This post has been updated and posted on steemit!
This is the final article in a series describing the Core Design Loop, critical for anyone who wants to design games. For an overview of the series, click here.
Once you’ve gotten feedback from testing your game, the next step is to evaluate that feedback and then use that information to repeat the Core Design Loop cycle again. Your primary goal in each Core Design Loop cycle is to test your core concept against the realities of an actual session of play. Keep your ego out of the equation and look honestly at the data you received from your playtest session. When looking at the data, there are several possible results:
Your core concept works well- If so, great! Now you should begin asking more detailed questions about how to best highlight and support this core concept. What new theory will you test with the next iteration? Continue to refine your core mechanic until it really shines.
Your core concept didn’t work out so well- If so, great! Now you have learned something valuable and can focus on a different core concept. Why didn’t the core concept work out as planned? Was there some key component that you didn’t foresee that perhaps could be changed or removed? Was there something about this prototype that people enjoyed more than you expected? Perhaps that should be the focus for your next iteration. You can also go back to your brainstorm session notes and see if some of the other ideas that you didn’t incorporate into the prototype can serve as a focus for the next design. Sometimes, you need to go back for more inspiration before making another prototype. Don’t let an initial lack of success dissuade you! There are many paths forward and your job as a designer is to keep moving until you find the right path for you and your players.
Your core concept worked kinda ok, sorta- If so, not so great 🙁
Uncertainty of result is the hardest situation to handle and unfortunately it is a very common one. Often, your playtest session is neither a roaring success nor a complete disaster. Perhaps the feedback was mixed on your core concept. Perhaps other issues (like an insufficient prototype, or inappropriate audience) muddied the results you were looking for. The challenge here is that the specific path forward is unclear- you don’t know what to try next. This is dangerous territory for a designer, as many games become orphaned designs and end up on a shelf without a plan to revive them. Finding that clear path forward is challenging, but in general there are two approaches to use:
1. Try again- if you don’t feel like your core concept got a fair shake, try with a different playgroup and/or a more refined prototype and see if you get more clear results. Maybe a small tweak to the core concept will solve your problem or maybe the core idea is better expressed a different way.
2. Let it sit– sometimes, the right thing to do is put a design down and start working on something else. First, make sure that all of your game rules, parameters, core concept, and brainstorm ideas are written down and organized somewhere so they can be picked up again. While in the middle of a design process, you have everything in your head, so it is easy to make small adjustments and see the bigger picture. After taking a break from a design, you will be surprised how much you forget. I’ve lost countless designs because I forgot to write things down in detail- don’t let this happen to you! Set a calendar reminder for yourself to come back to the game in a few weeks. Often, returning with fresh eyes can help you see the picture more clearly.
Work your way through the steps of the Core Design Loop until you reach a game you are happy with. If your concept is working, increasingly move through the stages of design 1 to refine your product. If something isn’t working, cycle back to revise and iterate until you find a solution. Keep momentum and enthusiasm going- if you’ve gone through this entire cycle more than once, you are a living the life of a game designer!
I hope you have enjoyed this series exploring the Core Design Loop. Help me figure out what to write about next by messaging me on Twitter @Justin_Gary. Send me your ideas, questions, or just stop by and say hello!