Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Avoiding Common Criticisms

As I wrote in my last post, it is encouraging to get positive feedback from the games I have published.  Criticism can also help hone a designer's craft, and can be especially helpful in the playtest phase of a game's development.  Following is a list of common criticisms of games (both prototype and published).  It's a good excercise to ask yourself and and your playtesters if any of these apply to your prototype:

1. There is not enough player interaction.  It feels like multi-player solitaire, and players have little influence over their opponents.

2. The game is too complex for what it offers.

3. The game is too long for what it offers.

4. The rules are unintuitive, even after repeated plays.

5. There are too many rules and exceptions to remember ("if...then" clauses).

6. The theme is pasted on.  It does not harmonize with the rules.

7. The players' decisions are too obvious.  The game feels scripted or "plays itself."

8. There are too many choices for the players.  They feel overwhelmed.

9. There is too much downtime.  Player turns take too long, and there is nothing meaningful for opponents to do when it is not their turn.

10. There is a runaway leader problem.

11. There is only one way to win the game.  It lacks different paths/strategies that players can explore.

12. The game is too random and chaotic.  Players do not have enough control and are prevented from forming any real strategy.

13. The game is too repetitive and lacks a story arc.

14. The game has a "kingmaker" problem, in that a losing player must often make a play at the end of the game that gives the win to one leading player over another.

15. The game lacks any original elements (or, at least, an original treatment or combination of familiar elements).  There is nothing new here.


il Silvano said...

Fantastic list. If I had a time machine I would travel back in time to hand myself this last and save me at least a couple of rejection letters... :)

AlexC said...

It's interesting that 6 and 7 are somewhat opposite. I note that the way many games manage this is to start the players off with relatively few options, but have the number of options increase over the course of the game. It's certainly still possible to veer too far in either direction though.

word nerd said...

My personal belief is that no game can be "perfect" and eliminate all these issues completely. I think what designers (should) strive for is a balance between all these factors. Indeed, in designing my latest creation, I have considered how each of these is dealt with, but I am still unfairly criticized because the balance I've struck doesn't make everyone happy. I don't think it's possible to please everyone. Consequently, another feature of my design is flexibilty: the players are allowed (even encouraged) to change whatever they must to make play better suited to their individual needs, tastes and experience.

jeffinberlin said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone. Yes, it's certainly true that there is no perfect formula--for designing nor for pitching to a publisher. Games are about people (the players and the business people who make and sell them) and therefore open to subjectivity.

And game design is most certainly about balance. If there is a "downtime problem" (too much time waiting for your next turn) in the game, it is usually because the game does not deliver enough excitement in relation to the amount of downtime, or that the downtime kills the tension the game is supposed to create. If, however, the downtime in a game does not keep it from flowing reasonably well and the tension mounts during its story arc, then its not a problem.

And this list can still be a helpful analytical too.