will come or it won't. But finding a new approach to something will give you a stronger chance to get a foot in the door.
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Russ Williams
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Azuredrake wrote:
So my questions to you fall firmly in the philosophical regime of game design. If I believe that I'm not going to sell my game and I can not count on my ability to turn out a quality game (at least at this early stage), then what should my goal be as a novice game designer? What can I look for to be able to say to myself "ok, you did it, you did the thing that novice designers do"?
The same reason you do any kind of creative work. The first fiction you write will be lousy, the first time you play a musical instrument it will sound lousy, the first painting you paint will look lousy, the first film you make will be lousy, etc etc etc. I.e. this is nothing specific to game design.

Quote:
If I may pose the question in another way, how long and hard should a novice work at a experientially useful but ultimately doomed project before realizing it has served its purpose? Or again to look at the mirrored question, how do I know I'm not giving up too quickly on an idea, notion or concept?
Similarly to how e.g. an aspiring writer decides to move on and start writing a second story, or whatever. Maybe later when you're more experienced you look back on the first effort and see something salvageable in it, or not. There are not simple clear criteria for this sort of thing.
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marc lecours
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I enjoy designing games more than I enjoy playing games. When I play a game I have fun but I can't help thinking that I could be having even more fun spending time designing a game.

Designing games is a fun, challenging, intellectual hobby.

What am I trying to accomplish?

1. I am trying to model some human activity within the severe constraints of a playable fun game. This is not easy to do.

As an example I am currently working on a game to model the growth of a city in realistic manner (think Simcity). The constraints include: 2 hour game, 1 to 4 players, competitive, reasonable number of nice components, short rulebook, interesting decisions to make, not much downtime, easy to learn, etc.

2. I design games that I would personally like to play. I like some aspects of most of the commercial games I play, but I usually feel that I could modify them to suit my personal taste more. I have modified existing games since I was a teenager (many many years ago). So I want to make "the perfect game" for my tastes even though it won't necessarily be "the perfect game" for others.

3. Game design leads me to research and learn about whatever subject I am trying to model. You really have to know a subject well to model it in a game format. You have to understand how it really works.

As an example I am currently working on a game to model the history of the Middle-east + Egypt + Greece from 8000 BCE to 300 BCE. This has focused my readings. I had to learn about early agriculture, early inventions, early society, etc, etc, etc. It is not enough to read about it, you have to understand what made history tick. The idea is that after playing the game the player would also understand history. I enjoy the challenge.


If I ever publish a game, then that is a bonus. But if I never publish a game, then that is in no way a failure. I design games because I love it.

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Alex Bokser
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rubberchicken wrote:
As an example I am currently working on a game to model the growth of a city in realistic manner (think Simcity). The constraints include: 2 hour game, 1 to 4 players, competitive, reasonable number of nice components, short rulebook, interesting decisions to make, not much downtime, easy to learn, etc.

As an example I am currently working on a game to model the history of the Middle-east + Egypt + Greece from 8000 BCE to 300 BCE. This has focused my readings. I had to learn about early agriculture, early inventions, early society, etc, etc, etc. It is not enough to read about it, you have to understand what made history tick. The idea is that after playing the game the player would also understand history. I enjoy the challenge.
The two games you're working on sound very intriguing. I truly hope you manage to realize your ambitions with both. Please keep us updated.
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maf man
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Azuredrake wrote:
If I may pose the question in another way, how long and hard should a novice work at a experientially useful but ultimately doomed project before realizing it has served its purpose? Or again to look at the mirrored question, how do I know I'm not giving up too quickly on an idea, notion or concept?
Its a very common practice to "shelve" ideas. Give up on an idea when you stall out. Maybe you'll come back to it, maybe not, maybe you'll start picking the pieces you liked off of it for other projects.

Azuredrake wrote:
then what should my goal be as a novice game designer?
like any other hobby: to have fun wasting time, I suppose.
I think your in need of a more real goal to set, so how about this:
To make a game a complete stranger can come across, get, play, and be happy to play again.

