Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Declaration of Game Designer Independence

On a cool, clear Austin weekend, a group of experienced game designers gathered for their yearly retreat.  At night they swapped stories of an industry in turmoil.  As social games and mobile games rewrite the landscape, power struggles between business and design dominate and designers find themselves being sidelined or abused.  And the products they work on suffer horribly as a result.  It is a time when musty old assumptions are questioned.  It is also a rare opportunity to identify universal best practices that can help us navigate new platforms, new genres and new gaming experiences.

So during the day, we asked ourselves some hard questions.  When was design successful?  How do designers hurt their own credibility and effectiveness?  This is a group that has shipped hundreds of games serving well over 100 million players. Over the past two decades, we've personally seen game titans rise and fall.   Surely there are patterns and cycles.  So we listed dozens of examples of great design environments and dozens more of times where design remained shackled. And over and over again, the same themes came up.

To guide game designers and the profession forward we wrote down a Declaration of Game Designer Independence. This document is primarily for the designers who run their own companies or the creative directors who own the creative process.  It is also for the designers in the trenches, who aspire to a leadership role.

The following is a code for how great, visionary designers should behave. It rises up from an immense well of hard fought experience accumulated over decades of real world design.  When followed, these practices sustain an environment where design thrives and revolutionary games are regularly brought forth into the world.

The Declaration of 

Game Designer Independence

1. Without game design, there is nothing

You can get rid of visuals, music, business or technology and we will still make great games.

2. Designers must drive the vision of the game

We are prime movers, not replaceable cogs.

3. We dedicate ourselves to the lifelong mastery of design

Dilettantes need not apply.

4. We strive to be renaissance designers

We fluently speak the languages of game development and business:
  • We speak the language of creative. All art and music ultimately serves the game play.
  • We speak the language of production. Game design determines the scope and need for the content that production shepherds.
  • We speak the language of engineering. Technology is one tool that enable the experiences designers choose.
  • We speak the language of business. Modern monetization, retention and distribution are directly driven by game systems.

5. We will not be silenced

We tirelessly promote our vision both internally and to the public.

6. We fearlessly embrace new markets and trends

We then reinvent them to be better.

7. We demand the freedom to fail

Design advances through experimentation.

8. We have a choice:

Create with our own voices or sell our talents into servitude.

My personal thoughts

Not everything here is easy.  To live up to this declaration, you likely need to be a better designer than you are right now.  Still, always remember:  You are not a slave. You are not a servant.  You are not a cog-like employee.  You are a creative force.  And most importantly you have a choice for how you wish to spend your time on this earth.  You can choose to take control of your life and change the world for the better in the process. 

I personally left a large company with a steady paycheck in order to take control of my creative destiny.  Now I've got multiple game designs speeding towards completion, I'm working with people with souls and the future looks amazing.  This is easily the most productive and exciting time of my life.  And the only reason it happened was because I realized a fundamental truth:  Design works best when it leads, not when it serves. 

If you support the Declaration, drop a comment below.  Pass it on via Twitter, Facebook, Email, Forums and more.  Pass it on to the people who need it the most. 

take care, 

PS: For a more in-depth look at our report, check out the Project Horseshoe website.  There are some wonderful reports this year.