Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
May 1, 2017
arrowPress Releases

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

Quotes related to Game Design but not specifically about it
by Lewis Pulsipher on 01/06/14 09:02:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

5 comments Share on Twitter Share on Facebook    RSS

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


As Voltaire said, "A witty saying proves nothing."  But some sayings can help people think about something in a new way.  So I included in my online audiovisual class "Learning Game Design" a list of quotations, as a way to break up a long series of videos.   Later, as a sort of December holidays throwaway, I added some explanations and observations and posted the result to my blog at (  and later on Boardgamegeek (  I was surprised that several people tweeted it, and a larger than usual number gave it "thumbs up" on BGG, along with several very positive comments.

This result, a sort of throwaway being exceptionally successful, is a microcosm of game marketing, insofar as I cannot predict very well what people will really like and what won't interest them much in my blog. Similarly, no one is able to consistently predict what will make a published game successful.  (If anyone could, he or she would consistently make a bundle in publishing.)  You can playtest the heck out of a game, but what sells well isn't necessarily what PLAYS well (or, for F2P, what plays well isn't necessarily a game people will spend money on through in-app purchases).  Marketing is voodoo, reminding me of the conventional wisdom that dates back to before graphics so dominated people's minds as they do in this century, that a good novel with a bad cover would sell poorly, while a weak novel with a good cover would sell well.  Successful marketing and successful gameplay are two quite different things.

Anyway, here are the quotations:

 "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." - Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  Another form, about Japanese gardening actually, is "Your garden is not complete until there is nothing else that you can remove."

This is my guide to game design, but I do not design puzzles.  When you design a puzzle you may want to make it more complex, so that it will take longer to solve.


“Never use a long word where a short one will do.” - George Orwell, 1984.

George Orwell is talking about writing, but for game design this amounts to the same advice as in the first quotes, keep everything as simple as possible. Stephen King puts it another way: “When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”


“You can't wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.” - Jack London (Call of the Wild)

Many beginners think that ideas will just come to them, that success will just come to them.  No, it's more like how Jack London describes writing.


"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts." - Bertrand Russell.

I suppose it depends partly on personality, but I'd argue that if a game designer is absolutely certain that he is right no matter what other people tell him, he's almost certainly wrong.  If you’re full of doubts about your game, but playtesters from the right representative group like it, then you're in pretty good shape.


"Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare."
- Japanese Proverb

Too many beginning designers wait for things to happen, they daydream. You have to DO something, not just dream about doing it.  Much like Jack London’s admonition above.


"Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish." - John Quincy Adams

Especially applicable in the Age of Instant Gratification.

"The greatest motivational act one person can do for another is to listen." - Roy E. Moody

If you're the designer in a team of game developers, take this to heart.  Everyone wants to feel that they contribute to the game, as well as to the software.  They want to know their ideas are seriously considered.


 “Complicated programs are far easier to write than straightforward programs.” - John Page.  

The same is true for games: but it's usually the straightforward ones that are really good.


"My thing is that most scripts aren't bad scripts, they're just not finished yet."  - Michael Arndt (scriptwriter for Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story III, etc., and initially for StarWars VII).  

The same can be said for a great many published games nowadays.


"A lot of people say, 'Well, I like a challenge.' I don't like challenges.  Life is tough enough without any challenges."  - Jackie Gleason (a very successful actor and comedian, among other things, you might recall)

People don't want their entertainment to be frustrating these days.


"The first draft is just you telling yourself the story." - Terry Pratchett (Diskworld)

Don’t worry too much about all the details, get a prototype together to play as soon as you can - it’s a first draft, not a final draft.


“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”   Senator Dan Moynihan

Reality is what counts, not what you think reality is.


"The universe is not required to be in perfect harmony with human ambition." - Carl Sagan

Just because you want it or like it, doesn’t mean it will happen.


