Survey of the Videogame Industry
The Los Angeles Film School
Players vs. Designers
Players want the fun of playing a game as well as the
enjoyment of being with their friends.
Game designers are focused on how the game works:
How do you make it, and how to you break it?
What are the different elements and how do they fit
What skill level does a player need to successfully play
Does each player have an equal chance of winning and
a fair chance of experiencing all that the game has to
The game designer’s main role is to be an
advocate for the player.
In some ways, designing a
game is like being the host
of a party. It’s your job to get
everything ready and then
open your doors to guests to
see what happens.
But NOT Boss
and most importantly,
Stage 1: Consumer
We all begin our game designer lives
as game consumers. Most children
play games, and for many people
games are significant and meaningful.
If you want to make games, you
probably already love games.
To consumers, game design is pure
magic. Consumers believe that a
game designer imagines a game, then
creates it exactly as he or she
Stage 2: Tinkerer
Tinkerers tend to imagine new games
in terms of modifications (often
additions) to existing games, sticking
closely to their underlying rule sets.
Many games come with a level editor.
This allows Tinkerers to get involved
with a game in a whole new way.
However, Tinkerers begin to realize
that game design is not magic, but it is
a lot of work.
Stage 3: Masher
At this point, the designer is
creating entirely new games, but
the design process tends to
involve mashing existing genres,
mechanics, and themes together.
Mashers envision new games as
collages of existing game
components. They tend to focus
on the mechanics and theme
rather than on the player
Stage 4: Creator
Before long, a game designer will
shift his or her focus and work
style. Instead of having visions of
a specific game, the designer will
be interested in exploring broad or
incomplete ideas. The ideas can
be about theme, they can be
about mechanics, they can be
about player experiences… really,
they can be about anything.
Stage 4: Creator
Designers at this stage approach new
games with a healthy emotional
distance. Obviously, they are excited
by their ideas, but they know many
ideas never work out, so it’s
dangerous to become attached to an
untested one. They also know that the
initial conception is very rarely the
best implementation, so keeping an
open mind and keeping nothing
sacred will tend to result in better final
User Interface Designer
Extra Credits, Season 1, Episode 16 - So You Want To
Be A Game Designer (7:36)
Why is communication the game designer’s
What other skills does a game designer need?
Why is “idea guy” a poor definition for what a
game designer does?
Why shouldn’t game designers get too
attached to their ideas?
What is the number one cause of failed
The Game’s Journey
Every game takes
its own journey
from concept to
use the iterative
All games start out as ideas.
Some games come from one
powerful idea, but most are
formed by combining many
ideas to create a unique
whole. It’s very possible that
initial ideas will be (or should
be) abandoned, and lots of
new ideas will be considered
during the process.
Ideas don’t come out of thin air. Game designers are
influenced by personal interests and hobbies.
Spend a significant part of every day doing something
other than playing games:
Read a book
Go see a play
Listen to music
Exercise, draw or sketch
Study a new language
Volunteer at a neighborhood organization
Game Designer’s Notebook
Many designers carry a notebook for jotting down their
Game Idea Sources
Filling A Gap
Orders From Above
A group creativity technique
to find a solution to a
specific problem by
gathering a list of ideas
by its members. In games,
brainstorming is used to
generate a large number of
ideas about game's concept,
Osborn’s method of
brainstorming has four general
Focus on quantity
Welcome unusual ideas
Combine and improve ideas
Alex F. Osborn
Advice About Ideas
Come up with more ideas than you’ll need
Never rule out an idea as bad until you’ve tested it
Never accept an idea as good until you’ve tested it
Do not get emotionally attached to ideas
Stages of Creativity
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes
the classic stages of creativity:
Preparation: Becoming interested in a topic
Incubation: Period where ideas “churn around”
in your subconscious
Insight: The “aha!” moment, where an idea
Evaluation: Deciding whether the insight is
Elaboration: Fleshing out the idea
Once a designer has promising ideas, it’s
time to test them. Here, the keys are
minimalism and focus.
Your playtest (coming up next) is an
experiment, so be prepared for it. Identify
what the most important questions you want
to answer are and figure out the quickest
way of discovering those answers.
Create a prototype that answers the questions at hand.
A prototype is an early playable version of the game,
section of game, or game system.
