Four Tips for Goal-Oriented Game Design

Hey Readers!  I must apologize.  To be honest, I’ve completely forgotten about the blog the past couple weeks and haven’t written a post in awhile.  I am now planning to only write one post every two weeks, but hopefully the extra time will help make the content better.  Anyways, on to the post…

We all have our reasons why we design games.  Maybe it’s how you make a living.  Maybe years ago you made a variant to your favorite game and continue to make variants to play with friends.  Maybe you and your kids make games for fun and for the occasional game night.  If you are like me and are just starting out, maybe you design games as a creative outlet and hope to make a fun (and hopefully self-sustaining) hobby out of it.

Whatever the reason, designing games is not easy; it’s hard work.  Whether you wish to become the next Milton Bradley, wish to make a modest living, enjoy it as a hobby, or just design games for fun with low ambitions, creating games that are cohesive and fun will take time, energy, and effort.  And just as any other endeavors in life that require work, your best chances for success are to have a plan.  

So here are four tips that I hope will help you layout the groundwork for a game design plan:

  1. Define your overall goal.
    Do you eventually want your game sold to the public, or are you only playing your game privately with friends and family?  If you want your game sold to the public, do you plan to publish the game yourself or pitch it to an existing game publisher?  Do you want to release it as a free print-and-play?

    Knowing your endgame is crucial to the game design process.  Otherwise, you may find yourself spending hours, weeks, or even years designing a game aimlessly.  Simply having and knowing your goal gives you an opportunity to succeed.  Without a goal, there’s nothing to accomplish.

  2. Determine what has to be completed to meet your goal.
    You have your goal!  Now you are ready to conquer it.  The only thing is, how do you do that?  Unfortunately, creating the goal is the easy part.  

    The first step to accomplishing your goal is to understand what it takes to make that goal a reality.  If you only wish to design a game to play with friends, simple graphics from Microsoft or Google will probably do.  (I’ve known hardcore players who are happy just playing games with black and white text… no graphics.)  If you want your game out there in the market, a higher degree of polish will be necessary.  If self-publishing, you will be in charge of playtesting, refining, illustrations, graphic design, marketing, distribution, and all other steps required to get the game in players’ hands and on the store shelves.  

    Every goal is going to have its own standards.  Once you set your goal, research what is required to make that goal happen.  Create a list and layout the groundwork.

  3. Knock out the first couple tasks and build some momentum.
    You know Newton’s First Law, the law of inertia?  Guess what, it applies to board game design, too.  A person who designs games tends to continue designing games unless acted upon by an outside force.  Really… momentum is everything.

    So after setting your goal and having a basic understanding of the steps to reach your goal, it’s just a matter of doing.  And once you complete a couple steps, you will start to see your efforts coalesce into a work-in-progress.  Maybe your first two steps are to write down the game’s core rules (Objective, Setup, and Gameplay) and make an initial list of game components.  Or maybe you already have rules written and a rough prototype developed, so your next steps are to playtest with a friend and record some feedback so you can hammer out some of the kinks.  In both of these cases, after taking the first two steps you immediately see the game progress into something more than it was before.

    While game design takes a tremendous amount of effort, with a little research and planning, you quickly get to see the game take shape.  And this will only inspire and motivate you to continue working on the game.  See?  Momentum.|

  4. Be open-minded and flexible.
    In my opinion, this is the most difficult element of game design, but it’s also the THEE most important.  We all create an image of our game in our heads during the design process.  Honestly, it’s half the fun of designing.  I love to imagine the game being played among my friends, or having a booth in a large convention hall.  These are great motivators, but it’s critical to understand that the game will require revisions… and generally many of them… so don’t be disappointed when you find changes will need made.

    I can’t say this with certainty, but I’m willing to bet every board game has gone through some degree of playtesting, feedback, and refinement.  No one creates something perfect the first time around.  So it’s important to know beforehand that once you finally put together your first prototype, gather a group of friends (hopefully with beer and pizza), and sit down for the first (or hundredth) playtest, don’t be disheartened if there are some rough patches; in fact, you should expect them.

    We are all human; no one creates a perfect game their first try.  Just use the experience to note what works well, what needs improved, and only make a couple revisions at a time before the next playtest.  While this can be disheartening for some designers, many times it actually gets me more excited; I immediately start to design the revisions in my head and am amped to make them and get back to the table to try them out.

To recap, game design is work.  Don’t expect to do it in a week and while watching tv or doing homework.  It demands mental energy, requires research, and will challenge your adaptability.

For your best shot at being a successful game designer (no matter your goal or how you define success):

  1. Set an initial goal for your game.  (This is not set in stone and can change.)
  2. Research what you need to execute to reach your goal.  (This will make the goal seem more achieveable.)
  3. Build momentum by knocking out the first 1-2 tasks.  (This will create drive that makes the rest more approachable.)
  4. Know your game will be made better through playtesting and revisions.

Best of luck to you gamers, designers, and game designers.  Let me know what tips you have that help keep you on track.


2 thoughts on “Four Tips for Goal-Oriented Game Design

  1. Johnathan Morton says:

    In your third step you talk about knocking out your first few goals. Something I find helpful is to make one of those goals be: Have a Minimum Viable Game within 3 weeks of having the initial idea for it. This means having a playable game -not a sellable one- that demonstrates the basic mechanisms or components of play, its a quick way to tell what works and what needs to go. After that you can add to all the crazy powers, weapons, or whatever. I find it helps me stay focused on the experience I want to create and I don’t waste a lot of time over focusing on things that don’t work for my game.


    • That’s a solid first goal to set. I agree that it’s imperative to make a prototype ASAP and start testing it out.

      As you mentioned, adding content is simple to do later. It’s easy to get lost in the fun of creating specific content, but it’s a better use of time to just make a playable game and focus on the core than to spend hours on lots of minor details.

      Focus on the largerr mechanics first, then go into the smaller details later. The core mechanics will drive the smaller details.

      Good goal! It’s focused on getting the game idea out there and immediately working out the links.

      Liked by 1 person

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