Strategies for Game Design

Like Concept Art, Game Designs Go Through Dozens of Iterations Art by Joey Goodlow

Like Concept Art, Game Designs Go Through Dozens of Iterations
Art by Joey Goodlow

It might be fun to look at some design strategies early in pre-production. These are quick snapshots of strategies; I will have much more game design details coming soon in my personal blog for game students at


Top Down Design: Marketing and Product Managers know very well how powerful information about the marketplace, competitors, platforms, trends, demographics, purchase patterns and more help make successful games that hit their mark! Knowing  the difference between what makes a story driven Final Fantasy style RPG vs open world RPG like Elder Scrolls vs a classic dungeon crawler like Dungeon Master can really tap into key markets. Getting the whole team to understand the vision and to have them buy into it is also key because gamers are really smart about watered- down designs.  

Bottom Up Design: Hard-core games, eSports professionals and many old school designers love to look at game mechanics, game features and genre standards to build up a game from nothing to a fully immersive world. You often start with a character, a high-level storyline, some core mechanics and a character description. The controls and the abilities of the character(s) are envisioned by the game design defines and builds up the rest of the design. Platform games, driving games and story driven first-person shooters are often built with this design strategy.

Gold Standards Design: AAA Studios are often better funded and can push the limits of quality farther than indie developers. Blizzard, Ubisoft, EA and Take Two are constantly pushing the standards up in everything like storytelling, for example, through realistic characters or huge worlds that take thousands of hours to explore. On the art front, features like character animation to hair simulation to destructible environments are constantly getting better and closer to Pixar quality real time. Nothing wrong with that! The sheer size of a game like Skyrim or GTA 5 set gold standards with every release.

Better Mousetrap: Most game developers (and publishers) look at current trends and established genres and “build a better mousetrap”. Although not sexy, it is clear gamers are like moviegoers; they like the comfort of knowing what they are buying and often like to stay within a genre’s established design. RTS, first person shooter, platformer, racing, etc all have huge followings and every year die hard genre players may buy several games in one category. In movies, teenage comedies, love stories, action adventure, mystery, etc. also follow established conventions and yet every year another few movies succeed in each category.  So, maybe creating a better mousetrap is not so bad after all.

Left Field: Creating the first Clash of Clans, GTA or Myst takes a lot of risk and even more creativity. Developers who pride themselves on designing new experiences have a chance to start and maybe rule over a new genre, or sub genre.  Of course, there are many more failures, but these games clearly show a home run can last for years, with great sales and tons of acclaim.

Character, Story and World Design: As you would expect, story and character driven games often build up their design around strong, deep character, story and world design. As any good Dungeon Master knows, a ton of work is done before a D&D game starts. Any RPG, adventure game or story driven first-person shooter will benefit from tomes of character, story and world building.

These are only the tip of the iceberg as far as strategies for game design. After establishing a high level view of the game design, there are many ways to approach the design and development, or Design Tactics, in production. Some of these tactical approaches will be covered in a future blog.