A prototype, whether paper
or electronic, should be:
• Quick to Make
• Easy to Change
Playtesters are the people who play your game
and provide feedback on the experience.
Observe their experience
Pay attention to what
interests or frustrates
They are your guide and
it’s your mission to let
them lead you
Playtesting is an iterative process where the game is
tested, the designer makes changes based on
feedback, and the game is retested, over and over.
Focus Group Testing
How soon should you begin playtesting
Why is listening so important during
How much talking should a designer do
Who is the worst playtester? Who is the
After you playtest, consider your data.
How does it answer your questions?
If you were testing the quality of an idea, did it pass the test,
or should it be thrown out?
If you saw problems, what caused the problems, and what
can you do to fix them?
Knowing when a game is finished can
be even more difficult. A game is never
finished, it’s just due.
But you often won’t have external due
dates, so it can be tempting to go on
making tiny tweaks ad infinitum.
Eventually, you’ll have to accept that a
game is as good as it’s going to get.
Defined by four elements:
Hardware Platform: Determines the controller
configuration and technical limitations
Genre: Determines what the gameplay will feel like.
Genres can be categorized by along two dimensions:
Action vs. Strategy and Exploration vs. Conflict
Core Mechanic: Determines what the player will
actually do in the game
Key Features: Determines what makes the game
different or better than other games in that genre
A pitch is a concise verbal
(and sometimes visual)
presentation for a film, TV
series, or game, made by
the producer to an executive
in the hope of getting the
financing to do
development. "Pitch" is a
contraction of "sales pitch."
An elevator pitch is a short summary used
to quickly and simply define a product and
its value. The name "elevator pitch"
reflects the idea that it should be possible
to deliver the summary in the time span of
an elevator ride, or approximately thirty
seconds to two minutes.
The term itself comes from the scenario of
accidentally meeting someone important in
an elevator. If the conversation inside the
elevator in those few seconds is
interesting and value adding, then the
conversation will continue after the
elevator ride or end in the exchange of a
business card or a scheduled meeting.
Somehow it always falls to
Mustachio to rally his friends for
their many adventures. Run and
jump through a side-scrolling
world made of and
inhabited by blocks. With
mustaches. A world full of action,
puzzles and arbitrary danger that
Mustachio faces boldly with his
mustache-fueled power to
make block duplicates of himself.
What? Cloning AND mustaches?!
• Game Title
• Target Customer
• Play Value
A Mood Board is a type of collage
that may consist of images and
text that graphic designers use to
visually illustrate the style they are
pursuing. Mood Boards can also
be used to visually explain a style
of writing or an imaginary setting
for a storyline. They serve as a
visual tool to quickly inform others
of the overall "feel" (or "flow") that
a designer is trying to achieve.
To green-light is to give permission to
go ahead to move forward with a
project. The term is a reference to a
green traffic signal, indicating "go
ahead". In the context of the game
industry, to green-light something is to
formally approve its production
finance, and to commit to this
financing, thereby allowing the project
to move forward from pre-production
Game Design Document (GDD)
The lead designer is the principle
author of all the game design
To a programmer and artist, it is
the instructions for implementation.
However, design documentation
should be a team effort, because
almost everyone on the team plays
games and can make great
contributions to the design.
GDD – Other Topics
The Soul of the Game
A good GDD describes not just the Body but the Soul
of the game.
It should convey the feel that the game should have,
the purpose behind each element, the experience
each user will have, and any other aspects of the
game's look and feel the designer can envision and
Ball and Paddle
○ First Person Shooter
○ MMO FPS
○ Light Gun Shooter
○ Shoot ‘Em Up
○ Tactical Shooter
○ Rail Shooter
○ Third Person Shooter
Real-Time 3D Adventure
What’s YOUR favorite game genre?
Defined by gameplay interaction
Classified independent of their setting
Most fall within one genre but some are a
combination of two or more genres
Extra Credits: Combining Genres (4:52)
When combining genres, what should you
What is wrong with the hacking minigame
What’s right with the combat in
Core Game Elements
Theme (for some games)
Single Player vs. Game (Player vs. Environment)
Player vs. Player (Head-to-Head)
Multiple Individual Players vs. Game
Unilateral Multiplayer (One vs. Many)
Multilateral Competition (One vs. One vs. One…
Sports: Team Leader vs. Team Mate
Mastermind: Codemaker vs. Codebreaker
D&D: Fighter, Magic User, Cleric or Thief
MUD: Achievers, Socializers, Explorers or Killers
Objectives (or Goals)
Objectives give players something to
strive for. They define what players are
attempting to accomplish within the
rules of the game.
