Golden Rules of Game Design

Last week I pitted a simple question to a whole bunch of amateur and professional game designers across twitter:

In the bunch of direct tweets that followed, I asked them to share one tip they would like all other designers to take note of. Some designers responded through tweets, and some through direct messages, so pardon the unusual formatting that follows.

I was going to write a more in-depth piece, going over each issue, in a similar way to my Game Design Deadly Sins article from a couple of weeks back, but honestly, many of these designers say it better than I ever could! So here are their responses, in no particular order.

Focus Your Core Mechanics and Simplify

Chris Handy
I "Follow The Fun", then try to remove as much clutter as possible from the design, while still trying to retain the same, or more fun.

Brian Knudson
Keep it simple, give the player choices and never forget your audience.

Give Players Interesting Choices

Give Players Risky Options

Try Making Big Changes Between Protoypes

(just to see what happens!)

Prototype Early!

Prototype and playtest as soon as possible. It's the best way to get information and feedback in the early stage.

Rob Harris
Top 3 tips for game design are playtest, playtest, playtest. 4th is don't spend too long making the first prototype. Play as quickly as possible; you will feel more able to make changes.

Be Willing to Change Your Design

Eduardo Baraf
Learn about the MDA process

Playtest and Pay Attention to Your Playtesters

Randy was kind enough to elaborate for me in a direct message:
After your game is (more or less) working, the best feedback you can get comes from *watching* players play it. Are they having fun? What makes them frustrated or confused? Do they look fully engaged and invested in the outcome? When do they disengage from the game and check their phones? Does anything cause them to smile or even laugh out loud? What part of the game takes longer than it should? Are the components the right type and shape and size? For the best results, you need to watch people *other* games too -- not just your games. I know watching people play isn't as fun as playing yourself, but you really need experience watching people play lots of games. When you have a lot of experience watching games, you can better understand what you see when you watch people play your games.

Robin Lees
Ask your play testers; what emotions they felt during game play.

Mikael Allen
1. Playtest, playtest, and then playtest some more.; 2. Playtest.; 3. Stick to your concept.; 4. Playtest.

Don't Worry About Perfection

Design with the Player Experience in Mind

Jeff Siadek
The game isn't about the game: It's about providing tools for the players to use to enjoy themselves. Thanks for asking!

Saar Shai
One tip would be to always focus on delivering fun and not get pulled too far by the developing game mechanics.

In part, Geoff is talking about mechanics such as "skip a turn", and other lame moments in gameplay.

Play Lots of Other Games

Consider Your Components Early On

David J Mortimer
IMO: Publishers very keen on keeping component costs down. Find ways to get multiple uses from each component. For example use card backs, double sided tokens etc.

Pay Attention to Your Rulebook

Robin Lees
Always blindest your rulebook. And get someone unassociated with the game to edit it. Always include an annotated graphical representation of the setup and game components.

Many thanks to all the designers that responded with their thoughts!


  1. Great list of tips! I particularly like Daniel Solis' tip, to offer choices between safe & predictable vs risky & chaotic. It's not something I had considered before, yet fits with something I have been thinking about recently, on the value of randomness for creating tension and increasing the emotional reward for the player when they pull something off. Do you have a favourite tip? Or one that resonates particularly strongly? (they are all great tips after all!)

    1. I like quite a few of them - the ones that resonate most are about cutting the clutter and getting to the core of the game.

      A few are just valuable good practice, like prototype early and consider your components.

      @toddderscheid comment about making large changes in each iteration is interesting as I've always done the opposite - such as changing the numbers just a little to see how things go. But when I think about it, this could be a really useful exercise in itself and could send your game in so many interesting directions.

    2. Yes! Performing big changes to a prototype is really quite scary... especially to a game that is going ok. I mean if a design falls flat I'd have no problem but with a game that feels close to working it takes quite a leap! Certainly something to consider!