Worlds of Design: Game Design Rules of Thumb - Part 2

In the first article I outlined some rules of thumb I think are important to keep in mind when designing games. Here's a few more.

In the first article I outlined some rules of thumb I think are important to keep in mind when designing games. Here's a few more.

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Article courtesy of Pixabay.
A law is valuable, not because it is a law, but because there is right in it.” - Henry Ward Beecher
As a reminder, these rules of thumb are not listed in any particular order. I consider them all important, and speaking of which, here's my two contributions:

Laws of Management

Tn these two statements chaos is by definition undesirable. The first one:
The increase in chaos is proportional to the square of the number of people involved.”
In other words, the bigger the (design) group the more complex things are going to be. Four people (=16) are less than half as chaotic as six (=36 units of chaos).

The second one is something you can do more to control.
The increase in chaos is proportional to the cube of the number of people in charge.”
You don't have to have very many people in charge before you increase the chaos a great deal, and the lesson here is have just one person in charge. One person = 1, two persons =8, three persons = 27 (units of chaos).

Law of Problem-Solving

Well understood problems are best solved by one person; poorly understood problems are best solved by groups of people.
This rule of thumb is actually a scientific observation. Think of adding up a column of numbers manually. Would you rather have a group do this, or one person, especially keeping in mind the group costs a lot more money? If you have one person who is good at adding columns of numbers, that's usually all you need. Use groups to solve problems only when that makes sense.

Laws of Productivity

If you don't make the prototype you are not going to get anywhere.”
I hope this is obvious. You've got to start somewhere, and any game has to be created to be played.
Playing other people’s games rarely helps you design games.”
This is not to say that you shouldn't play games. You need to have played enough games to know them generally, but game design is not about you playing games. For many (but not all) designers, being a designer makes them look at the inner workings of a game, which often results in less pleasure in playing.

Law of Ideas

“‘Great’ ideas are dime a dozen because almost all of the ideas people think are great, are not.”
Ideas are worthless in some sense, because everyone has game ideas just like virtually “everyone” has fingers. Even the best idea can be poorly executed and often is. Many would say there are no great ideas only great games. and we usually don't know they’re great until years after publication. Further:
You have to work at getting ideas, you can’t just wait for them to float by.”
Yes, there are exceptions. But in general, there's a big difference between coming up with ideas and acting on them.

1-10-100 Rule

"Fix problems now to save problems later."
This rule which comes from W. Edwards Deming and is part of what's now known as Total Quality Management (TQM). It’s a rule of thumb. Find the problem, something that needs fixing, early in a production process, and it costs one unit of effort, money, whatever to fix. Find it after production but before it's released and the cost to fix is 10 units of whatever. When the product is out in the public's hands, a problem costs 100 units to fix. Deming was interested in assembly-line manufacturing, but it applies to game design as well. And that's of course why we playtest games. We try to playtest them a lot, to find problems early in the process.

Law of Emotion

The game is not ‘my baby’."
This one is very difficult for game designers who have spent so much time and energy invested in a game. You may feel that way, but to everyone else it’s just another game amongst many. If you treat it like it was your baby, you are more likely to screw it up by retaining things that should be ditched. And by not seeing flaws because it’s Yours.

Law of Exhaustion

The more exhaustive (long) the rules, the more often a reader will get exhausted (or not start reading them).”
The rules of a board game can be too long, but this primarily applies to RPGs. This mileage may vary depending on the kind of game you're trying to create, but generally speaking if you want to make a game broadly appealing, the more complex and comprehensive the rules the less the audience willing to play it. The longest RPG ruleset I’ve heard of is 700,000 words, the equivalent of more than seven novels of average length. Not something I’m going to read to play a game . . .

Law of Separation

"A game requires rules, but does not require settings or adventures.”
I think it's important to keep these separate in your mind. Including a setting or adventure (or both) with a set of rules helps players get going, but those are not part of the game. The game is a set (description) of mechanics. You can have a good setting and a poor game (tabletop Dystopia Rising). Or a bad setting and a good game.

So that's my list.

Your Turn: What have I missed, in your experience?
 

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Lewis Pulsipher

Lewis Pulsipher

Dragon, White Dwarf, Fiend Folio
To me, D&D is a mid-range system, while the truly neutral ones are systems like GURPS or BRP.
Having played quite a lot of GURPS (although not for years) I'd strongly dispute that GURPS is neutral. First it's a toolkit rather than a complete system; you need to set an awful lot of toggles for any game. Second GURPS always has its grit and its heft; it will always be a bad system for running e.g. a Leverage game. I simply don't believe in the "truly neutral system"
 

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Emerikol

Adventurer
I've always been a system guy but an implied setting is obvious. Rules imply the world works a certain way and thus as world builder you have to construct something that fits those rules. That is what I'd call the implied setting. D&D traditionally has always had a pretty strong implied setting.

