What Is Game Design: Step-by-Step Guide

Nov 3, 2021
14 mins read

Spoiler ahead: behind every iconic game stands a talented game designer. 

In today's market, game designers are doing just fine. What is game design from a career point of view? With an average salary of 90K, game designers rate their career satisfaction 4.5 out of 5 points. This high satisfaction rate is not common in creative careers and makes the game designer profession a top 3% of all careers in the US. It does not come as a surprise, giving the fact video game market is expected to grow by 8.2% CAGR from 2020 to 2027, with a forecasted revenue of USD 291.16B in 2027.

In this article, we will define game design by diving into the process, goals, and required experience for game designers. We will show you why game design is precisely what makes iconic games great.

What Is Game Design?

If you are looking for the simplest game design definition, here is a good one: it is a process of creating rules and operations for user interaction with the game. Game design is all about ideas and the creative vision of the project. The game designer's job is to turn these ideas into a game that will speak to the players emotionally.

“Gamers can feel when developers are passionate about their games. They can smell it like a dog smells fear. Don't be afraid to hold onto your unique vision: just be aware that it may not turn out exactly how you envisioned.” 

― Scott Rogers, Level Up!: The Guide to Great Video Game Design

Some can distinguish the creative and technical sides of game design. While the game design meaning lies in ensuring coordinated teamwork and a wholesome experience for the player, for the sake of understanding what is game design we will explore the creative and technical sides separately.

Creative Side

Game design is, first and foremost, about creativity. Yet, one must understand that despite the popular stereotypes, creativity rarely thrives in the conditions of sterile freedom. Being your best innovative and imaginative self implies finding the best solutions for the conditions you are in. One can say that many factors limit the artistry and expressiveness of what game designers do:

  • market demands 
  • budget
  • team’s qualification and possibilities
  • stakeholders
  • timeframe
  • platform, engine, and other technical parameters
  • target audience

We at Whimsy Games prefer to think that these are not limitations for the designer rather tools. For instance, a visual artist needs tangible tools to carry out their genius idea: paint, paintbrushes, digital tablets, or applications. These are not restrictions for the artist but rather methods and conditions within which they create. 

The game designer is in a similar situation. Engine, prototyping, market demands, and technics are tools to deliver an engaging product. 

Moreover, breakthrough ideas are never born overnight. When Einstein had his eureka moment, which led to the development of special relativity theory, he had years of scientific research and in-depth knowledge in theoretical physics. On top of that, it took him eight more years to develop his 'eureka' into a solid theory. Do not worry; we are not going further with Einstein! We just want to demonstrate that a genius idea (or a eureka moment in the science crowd) results from years of experience: it is a product of accumulated knowledge and work.

Let's go back from theoretical physics to game design. A creative, insightful game design solutions require experience, a deep understanding of all processes involved in game production, and the ability to coordinate a team's work to implement your idea.

Technical Side

The technical side of what game designers do is all about commerce and the market. The game designer has to achieve the following goals:

  • to attract more (than they initially gave) of the player's attention (GaaS)
  • using psychological and mathematical design techniques (or tricks:)), develop a product that will engage on a deep, emotional level 
  • do it all with the available budget and time frame.

Thus, the technical side of game development balances out the artistic and creative side. To fully grasp the essence of the creative and technical side of the industry, it is crucial to understand what does a game designer do?

What Does a Game Designer Do?

The simplest way to define game design is to drill into the intricacies of the game designer’s job. If we were to compare the game design industry to any other creative industry, the best parallel would be film production. The final product in both industries is a result of a harmonized work of a big team of experts. The game designer in this movie metaphor would be a movie director. 

Like a film director, game designers do not simply direct a group of people. The game designer choreographs a team of miscellaneous professionals. Their main task is to communicate with every team member (artists, engineers, animators, sound designers, level designers, etc.) in their own language. Thus, superb communication skills are the main prerequisite to a successful game designer’s career.

A game designer meaning creating and developing a game idea, which includes: 

  • understanding every process in the mechanics of the game planning and production 
  • utilizing team's capacities, market's demands, project goals to find the best possible solutions
  • ensuring smooth work in the team, where everyone understands their specific task and how it contributes to the common goal.

Why Do You Need Game Design?

You can find examples of games developed without game designs. We will not show these games (no, these were not developed by our team) because we prefer not to criticize: you can trust us that there are no successful examples. 

While it is hard to find a good game developed without a game designer, you can easily find amazing games designed by one person.

The game designer is a team's vision, team's inspiration, and team's hardest critic at the same time. Let us explain why with real examples.

Our Experience In Game Art Concept Design

Many praises are sung to talented game designers. But let us demonstrate to you how our game designers utilized their talent in practice. Here are successful examples of diverse solutions by Whimsy Games. 

Project: Super Panda Rush

Task: Boost Retention и Monetization

Solution: We added a timer to the button 'increase rewards', which shows how much is left to the closest reward. Moreover, we added a 'revive' button (a player can revive a character once for watching an ad and later for hard currency) with a 5-second timer. Rewards are distributed by increasing the value and the distance to it. This solution increased usage of the 'revive' button, boosting retention and monetization. The key to a game design solution here is psychology: to understand 'what is left', a player needs a couple of seconds. Afterward, the timer manipulates the feeling of a missed opportunity.

Project: Bingo: Love in Montana

Task: Boost Retention

Solution: Our team integrated quests, which are not connected to the main story and are completed only through the core gameplay. These quests are gradually added to the pool and motivate users to come back, play more and receive more awards. This solution increased the perception of core gameplay and made goals more interesting for the player. Moreover, our solution increased day 7 retention.

