What Kind of a Game Designer are You?
Way back in the mists of time there was effectively only one type of designer. And that was someone who knew enough about an obscure programming language to make a few dots move around a screen in an interesting way. Spin forward a few decades and you have game designers, level designers, narrative designers, weapon designers, social designers and quite possibly owl-based-hat designers.
These can all be considered job roles. And as the Earth shifts beneath the feet of the games industry, some of those categories are ceasing to be important as teams rapidly downsize from several hundred to just several, and game designs shrink back down to something you could write on the back of a napkin, and still leave room for an amusing drawing of an owl in a hat.
Job roles aren’t important to this post. The different types of people are!
There are, of course, many types of personality in game design, and job does seem to accentuate certain traits, good and bad. Here are four archetypes, you may recognise yourself on the list.
“I am an Auteur, The creative lightning behind the world’s biggest games. I occasionally collaborate but ultimately the only designer I need is, Myself!
I am respected and adored by my minions and my fans in equal measure.
Would you like me to sign your copy of Edge, now?”
“I am an Artiste, I meditate on the Aesthetics of Gameplay. I understand every fault with every game – and go to great pains to tell the designers what they did wrong via internet forums!
If EA offered me riches beyond my wildest dreams I would turn it down because they’d probably want Robbie Williams to sing the song.
I write game design essays on my weekend because at the moment I work in Shoeworld!”
“I am a Clicker. The Ronin of the design world. You can put me on any game in any capacity and I can make things work on screen. I do what I am told and won’t bother telling you if you tell me to do something that won’t actually work. I don’t know what the game is all about because I’ve only played MY levels.
I don’t need creativity or invention because the world editor is my sole domain.”
The Focus Groupie
“I am a Focus Groupie, I have no creativity and a congenital hatred of the human imagination. The only creative process is asking people what they want.
Actually asking people is a flawed process cos they might not understand the question so I’ll just look up the Christmas top 10, pick the word that turns up on the back of those boxes most often and slap the word “Ville” on at the end.
It’ll be shite but the people in Asda won’t know any better.”
So, now I’ve insulted 90% of my readership…
It’s not that I want to make game designers look like a bunch of dicks, well, maybe I do. But then I’ve been one for well over 12 years so I know what I’m talking about, and being a dick does sometimes go with the territory with something as subjective as “good” game design. Yeah, I’ve been there, done that, and I’ll almost certainly go back and do it some more. I’m not massively proud of that fact, but I digress…
Each of these 4 characters do have some extremely valuable qualities.
The Auteur – Direction and Command. This guy/gal may be the biggest idiot of them all but at least there’s a bit of drive and ambition there. Sure some of their big, pompous ideas might suck, but at least they have big ideas and some of them will be new and exciting.
The Artiste – Passion and Commitment. She (or he) is almost impossible to have a basic discussion with about what colour a pick-up is supposed to be because they are more interested in the meaning of resource hoarding in a post capitalist world or the emotional state of the ammo-pack than whether or not the player can actually see it. But these people remind us that games can be so much more than switch flipping platform idiocy or violent death matches. If games can be beautiful, these are the people you want creating them.
The Clicker – Pragmatism and Practicality. You can make a game without an Auteur or an Artiste, but it’s bloody hard to do it without a Clicker. These people do the actual job! They know how the tools work and will actually get stuff into your game. They can solve complex production problems and see past your intellectual ideals to the purest core of interaction. So you need to listen to them as well as the guy with the nice cardigan and expensive scarf.
The Focus Groupie – What People Want! To view consumer research and analytics as little more than a race to bottom of the un-sophisticated mass market is to massively miss the point. User testing of new, exciting ideas does not stop those ideas being new , exciting, creative or wonderful, it actually makes them better. The more people that understand your wonderful new idea then the better for everyone.
The fact is, that every game team actually needs all of these archetypes within it. In fact, I would go further than that:
Every designer needs these four archetypes IN THEIR HEADS to a greater or lesser degree.
The job of “Designer” changes as the game evolves and the production rolls on. This puts an increased responsibility on the designers involved to adopt and adapt to the prevailing stage of development. And having even just these 4 ways of thinking in your head will be a vital step in seeing each game issue from a variety of perspectives.
Almost every massive, stupid mistake I have made in the last 12 odd years of being a designer has come from taking a single, narrow view of the issue. And every time I’ve tried to bring a few different viewpoints to the table… well, they don’t provide memorable moments of conflict, because things roll along so much more smoothly.
4 heads are better than 1
No matter how large your team, you need a wide range of viewpoints and creative approaches. And particularly if you have a small team, getting each designer to use a few of these heads will be an invaluable boost to your productivity, creativity and ultimately to the success of your whole game.
So tell me, what type of designer are you?
Jogosity admits to being a mix of Artiste and Auteur with an increasing slice of Focus-Groupie to keep that nonsense in check. He used to be a pretty decent Clicker, but these days it’s rarely useful for him to get his little hands dirty with all those state machines and condition lists. <shudder>