Game design

Game design

Game design, a subset of game development, is the process of designing the content and rules of a game in the pre-production stage[1] and design of gameplay, environment, storyline, and characters during production stage. The term is also used to describe both the game design embodied in a game as well as documentation that describes such a design.[citation needed] Game design requires artistic and technical competence as well as writing skills.[2]



Early in video game history, game designers were lead programmer and often the only programmers for a game, and this remained true as the video game industry expanded in the 1970s. This person also sometimes comprised the entire art team. This is the case of such noted designers as Sid Meier, John Romero, Chris Sawyer and Will Wright. A notable exception to this policy was Coleco, which from its very start separated the function of design and programming.[citation needed]

As games became more complex and computers and consoles became more powerful, the job of the game designer became separate from the lead programmer. Soon game complexity demanded team members focused on game design. Many early veterans chose the game design path eschewing programming and delegating those tasks to others.[citation needed]

Today, it is rare to find a video or computer game where the principal programmer is also the principal designer, except in the case of casual games, such as Bejeweled. With very complex games, such as MMORPGs, or a big budget action or sports title, designers may number in the dozens. In these cases, there are generally one or two principal designers and many junior designers who specify subsets or subsystems of the game. In larger companies like Electronic Arts, each aspect of the game (control, level design) may have a separate producer, lead designer and several general designers.[citation needed]


Game design starts with an idea,[3][4][5][6] often a modification on an existing concept.[3][7] The game idea may fall within one or several genres. Designers often experiment with mixing genres.[8][9] The game designer usually produces an initial game proposal document containing the concept, gameplay, feature list, setting and story, target audience, requirements and schedule, staff and budget estimates.[10]

Many decisions are made during the course of a game's development about the game's design; it is the responsibility of the designer to decide which elements will be implemented, based on, for example, consistency with the game's vision, budget or hardware limitations.[11] Design changes may have a significant positive or negative impact on required resources.[12]

The designer may use scripting languages to implement and preview design ideas without necessarily modifying the game's codebase.[13][14]

A game designer often plays video games and demos to follow the game market development.[15]

It is common for the game designer's name to misleadingly be given an undue amount of association to the game, neglecting the rest of the development team.[16]

Funding game publishers must be taken into account, who may have specific expectations from a game[17] as most video games are market-driven — developed to sell for profit.[18] However, if financial issues do not influence designer's decisions, the game becomes design- or designer-driven; few games are designed this way because of lack of funding.[19] Alternatively, a game may be technology-driven, such as Quake (1996),[20] to show off a particular hardware achievement or to market the game engine.[20] Finally, rarely a game may be art-driven, such as Myst (1993),[21] mainly to show off impressive visuals designed by artists.[21]

In The Study of Games, Brian Sutton-Smith writes:

Each person defines games in his own way — the anthropologists and folklorists in terms of historical origins; the military men, businessmen,and educators in terms of usages; the social scientists in terms of psychological and social functions. There is overwhelming evidence in all this that the meaning of games is, in part, a function of the ideas of those who think about them. ...

... A game designer is a particular kind of designer, much like a graphic designer, industrial designer, or architect. A game designer is not necessarily a programmer, visual designer, or project manager, although sometimes he or she can also play these roles in the creation of a game. A game designer might work alone or as part of a larger team. A game designer might create card games, social games, video games, or any other kind of game. The focus of a game designer is designing game play, conceiving and designing rules and structures that result in an experience for players.

Thus game design, as a discipline, requires a focus on games in and of themselves. Rather than placing games in the service of another field such as sociology, literary criticism, or computer science, our aim is to study games within their own disciplinary space. Because game design is an emerging discipline, we often borrow from other areas of knowledge — from mathematics and cognitive science; from semiotics and cultural studies. We may not borrow in the most orthodox manner, but we do so in the service of helping to establish a field of game design proper.

Game designer

A game designer is a person who designs gameplay, conceiving and designing the rules and structure of a game.[22][23][24] Many designers start their career in testing department, where mistakes by others can be seen first-hand.[25]

  • Lead designer coordinates the work of other designers and is the main visionary of the game.[26][27] Lead designer ensures team communication, makes large design decisions, and presents design outside of the team.[28] Often the lead designer is technically and artistically astute.[29] Keeping well-presented documentation also falls within the lead designer responsibilities.[30] Lead designer may be the founder of a game development company or may be sent by the publisher, if the game's concept is provided by the publisher.[27]
  • Game mechanics designer or systems designer designs and balances gameplay mechanics.[27]
  • Level designer or environment designer is a position becoming prominent in the recent years.[16] Level designer is the person responsible for creating game environment, levels, and missions.[31][32][33][34]
  • Writer is a person often employed part-time to conceive game's narrative, dialogue, commentary, cutscene narrative, journals, video game packaging content, hint system, etc.[35][36][37][38] It is responsibility of the writer to collaborate with primary designers[38][39] to seamlessly place this content into the game, creating immersion, avoiding repetition, providing feedback, etc.[40] Writing for games involves a different set of skills from those for traditional works, such as novels or screenplays, as the writer must collaborate with the other designers during the writing process. [38]


In 2010, a game designer with more than six years of experience earned an average of US$65,000, $54,000 with three to six years of experience and $44,000 with less than 3 years of experience. Lead designers earned $75,000 with three to six years of experience and $95,000 with more than six years of experience.[41]


World design

World design is the creation of a backstory, setting, and theme for the game; often done by a lead designer.[42]

System design

System design is the creation of game rules and underlying mathematical patterns.[42]

Content design

Content design is the creation of characters, items, puzzles, and missions.[42]

