Getting Real in Game Design

Applying 37signals methodology to game development

So today, while aimlessly wandering the world of the web in search of hidden treasures, I actually happened to stumble upon a real gem. To be honest that’s not really something that happens often when I meander the net, so this discovery was an amazing breath of fresh air.

The treasure trove in question is 37signal’s design methodology book Getting Real.

Getting Real

While the methodology described in the book is more targeted at a software development process, there are some significant and highly worthwhile portions that apply to any and all design and development endeavors… and that includes games; board games, card games, role playing games, online games, etc.

Getting Real covers pre, in, and post development activities in a highly agile, do now only what’s necessary and be ready to both say no to yourself and your customers when asked for something unnecessary in an effort to make sure you deliver what’s needed approach to creation.

Reading the online version struck a me too chord in my current design methodology and I thought I’d take some time to explore some of the chapters and essays that were of significant interest to me.

Admittedly, since 37signals designs web applications, Getting Real is focused primarily on how the methodology applies to web app development. However, even in the first essay in chapter 1 we find this:

Note: While this book’s emphasis is on building a web app, a lot of these ideas are applicable to non-software activities too. The suggestions about small teams, rapid prototyping, expecting iterations, and many others presented here can serve as a guide whether you’re starting a business, writing a book, designing a web site, recording an album, or doing a variety of other endeavors. Once you start Getting Real in one area of your life, you’ll see how these concepts can apply to a wide range of activities.

My Master Plan: Getting Real in Game Design

I plan to do just as the book challenges.

I intend to take a look at some, though admittedly not all, of the chapters and essays in the online version of the book and examine how they might apply to game development. So stay with me as I explore the concept of taking Getting Real as a design philosophy and applying it to game development. We may both be surprised where it leads us.

As a show of practicing what I’m preaching and good faith, I’ll apply a concept from Getting Real and actually stop talking about what I intend to do and instead actually do it.

Chapter 1: Introduction

Essay 1: What is Getting Real?

According to 37signals, Getting Real is essentially about doing only what’s necessary to create and dropping all the periphery activities and efforts that drive focus and energy away from the actual product.

In general, it’s about jumping in and creating. Because you already know what needs to be built without wasting your time and efforts pretending to be designing the product in meetings while knowing that what’s decided in the meetings isn’t what the final product will, or needs, to be.

Getting Real is about not trying to make one product to rule them all, it’s about identifying, and then focusing on addressing a specific need… the more specific the better. Getting Real focuses on the customer experience as the design determinate factor, not some arbitrarily brainstormed list of features and as a result, delivers just what customers need and eliminates anything they don’t.

Applying the lesson to game development:

Obviously something about the simplicity of the concept appeals to me or I wouldn’t be devoting time to examine the methodology.

As a game developer, fun and enjoyment, and only fun and enjoyment, should be what my products provide. The ultimate goal of all my products (games) should be to deliver fun to my customers (players.) Failing that indicates that I have created a poor game or haven’t actually created a game at all.

Of course what’s fun to one person may not appeal to another, but every game has an audience and each design decision should be with that audience in mind.

For example, the card game I Shoot Randy isn’t for non-competitive game players while the board game Happily Ever After is obviously focused at young girl gamers who enjoy collaborative play.

From a game developer view, Getting Real means finding your audience and building to their tastes while always focusing on offering fun while removing anything that doesn’t foster or directly generate that fun.

In short, focus on your customers and meet their desires.

Up next: Chapter 2: The Starting Line

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