How Do You Become a Game Designer?

 

In a recent interview I was asked some questions regarding how and why I became a game designer. I’ve reposted it here, in hopes that it proves helpful for anyone out there thinking about pursuing a career in this field. Design is an amazing line of work and I wouldn’t want to do anything else – but I’ve been very lucky and it’s not all roses and puppy dogs.

 

What made you want to become a game designer?

I’ve been designing games for as long as I can remember. I started programming simple games back when I was 8, moved on to more complex ones (that I never finished) by the time I was 12, and in high school I spent much of my free time creating detailed mods for strategy games like Civilization 3 and Paradox’s Hearts of Iron. By the time I could really consider what I wanted to do for a living, I’d already been doing this kind of work for a decade!

Another factor in me gravitating towards games, both for entertainment and as a creator, was an early interest in history. My mother was a teacher and we always had a bunch of history books around. I particularly grew fond of historical atlases, and it was a fairly natural transition over from this to light PC wargames like SSI’s Panzer General.

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TGDRT #24: Games and the Law

Episode #24 is live!

Trademark specialist and actual lawyer-type Dave Fitzgerald joins the show to discuss legal issues relating to games development. Topics covered include the difference between patents, trademarks and copyrights, what you need to set up a company and common mistakes made by developers.

I really enjoyed this episode, as it provides detailed answers for legal and business questions that I’m sure every indie developer has wondered about. In addition to setting aside a couple hours to chat with us, Dave has also generously offered to field questions. You can reach him at DFitzgerald@WHE-Law.com.

- Jon

TGDRT #21: Free to Play

Episode #21 is now live!

New occasional co-host David Heron rejoins the show to analyze the impact of Free to Play (F2P) from a business and design perspective. The group discusses the philosophical implications of F2P, along with real life examples that include Banner Saga: Factions, World of Tanks and League of Legends.

I’m not really a fan of F2P, although I do think it has a role to play, particularly in the mobile market. We’ll likely be exploring it with the iOS version of AtG, although it’s too early to say for sure what our plans there will be.

- Jon

Growing a Game Company

We’re down to the last few days everyone! I’ll be posting an update every day this week as a thank you for your amazing support.

 

 

If you haven’t done so already, I ask that you check out the At the Gates Kickstarter page. Our goal is to innovate and take strategy gaming to the next level, but this campaign will be our sole source of funding for development. And hint, hint: the more successful ATG is the more articles you’ll have to read in the future!

To those of you who have already contributed and helped us reach our funding goal, I offer my most sincere thanks!

Many people have thought about starting their own company. Pretty much every 2am infomercial tells you to do it (all you need is their book!). But what does this actually involve? Today I’ll be shedding some light on how I built my own little indie studio.

I should note ahead of time that a few months ago the tally of companies I’ve founded was a big fat zero. So if you happen to be a legal/financial/something else expert, I apologize in advance if something I say that makes you cringe.

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Building an Empire Builder

 

If you haven’t done so already, I ask that you check out the At the Gates Kickstarter page. Our goal is to innovate and take strategy gaming to the next level, but this campaign will be our sole source of funding for development. And hint, hint: the more successful ATG is the more articles you’ll have to read in the future!

To those of you who have already contributed and helped us reach our funding goal, I offer my most sincere thanks!

Empire builders (aka “4X turn-based strategy games“) are a beloved genre. Unfortunately, they’re also somewhat of a rare breed, particularly when compared with the deep yearly lineup of first-person shooters and RPGs.

The problem with 4X titles is that they’re not easy to build. Challenges hide behind every corner – not just on the design side but also with the tech and art.

Today, we’ll delve into the obstacles developers of these games must face, along with why the end result is worth all of that hard work. And maybe if we’re lucky, this article might help motivate someone out there to go and create one of their own!

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Trials & Tribulations of Kickstarter

 

If you haven’t done so already, I ask that you check out the At the Gates Kickstarter page. Our goal is to innovate and take strategy gaming to the next level, but this campaign will be our sole source of funding for development. And hint, hint: the more successful ATG is the more articles you’ll have to read in the future!

