Sandra just posted a succinct piece of advice about another, possibly too-succinct, piece of advice: "think like a designer."
This is a very important piece of advice, and I've seen many aspiring and even experienced designers fail interviews for being "too playerish" or "not designerly enough." But what does that mean exactly? Here's Sandra's post:
“Learn to think like a designer, not a player.”
You’ll hear this a lot from game developers giving advice to would-be designers. And it’s not wrong … but taken at face value, it leads to being a sub-par designer. There’s no value in mimicing what you think a stereotypical designer would do.
Better advice: “Learn to understand how different types of players (including you!) experience your game, and analyze that like a designer.”
Not nearly as memorable, but way more accurate.
There's still something missingSandra has a great point; considering your whole playerbase is very important. I think there's one more detail that both versions only hint at: Think about your whole game. This is implied by "think about your whole playerbase," but it's so important that implication alone doesn't do it justice.
In my experience, taking a high-level view is especially difficult and important for designers of MMOs and other large, multifaceted games. We have so many competing features, playstyles, and subcommunities within our games that it's very easy to get hung up on just a small set.
Here's what "think like a designer" means to me:
Learn to think about your game and playerbase holistically. The classes, features, and gameplay style that you enjoy are only a small part of what is important to the playerbase as a whole.We spend so much time as designers reminding ourselves to be detail-oriented that thinking of the game as a gestalt is sometimes easy to forget. Balancing between these two competing modes of thinking is what can really make a designer great.
Speaking of more advanced design thinking, I think this advice also comes with a counterintuitive but important corollary:
Learn to recognize which parts of your game and playerbase aren't important. Your favorite part of the game may be something the playerbase doesn't care about, and there are some players who care about things that it isn't in your best interests to focus on.That may sound a bit mean or negligent, but there's no faster way to game design failure than trying to please everyone. If you can learn to tell what's not important, you'll be a better designer than just about everyone in this industry. Much more on that subject another time.
All this advice rolls off of the tongue less trippingly than "think like a designer," but it's a great point that we often give people important advice without bothering to clarify what our advice actually means.