People don’t know game design is a thing: more evidence

I’m writing my book, so I don’t have time to write a big thing today, but I wanted to share a little thing I found.

I’ve often made claims that not only are we (everyone) collectively very bad at game design, but that large segments of our population do not even know/acknowledge that game design is a discipline all its own, separate from programming, art, or other elements of game development to begin with.

There are actually even university programs with “Game Design” in their titles that actually have nothing to do with game design. Take a look at this nice, horribly wrong infographic I found in my research today.


It’s from a website called “”, so I guess that’s kind of authoritative, and the infographic itself is nicely put together. Apparently, a game designer does the following things:

Continue reading “People don’t know game design is a thing: more evidence”

I was the guest on the Ludology podcast

The Ludology podcast, hosted by Geoff Englestein and Ryan Sturm is one of my favorite sources for thoughts on game design on the internet. I met Mr. Englestein at the PRACTICE 2013 conference. Apparently he liked my talk, and so he brought me on to talk about boardgames, videogames, and game design generally.

It went really well – it was actually probably the most non-confrontational interview I’ve ever done. Please check it out and let me know what you thought!

Universidad Europa Interview

Just thought I’d let people know that I was interviewed by Universidad Europa’s game design program via Skype last year.  The questions are in Spanish, but you can kind of get at what’s being asked by my answers.  Take a look!

Debunking Asymmetry


Note: I consider this article to be out-of-date. I have written a newer article on the subject which much better reflects my updated views. However, I’ve kept this article up, because of the excellent comments section (definitely check that out).

Like anyone else who grew up playing videogames, I have a great romance for “videogame-style asymmetry”.  What I’m referring to with “videogame-style asymmetry” is a quality that games such as StarCraft or Street Fighter have, where you “choose your character” or “choose your race” before the game even begins.

This kind of asymmetry is so beloved for a number of reasons, all of which I understand on a deep level, having experienced and immersed myself in it for my entire life.  However, after years of grappling with it, I’ve disappointingly come to realize that this kind of asymmetry is less than ideal for game design.  I am sad to have come to this conclusion, but I’m comforted by the fact that as always, I’m only talking about guidelines for ideal game design.  So, this doesn’t mean you can never make a game with videogame-style asymmetry, it just means that if you do, you should understand the costs.

I should qualify that this is distinct from “inherent asymmetry”, as is the case in the children’s game of “tag” (where one person is “it” and the other must escape), or even the popular videogame Counter-Strike.  To illustrate, in Counter-Strike, one team is always “the terrorists”, and they have a distinct objective.  The other team is always “the counter-terrorists”, and they always have a different objective than the terrorists.  It’s not as though teams select whether they’d like their team to be Terrorist or Counter-Terrorist and you could end up with a mirror match or something; there are no CS “matchups”.  And CS still has high levels of asymmetry due to the fact that you can choose your guns, which means it might be SMG versus Shotgun (although in practice, most of the time it’s M4 versus AK).

Beyond that, though, There aren’t many popular examples of more “strong” inherent asymmetry.  One that comes to mind is the boardgame 2 de Mayo, a two-player game wherein one player is the French, who have tons of forces pouring in from all directions on the map, and the Spanish, who have limited forces in the middle.  They have asymmetrical amounts of power, but also asymmetrical objectives: the Spanish simply have to survive at all until the last round in order to win.

Red are Spanish, Blue are French.
2 de Mayo: Red are Spanish, Blue are French.  Each have a roughly equal shot at winning due to asymmetrical win conditions.

The difference between “inherent asymmetry” and “videogame asymmetry” (maybe a better, albeit less-catchy term for it might be “componential asymmetry”) is that with inherent asymmetry, you don’t get to “configure the game”.  Sure, you can choose who will be the French/Spanish, or you can choose who will be “It” in tag, but it’s more like choosing who goes first than the process of selecting a character in Street Fighter. Continue reading “Debunking Asymmetry”

Your Game is Your Baby

appsIn the world of digital games, you generally have two ends of a spectrum.  On one end, we have the AAA stuff – the stuff that has a standee at GameStop and that you might see television commercials for.  On the other end of the spectrum, you have the indie stuff – stuff that you encounter simply browsing app stores or due to word of mouth.

While I have a whole slew of problems with AAA games, I don’t find it that interesting or worthwhile to criticize them.  They are, for the most part, doing the only thing that they can do.  They work in an industry where the expectation and standard is a multi-million dollar production, which in turn means that very few risks can be taken at all.  This results in games that are of high production quality, but which are extremely safe, canned, and unoriginal in their gameplay.

But I can’t blame them for it.  Not only is it asking a lot of any investor to risk millions of dollars on an idea that seems like it could be cool, but making another third-person action game about “zombie apocalypse!!!” is basically a guaranteed success.  People just buy these things, year after year, over and over again, for sixty-five dollars.  So you can’t blame the AAA people for what they do, and that isn’t what this article is about.

However, you can blame the indies for some of the problems they have.  Being an independent game developer myself, I feel it’s particularly fair for me to criticize some of the behavior of my colleagues.  And for all the hype that’s been swelling around the world of indie games over the past few years, there is one issue holding them back from their potential more than anything else – and it isn’t their lack of a budget. Continue reading “Your Game is Your Baby”