To those of you who have already contributed and helped us reach our funding goal, I offer my most sincere thanks!

This post originally began its life as a humble comment on our Kickstarter page, but after writing for a bit I realized it would be even better as a full-blown article!

 

What Do You Have to Consider With a Kickstarter Campaign?

Many people don’t realize creators ultimately end up with a fairly small slice of the Kickstarter pie. You can immediately cut 20% off the top due to processing fees and failed transactions. Then there’s the cost of fulfilling rewards, marketing (yes, it’s important), both planned and unplanned contract work, licensing multiple software packages – the list goes on and on.

Oh, and as with everything in life, the taxman always wants his share. It’s particularly rough if you make a large amount of money from your campaign, and then nothing for the next two years, as you’ll be taxed at a much higher bracket than you would if the same amount of revenue had been spread out. Suddenly that amazing $1,000,000 Kickstarter haul starts to look a lot more like 300 or 400 thousand. Yikes!

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Strategy Games Are Broken

 

If you haven’t done so already, I ask that you check out the At the Gates Kickstarter page. Our goal is to innovate and take strategy gaming to the next level, but this campaign will be our sole source of funding for development. And hint, hint: the more successful ATG is the more articles you’ll have to read in the future!

To those of you who have already contributed and helped us reach our funding goal, I offer my most sincere thanks!

Strategy is among the oldest and most beloved gaming genres. But all is not well with this venerable stalwart. The list of issues plaguing digital strategy games is growing, and if this trend isn’t reversed it could result in this form of entertainment becoming completely marginalized or transformed as the technology used to consume entertainment continues to evolve.

In this article I’ll be analyzing the biggest problems with the genre, and you can check out my latest project, At the Gates, to see how I’m hoping to solve them!

 

Lack of Clarity

The very essence of a strategy game is evaluating situations, crafting plans to achieve a goal, and adapting as necessary during execution. Many titles fail right from the start, and don’t provide players with enough information to properly evaluate what’s going on. There are two major culprits here.

The first is 3D graphics. High-detail art is great for providing immersion, and there is certainly value to this even in the strategy genre, but many times the priority has become good graphics for the “sake” of good graphics. The target of effectively conveying information is forgotten, and the game suffers as a result.

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Quarter to Three Podcast Appearance

I was recently a guest co-host on the October 12th episode of the Quarter to Three games podcast. Jason McMaster and I discussed several topics including XCOM, Dishonored, Tokyo Jungle and a bit of speculation surrounding the future of Kickstarter.

XCOM isn’t a perfect game, but I really, really like it. Give the podcast a listen if you want to hear more. Additionally, in honor of XCOM I’ll also be putting up an article next week on consequences, so look forward to that!

- Jon

Respect Your Players

While no one would argue that respecting the people who play your game isn’t a nice, commendable thing to do, there are also tangible benefits to taking this approach – which over the long haul result in better sales and stronger brands.

If you treat the people who buy your games as nothing more than consumers they’ll catch on quickly. Once that happens they’ll stop giving you the benefit of the doubt and start looking for reasons to complain about you. If players continue to feel slighted they’ll just get fed up and leave unless you make really good games. And while putting out games that always get a 96 or above on Metacritic is a nice strategy… well… good luck with that one.

What you really want are true fans. People who know your work, are the first in line to buy the games you make and tell all their friends they have to play your latest release. If you make an effort it’s really not all that hard to build up a loyal following of this sort. Here’s a few tips.

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The Middle Market

The original version of this article was written for Troy Goodfellow’s website, Flash of Steel. Many thanks to him for allowing me to repost it here. The article has been updated to reflect changes within the industry over the past four months.

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Anyone that’s read any of my recent interviews or attended the Future of Strategy Games panel at the 2011 Game Developer’s Conference knows that I’m a big champion of ‘middle market’ games – those that lack the AAA budget of tens of millions of dollars, but still aim to provide a ‘full’ gaming experience. Although offerings of this sort have become rare in recent years, they appear to be primed for a resurgence. This is great news, as studios focused on the middle market put out amazing games unlike those offered by either the big publishers or the one-man indie shops.

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