Ideally, they should be:
Obtainable, but challenging to reach
Worthy of obtaining
Immediately replaced by new goals
Types of Objectives
Beat the Clock
Types of Goals
Procedures are the methods of play and the actions
players can take to achieve them.
One way to think about procedures is:
Who does what, when, where and how.
Types of Procedures
Set Up or Starting Action: How to put the game
Progression: Ongoing procedures after the starting
Special Actions: Available conditional to other
elements or game state.
Resolution, or Resolving Actions: Bring gameplay
to a close.
Rules define game objects and allowable actions by the players.
In digital games, rules can be explained in the manual or they
can be explicit in the game itself.
Too many rules might make make the game too complicated for
the players to understand.
Leaving rules unstated or poorly communicating them might
make players feel confused or alienated.
Rules should be consistent with the game’s theme.
Resources are assets that are used to
accomplish the game’s goals.
Resources must both be useful and be
scarce (or they lose their value).
Managing resources and determining how
and when to control player access to them
is a key part of a game designer’s job.
Examples of Resources
Helps players become engaged
Makes game easier to learn
Tells a compelling story
While many games are thematic, some are
abstract, meaning that they don’t have a theme.
The process of creating content and rules for
The Player’s Journey
“Great games are compelling because the
player’s experience and expertise changes
over time in meaningful ways.” – Amy Jo Kim
Most people talk about a game as one summed up experience – the
game is good, bad, interesting, easy to use, funny or boring.
But in reality, a user’s interaction and journey with a game is
continuously evolving. The game that people play on day 1 is a VERY
different game to them on day 20. The features they see are different,
and the reasons why they are playing the game are different.
If a game attracts people at the beginning, but as time goes by
becomes boring and uninspiring, that’s a failure in design.
Similarly, if a game offers an amazing experience only after 20 hours of
play, but before the 20 hours it’s a grinding and boring experience,
that’s a failure in design too.
Therefore, a good game designer will look at one game as 4
different games, which emphasizes on the 4 Experience Phases
of a game, as defined by Professor Kevin Werbach:
This is when people first discover your
How did they find it? Was it from a friend?
Through the news? Or a clever marketing
This is when you train them to become familiar with the rules
of the game, options, mechanics, and the win state.
This is what most designers focus on because everyone
thinks once a player plays their game for some time, they will
fall in love with it.
Mastering the Onboarding Process can get your users to
start participate in your game with excitement and interest.
This is the phase where players use all the rules and options
they learned during onboarding to try to achieve the win-state
as many times as possible.
This is where the most “fun” should happen.
Once you have a well designed win state in scaffolding, you
will start to see player engagement and motivation.
This is when players have done everything there is to do at least
once and are starting to see more repetitive actions to get to the
In this phase, if the designer didn’t create a good endgame, people
easily get bored and quit the game.
But a good endgame can be achieved through evergreen
mechanics as well as creating a system where the game producers
can easily add new content in a system consistently.
If you mastered the endgame, you will create a lot of contributors,
evangelists, and long-term customers.
Game Design Goals
Easy to Learn
Hard to Master
Scope and Time
Flow is the mental state of operation in which a
person performing an activity is fully immersed in a
feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and
enjoyment in the process of the activity.
When players experience flow, time stops, nothing
else matters and when they finally come out of it,
they have no concept of how long they have been
Psychology professor Mihayi
Csikszentmihalyi identified some key factors
that could lead to such a phenomenon:
Clear goals and progress
Constant and Immediate feedback
Balance between the perceived challenge
and the perceived level of skill needed
In 1997 he
world this visual
If a challenge exceeds
the abilities of the
current skill level, it can
lead to frustration
If the skill level is
increasing faster than
the challenge, it leads to
Both of these will
normally end with the
player leaving the game
If we combine the ideas of
Flow and Player Journey,
you can begin to see how a
game, in theory, should
behave in an ideal world.