You can define those things to fit your liking too.
"stranger can come across" - so do you want that to mean you attract a person at a meet-up? Or do you want some person to come across your pnp files on a BGG page and build it? Or see in a store? Maybe just passed through friend to friend lines?
"get" - free download on BGG? Paid pnp through some site like pnparcade? Published through gamecrafter or alike? or full production and in stores?
"play" - led by u at a convention? Learn and ply with just a rule book and the game
"be happy to play again" - bgg rating above a 5? requests you bring your game next gaming session?
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Charles Ward
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... a puzzle for 1 or more players to solve,
... an experience to remember, with various degrees of excitement,
... an array of limited choices that all seem to be good, and
... a beautiful object, well illustrated, presented, explained, and in a box contained.
 
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Jeroen van der Valk
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I have written an unpublished novel.
I have designed an unpublished game.

For someone who has an unstoppable flow of ideas, and a vast graveyard of unfinished projects, completing those two is a grateful source of accomplishment and pride.

But that's just me.

Tip: Entering a design in one of the many PnP contests is the best way to experience "why you're doing what you're doing", in my opinion.
One play(test)er of my game made an incredible build, with mounted tiles, wooden boats with sails, and so forth. To see someone make that from something that sprouted from my mind, washed me in a feeling of pride and joy that is hard to put into words.
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Artur Carvalho
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Paris
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Hello!

First of all, it all depends on your ambitions as a designer going forward. As you have seen from the comments, some people design just for the fun, some for the intellectual challenge, some design for a living. Set that goal crystal clear in your mind. If you intend to design and publish, go for it. By no means I would say your first project will be a failure, by I can assure you it will be very challenging, with many mistakes to come. And that's OK! You will learn a lot from them. I'm currently designing my first game and been learning a lot. Do your research. Read from other designers. I cannot recommend enough the youtube channel and blog from Jamey Stegmaier, designer of Scythe, Viticulture and founder of Stonemaier Games. A plus would be to have a group of close friends for the first playtestings and feedback. Of course, going forward you want to get random people to play your game in order to have more precise and honest feedback, but still, friends are the way to start. Also, BUILD A PROTOTYPE. As fast as possible. Challenge yourself to make a rulebook. You will see that things play out really differently, and there's a thrill to this, I don't know. It just feels nice, feels challenging. Really, start doing something concrete as soon as possible. Sometimes we like to think, play games in our heads, and ideas come and go, as fluid as our thoughts. Don't let this happen. Write ideas down. Talk about them to people. No one will steal your ideas, believe me. Involve other people in your projects, so they genuinely want to help you on your endeavor. And don't be afraid to build the most ugly first prototype of all time. Just go for it. You will learn, and enjoy along the way, no downside there. Cheers, good luck, and keep us posted on your ideas.
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Evan Hill
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You are trying to take someone to another world for an hour or two.
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Jay Klitz
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1. Enjoy the process. No worries, no expectations, no demands just enjoy it and over time you will see if designing a game is something that is worth the time and effort for you.

I have re-themed games, designed new games and even a few expansions for the games I enjoy playing. I will probably always continue to do these things because I enjoy the process of creating something. I have no grand desire to have any of my games or expansions published. I just like designing games for the fun of it and for the enjoyment my family gets out of playing my games.
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Derek H
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Azuredrake wrote:
So my questions to you fall firmly in the philosophical regime of game design... what should my goal be as a novice game designer? What can I look for to be able to say to myself "ok, you did it, you did the thing that novice designers do"?
A game. You designed a game. In any shape or form and of any kind.

The reasons are immaterial.

For me, I do it because the ideas come to me.

Quote:
"Inspirations sleet through the universe continuously. Their destination, as if they cared, is the right mind in the right place at the right time. They hit the right neuron, there's a chain reaction, and a little while later someone is blinking furiously in the TV lights and wondering how the hell he came up with the idea of pre-sliced bread in the first place." -- the inimitable Terry Pratchett
Most games stay in my head; some I scribble down on paper or PC; some I make and play myself; one I even inflicted on my games group.

