Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 27, 2014
When I first started in the video game business (and I’m kind of afraid to mention when that was anymore), I was pretty sure of myself. I knew games. I knew what was fun. I was a frickin’ gaming genius.
That didn’t last long. I blame Dunning-Kruger. The more professional game designers I spoke with, the more I worked on games, the more I really began to study them professionally, the more I realized I didn’t have a clue. And now, with an indie world out there full of bizarre and creative ideas that actually sell (and twenty times more that don’t), the even less clueful I feel. The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t understand.
Sure, I’ve got opinions. They’ve changed a bit over the years (releasing your own games and getting feedback from actual customers will do that), but I still hold them. Maybe not as securely as I once did. I still know what *I* like, though I’m no longer certain how similar my own tastes are to that of the general gaming public.
On the one hand, this is probably a good idea. I’m more open to new ideas and willing to “kill my darlings” – my pet ideas. I hope that I’m more able to swallow my pride to make a better game. On the other hand, this can also make me hesitant and indecisive, which is not a good trait in the fast-moving world of indie game development.
The thing is – we’re all born with an innate sense of fun. Real life tries to beat it out of us as we get older, but it is as natural – and as important – as breathing. The joy, the “fun,” is what helps us to discover the world around us, to learn new things, and develop skills. And we all find that fun in different things.
I look at something like Goat Simulator, and I think… that’s just a giant toy-box for grown-ups. For that matter, so is Grand Theft Auto.
The thing is, as kids – the fun comes first, the rules and structure later. Kicking a ball around is inherently fun. But with no goal, nobody to share it with, no way to determine who is better at kicking a ball around, no other skills with which to mix up the ball-kicking, we can lose interest pretty quickly. So we come up with some kind of structure, some rules, some goals, some ways to bring other people and challenges in to keep things interesting.
That’s not something you need a PhD to understand. There’s no special game design mojo. That’s probably why it all seems easy, at first. Making something fun is easy. But making something fun, easy to understand, playable on everyone’s hardware, appealing to your audience’s tastes, marketable, intuitive, polished, accessible, challenging without being frustrating, has staying power, and competitive in a crowded marketplace — that’s what takes all the hard work.
(And that’s why we copy so much from each other – we start with what we know, and what we know works, and hopefully try to improve on it or try something different with it. )
In the end, there’s probably no substitute for just making lots of games. That’s something I’m not doing so great at… I should probably do more game jams, but as a part-time developer, that’s a pretty big time sacrifice. Maybe people in similar situations – who can’t devote a large block of time to a game jam very often – could focus more on things like one game a month, or like my “40 hour” project many years ago. Or micro-jams, like the “game in 0 hours.”
Because if there anything I have learned over the years, it’s that there’s always a lot more to learn.
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