To Avoid Failing Particularly Hard Read This: Me.

I’m not here to toot my own horn, I’m just here to share the cumulative knowledge I have gained from experience and through my own edification on the subject of game design over the past 3 years. So without further ado, this is all I got:

You can avoid making some costly mistakes by learning from mine. I’m going to give you a list of 5 mistakes I’ve made since I’ve started designing games. These are things could’ve easily been avoided. Here are my top 5:

#5 – Thinking My Game Idea was Special

Your game might be special, but the idea isn’t. You have an idea for a game? Great! So does everyone else. Get in there; start making the thing; and see how it plays. Don’t wait until you have a masterpiece, because you’ll be disappointed when it doesn’t live up to your expectations.

Sometimes you’ll work on a design and realize that it’s just not fun. I’ve had many great ideas that I’ve been unable to translate to workable games. If an idea for a game isn’t working don’t be afraid to scrap it and move on to the next.

#4 – Not Playing Enough Games

When I first started designing games I’d played only a handful of modern board games. I was among the myriad game designers who thought all it took was a dream, a few spreadsheets, and some artwork to design a game.

If you want to design games that people want to play, you need to know what’s been done and where the gaming industry is headed. Currently there is a trend towards smaller, shorter, lighter games.This doesn’t mean every game you design has to play in 30-45 minutes, but you should be aware of what’s going on.

#3 – Not Prototyping Intelligently

You want to create beautiful prototypes people will be excited about. But what you need to be concerned with is making sure the game is worth getting excited about. You need the game to be good. You can worry about the way it looks later.

Prototypes early in development should be basic, cheap, and easy to alter. Card stock in card sleeves, Boards printed on adhesive paper and stuck to chipboard, a handful of cubes from Pandemic or whatever other games you have laying around, this is prototyping. Be creative and find new ways to save money.

Sometimes, I’ll draw my initial game board in wet-erase marker. I can make changes on the fly, and it requires no printing.

#2 – Not Writing It Down

What is it? It is everything from the changes you make to the results of each playtest session. It’s important to have data to look back on so if you get stuck you can go back to an earlier iteration and try something else. Solutions present themselves more readily if you have an understanding of where the game is, where it’s been, and what it needs.

Most importantly to me, it has been a brief description of your game, with a short proposal of what, why, and how your game is going to be. Refer back to it when you make decisions that alter the game. If an alteration changes your initial description, you want to carefully weigh the decision. If you need to alter your initial proposal, try hard to stick with the new one. Otherwise, it’s likely the game will never be complete.

Keep a small pocket notebook and carry it with you wherever you go. You never know when an idea, the solution to a problem, or the opportunity to get a prototype played will present itself. Always keep track of your games’ development.

#1 – Buying Art

This has been my most costly mistake. I have spent more money on art than I like to think about. I have art agreements for games that will never see the light of day. I’m not a publisher and don’t particularly want to be. I just want to design games. You don’t need to buy art to design a great game.

You can use placeholder art for prototypes you show to publishers. You can ask around to friends or at BGG to see if anyone’s interested in providing you with art for you’re game. But as a game designer, don’t pay for art. That’s the publisher’s job, if or when your game gets picked up.

That’s all I’ve got. You can all go now. Please, actually, if you could clean up after you… Alright, ’til next time I suppose.

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