Difference Between Game Design and Game Development

If we were to peek inside a game production 'factory', we would distinguish two 'workshops' with different tasks (yet the same goal): game design and development. 

Game design takes care of the player's experience and knows all the tricks about keeping the player's attention and engaging with the player's emotions. The game developer overlooks the backstage (coding and engine) and makes sure to find the most technically sophisticated yet tangible way to ensure a unique experience for the player. 

This is a simplified, brief explanation. To fully grasp the intricacies of the game production process, one must distinguish between game design and game development. 

Game Development

Game developers are responsible for turning ideas into the actual product. There is a slight confusion in the terminology. Both the game production company (thus a team of people) and a person who overlooks the technicalities of transforming sketches into a playable game can be called a 'game developer'.

Game Designer vs. Game Developer

Let's make it clear because some people consider these two positions interchangeable. Game designers and game developers work together, yet, it is vital to understand the difference.

Game Developer:

  • A developer is accountable for all the technical decisions.
  • A developer orchestrates the technical process to ensure that the engine and codes represent the product.

Game Designer:

  • A designer is accountable for artistic and storytelling decisions. 
  • A designer ensures the integrity and marketability of the playable product.

To wrap up, we would like to leave you with this:

A genius developer can build a technically pristine product. Yet, no matter how technically advanced and bugless it is, it can easily be dull and dreary for the player. A genius designer can collect from assets an engaging game where the player, with great pleasure, will be combating crashes, bugs, and creepy graphics. 

Job Roles and Responsibilities

If we have begun sorting out roles in the game production, let's go all the way. To help you better understand game designer's and game developer's roles, here is an exhaustive list of the game production teams:

  • Product Designer is responsible for generating and testing hypotheses for increasing business metrics. 
  • Product Owner is responsible for documentation, oversees MVP, and ensures that the product represents the design concept throughout all stages of the production.
  • Art Owner oversees audio-visual parameters of the product. 
  • Technical Owner is responsible for the technical integrity of the product.
  • Quality Assurance Tester (QA) oversees quality control and testing-related documentation. 
  • Project Manager coordinates and ensures cooperation, oversees resources management and preparation of product roadmap and backlog.
  • Publishing Manager overseas operations plan and ensures that the team has all the assets to complete the project.

Educational Qualification

A fancy college diploma is not a prerequisite for the game designer's success. Now, when you have a general understanding of what does a game designer do, you might have already figured that a game developer is an incredibly comprehensively developed specialist. 

Here are the main proficiencies expected from the game designer:

  • Understanding of mechanics, engines, prototyping. Game designers cannot simply copy a great engine, they should understand how to use it for the specific idea.
  • Ability to deconstruct the mechanics of the gameplay. This is needed to understand what constitutes gameplay and how to construct it.
  • Analyze statistical data and work with aggregators for data-driven products.

These game design tasks can be solved separately by a data architect, engineer, analyst, or marketer. Yet, game production needs a person who can coordinate the work and aim for the integral result, which is all about the player’s emotion. 

Skills Required

Qualifications, experience and soft skills could be summed up with a famous phrase: "jack of all trades, master of none". 

To be more precise, here is a list of "all trades", expected from the game designer: 

  • Knowledge of the market 
  • Knowledge of key design principles
  • Ability to deconstruct and analyze
  • Ability to coherently and structurally describe your idea
  • Understanding of game balance
  • Ability to analyze and operate data, for instance, in Excel

Technical experience presumes the ability to create a prototype using any available instruments. To do so, the game designer should possess:

  • Experience with popular game engines
  • Drawing experience
  • Technical knowledge software technologies and programming languages
  • Ability to work with game assets.

Wrapping Up: Game Design Solutions

Do you remember how we started an article? Let us remind you: behind every iconic game stands a talented game designer. Now, when you know all about game design and game designer’s roles, we believe you have no doubts about the value of artistic and technically proficient game designers.

We at Whimsy Games know that great ideas need careful nurturing in an innovative, artistic, cooperative team. We have shown you how game design solutions targeted to interact with players' emotions can transform your game using real successful examples.

We believe in partnership and open communication: we ensure our client is included in the game design process throughout the whole project life cycle.  

Let us take the best care of your ideas. Contact us, and let's talk about how to turn your idea into a truly engaging game. 

FAQ

How long does it take to make a game design?

If you know a thing or two about game production, you understand that there is no simple answer to that question. The time required to create a game is influenced by numerous factors, to name a few:
- resources: AAA or an indie game
- team size and qualification
- platform
- genre
- engine
A timeframe for a game design can be anywhere between one month up to several years.

What is the difference between game design and level design?

One can say that there is no point in making parallels between game design and level design. Level design is focused on the spatial realm of the game. While game design oversees gameplay, the level design is responsible for the gameplay area. Some developers consider level design to be a part of a game design.

What makes a good game design?

We can come up with a long list of perfect game design features:
- Engaging storyline: great story always comes first
- Great graphics: great art does not always mean 'realistic' art. Your visual style should correspond with your story
- Challenge: the player needs to feel a sense of a real achievement, which is impossible without putting in work fist
- Controls and gameplay: even if everything mentioned works perfectly if a play cannot interact with a game, he can't feel how great it is.
First and foremost, a spectacular game design definition is all about human emotions. A good game is contextual, engaging, and moving. We just want to play it.

Denys Kliuch
CEO

I'm a CEO and a Co-Founder of Whimsy Games. Before that, I advanced my expertise in engineering, management, traffic marketing, and analytics working for large game development studios with a $1M+ monthly income. With a clear vision of how game development should work, I run Whimsy Games, being responsible for the marketing and sales of our products and services.