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One of the most difficult tasks people can perform, however much others may despise it, is the invention of good games.
- C.G. Jung
Games are an integral part of all known human cultures. Digital games, in all their various formats and genres, are just a new expression of this ancient method of social interaction. Behind the system of every game there lies a designer who has crafted the rules for clarity, balanced the play for fairness, and conducted hours of playtests to find any loopholes in the design. Part engineer, part entertainer, part mathematician, and part social director, the goal of the game designer is to create that elusive combination of challenge, competition, and interaction that players just call 'fun.'
The cultural impact of digital games has grown to rival television and films as the industry has matured over the past three decades. Game industry revenues have been growing at a double-digit rate for years and have recently eclipsed the domestic box office of the film industry, reaching
9.4 billion dollars in 2001. According to reports in Time Magazine and The LA Times, 90% of U.S. households with children have rented or owned a video or computer game, and young people in the United States spend an average of 20 minutes per day playing video games. This makes digital games the second most popular form of entertainment after television.
As sales of games have increased, interest in game design as a career path has also escalated. Similar to the explosion of interest in screenwriting and directing that accompanied the growth of the film and television industries, creative thinkers today are turning to games as a new form of expression. Degree programs in game design are currently being developed in major universities all over the world in response to student demand. The International Game Developer's Association, in recognition of the overwhelming interest in learning to create games, has established an education committee to help educators create a curriculum that reflects the real-world process of professional game designers. On their website, the IGDA lists over 82 game design programs in North America alone. Furthermore, Game Developer magazine puts out an annual career guide bonus issue in order to connect the study of game development to the practice of it.
In addition to our experience designing games for companies such as Sony, Sega, and Microsoft, the authors of this book have spent seven years teaching the art of game design to students from a variety of different backgrounds and experience levels. In this time, we've found that there are patterns in the way that beginning designers grasp the structural elements of games, common traps that they fall into, and certain types of exercises that can help them learn to make better games. This book encapsulates the experience we've gained by working with our students to design, prototype, and playtest hundreds of original game concepts.
Our students have gone on to jobs in all areas of the game industry, including game design, producing, programming, visual design, marketing, and quality assurance. The method we present here has proven to be successful over and over again. Whatever your background, your technical skills, your reasons for wanting to design games, our goal with this book is to enable you to design games that engage and delight your players.
Our approach is exercise-driven and extremely nontechnical. This may surprise you, but we don't recommend implementing your designs digitally right away. The complexities of software development often hamper a designer's ability to see the structural elements of their system clearly. The exercises contained in this book require no programming expertise or visual art skills, and so release you from the intricacies of digital game production, while allowing you to learn what works and what doesn't work in your game system. Additionally, these exercises will teach you the most important skill in the game design: the process of prototyping, playtesting, and revising your system based on player feedback.
There are three basic steps to our approach:
Start with an understanding of how games work. Learn about rules, procedures, objectives, etc. What is a game? What makes a game compelling to play? Part I of this book covers these game design fundamentals.
Learn to conceptualize, prototype, and playtest your original games. Create rough physical or digital prototypes of your designs which allow you to separate the essential system elements from the complexities of full production. Put your playable prototype in the hands of players and conduct playtests that generate useful, actionable feedback. Use that feedback to revise and perfect your game's design. Part II starting on page 139 covers these important design skills.
Understand the industry and the place of the game designer in it. The first two steps give you the foundation of knowledge to be a literate and capable game designer. From there you can pursue the specialized skills used in the game industry. For instance, you may pursue producing, programming, art, or marketing. You may become a lead game designer or perhaps one day run a whole company. Part III starting on page 317 of this book covers the place of the game designer on a design team, and in the industry.
The book is full of exercises intended to get you working on game design problems and creating your own designs. When you reach the end, you will have prototyped and playtested many games, and you will have at least one original playable project of your own. We emphasize the importance of doing these exercises because the only way to really become a game designer is to make games, not just play them or read about them. If you think of this book as a tool to lead you through the process of design, and not just a text to read, you will find the experience much more valuable.
So if you're ready to get started, it's your turn now. Best of luck!
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