Everybody wants to be a game designer…

Sometimes, it feels like everybody wants to be a game designer… and why wouldn’t they? From outside the industry, game designers have the ultimate cool jobs. However, when talking to these aspiring game designers, I often find they don’t have visions of Excel sheets and rulesets, but rather a romantic view of playing games all day, of writing stories in games, or of being the one in control. Unfortunately, a game designer isn’t the equivalent of a Hollywood director. In any case, it takes a director of strong character to handle the push/pull, to adopt the suggestions that fit the vision, and reject those that don’t.

Not all game designers have the clout to control the project from beginning to end. It’s not hard to find a development horror story where investors insisted a team make design changes to make the game more like another game, thereby consigning the game to interminable feature creep. It seems to me it’s far easier to make a game suck rather than to make it shine, and the more people involved in a constant tug of war of wills will only lead to a muddled mess.

Understandably, if you’re spending $X million dollars, you want the game to NOT suck. Perhaps that’s why it’s even more important for investors to trust their team and let the designers do their job. Surrendering the creative process is never easy but ultimately, the game profits from a more collaborative spirit.

Anyone disagree? Should producers and investors have tighter control over designers?

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Filed under Collaboration, Game Design

9 responses to “Everybody wants to be a game designer…

  1. I’m going to school for game design right now. The thing I’ve noticed is that for most people, “game design” is a catch all term. Most of the people I go to school with don’t want to be game designers, they just want to be in the game industry. But this is the only degree even close to what they want. Personally though, even if Excel isn’t exactly my favorite thing in the world, game design is what I want to do. It combines my loves for story telling, writing, giving people something fun, and making things look cool.

  2. Bruce Harlick

    I think there needs to be a good tension between the lead game designer and the lead producer on a project. The designer should be out on the clouds, saying “We want to do this, this and this… oh, and we want a pony,” while the producer should be keeping an eye on resources and telling the designer, “You can have A and (B or C), but not all three. We just don’t have the time/money/technology to do everything. What’s going to make the best game?” If the two can’t work it out, the executive producer/project lead/creative director/person ultimately in charge then must make the call.

    You need a bit of tension on a dev team to make the hard choices while still making a great game.

  3. I agree, Bruce. My experience has been that many designers are just as guilty of feature creep as anyone else, and it’s the money people who will say, wait a minute, we can’t make that.

    The ideal situation, for me, is that everyone should have a designer mentality, from producer to writer to animator, so we’re always thinking about what is best for the game, rather than what is best for the bottom line or what is best for story, art, or what have you.


  4. Hello Bruce, my post was more about investors/publishers rather than producers. I guess the issue there is to help them understand the vision so that they don’t spend so much effort mucking around with it 🙂

    – Sande

  5. Good luck, Michael, on your chosen path, and learn to love Excel 🙂

    The entire Witcher script was written in Excel, actually.

    – Sande

  6. Btw, if anyone’s in the NYC area, I know of an internship in game development/game design to start in January. Unpaid, though, but worth it 🙂 If interested, let me know. – Sande

  7. Edison Gustavo Muenz

    There’s also a point, which the game designer’s team always suffer: they must do what the stackholder’s (the company/person that is paying to develop the game) think is better for their game. The last project I worked on we had a lot of this problem, because they thought that they could do a better job than the game design team.

  8. I think it happens in many creative projects, whether it’s fashion design, a video game, or a film. The stakeholders want to exercise control and often crush whatever was blossoming during the process. – Sande

  9. Pingback: How to manage ego in games « Writers Cabal Blog

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