I feel old. Not old in my body or in my mind, but in how I remember the good old days of computer gaming. The days when your ship simply spun in circles and flew around shooting rocks (Asteroid), or your character jumped over barrels rolled by a gorilla to save the girl (Donkey Kong).
Modern game design deals not only with the game mechanics but the ever increasing pressure to make money. My gut feeling is first that this just disgusts me but it's a necessary evil so I'll go along with it for now. But then there is the slow realization that what is needed to make money is actually a good thing. You need to have a good game.
With so many game genres out there, writing a good game means many different things to many different people but the one thing they all have in common is the desire to entertain the user, to be a fun experience and to keep that user coming back to play some more.
The better you are able to satisfy the need of the user to keep them playing your game, the easier it is to make money from them.
In our current title, Fish vs. Crabs, I have gone through many iterations of how to keep the user engaged. How to make the game fun, and how to reward the user for the time and energy invested in the game.
The end result of this endeavor really makes me feel that the small time studio has a vertical learning curve that most cannot absorb. One person studios have a nearly impossible task of managing all the platforms users might use, all the social networking avenues, the different in-app purchasing layers, push notifications, promotions/sales/promo codes and of course the barrage of get rich quick pleas if you just use our SDK emails and flyers. Of course, these things are all free. How can we resist the word free?
So, with all the free goodies the question also becomes, do you throw yourself in there with every other desperate developer and their 1st crap game? Do I really want my title sitting there next to theirs even if my own game is crap as well?
To succeed, you need to find people with complementary skill sets that work well together and reduce this flood of information into managable chunks that are consumable by people with different skill sets.
In Fish vs. Crabs, I'm working on using a number of different strategies to pull users in and to try to keep them. Intellectual challenge (strategy), curiosity, wonder, collecting, envy, revenge. All the things you want in a multiplayer social networked kind of game.
Game Design has become, for me, a means to invoke all these emotions in a person to entertain and engage them, make them want to engage their friends, to be envious of their friends and look for easy ways to one up them. To keep them coming back and build in them that simple willingness to spend $1 to have something the other one doesn't.
Game Design 101: Get a PhD in Psychology. We are, after all, in the business of manipulating player emotions.
Why can't my design doc just say: Fly ship around and shoot rocks?