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Getting Started in Game Design

Getting Started in Game Design. Dr. Lewis Pulsipher. Copyright 2007 Lewis Pulsipher. Who am I. Designed my own games while a teenager Began playing commercial wargames in 1963

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Getting Started in Game Design

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  1. Getting Started in Game Design Dr. Lewis Pulsipher Copyright 2007 Lewis Pulsipher

  2. Who am I • Designed my own games while a teenager • Began playing commercial wargames in 1963 • Played the original Atari 2600 and have played some PC games heavily, but rarely play any video games these days; never owned a game console • Designer of six commercially-published board wargames (most recently February ‘06) • Active designer of board and card games (playtesters solicited!) • My main job is teaching networking, Web development in college

  3. Reality Check • Almost no one makes a living designing games • Most who do work for a game company, not freelance • You could spend the same time as profitably by picking up bottles and cans for deposits and recycling! • Most publishers don’t make a lot, either—and it’s risky • Many publishers exist largely to self-publish their own games

  4. Reality Check 2 • So if you design games, do it because you like to, or because you must, not because you want to make money • Alan R. Moon, two German “Games of the Year”, would have had to get part-time job if not for Ticket to Ride winning • Recognize that your “great idea” is probably not that great, not that original, and not that interesting to other people • Finally, it’s extra-hard to get into video game design

  5. OK, How much do you make? • In my experience, royalties are a percentage of the publisher’s actual revenue • 5% is most common • Publisher sells to distributor at 40% of list price or less; distributor sells to retailer for 10% more • Internet sales are becoming significant—then publisher makes 100% • Shipping costs may be subtracted from revenue

  6. Royalty example • $40 list game, 5% of $16 = 80 cents • Per 1,000 copies, $800 • $20 game, $400 per thousand • Wargame typical printrun is a few thousand • “Euro” games might go up to 10,000 • Most games sell poorly after first six months, most are not reprinted • German “Game of the Year” might sell 250,000 or more, after award

  7. What about the biggies? • In general, the really big companies have staff to design their games • Many will not even accept outside submissions • Virtually all will require you sign a statement relieving them of all liabilities • At least one only works through agents • In USA, Hasbro owns all the traditional boardgame publishers such as Parker Brothers, Avalon Hill

  8. Do I need an agent? • Whatever for? • Yet, I did for my first game back in the 70s, in England • Unfamiliarity • I could meet and talk with him locally (London) • Shady “agents” and “evaluators” abound • Don’t ever get an agent who wants a fee “up front”

  9. Practice and get others to evaluate • Diplomacy variants and D&D material in my case • Post such things on your or other Web sites • Analogy: • Jerry Pournelle (SF writer) says be willing to throw away your first million words on the road to becoming successful SF writer • Similarly, be willing to make lots of games/mods that don’t make any money on the way to making (some) money as a game designer

  10. Intellectual Property Rights • Ideas are not important, and not valued! • Ideas are a dime a dozen: execution is what counts • Copyright now inherent • Forget that “mail to myself” idea • Registered copyright makes suits much easier to pursue and more remunerative • Ideas cannot be protected, only expression of an idea

  11. The idea is not the game • Novices tend to think the idea is the important thing • Ideas are “a dime a dozen”. It’s the execution, the creation of a playable game, that’s important • The “pyramid” of game design: • Lots of people get ideas • Fewer try to go from general idea to a specific game idea • Fewer yet try to produce a prototype • Fewer yet produce a decently playable prototype • Very few produce a complete game • And very, very few produce a good complete game

  12. Licensed Properties • Tie-ins with movies, comics, books, etc.? • Much too expensive • Not even worth the IP owner’s time to do the processing for a boardgame—there’s not enough money in it

  13. Boardgame Developers • You don’t control your own game! • My experiences –see http://www.pulsipher.net/gamedesign/developers.htm • See also http://www.pulsipher.net/gamedesign/designingvsdevelopment.htm • Some publishers are different (e.g. GMT)

  14. Submitting Games • Read the publisher’s requirements • Some require you to sign a form and seal it in an envelope • Some won’t accept unsolicited proposals at all—this is common • Expect it to take a long time • Expect to get rejected • May have nothing to do with how good your game is • Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings rejected many times