You start off with a
challenge that is acceptable
for a new comer who is
starting in the game – on-boarding.
Over time, you increase the
challenge as skills
increase. Most games tend
to build up each level to a
boss battle of some type.
Not all games have this
A game like Tetris would
have a flow like the top line.
Tetris. There are no lulls in
the progression with Tetris.
It just gets faster and faster,
and you might feel
frustrated until you achieve
A game like WOW would
have a flow like the bottom
line. You must endure
grinding until you get to the
How much skill a player needs to have to
complete a game objective.
Games should be easy to learn, but hard to
When Difficult Is Fun
Extra Credits: When Difficult Is Fun (7:44)
Why were early video games so difficult to
How did the game industry transition to the
philosophy of “Everyone Wins”?
Why are we seeing more difficult games
What’s the difference between “difficult”
Difficult vs. Punishing
Rules should be consistent
Players should be given enough resources
to solve challenges
Players need to be given enough
information to make decisions
The player’s choices should be meaningful
Difficult vs. Punishing
Randomness should only be used for
variety and uncertainty (replay value)
Low iteration time for trying again
Create useable control interfaces
When the player fails, they should feel they
could have done better
The relative strength of different resources,
mechanics, objectives and starting states.
A balanced game does
not give an unequal
advantage to any player
(or the game system).
Are these two characters balanced?
The fighter, on the left, can do 6 points damage,
but the archer, on the right, does only 1 point of
Slight deviations from
perfect balance so players
can discover what choices
will give them an edge
Cyclical Inbalance: When
players gravitate to a weaker
gameplay element looking
for ways to defeat a stronger
Metagame literally means 'beyond the game' and refers to
any planning, preparation, or maneuvering that a player
does outside of actual gameplay to gain an advantage.
Strategic decisions to exploit the game’s rules
Strategic decisions to exploit an opponent's or map's
style of play
Strategic decisions to exploit a player's reaction or
weakened mental state in the future. This is also known
as 'mind games' or 'psychological warfare'.
The number of rules or the number of elements
with which the player interacts.
The greater the
harder it is to
learn how to
play the game.
A cluttered or non-intuitive interface can also
make a game too complex.
Complexity ≠ Difficulty
How much effort or skill is
needed to accomplish a task?
How many different steps or
skills are needed to
accomplish a task?
How many people can
accomplish a task correctly?
How many different ways can
a task be accomplished?
Easy or Hard Simple or Complex
The ability to find enjoyment in a game as one’s
The greater the
depth, the harder
it is master the
Depth is directly related to the number of
interesting decisions the player can make.
Tic-Tac-Toe has few decisions, but it also
has few rules
Chess has more rules and elements, but it
has many interesting decisions
Monopoly has even more rules and
elements, but relatively few meaningful
Complexity vs. Depth
It is the designer’s job to get the
maximum depth with the minimum
Ways to Reduce Complexity
A well-crafted tutorial
Don’t require the player to learn all
the rules before they start playing
Intuitive user interface
Lower the rate at which player’s
must make decisions
Pace is the speed of play, or how quickly the
player receives information and takes action
or makes decisions.
Grab the player’s attention at the start, but keep it
Give them a breather to set the proper baseline for
Oscillate engagement level in a steadily increasing
Intermittent reinforcement is more powerful than
Bring player’s down after an intense experience so
that they feel closure
Arc: The game as a whole
Scene: A subsection or level of the
game (this has its own engagement
Action: A specific moment of player
experience (even this should follow
an engagement curve)
Play Value: The reason a person plays a
Replay Value: The reason they play a
game over and over again
Designers increase replay value by:
Adding more choices to make and things
The age or maturity level of a game’s
Why do you think Sid Meier has had such
success as a game designer?
Everything You Know Is Wrong
GDC 2010: Sid Meier Keynote (53:58)
Everything You Know Is Wrong
Game design is a psychological experience in which the
designer needs to make the player feel good about
playing the game
Winner Paradox: Player gladly accepts a win, but
complains about an (unsatisfactory) loss
The First Fifteen Minutes: Needs to be very engaging
and foreshadows the rest of the game
Unholy Alliance (between designer and player): It’s
important for the designer to make the player feel good
about their ability, while the player needs to suspend