I recently started working on a new game and wanted to share some of the questions I ask myself early during the design process while deciding whether it is a game I want to explore further from a publishing point of view.
How many players will the game support?
Some designs work better for low or high player counts, and it is important to me to always support 1 – 4 players, and ideally 5 where possible.
Does the game feel fun?
It’s very easy to put together a group of game mechanisms that can be played through until an endpoint is reached, but doing it in such a way that the journey is fun is much harder. I want to make sure my core concepts are fun and not just clever or interesting.
What’s the standout system?
Each of my games should have at least one new system, something that makes it stand out from the crowd, that will excite people, and feels new and exciting.
What’s the key visual piece?
A game needs to look good, and having a key visual piece that looks great on the table and gets people talking is a must. Is there something in this game that could tick that box?
These days, my biggest focus is the overall experience the players have, and this goes well beyond the game design itself. It encompasses everything from how long it takes to set up, the teaching time, how intuitive it is, how fun it feels, the types of interactions you have with the pieces, and how long it takes to pack away. When I look at this game and the direction it is going, how will it measure against each step in the overall experience from opening the box to putting it back on your shelf?
Who is the potential audience for this game? Is this something that you’ll see on the shelf in Target, or is it for the dedicated hardcore gamer? While I’ll happily design games on both ends of the scale, games that hit a sweet spot in the middle stand out more to me. I want deep, thought-provoking games that have a wider reach.
Does anyone want this game?
It’s always important to sit down and question whether anyone actually wants this game. Are there already loads of games like this, or does it not already exist for a reason?
I have a core group of local friends who are always the first to playtest my games. As soon as I want to try the game with someone, these are the people I go to. Each of them only gets to experience the game for the first time once, so how do they react? Are they excited and actively talking to me about the game after the first play, or are they more agreeable and just responding to questions? Measuring those first reactions is a strong indicator of whether the game has something special about it.
If I choose to follow a game through until its completion, then I am committing at least 2 years of my life to the game. From the initial design process through to crowdfunding, publishing, sales, and translating, it’s a huge amount of work. I will only ever commit to this if I am personally passionate about the game, can see its true potential, and love playing the game.
Should all of these things give the right results, then I’ll typically move forward with the game. This means I’ll start refining the design, looking at what needs to be improved, cut, and trying to fill any holes. I’ll spend many months with pen and paper getting the game to a good state before integrating graphic design, artwork, or expanding my playtesting groups. At any point, the game may still be cut, but at least while I’m working on it, I know it has the potential for being the next game I publish.