It does not matter. You just have to design.




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Jason Daly
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I'd say for your first attempt, try for a game that:

a) is playable out of the box (i.e. you can hand the rules and components of a prototype to someone, and they can, after a bit of study, sit down and actually play the game)

b) has enough interesting decisions and occurrences to justify its play time (this is subjective, of course) and,

c) is not "breakable" (i.e. doesn't have a dominant strategy that guarantees [or nearly] a win, doesn't have a point where a permanent stalemate tends to occur, etc.) Good playtesters can help you figure this out.

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Karl Juhlke
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I've heard the same things about "the first games being crap" and "you won't make money". Firstly, your first games aren't crap. It frustrates me when people say your first games will be crap because it may stop someone from putting a truly creative idea out there. I'd rather say your first games are inexperienced. You'll make mistakes and find successes and therefore you'll gain experience. You learn from that and then the next game gets better, and the next game gets even better, and soon you're developing strong games that build upon the successes and failures of the games preceding it. Sure, after you've designed a number of games, you'll look back and say, "Man, what was I thinking with that mechanic?" or "Really? I did that?" because you're comparing it to what you've recently completed. My first game LOSS! in Space isn't crap. I still love it. Did my mistakes influence my newer games? Yes! Did the successes I found do the same thing? Of course! Never let someone say that your first game(s) will be crap stop you from creating games you enjoy playing.

You won't sell all of your games, or you may not sell any. I've finished my fourth game and haven't sold any to a publisher. Getting so many rejection letters started getting me depressed. On the other hand though, that made me look at my motivation for making games. I realized that it was to create games that were fun to play! I may not sell any to a publisher, I may not start my own publishing company, and no one may be interested online, but that's ok! If I find it fun, then I consider it successful. As I mentioned above, I do try to appeal to a wider audience, but it starts off as a personal journey that I then try to share with others.

It can be an emotional journey designing games. But what in life isn't? If you let the possibility of failure stop you from doing what you truly enjoy, you won't do anything. To quote a famous teacher, "Take Chances, Make Mistakes, Get Messy!"
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Jim D
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All these replies are helpful. At the risk of being repetitive, let me sum up some of what's been said and some insights of my own.

1. Your first game doesn't have to be crap.
2. If your first game ends up being crap, you can always improve it.
3. The first concept for any given game does not have to be its final configuration. Varying a mechanism, theme, scale, complexity, etc. can breathe new life into something that "didn't quite make it."
4. Get your game into a playable form, preferably with enough basic artwork to give people the idea of what is to come when it's professionally finished, and play-test it. FIRST playtest by yourself, to find any immediate problems. (You can play-test simulating 2 or more players, as needed). That may help you find some bugs in the system. Fix those bugs.
5. Then playtest with friends. Hype it up in an upbeat way, this is something that was fun for you to design, and you hope it's fun to play. Be sure they are good friends who have your best interests in mind, and who like to play games anyway. Encourage them to be evaluating the game play and looking for ways to improve it. Accept that there is still room for improvement, and listen to their suggestions.
6. After playtesting, evaluate whether you should change rules, mechanisms, components, etc. Ask: A. Was the game fun? B. Did gameplay conclude in a reasonable amount of time? C. Were the players confused or frustrated by the rules? D. Were there some aspects that seemed unnecessary, confusing, or boring?
7. Let a few days go by. Evaluate over time. Ask your friends for honest feedback, being willing to hear constructive criticism. If they aren't hot for the game, ask them what changes would make it hot.
8. Think about it for a while longer, as life goes on a few days or weeks. Come back to the game design, and make any necessary changes to make it better. Or, if you don't know how to do this, and you're not satisfied with it, shelve the project and move on to other things. But if you do believe it is a good game, and enjoyable to play, then work on putting the finishing touches on it.
9. Ask your same friends to have another game night, without mentioning your project game specifically. Say something like, "Hey, let's have another game night." They will probably ask about the project. Based on their enthusiasm level, you will be able to judge whether or not the really liked the game when they played it. If they ask guardedly, "To play the _____ game again?" then you know they didn't really like it. If they say, "Hey, yeah, how's it going with the ____ game? Did you work on it any more?" Or "Can we play the new game again?" Then you know they did really like it, which is an indication that it may be worth further development and publication. If so, play again with your same friends, possibly inviting others in as well. If there is more positive reception, then you know you've got a chance for your game. At that point, go for it, depending on your financial and organizational ability. You can contact a publisher with your concept, or you can self-publish.

