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  • 10 Design Lessons From 10 Years In Games

    - Peter Harries
  • 10 years ago I started working in the games industry. Along the way I've picked up a few things that I wanted to record (for my own sake!) and to share with you.

    1. Understand the problem before chasing a solution

    Don't be tempted to start designing a solution when the problem is not fully explored and understood, take the time to focus on what you're trying to resolve.

    Make sure you understand what the solution needs to accomplish then formalize your findings, write them down. Develop goals.

    Present these to other team members, discuss and amend them as required.

    It's always better to debate the purpose of a feature than to debate a feature with no obvious purpose.

    2. Don't pop an idea before it's fully inflated

    When a new idea or feature is proposed it's tempting to start immediately identifying flaws or concerns. Avoid writing ideas off or designing fixes based on these assumptions.

    Although these concerns are likely valid it's worthwhile giving the people involved time and space to consider and digest what's been proposed.

    If the value is there (and time / budgets allows it) prototyping is always desirable. The severity of any concerns will quickly become apparent.

    Sometimes a flawed idea can yield gold when you start to really think about it and play with it.

    3. Understand your games heart

    "I don't sell cars; I sell engines. The cars I throw in for free since something has to hold the engines in." - Enzo Ferrari.

    Every game has a heart, a core experience, the reason why people play the game.

    People will play a game with a great core experience and bad supporting systems, but won't play a game with great supporting systems and a bad core experience. Understanding what parts of your game are vital to the core experience and which parts aren't is a simple concept but much more difficult in practice.

    As designers, it's easy to want to thoroughly consider and design every aspect of the game, from a pause menu UX through to player movement. However this has time and budget implications. Depending on what your games heart is, one or both of these may not be important at all.

    Enzo Ferrari understood this concept, although Ferraris are known for beautiful aesthetics, the engine is what provides the core experience. "My cars must be beautiful. But more than that, they must not stop out on the circuit. For then people will say, ‘What a pity, it was so pretty'."

    4. Be an artisan crafts-person

    Design is a craft. It is skilled work that can be honed.

    Keep your design skills sharp, practice them (game jams, personal projects, books, talks etc.) If your job offers self development time use it! Practice outside of work where you can (as a parent I understand this isn't always possible.)

    This is particularly important if you're looking to move role, for example from QA to design. Keep your CV, portfolio and any related sites (LinkedIn etc.) up to date as you improve your skills. Show off what you can do.

    5. Sell the dream first

    As a designer the notion that "good design speaks for itself" is appealing but is not true.

    In reality how you communicate your ideas is just as important, especially at a conceptual stage where it's likely you don't have any prototype to rely on.

    Build a convincing argument for what you are proposing, become a salesperson. Communicate it in a way that's both understandable and appealing.

    If proposing an idea or feature via presentation, keep it concise & simple, try and keep it focused. Tell a story, present the issues you are trying to resolve and the goals of your proposal, detail how your idea addresses these issues and achieves your goals, then conclude and answer any outstanding questions.

    Of course all of this should always be underpinned by good design!


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