Sunday, February 20, 2011

What makes a Game Designer??

Something that @atminnn said on Twitter the other day has kind of resonated with me.  He grouped me up with a bunch of other people and identified us as game designers.  It feels really odd being called a "game designer" and I really don't think I earned that title.  I haven't done anything legendary.  I haven't produced anything that anyone has actually ever played.  I have never made a cent from any game that I've ever written (my own parents don't really want to buy my stuff and if my wife bought it, she'd be using my money, so that doesn't even count....).

But, in the end, does any of that really matter?

To date, I have put together a bunch of homebrew material for D&D 4e (still working on getting the GSL and WotC mark of approval up here... sorry I'm just really lazy.  It is all compliant though).  But, really, that is more content development than game design.  I would say that virtually every DM who has ever role played could pretty easily call him or herself a content developer.  The content you generate may not ever get used, or it may get used in only your game, but content is content.  You have made something real and concrete and if you put it on the internet (and make it free) chances are somebody is going to use what your wrote in their game for no other reason than that people are fundamentally lazy.  I procrastinate like a beast, so it is often much easier to just take somebody else's idea and use it as my own.  This is so much more the case now with 4e D&D than it was when I played 3e all the time.  Back then I was much more inclined to simply use things as they are and not do much reskinning or homebrewing of my own. Now, things have really changed.  I feel like the system is so easily homebrewed that I can do it easily on my own.  But, since the system is also so easy to brew for, I also feel like it is much easier to put confidence into the homebrew of others.  I can look at a statblock and within a few seconds figure out if the creature is going to be too easy or too hard to fight.  Content that is spot on gets used.  Hell, content that is off gets adjusted, then gets used.

I'd say that being a content developer is a lot easier than being a game developer and I feel much more comfortable accepting that mantle.  But really, is game developer any different?

To date, I have put out three different games, but none of these games were developed independantly.  I did my first game: Bloody Stuff, for the 2009 24 Hour RPG and based the game off of the theme "Teddy Bear Blood Sports".  I think I was on one of the lists for good looking games, but I didn't win anything. I never really thought I would.  I made a valiant effort, but it didn't really amount to much and the time constraint was punishingly hard.

In fall of 2010 I entered in the Game Chef competition with my RPG Edge of Annihilation: The Last City.  I tried to make a Post-Apocolyptic RPG/Board Game which mimicked sim city. It was simply too far reaching and I didn't really feal satisfied with my work.  Since then, I have been going back to the concept for this game, that of an RPG/Board Game based off of Sim City and have been revising and redefining what I want to get out of it.

Most recently, I developed Alone in the Woods, this time again for the 24 Hour RPG Contest.  I even tweeted the whole thing as well.  That was a lot of fun and I think I have gotten a lot better at designing, developing, and producing original stuff.  The people that have read this one have said they really liked it, which I think is awesome.

So, can you really call me a game designer?  I have put out 3 games, none of which was over 30 pages in real content, and to my knowledge, nobody has ever played any of them.  I certainly haven't gotten a chance to.  Nobody I know has the time to run any of these games.  Do i want to?  Sure!  I would love to eventually play one of the games that I made.  It might be a while, but eventually... I'll get somebody who will give me the time of day.

I was listening to Giant Fire Breathing Robot the other day on the train back from Tokyo.  They had somebody on who was talking about getting out there and doing.  I like that sentiment.  I don't think I could really quote him perfectly, but what he said was interesting.  If you want to be the next great podcaster, you need to get out there and podcast.  The same holds true for writing.  If you want to write the next hit novel, you need to get out there and write.  I think you could say the same holds true for Game Development.  If you want to be the world's next big game developer (something I'm not really aiming for, but it would sure be nice) you have to get out there and develop games.

So, I guess I would call myself a game developer.  I'm still a newb though.  I still have lots of people that I look to as mentors so I'm not really the person you want to be asking game development questions about.  There are more educated people out there who have done much more than I have.  But the point I'm trying to make is this: it doesn't take much to be a game designer.  All you need to do is have an idea, put that idea onto paper, and assemble those ideas in such a way so that the ideas you have can be experienced and played with some office supplies and oddly shaped dice.  It's that easy.  If you've got an idea, do something about it.  If you have problems, like I do, with working independantly on stuff, go enter into a contest.  The 24 Hour RPG Contest is, if nothing else, a great place to get motivated, get pressured, and get criticism.  If you enter the contest, you are guarenteed that at least a few people are going to download your game, read it, and tell you what they think of it.  The criticism might be painful (remember this is the internet), but it will also be good for you.  Learn to love it. 


  1. I'm glad I could spur this thought process. I've been thinking about it a lot lately as well, branching into discussion about the line between amateur and professional.

    I appreciate your conclusion from the thought process: Instead of harboring plenty of potentially neat ideas, get them out and down so others can experience them, possibly benefit from them in some way, and give feedback. I would guess that feedback, whether pleasant or unpleasant, and the different directions that others take the ideas, have a high potential to improve the next effort.

  2. Yea. I really think that Feedback is what makes our little world go round. What would role playing games be without playtesters?? Every time you read a game and comment on it, you are helping the creator and his endeavors. Every time you play his or her game, you're helping out even more.