  15. Two forms of game design • Video games and non-video games • Scale is different • “big time” video games are produced by dozens of people, cost millions of dollars • “big time” non-video games produced by a few people with budgets in the thousands • Yet a few sell more than a million copies

  16. Prototypes—”testing is sovereign” • To best improve a game, you must have a playable prototype • Firaxis’ Sid Meier-Civilization series, Pirates • The sooner Firaxis got a playable version of Civ 4, the more they could learn • A playable prototype includes “artwork” or physical components, and rules or programming • The rules for a non-video game are the equivalent of the programming of a video game • Programming must be precise and is very time consuming (game engines may help in the future) • A playable set of rules can be much less precise, relying on the mind(s) of the designer(s), and notes • It’s also much easier to change the non-video prototype to test different approaches • It’s much easier to produce the physical prototype, than to create the artwork for a video game

  17. Learning to design • So we can have a playable, testable non-video game much more quickly than a computer game of similar scope or subject • Consequently, it’s much easier to learn game design with physical games than with video games! • Kevin O’Gorman’s concurrence

  18. Art vs. Science • As in many other creative endeavors, there are two ways of approach • These are often called Romantic and Classical, or Dionysian and Apollonian • Or: art and science • Some people design games “from the gut” • Others like to use system, organization, and (when possible) calculation • Mine is the “scientific” approach; and that is more likely to help new designers • Game design is 10% art and 90% science

  19. Who is the audience? • A game must have an audience • What are the game-playing preferences of that audience • Short or long? • Chance or little chance? • Lots of story or little story? • “Ruthless” or “nice”? • Simple or complex? • There is no “perfect” game

  20. Genre • Video games are more limited by genre than non-video games • Most video games and many others fall into a clear genre category • Each genre has characteristics that come to be “expected” by the consumer • Much easier to market a video game with a clear genre

  21. How to design games • Limits lead to a conclusion: • Characteristics of the audience (target market) • “People don’t do math any more” • Genre limitations • Production-imposed limitations • “Board cannot be larger than X by Y” • Self-imposed limitations • “I want a one-hour trading game”

  22. Publisher-imposed limits • Some are publisher preference, some are market-dictated • For example: many publishers want nothing that requires written records in a game • Another example: consumers strongly prefer strong graphics, whether in a video or a non-video game

  23. Self-imposed limits • You have your own preferences • Don’t design a game you don’t like to play yourself • If you don’t like it, why should anyone else? • Limits/constraints improve and focus the creative process • Great art and music is much more commonly produced in eras of constraints, rather than eras without constraints • Example of a limit: I want to produce a two-player game that lasts no more than 30 minutes

  24. Do it! • Too many people like to think about designing so much, they never actually do it • Until you have a playable prototype, you have nothing • (Which is what makes video game design so difficult) • It doesn’t have to be beautiful, just usable

  25. Design vs. “development” • “Development” has two meanings • In video games, it means writing the program • In non-video, development (often by a person other than the designer) sets the finishing touches on a game, but may include significant changes • Development takes longer than design, in either case

  26. The designer’s game vs. the game that’s published • Video games are often overseen by the publisher, who is paying the bills; so it is modified to suit as it is developed • Non-video games are often unseen by the publisher until “done”; some publishers then modify them, often heavily

  27. Self Publishing • Do you want to design, or do you want to be a businessperson? • But often it’s the only way your game will be published • Most self-publishers will lose money NOT counting the time they spend • Virtually all lose money if you count the time they put into the business • See http://www.costik.com/selfpub.html

  28. Brief “What’s Important” on the business side of game design • Most people in the business are honest and try to do good • It’s too small a business to get tricky, word gets around • It really is a small business, and mistakes are common • Barring long apprenticeship and great good luck, you won’t make a living at it

  29. Resources about the business • Game Inventor’s Guidebook by Brian Tinsman • “All about publishing” thread on ConsimWorld • Lots of books about video game publishing • Come to my seminar on Saturday at 2 about process of game design

  30. Questions?

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