Game writing

Game writing involves writing dialogue, text, and story.[42]

Level design

Level design is the construction of world levels and its features.[31][32][33][42]

User interface design

User interface design constructs the user interactions and feedback interface.[42]

Game elements


Numerous games have narrative elements which give a context to an event in a game, make the activity of playing it less abstract and enhance its entertainment value, although narrative elements are not always clearly present or present at all. The original version of Tetris is an example of a game apparently without narrative. It should be noted that some[who?] narratologists claim that all games have a narrative element. Some go further and claim that games are essentially a form of narrative. Narrative in practice can be the starting point for the development of a game, or alternatively can be added to a design that started as a set of game mechanics.[citation needed]


Gameplay is a commonly used term used to describe the interactive aspects of video game design. Gameplay involves player interaction with the game, usually for the purpose of entertainment, education or training.

Design process

The design process varies from designer to designer and companies have different formal procedures and philosophies.[43]

The typical "textbook" approach is to start with a concept or a previously completed game and from there create a game design document.[citation needed] This document is intended to map out the complete game design and acts as a central resource for the development team. This document should ideally be updated as the game evolves throughout the production process.

Designers are frequently expected to adapt to multiple roles of widely varying nature: For example, concept prototyping can be assisted with the use of pre-existing engines and tools like Game Maker. Level designs might be done first on paper and again for the game engine using a 3D modelling tool. Scripting languages are used for many elements—AI, cutscenes, GUI, environmental processes, and many other behaviours and effects—that designers would want to tune without a programmer's assistance. Setting, story and character concepts require a research and writing process. Designers may oversee focus testing, write up art and audio asset lists, and write game documentation. In addition to the skillset, designers are ideally clear communicators with attention to detail and ability to delegate responsibilities appropriately.[citation needed]

Design approval[clarification needed] in the commercial setting is a continuous process from the earliest stages until the game ships:

When a new project is being discussed (either internally, or as a result of dialogue with potential publishers), the designer may be asked to write a sell-sheet of short concepts, followed by a one or two-page pitch of specific features, audience, platform, and other details. Designers will first meet with leads in other departments to establish agreement on the feasibility of the game given the available time, scope, and budget. If the pitch is approved, early milestones focus on the creation of a fleshed-out design document. Some developers advocate a prototyping phase before the design document is written to experiment with new ideas before they become part of the design.[original research?]

As production progresses, designers are asked to make frequent decisions about elements missing from the design. The consequences of these decisions are hard to predict and often can only be determined after creating the full implementation. These are referred to as the unknowns of the design, and the faster they are uncovered, the less risk the team faces later in the production process. Outside factors such as budget cuts or changes in milestone expectations also result in cuts to the design, and while overly large cuts can take the heart out of a project, cuts can also result in a streamlined design with only the essential features, polished well.[original research?]

Towards the end of production, designers take the brunt of responsibility for ensuring that the gameplay remains at a uniform standard throughout the game, even in very long games. This task is made more difficult under "crunch" conditions, as the entire team may begin to lose sight of the core gameplay once pressured to hit a date for a finished and bug-free game.[original research?]

See also


  1. ^ Brathwaite, Schreiber 2009, p. 2
  2. ^ Adams, Rollings 2003, pp. 20, 22-25
  3. ^ a b Bates 2004, p. 3
  4. ^ Adams, Rollings 2003, pp. 29-30
  5. ^ Bethke 2003, p. 75
  6. ^ Chandler 2009, p. 3
  7. ^ Adams, Rollings 2003, pp. 31-33
  8. ^ Bates 2004, p. 6
  9. ^ Oxland 2004, p. 25
  10. ^ Bates 2004, pp. 14-16
  11. ^ Bates 2004, p. 160
  12. ^ Bates 2004, pp. 160-161
  13. ^ Bates 2004, p. 161
  14. ^ Oxland 2004, pp. 297-298
  15. ^ Bates 2004, pp. 161-162
  16. ^ a b Bates 2004, p. 162
  17. ^ Bates 2004, p. 12
  18. ^ Adams, Rollings 2003, pp. 47-48
  19. ^ Adams, Rollings 2003, pp. 48-49
  20. ^ a b Adams, Rollings 2003, p. 51
  21. ^ a b Adams, Rollings 2003, p. 52
  22. ^ Salem, Zimmerman 2003
  23. ^ Oxland 2004, p. 292
  24. ^ Moore, Novak 2010, p. 74
  25. ^ Bates 2004, p. 179
  26. ^ Oxland 2004, pp. 292-296
  27. ^ a b c Bethke 2003, p. 40
  28. ^ Oxland 2004, pp. 293-294
  29. ^ Oxland 2004, pp. 294, 295
  30. ^ Oxland 2004, pp. 295-296
  31. ^ a b Moore, Novak 2010, p. 76
  32. ^ a b Shahrani 2006, part I
  33. ^ a b Oxland 2004, pp. 296-297
  34. ^ Bethke 2003, pp. 40-41
  35. ^ Bates 2004, p. 163
  36. ^ Brathwaite, Schreiber 2009, p. 171
  37. ^ Moore, Novak 2010, p. 94
  38. ^ a b c Bethke 2003, p. 41
  39. ^ Bates 2004, p. 164
  40. ^ Bates 2004, pp. 164-165
  41. ^ Fleming, Jeffrey (April 2008). "9th Annual Salary Survey". Game Developer (United Business Media) 17 (4): 8. 
  42. ^ a b c d e f Brathwaite, Schreiber 2009, p. 5
  43. ^ Bates 2004, p. 151

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