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Read me first: How to get a gaming culture

Page: DesignArticle.Article-GamingCulture - Last Modified : Wed, 26 Mar 14 - 2621 Visits

Author : Eric Pietrocupo

Note: If you have played a couple of euro board games and if you are currently, as an adult, playing board games. Then this article might not be for you

I will just start with an illustration:

How does a writer learn how to write books ... by reading books!
How does a musician learn how to play music ... by listening to music!
How does a director learn how to make movies ... by watching at movies!

So let me ask this question:

How does a game designer learn how to design games ... by playing games!

Games are not for kids

That might look actually stupid to say, but I have seen a lot of novice designer that never played a serious games in their lives and are in the process in designing a game. The biggest problem is that most people consider board games to be for kids, so they do not play games. Let me tell you something, if the only thing you have played in life is Monopoly and Poker ... you will make a game that looks like Monopoly and Poker. I have done clone of other games too when I was young, so I know what I am talking about.

The goal of a game designers is to be able to analyse and understand how a game works so that he could eventually create one himself. If you only know monopoly and poker, you will probably end up with a roll and move gambling game. When some new designer shows me a game that has roll and move mechanic, it automatically tell me that this designer has no gaming culture at all.

So the first things is that you must break the social stigma that says that games are for kids. Hasbro and a few other companies do make games for kids, but most of the titles are designed for adults and a large portion of them are so much complex that a kid could not play them.

Game Designer is a poor man job

It's true that there has been some success stories about people making a lot of money with board games (Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, etc). But in reality you have better chance to win the jack pot at the lottery than designing a game that will generate a lot of money. There is no million dollar ideas, if you want to design games to make money, stop designing game right now, because you won't make any. You should better spend your time buying lottery tickets. It's a poor man job, the royalties out of a game sold 50$ is about 1$ for the designer (2.5% of retail price). It's much less than writing a book which is already low (10% of retail price).

So if people does not make that much money with books, unless they write a lot of them or write best sellers, imagine how much money you will make with games. So this is why game design is reserved only for the passionate people who design games because they enjoy the process of designing and playing games. All business people should stay away, there is no money to be made here.

Play Games

You must be willing to play a lot of games indefinitely until you want to stop designing games. This will increase your skill to understand and analyse games. It will allow you to avoid the problem other games had. It will open you to new ideas and will make sure that your game does not look like the clone of another game.

If you do not want to play board games then stop designing games right now. If you want to play some games but have no idea what to play, a good idea is to start with classic euro games. They will enlighten you in very different ways and will change your life forever. Below there is a list of key games that you should play many times.

  • Settlers of Catan
  • Carcassone
  • Puerto Rico
  • Ticket to Ride

Now don't give me excuses "like there is no shop to buy them", "I have nobody to play with"! 3 of the games above are available on Xbox Live arcade for around 10$ and Puerto Rico and a couple of other games are available on Iphones. The more that the time passes, the more games get released on electronic devices. Since theses are all electronic downloads, if you have the device you can have the game.

Join a Community

Third, join a gaming forum like board game geek (www.boardgamegeek.com) and talks to other people about games, problems encountered, read and write comments, etc. You can also join a board game group in your local area where you will be able to play many different games you do not know. You could also show up to local game conventions. Some times stores hold some gaming nights or tournaments where you can play.

A frequent excuse I get is "I don't know how to play", my answer is "If you only play games you know, then you are never going to play anything". In my gaming group, we teach the rules to all games played. It can happen that sometimes all player know the rules, bust most of the time, there is always newbies, or some people need to refresh their memory because they played like 2 years ago. So teaching rules is normal and it will happen every time, so don't be scared about it.

Analyse and modify games

After playing a lot of game, a good suggestion is to start modifying games. With a lot of plays, you will be able to determine what you like or not in games. There might be a couple of games that looked good, but was not what you were expecting. This is the time to take these games and change them the way you like.

Modifying a game is much less complicated than creating a new one because there is already a structure set up. This is why I suggest designing variants first, it will give you experience for the real thing without making it too hard. Go through the whole design process: design, prototype, playtest, and see how the game react. With more and more experience, you will be ready to do the whole job.

Designer community

A good thing could be to join a community of designer that playtest each other's game or join the board game designers forum (wwww.BGDF.com) or any other community that talks about about game design. Play testing other people games is very interesting because you learn stuff while giving advice to other designers. Forums are a good place to ask for feedback, ideas and help.

Designer experience

Game design is all about experience, the more you do, the better you are. There is some books that could help you raise your skills in certain areas, but the best way to improve yourself is to constantly design new ideas or modify games. Your first few games will all be bad, you need to design a lot of them before achieving something good. 5 years later you will look back at your game and find all sort of problems you could not see before. It's normal because your experience change how you will view a game from now on.


The game design process is not something that could be easily learned and done. I say somebody post that he designed 7 games last year. I did not look at his product, but they are probably bad. It can take around 5 years before you publish your first game and many people will only be working on 1 game through their whole life. Some games can took up to 20 years to design. It all depend on the people skills and complexity of the game. Be very happy if you can publish a real commercial game each year or 2 years. Like I once said "Making good games take time".

I hope this article did not scare you off, but I wrote this article to make sure that people don't get false ideas about what game design is about. There are tons of issues that has not been talked in this article, but I think the goal of this article is to give to people and initial push in the right direction.

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