So I don't think the debate is about implied setting nor is that rule mentioned above. The key is how intrinsically tied the game is to a particular setting. How much work would it be for a GM to extract the games setting out of the rules and play it in their own world? I for one don't want a game that makes it very hard to do that. There are popular games though that do exactly that so on the success meter I'm not sure it's relevant. Either approach can sell. D&D has always been setting neutral. Runequest always had Glorantha by default. World of Darkness is tightly tied to it's world setting.

And before anyone says "I can vary a lot about the world while playing in X", I agree but there is a distinction and you know it.
 

Professor'sLab

Villager
It's where everyone plays a druid -
In the first article I outlined some rules of thumb I think are important to keep in mind when designing games. Here's a few more.


As a reminder, these rules of thumb are not listed in any particular order. I consider them all important, and speaking of which, here's my two contributions:

Laws of Management

Tn these two statements chaos is by definition undesirable. The first one:

In other words, the bigger the (design) group the more complex things are going to be. Four people (=16) are less than half as chaotic as six (=36 units of chaos).

The second one is something you can do more to control.

You don't have to have very many people in charge before you increase the chaos a great deal, and the lesson here is have just one person in charge. One person = 1, two persons =8, three persons = 27 (units of chaos).

Law of Problem-Solving


This rule of thumb is actually a scientific observation. Think of adding up a column of numbers manually. Would you rather have a group do this, or one person, especially keeping in mind the group costs a lot more money? If you have one person who is good at adding columns of numbers, that's usually all you need. Use groups to solve problems only when that makes sense.

Laws of Productivity


I hope this is obvious. You've got to start somewhere, and any game has to be created to be played.

This is not to say that you shouldn't play games. You need to have played enough games to know them generally, but game design is not about you playing games. For many (but not all) designers, being a designer makes them look at the inner workings of a game, which often results in less pleasure in playing.

Law of Ideas


Ideas are worthless in some sense, because everyone has game ideas just like virtually “everyone” has fingers. Even the best idea can be poorly executed and often is. Many would say there are no great ideas only great games. and we usually don't know they’re great until years after publication. Further:

Yes, there are exceptions. But in general, there's a big difference between coming up with ideas and acting on them.

1-10-100 Rule


This rule which comes from W. Edwards Deming and is part of what's now known as Total Quality Management (TQM). It’s a rule of thumb. Find the problem, something that needs fixing, early in a production process, and it costs one unit of effort, money, whatever to fix. Find it after production but before it's released and the cost to fix is 10 units of whatever. When the product is out in the public's hands, a problem costs 100 units to fix. Deming was interested in assembly-line manufacturing, but it applies to game design as well. And that's of course why we playtest games. We try to playtest them a lot, to find problems early in the process.

Law of Emotion


This one is very difficult for game designers who have spent so much time and energy invested in a game. You may feel that way, but to everyone else it’s just another game amongst many. If you treat it like it was your baby, you are more likely to screw it up by retaining things that should be ditched. And by not seeing flaws because it’s Yours.

Law of Exhaustion


The rules of a board game can be too long, but this primarily applies to RPGs. This mileage may vary depending on the kind of game you're trying to create, but generally speaking if you want to make a game broadly appealing, the more complex and comprehensive the rules the less the audience willing to play it. The longest RPG ruleset I’ve heard of is 700,000 words, the equivalent of more than seven novels of average length. Not something I’m going to read to play a game . . .

Law of Separation


I think it's important to keep these separate in your mind. Including a setting or adventure (or both) with a set of rules helps players get going, but those are not part of the game. The game is a set (description) of mechanics. You can have a good setting and a poor game (tabletop Dystopia Rising). Or a bad setting and a good game.

So that's my list.

Your Turn: What have I missed, in your experience?
While playing other people's games may not assist in aiding your design, I certainly advocate to my clients that they should undoubtedly have exposure to a great many games and have "read the literature" of titles in their respective genre.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
While playing other people's games may not assist in aiding your design, I certainly advocate to my clients that they should undoubtedly have exposure to a great many games and have "read the literature" of titles in their respective genre.
I mean who could argue with that? Anyone who wants to master a profession of any sort has to be aware of what the masters before have accomplished.
 

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