Succeeding by underdoing your competetion

Getting Real in Game Design

Less, the new More

Chapter 2 of Getting Real teaches that Less is the new More.

  • Instead of trying to offer your customers a bit of everything under the sun, focus and offer them all of one thing.
  • Instead of trying to be a jack-of-all-trades and master of nothing, focus on being the master of a small subset of trades.

Now here’s a concept I can get behind. Readers of this blog will recognize that I’ve evangelized the concept of less is more in game play, but here we’re bringing the methodology to the design side of the table as well.

I particularly like this line from the essay Build Less:

Defensive, paranoid companies can’t think ahead, they can only think behind. They don’t lead, they follow.

If you want to build a company that follows, you might as well put down this book now.

Paraphrasing for our purpose would yield:

Defensive, paranoid game developers can’t think ahead, they can only think behind. They don’t lead, they follow.

If you want to build a game that follows, you might as well stop reading this blog now.

Is that clear enough?


I’m guessing you’re currently wondering, “How exactly am I supposed to offer less and compete with the big names like Hasbro and WotC and PopCap?”

Offer different by offering less:

Because you aren’t really offering less, you’re offering different.

Instead of trying to beat D&D by creating another D&D (or any other Fantasy Heartbreaker), focus on creating a better High Fantasy game than D&D by creating one with less rules, less structure and less crunch or less fluff.

Create games with:

  • Less rules/options/preferences

Focus instead on creating games with:

  • More fun/enjoyment

So how does one go about creating simpler games to compete with the big boys?

To begin with, one simply gets started creating games.

Getting started:

  • Start by focusing on creating a game you want to play, ignoring where it leads you and what you leave behind.
  • Focus only on the game as you see it should be and ignore those who want to “improve” it by adding to it layers of complexity.
  • Make sure your game can be described in a simple sentence. If you need more than a sentence to describe your goal, pare it down until you can do so.

Astrolomancer is an epic level combat-centric rpg designed around the d12, zodiac and elemental magic.

Up & Down is a card game where the player wins by emptying their hand while playing runs.

I Shoot Randy is a simple N vs. 1 card game where everyone tries to kill off the player acting as Randy.

d6-lite is a framework for playing genre-specific rpgs in a single page with a d6.

Mad Scientist is a card game where players build monsters before the angry townspeople come calling.

Happily Ever After is a collaborative board game where players work together to overcome obstacles in a fairy tale setting.

Politics is a board game of cutthroat politics in a race to be elected President.

Staying focused:

  • Any time someone says, “You should add…” or “You really need…” ignore them. Don’t be rude about it. Simply smile, nod, and then ignore them.
  • Wherever you find something unnecessary for the core game, eliminate it. Get your game down to the fun by getting rid of anything that gets in the way of fun.
  • Know what you’re developing is X and isn’t Y, and make sure you use that as both a sword and shield; one for picking off your opponents who do X poorly because they also do Y, and one for deflecting requests that you do Y in addition to X.
  • Build your passion. If the game development is a chore, it will show. If you can’t find enjoyment in the process, find a different game to build.

Does your game really need players to describe a boat-load of powers and skills? Then eliminate it.

Does your game really need a laundry list of weapons with modifiers? Then drop it.

Do you really five or six core mechanics? Then reduce them to one.

Do you really need all those options and preference screens? Then don’t waste time creating them.

Setting goals:

  • Have a drop dead date that is an absolute. Don’t waver from that release date.
  • If something puts the release in jeopardy, eliminate it.
  • If you can’t eliminate it, find a simpler solution.
  • If you can’t find a simpler solution, make it part of an expansion or version 2 and go back to the core of the game.

That’s how you succeed by doing less. Realize that less is more when less is different. Pare down that game idea and get started creating.

Up next, Chapter 3: Stay Lean.

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