12th Jan2021

5 Tips for Video Game Designers

by James Smith

Video games have been a welcome escape during the Covid-19 pandemic, connecting people without judgment through authentic, collaborative play. When engaging in play, you take on a new perspective, broaden your own, and join communities you may never otherwise have connected with.

“I think it’s important to play games if you want to design them yourself.”, David Cage, founder of French games studio Quantic Dream.

Are you are overflowing with exciting story ideas? Do you possess some natural artistic flair and have played games since you were old enough to turn on the television? Video game design may be your destiny.

In an ultra-competitive industry of creatives, having a qualification is important. Of course, there are those self-taught geniuses who have taken the path less travelled to get to where they are today, but this is not for everyone.

Our advice would be to study, be passionate, be creative, be as outlandish as possible, and build up a killer online design portfolio to separate you from the pack. You are ultimately the future of the gaming field, so don’t try to recreate the past. We’ve put together a list of some critical tips for video game designers.

1) Empower Players

In the basics of game theory, there are two directions to take: zero-sum and non-zero-sum. In a zero-sum game, players compete for a limited resource and produce clear winners and losers. A racing game, chess, or any head-to-head competition could be an example of a zero-sum game, presenting only one way of play.

The other direction is positive-sum or non-zero-sum game theory, which can go way beyond the conventional approach. These games allow players to explore, experiment, collaborate, and indulge in self-expression without influencing another player’s success. Allowing people to play freely together side-by-side, immersed in a new world devoid of the winner-take-all mentality.

Give thought to how your game may develop if you forgo zero-sum mechanics such as scoreboards and look at alternative ways to drive player engagement. Minecraft is the perfect example of a game that took this approach and has had fantastic success.

2) Early Prototyping

A prototype provides the means to assess the quality of your game’s concept. Rapid prototyping is a fundamental discipline of game design. We recommend building prototypes as quickly and cheaply as possible, with specific questions or goals always in mind when doing so.

“A prototype is a navigation instrument… it’s a compass”, Will Wright, creator of the iconic game The Sims.  

Prototyping and repetitive design testing are the best ways to discover the most enjoyable moments in your game experience. These are often accidental or unexpected but guide you to creating a product that will resonate with your end-users. Let this prototype mechanism guide you – like a compass in the wild.

3) Player Psychology

Some believe game development can be as much about programming a player’s brain as it is about programming the game itself. Robust game experiences create a micro-world in the player’s head. This system of limitations and freedoms, goals and rewards, challenges, and joys, is referred to as the “mental model.”

A coherent and compelling mental model within a game is far more likely to allow players to see themselves in the story and identify with it as a whole.

4) Virtual Assistance

As a designer, your primary focus is creating the best player experience possible, but you don’t need to do this alone. By hiring a virtual assistant, you can outsource your administrative tasks and focus solely on design while acquiring a new game tester in the process.

Liberate yourself with a new digital team member who integrates into your working and personal life, giving you the time to unleash your full creative potential. Time is the most valuable commodity known to man – don’t underestimate what a high calibre, low-cost virtual assistant from a company such as AVirtual could do for your productivity as a game designer.

5) Rewards and Incentives

One of the best ways to create a superior user experience is to introduce psychological incentives to motivate players, rather than relying solely on material rewards such as points. Some useful psychological incentives include:

Discovery is an incentive that plays on human curiosity. Offering a glimpse into a game’s future, showing elaborate lands, worlds, and experiences can be an exciting prospect for a player. Self-expression can be equally effective and is far too often underutilised. Let players choose and customise essential aspects of their experience to keep the gameplay dynamic. Let them design their strategy to unfold in either failure or success. A player watching their fate play out can build suspense and be a strong incentive.

Creative engagement with rewards themselves could be the most powerful incentive. We recommend observing the roles that naturally form within your game’s community and adapting your design accordingly. An example of this would be that if you see players enjoy collecting a particular item in your game, you could opt to make these rare rewards and alter their behaviour to get them.

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