It’s Not That Simple

So, I’ve just passed the 2-year mark working as a game designer at Certain Affinity. Although this isn’t my first rodeo, I’m blessed to work here. I continue to learn a great deal, both in practical and organizational terms.

One of the things you should know about game designers is that they pretty much universally think they know best. They might not all admit it, but they’re all thinking it. This megalomaniacal confidence is almost a professional prerequisite; perhaps it’s one reason game designers tend to end up in charge. Thankfully, great game designers are also willing to be proven wrong.

It’s practically cliché in the game design category of online wisdom to tell newcomers that no one cares about your amazing idea for a game. Execution is everything. This is true, although so is the counter that a designer without a clear idea can absolutely kill a game.

But being in the industry, especially as part of an independent developer, really drives this home. It’s not only that great ideas are rare; it’s also that, execution aside, many great ideas won’t work for lots of other reasons. There’s the market (whether people want this game). There’s hidden implementation complexities (unexpected art costs, systemic overhead, unplanned-for localization, security concerns, legislative concerns, IP issues). There’s the massive factor of budget (we could make an amazing game, have it hit the market well, and still lose money thanks to how much we spent).

When you’re playing with the big boys and mis-allocated man-hours equal a substantial cashflow pouring down the drain, you have to be more calculating about which risks you jump for and how you mitigate them. Even if you make the perfect game people want, and squeeze through without screwing up the budget through feature creep, losing track of the vision, getting hung up on tech, or constantly revising the design – even if you get that game to market – there’s still the massive unanswerable question of whether you actually will hit the zeitgeist. And no one ever knows beforehand.

Even though “It’s not that simple”, I don’t want to minimize the importance of being smart. We never know if we will succeed, but I think that if you’re lacking any of these three ingredients, you can be sure you’ll fail:

1. Someone needs to have a vision and they need to be in control.
2. You have to commit resources and be willing to execute on your design.
3. Creativity means risk. If you’re not taking creative risks, you’re doing it wrong.