My Thirteen Rules of Game Design

People frequently ask me „Tomek, how do you create such innovative gameplays?”. Well, not really, but I wish they were. So, to establish my game designer cred I wrote down my thirteen rules of game design.

  1. The choices made by the player are the atoms of the gameplay. There is no gameplay without choices. The goal of game design is to make these choices interesting.
  2. The choices must have consequences, either in the game or in the player’s mind, otherwise they are meaningless.
  3. The more unpredictable the consequences are, the harder the game becomes. There is a sweet spot to that.
  4. There are ways to make the consequences more unpredictable, like time constraints, AI, randomness, deterministic chaos, hidden information.
  5. Gameplay can also be viewed as possibilities offered to the player constrained by limitations.
  6. Possibilities are player’s actions and consequences of said actions.
  7. The game is made deep by a large number of possibilities available to the player.
  8. The large number of possibilities can be created either through many actions, or through many possible consequences of different ways of performing an action.
  9. The latter way creates the elusive „easy to learn, difficult to master” gameplay.
  10. Limitations are what creates the choices by forcing the player to choose one possibility over the other.
  11. Limitations should not be arbitrary. It is the best to disguise limitations as opportunity costs or as adverse consequences of actions. That way you do not reduce the depth of the gameplay too much.
  12. The most useful conjunction in the game design is „but”.
  13. Avoid the pitfall of scale. Designing Skinner’s boxes and auxiliary features can blind you to the fact that you do not have a solid core gameplay.

I have found or invented those rules as tools for my own, personal use. As such they are not supposed to limit the designer, because why should I limit myself? They are more like helpful prescriptions for various problems that arise during the design and prototyping process. They are especially useful when I feel something is wrong about the game, but I do not instinctively know what. The rules both allow me to ask questions that reveal the hidden problems and provide solutions to them.

In the following weeks I will explain all the rules and their applications in details, so stay tuned!


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