"If you want to write better songs, write more songs. If you write 20 songs, ten of them will be better than the other ten."  Martin Atkins (of Public Image Limited, Killing Joke, et al)

Not, *listen* to more songs (“play more games”), *write* more songs.  Design more games.  There’s no substitute.

"You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do."  - Henry Ford (cars)

Even less on what you intend(ed) to do.  Important especially for younger people who, these days, tend to confuse intention with action.  Intention alone counts for very little.

"The way to succeed is to double your failure rate." - Thomas Watson (founder of IBM)

In game design it’s often called “fail fast”: try what you think will work, figure out if it works, get rid of it if it doesn’t, and do this quickly so that you can move on to something else that might work.  


"A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow." - General George S. Patton

There’s little place for perfectionism in game design.  You’re never perfect, practically speaking, because even if you’re perfect for a moment, the tastes of your audience will change over time.  The Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns applies: at some point, the time it takes to improve a game will not be worth the minuscule value of the improvement.


"If everybody's thinking the same thing, then nobody's thinking." - General George S. Patton

This especially applies to large teams of video game developers.  Beware of “groupthink”.  It’s a major reason why we see games released that are widely regarded as just awful.  What was the team thinking?


"I am Loki, of Asgard. And I am burdened with glorious purpose." - Loki, in The Avengers movie

Sounds like one of those "artiste" game designers to me.  You know, the guys who think they’re great artists, and that they’re gifting the world with their brilliance, and they’re sure they’re right . . . and so forth.

Maybe you can actually be that artiste someday, but not when you’re starting out.  You have to earn it.  Games are entertainment (even educational games, we hope).   Don’t lose sight of that.


Here are a few more:

"The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be lit." - Plutarch

 "A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools."  - Douglas Adams

"You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus." - Mark Twain

"It's what you learn after you know it all that counts." - John Wooden

"A goal is a dream with a deadline." - Napoleon Hill

" . . . Picasso told the story, which I can only paraphrase, that when art critics get together, they talk about light and color and form; when painters get together, they talk about where to buy cheap turpentine." - Peter Perla

Keep firmly grounded, don't get lost in "meaningfulness" of games.

 “Beware of self-indulgence. The romance surrounding the writing profession carries several myths: that one must suffer in order to be creative; that one must be cantankerous and objectionable in order to be bright; that ego is paramount over skill; that one can rise to a level from which one can tell the reader to go to hell. These myths, if believed, can ruin you.

If you believe you can make a living as a writer, you already have enough ego.”
- David Brin (novelist)

The same applies to game designers.

"It is the motivation to pursue excellence, a work ethic that reflects the determination to solve problems, the attention to the smallest details, and the desire to be the very best that distinguishes students who make a difference in their given professions."  - Candice Dowd Barnes and Janet Filer

Game designers as well.


Gamasutra doesn't appear to support video blogging, so I'm going to list the videos on my Game Design youtube channel.  Most of them are screencasts (slides with voiceover), the very long ones are purely audio for all intents and purposes.  I don't think people need to see my old Pulsipher-face much. . .

Innovation is Highly overrated
What you'll discover in my new Learning Game Design course
Quickest way to start learning to design games
Evolution of Video Games Part 1
Evolution of Video Games part 2
Ludology #26 "Epic Games"

The Evolution of Tabletop Games
Lew Pulsipher game design talk at WBC 2013 part 1
Lew Pulsipher game design talk at WBC13 part 2

The fundamental difference in game design is games with human opposition vs those without

Related Jobs

Spaces Inc.
Spaces Inc. — Los Angeles, California, United States

VR Senior Game Designer
Impulse Gear, Inc.
Impulse Gear, Inc. — San Francisco, California, United States

Senior Narrative Writer
Playful Corp
Playful Corp — McKinney, Texas, United States

Sr Designer
Microsoft — Redmond, Washington, United States

Senior Technical Artist - Xbox

Loading Comments

loader image