Uniquely Qualified

It’s odd when I find an article that causes me to pump my fist in a “preach it, brother!” manner and also shake my head in violent disagreement, yet that’s exactly the case in this GameSetWatch piece on how to hire a good designer.

Game designers must be gaming fanatics, not just playing them, but making them in multiple mediums. Beware any game designer that doesn’t play games every spare second of their time or have an extensive history of game making.

This is terrible advice.

People who play games every second of every day are bound to only find inspiration in the games that already exist. I guess this is fine if you want to create the same things over and over and over again (hello industry!) but if you are looking for someone to bring creative inspiration to the team (part of the designer’s role) then this candidate will be woefully unqualified.

While a wide gaming vocabulary is indeed extremely helpful, those who cross the line from gaming enthusiast to gaming fanatic are much more likely to roll with the common fanboy opinions and much less likely to design to an audience besides themselves. At some studios, I imagine this is okay. But the designers I have the most trouble with are the ones who are so in-tune with the gamer zeitgeist that they necessarily tune out anything that doesn’t agree or is different.

Look for a wide variety in gaming taste: A real designer should have a wide interest in games, not just a single format.

Maybe. At our studio, we make sports games. Should it disqualify an applicant if he doesn’t play point-and-click adventure games, but he does have wide experience in broadcast presentation or in social gaming? A real designer (No True Scotsman…) shouldn’t necessarily have a wide interest in games, but a wide understanding of what makes a particular experience (the experiences you want in your titles) worthwhile.

Any designer should be able to describe mechanics in a way that is understandable. If you ask the designer candidate to come up with a sample feature for your game, ask them to describe how the feature will work mechanically. A real designer can describe mathematically and mechanically how a feature will function and be implemented with other game systems, down to every detail.

The obession with mechanics is keeping our industry stagnant. What’s just as important as mechanics are how they influence dynamic systems (as hinted in the quoted piece, sorta) and how and why this affects the aesthetic response from the player.

It’s fine to ask an engineer to explain in mechanical terms how they would implement such-and-such a system, and while it is extremely helpful for designers to have that knowledge, their main objective is to craft an experience for the players. Everyone from a random tester to the CEO has ideas on how to change mechanics and those that are particularly tech-savvy can usually describe them in algorithmic terms. But the great designers can explain how mechanical changes work within the aesthetic models that the team desires the player to have and why those mechanical changes are the best approach.

The how is so much less important than the why.

I agee with pretty much everything else in the article.

1 Comment

  1. An example of this mechanics thing is a game like tetris. The mechanic of putting shapes into rows so they disappear caters to how people like to put things in order (which you can see in a lot of other games).

    Put another way, the player is cleaning up the area as some antagonist tries to fill it up with oddly shaped items. The mechanics of rotating and dropping the pieces aren’t the source of the fun – they are an elegant way to give the experience of cleaning out the pit.

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