April 19, 2016

You’re the Fun Custodian

Successfully pitching your game design ideas and goals are some of the most vital skills you can have as a game designer. Whether they be big, complex entire game presentations, or simple, single code line changes to a tertiary mechanic, knowing how to communicate with people and get their buy-in is of utmost importance. Simply having vision is meaningless until you can clearly explain that vision to other people.

The design team is responsible for tying together all of the disparate elements from all job disciplines into a cohesive package. You are the custodians of the fun of the game. Every effort should be made to bring people together, effectively communicate and build excitement from every single person on the team. If nobody believes, or even understands, what you are trying to do you won’t get very far.

How do you make sure people understand your vision? How do you get everyone excited?

Be Confident and Tell a Story

This simple sentence encapsulates everything you should know about selling your game ideas, and really selling anything, dishwashers and vacuums included. From what I’ve learned from presenting to VC in person, creating powerpoint decks that are sent out to potential publishers, or simply brainstorming with your team. It’s all the same. Believing in your ideas, and communicating those beliefs in a clear, concise manner with reasoning and context is the only way to get people to believe in what you are saying.

We all relate to our world through stories. Our history and where we come from; literally and figuratively, helps people understand our intentions and gives them a backdrop to understand what we’ve asked.

Many companies have really begun to open up and embrace these ideas with what they share when they patch a game. Bungie’s recent actions with Destiny is a great example of this: they share their philosophy for balance changes in their patch notes and through their dev diary videos. They tell a story for every change. They begin with context – what’s the problem? The total domination of pulse rifles in Crucible pvp. Then they explain what they’re changing to fix it: rethinking the balance of pulse rifles in consequence of all other primary weapon types. They explain how each value is changed, and in some cases, explain the further philosophy of the entire weapon system.

When fans understand the problem, the thought process and then the solution being proposed to fix it, real communication happens. You’ll notice that the vitriol and anger on these types of posts is significantly lessened compared to when changes are just bullet points without context.

One Sentence to Rule Them All

You need their curiosity. Without it you won’t have their attention. You’ll need both to succeed. If you can craft a single sentence (or a small few) to explain the power and value of your idea you might be able to kill two birds with one stone.

Twitter is a great testbed for you to get better at this. Not that I am at Kardashian level, but a I have a few followers (i.e. .00000000012% of what they have). Some of my more successful tweets:

‘Don’t waste all your time trying to make a perfect decision, they don’t exist. The best decision is to move forward’

‘Immersion’ is a loaded word. Make sure your team agrees on what that means for your game.’

When something is bite sized enough that every single word can be memorized and understood, it creates a fertile ground for imagination. When people begin to imagine what your idea can become, what other cool and interesting concepts can be connected to it, and how they can bring their own experience, history and stories to the equation, then you’re really cooking with gas.

When smart people truly understand your ideas and are excited to take them in new directions you are basically unstoppable.

Combine Existing Ideas For Clarity

When answering the question: ‘what kind of game are you making?’ I often see designers getting stumped about how best to answer it. They think, ‘how can I get across the awesomeness of my design, explain all of the really intricate details, and make it sound like something totally new and different?’. Again, you need to tell and story. A really simple, clear story: ‘Gears of War’ cover gameplay meets ‘Clash of Clans’ base building. ‘Assassin’s Creed’ historical settings meets ‘Hot Shots Golf’ gameplay. ‘Civilization’ turn based strategy meets ‘Mario Kart’s fast-paced vehicle racing.

Although the game value of these ideas may or may not be questionable, everyone has a much, much clearer picture in their head of what is interesting and unique about your game by using this communication strategy.

Don’t think that you are reducing your designs into a simple comparison with existing games. The key is communication. The minute you start explaining the complexities of your design you will lose people. Keep the intricacies for your design documents and in-depth conversations.

Know Your Audience (and Their job)

Discussing tweaks to a feature with a gameplay programmer or trying to convince an executive producer of the sales merits of your game drastically changes how you should approach the discussion.

Always try to understand where each person is coming from. What do they do on a daily basis? What do they need to know from your discussion or pitch to do their job well? Implicitly providing these answers before they ask them creates trust: if they know you know (at least a little bit) of how their job works, you’re already halfway there.

You’re not going to know the deep intricacies of exactly what every job family does, but if you need to remember one thing in moments of doubt: be confident, and tell a good story.

Go back to Home – all Blogs – all Podcasts