Building Experiences: “Making” vs “Designing”

Almost everyone who has played a game has also come up with ideas for games of their own. Many people take this even further and want to make their own games so they can share their ideas and potentially create something completely new and unique. This is great and I’d encourage anyone with a desire to do so to make their ideas become reality, but there’s a big issue that must be addressed if you want others to enjoy your creation, and that is mindset. Specifically the difference in perspective between “building your idea” and “designing an experience”, the key difference here being methodical and conscious decisions about how the player will experience your game.

It’s relatively easy to “make” some mechanics that sound cool and throw them together, but this rarely ever results in a fun experience, especially for anyone besides the creator. To truly “design” an experience you need to understand what makes something fun so that you can leverage that knowledge to create better systems. You need to understand what the individual (who is likely not yourself) wants from your game and how you can give them the tools to create an enjoyable experience. In doing so, your decisions become more deliberate and you can analyze and test if a given change accomplishes your goal. If not, then you can step back and find a different solution, eventually resulting in an experience that is refined and enjoyable to those who play it.

A good example of this can be found in mods for existing games. Oftentimes there will be large mods which have massive amounts of community support and are often recommended over the base game. These mods have been designed and built by members of the community for members of the community, and build upon the base game in interesting and unique ways. On the other side of this, if you look through mod catalogs you’ll find all kinds of weird mods that do things you’ve never thought of, but also you never really wanted and still don’t even though it exists. These kinds of mods highlight two important things, the first being that there are people out there who want very different things than you, especially because they took the time to build said mod. The second is that these are good examples of “building an idea” and not “designing an experience”. While the creator probably accomplished their goal of building the thing they wanted, the mod doesn’t really appeal to the larger community and as such probably won’t be used very often.

 All that said, you can absolutely always make something for yourself for fun. It doesn’t have to be big or even unique if it’s something you want to make, but if you ever want to turn game development into a career or even just want other people to like the things you make, you’re going to have to learn to design for someone besides yourself. At best, you’re making games for people similar to yourself. At worst you’re building things for someone who is nothing like you and has completely different interests. The reality is that if you want your game to be successful, you’re going to have to learn to design for both.

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