How not to be a game designer

I've submitted a talk proposal to Penguicon entitled "How Not to Be a Game Designer". This is something that has been flowing through my head a bit as I've struggled with the idea of being a game designer and draws on my 20+ years of wanting to do game design (video games, tabletop games, etc.) without having much to show for it. I've even thought about turning this into a short book much like The Mediocre Programmer with more expanded thoughts on the topic.

It's a topic that's near to my heart because I think folks like myself get so much advice on where to start and how to start that we burn up our fuses thinking of the possibilities and the ways we can go wrong. We get these brig ideas that in order to be a great (or even good) designer that we have to essentially shit out award-winning games because we know what award-winning games look like. We also think that we have to make something that is marketable or gives folks deep emotional responses. Or we feel that everything we make needs to be completely novel or has something new to say about whatever medium we're working in. It can't just be a fun little "pew pew pew" diversion, it needs to have something deep to say about Victorian England and the class structures within.

I've done most of my designs when I let these self-inflicted restrictions go. I've lowered my expectations to please only one customer: me. Sure, this is not a great way to build a business but it has the added benefit of not having to do market research (I know the target market: me). Once I pulled back from the notion of building a business and making game design a full-time career (yes, this is a notion that I've flirted with and realized that I'm 20+ years too late to effectively do this) more possibilities became apparent to me.

That's not to say that I couldn't make a business from game design, just that it's not the primary focus. I just want these game ideas out of me and into the wild where others can enjoy them.

And that's the crux of the talk (and possible book) is laying out some of the traps and pitfalls that I have run into that were of my own making. Buying all of the books for game design, comparing myself to seasoned professionals, worrying that I'm going to build a portfolio of crap that will follow me for my game design career, remaking the games of my youth, poorly, and worrying that nobody will buy my games. And that's just crap. The only way you get better is to practice, and the only way to practice is to keep working and practicing.

I wish I had learned to drop my expectations a long time ago, but I have now. Perhaps this talk (and possible book) will help others reach this mode sooner.