I'm working through this format on several games right now. We did the process described above with my first one, which is with the art designer right now.
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If you’re having fun, keep going.
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Azuredrake wrote:
If I may pose the question in another way, how long and hard should a novice work at a experientially useful but ultimately doomed project before realizing it has served its purpose? Or again to look at the mirrored question, how do I know I'm not giving up too quickly on an idea, notion or concept?

Thank you for your time.

Short answer is... You dont.

No one really knows when a design is done or when its a total failure. Mainly because you can allways change things and try new approaches.

Say you want to do a game about building a rocket and flying to Jupiter and landing on it? And your idea is to have a game track that travel advances on. But through development you realize the track isnt working thematically or gameplay-wise? The game is not dead though. You can try a different approach such as an ETA track and have events each day. Or have multiple orbital tracks that can be plotted, some riskier than others, and so on.

The main thing is to actually be wary of having too much rules. Rules for things that arent really needed or are redundant. Can the tree be trimmed?

Go fourth and design. Your first game may be great. Mine sold. It actually did better than later designs. cry
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william angus
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this. this. this.

I have an idea for a post apocolypse society rebuilding game because I am fascianting by city and urban planning and by post-pandemic scenarios in general. its a game I would like to play and it doesn't exist. I have an idea for a city destruction kaiju vs military game because there are many games but none are the game *I* want to play. I might never finish them. I might finish and just play them among my friends. It could end up being picked up by some company. Any of these are perfectly acceptable outcomes to me.
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Adrian Pillai
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You design to learn. Getting your idea to your first, ugliest, most basic and quickest prototype is where you will learn the most and improve the most designing. Seriously, nothing teaches you more about how simulation in your mind and on paper does very little to prepare you for that sucker in real life.

After a few attempts at designing, you also learn the kind of mechanisms that attract you, and you learn to take what worked before forward into your next design. You also learn that a game can be fun 10 times on day 1, and immediately start sucking on day 2. And that every idea you have is not gold, not original and is not plug-and-play perfection.

Like any creative endeavor, this is something you do to get better. You can design in secret the dozens of bad and half complete ideas, but only share the gems that work in public, hence creating this legend of being a wunderkind.

As for when to give up on a failing design, well, you should always put a design aside when you hit a dead end instead of throwing it out. Anything you create goes in your toolbox, ready to be used on another design that suddenly could use that part. Nothing you ever created is wasteful, even if it feels that way now. I just would advise against putting all your effort on your opus. Have side games, smaller games, even games that just use the 1 mechanism you're having troubles with in your epic design.

Making mistakes in a smaller design at least tells you what works and doesn't.

Just my thoughts.
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Daniel Ranger
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Your first game is about learning. Gaining the experience of taking an idea to a finished product, proving at least to yourself that you can not only have an idea but follow through with it to the end but most importantly learning as much as you can along the way. If you succeed in that anything else is a bonus.
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Jeremiah Baker
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"PnP contests"? What's that?
 
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Reiji Kobayashi
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Azuredrake wrote:
"PnP contests"? What's that?

Print & Play. These are games (often free) that people print out and put together using data provided by the game designers.

Head over to Board Game Design Contests and you'll see quite a few that have PnP in the title.
 
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hieronymus71 wrote:
For someone who has an unstoppable flow of ideas, and a vast graveyard of unfinished projects, completing those two is a grateful source of accomplishment and pride.
Some people have “man-caves” consisting of a garage full of unfinished cars, none of which run. It would be entirely consistent to have a “man-cave” full of unfinished game designs...
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