Advice for the aspiring game designer

I've been wanting to do game design ever since I learned there was such a thing. I've read a boatload of books, and written a few games here and there. I'm not a world-famous game designer, or someone who even designs games people have played. That said, I've been wrestling with this desire that keeps wanting to come out and I'm sure that others have too. Here's some of the wisdom that I have learned along the way. Hopefully it will be helpful to those wrestling the same demons as I.

  1. Game Design is not the same as Game Theory. I know this seems like an obvious thing but the lessons of game theory aren't going to get you good games. Understanding the decision-making of rational decision-makers is good if the people you're designing for are rational decision-makers. Spoiler: we're not all rational decision makers.

  2. There are hundreds of books for beginning game design. Pick one and move on. I've made the mistake of thinking that game design can be taught in books. Many of them try to teach you game design by showing examples of good design. This is like teaching someone how to write a story by showing them examples of good stories. In the end you'll find yourself having an encyclopedic knowledge of good stories and what others think is good about them. The same is true of game. The best way to understand what makes good games is to play games. (Note: There is value in having a list of what game designers consider great games, but don't let yourself get bogged down in this process).

  3. There is no such thing as the perfect game design book. Every one of them has shortcomings. Yes, even the classics.

  4. All of the marketing advice in these books is dated, and all of the job-seeking advice is just advice. Don't buy a book because you think it will get you a job.

  5. Game design is hard and tedious work. There are no shortcuts and no magic bullets. Even something that seems like it will just take an afternoon to whip out will take longer. That's because when you're in the design you start to really understand the shape of the undertaking.

  6. Every design is crap when starting out. It's only when you think about it hard enough and long enough and polish it that it becomes better.

  7. There is someone who will play past level 20. I wrote a game for Pyweek 4 that I only coded 20 distinct levels. After that it just kept at the same difficulty. I didn't think that someone would play that far. They did, and they left feedback that the game leveled off at that point and they got bored. Always push your designs further than you think people would rationally play because people are irrational.

  8. It is doubtful that you will create a classic game. Classic games are classics because they've had hundreds of years of playtesting. You can't hope to have that much playtesting of your designs.

  9. Runaway hits for first-time designers are rare. That's why people hear about them - because they're rare. And more often they're based on iterations that aren't the overnight success they claim to be.

  10. You can find advice from many folks about how to design games, but none of it will explain how to design your games. That's something you'll have to figure out yourself.

  11. A game that isn't played is a notion. Playtest your games to figure out what the game you wrote is really about.

  12. Have others read your rules, because they will find what you left out.

  13. Buying games is not the same as playing games. Games that are shrinkwrapped for more than 5 years are not games, but merely pretty doorstops on shelves.

  14. If you can't explain why someone would play your game then you haven't clarified what your game is about. If you can't imagine what someone might feel while playing your game then you don't know who your players are.

  15. There is no such thing as a game that everyone enjoys. If there was then we could justify why everyone owns Monopoly.

  16. Have fun with this.

I'm sure I'll think of some more,