Why to design games - and why not to

Hello everyone!

I’ve been struggling with this topic for a while, and I wanted to share where I’m at with it. Then I want to hear your opinions on if you agree, disagree, or have an additional perspective that missed.

So, why should you make a game? I’m going to share two of my worst reasons I’ve made games, and two of my best reasons I’ve made a game.

Bad reason 1: To make money

Wow… *scratches head*... this was a bad idea. If you want to make a game because you think you’ll make it rich like Monopoly, Flappy Bird, Candy Crush, or whatever is out now, you are going to have a huge reality shock very quickly.

Have you ever seen the art piece “Onement Vi” By Barnett Newman? It’s a very simple piece, but it sold for more than 43 million dollars. Now you might be flabbergasted, as many people are, when you heard about this. You may even think to yourself, “I could have done that!” Yes, it’s true, you could have. But you didn’t. Let alone did you not do it, you couldn’t do it at the same time, same place, and same reputation that Barnett Newman did.

Those random success video games are random luck. Flappy Bird came out in 2014, according to Wikipedia, that year saw roughly 809 games (reference here). That appears to just be video games that were on everyone’s radar. That doesn’t even include indie games, board games, or other casual hobby games.

Like any other product based startup, if you work with the goal to make money, your chance of success is low because your measure of success is not correct. Money should never be the reason why you do something. It can be the outcome of what you do, but not the reason why you do it. Because if your game makes money or not is really hard to predict. You got to just make the game the best you can and hope for the best.

Bad reason 2: “Why not?”

This one has gotten me quite a few times. The story has always been the same for me. Either my friend or I have a game idea and we pitch it to the other person. We get excited and the thought comes, “should we make this game?” Then with a simple shrug, I say, “why not?” I’m often left thinking, “why else am I going to do with my spare time?”

What I’ve found is that every game that started with a shrug, never ended with me finishing the game. A good, well constructed, well balanced, well playtested game, takes a lot of effort! It should never be underestimated how hard it takes to make a game. That’s the only thing I really have to say about this point.

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Good reason 1: To learn and practice what you’ve learned

Onto the good reasons to make a game. If you’re still here, and you’re nodding along saying, “that’s not me”, I’m incredibly happy!

I want to move to my favourite reason for making a game: to learn something new and practice that thing in a fun space. What I’m trying to get at here is that everything can be gamified, even learning. There’s a game out there for almost every topic, but there’s going to be a few topics that don’t have a game around it. In that case, if you want to learn something, make a game out of it. That’s what I did throughout university.

I was in second year university and taking a computer science course. In the class we were introduced to stacks and queues. I had learned some of what a stack was from playing Magic: The Gathering and other card games. But the queue was a new concept. I couldn’t easily understand the pros and cons of each, or when to use them properly, so I took an early form of Genesis and changed it from using a stack to using a queue instead. After playing a few games, I could clearly understand the difference between the two.

Often there are concepts you don’t understand, and you need a space to explore it, and games can be a great source to do that. To dig deep into a topic and figure out how it works fully so that you can turn it into a game and respect the material you’re learning from. Like I said earlier, game design is an art form and art allows you to learn, grow, and develop in your own way, and that’s pretty amazing.

Good reason 2: You have “the itch”

If you’re like me, then you just have to be designing or working on a game. It’s just in you. Like a dancer has to dance, a painter has to paint, and a musician has to make music. I have to make games. It’s my creative outlet, and I know for many people out there it’s the same thing. There’s a great poet out there, Sarah Kay, and she has this phrase, “Poetry is like pooping. If there’s a poem in you, it has to come out.” That’s equally true about game design. If you’ve got a game that’s on your mind, and you’re passionate about it, then give it a go. But going back to my bad reason 2, don’t half-ass it. Do it to the best of your abilities and give it your all. Because it’s your’s at the end of the day, and you should take pride in that.

Conclusion

So I hope you walked away with a bit more guidance around if you should or shouldn’t make a game. I know those are my reasons, and you don’t have to follow them, but this has been my experience. In summay:

  • Don’t make games to make money

  • Don’t underestimate how hard it is to make a game

  • Do make games to learn, explore, and grow

  • Do make games if that’s your creative outlet

What have been the reasons you’ve made a game? Did it work out for you? Or was it a bigger struggle than you thought?

Until next time!