GOOD GAME DESIGN – ARE THERE ANY RULES?
By Leslie Scott,
Oxford Games Ltd
Sadly, unlike when you play a game, there are no hard and fast rules to guide you when designing a game. Yet a game is just a product - or at least it is if you are planning to publish the game and put it on the market - therefore designing a game should be just like designing any other product. The same rules of ‘good design’ should apply.
I say ‘should’ apply because clearly plenty of poorly conceived, poorly designed games hit the market every year and some even succeed for a while – if enough money is thrown at promoting them. But for a game to become a classic or even last beyond one brief season, I believe with a passion that it must be well designed.
But what does it mean to be ‘well designed’ and what are these rules of ‘good design’? Well - there are none that are cast in stone – but, in my opinion, you won’t go far wrong if you follow the celebrated industrial designer Dieter Rams’ ten principles of good design, which I list below. And then below these, with apologies to Rams, I list my own rules of Good Game Design.
Rams' ten principles of ‘good design’
Makes a product useful
Makes a product understandable
Is thorough down to the last detail
Is environmentally friendly
Is as little design as possible
Scott’s rules of ‘good game design’ Good Game Design…..
Is innovative – Using innovative technology should not be an end in itself, but equally, if there is nothing novel about a game, then best not bother to publish it.
Makes a game useful – A game is bought to be played. If it doesn’t play well, then it is useless. Good design emphasizes usefulness (in this case, playability) whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
Is aesthetic - The aesthetic quality of a game is integral to its usefulness. Only a well-executed game that plays well can be considered aesthetically pleasing.
Makes a game understandable - The best games should be intuitive and almost self-explanatory. The fewer the rules the better the game.
Is unobtrusive – A game’s design should leave room for the user's self-expression. I think a game should facilitate play – not provide a script that has to be followed to the letter.
Is honest - A game should not be over packaged. No-one likes paying for air.
Is long-lasting – A gimmicky game or a game that follows a trend is a fashion item and will not last beyond a season.
Is thorough down to the last detail - Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance.
Is environmentally friendly - Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
Is as little design as possible - Less, but better – because it concentrates on the key aspects of the game is not burdened with non-essentials.
Finally, if I were to roll all ten rules into one to create just one crucial piece of advice, it would be; always treat your consumer with respect. Do this and the rest will follow. Now all you’ll have to do is persuade someone that your beautifully designed game should be published!