Question Block : Ages and Pages

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Welcome back to another edition of Question Block! Thanks to everyone who emailed in their questions. Send your questions to rdonaldson[at]vfs.com post your questions in the Comments section below. Each week, we’ll choose a few to tackle in an upcoming post.

Now, let’s get to this week’s questions.

Is it detrimental to view the game industry as young?

This is one of those questions that could easily spark a debate, but here goes…

I think it’s detrimental if it’s used as a crutch to settle for less than we could achieve. I think it’s detrimental if it’s used as an excuse to be reckless and avoid following processes. I think it’s detrimental if it’s used to explain away immature behavior or unprofessionalism.

The industry isn’t all that young, though. It certainly feels young, because it’s fairly recent that it’s become mainstream — partly thanks to the proliferation of games on mobile devices and social platforms, but also because parents are still playing games alongside their own kids. It feels young because we’re always learning how to deal with new consoles, platforms, technology, business models, and players. And it feels young because many of us are young at heart, no matter what age our bodies might betray.

In the end, I guess maybe the better question is: Does it matter? Whether young or old, we should always be striving to improve, to be full of vitality, to become the best possible version of ourselves. We should combine our youthful energy with the collective wisdom we’ve accrued, and show the world that age really doesn’t matter.

What do you think? Feel free to share your thoughts below.

What are some books you would recommend to aspiring designers?

I’ll divide my recommendations into a few camps here, since they weren’t all written as game design books. (I should note that I’m in no way endorsing Amazon.com, I’m just providing links so you can quickly get more information about any titles that might interest you.)

Game Design Books

These books were specifically written about game design. They all have different strengths, and don’t completely overlap. The main deficiency I’ve found in all of these books is a lack of discussion around suitable math to use for game balance and economies — none of them seem to go into great specifics with these topics. Otherwise, they are all great reads.

Fundamentals of Game Design (Ernest Adams): This is probably the best single source here. It’s massive, and I haven’t read it cover to cover, but it’s got a ton of stuff and goes into quite a bit of detail on the fundamentals. A good addition to your bookshelf.

A Book of Lenses (Jesse Schell): A great bite-sized approach covering a wide gamut of topics, and very approachable.

Designing Virtual Worlds (Richard Bartle): It’s pretty old, but if you can get past that fact that he keeps talking about MUDs instead of MMOs, there’s some really good stuff in here. I still use Bartle’s four player types often to test if a design is likely to appeal to the play styles being targeted.

Level Up! (Scott Rogers): An easy and entertaining read, it covers many topics, albeit at a somewhat high-level.

Rules of Play (Eric Zimmerman): This one is a bit theoretical (there are pages and pages spent defining the word ‘play’), but it goes deeper than the books above in many areas around specific design components.

Game On (Jon Radoff): Focused on social games, but if that’s what you’re looking for, this is probably the best book I’ve found on that topic.

A Theory of Fun (Raph Koster): This is actually a design book skeleton-in-the-closet of mine, since I haven’t read it (that’s why it’s in the last slot on the list), but I’ve heard many good things about it.

Other Non-Fiction Books

I would also recommend reading books in other areas, such as economics (to help with economy balancing), statistics (to help with everything from game balancing to analytics), and psychology (particularly around human motivations and decision-making). Specifically, a few I would recommend:

Flow (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi): Really helps with thinking about how to pace game progression, onboarding and tutorials, etc.

Predictably Irrational (Dan Ariely): Great book about why we make the decisions we do, and how seemingly unpredictable human behavior is actually quite predictable.

Drive (Daniel Pink): Sheds some surprising light on the triggers that tend to motivate people.

The Lean Startup (Eric Ries): Written by one of the people who created Second Life. In terms of game design, this book is particularly useful for his discussion around analytics and user feedback to help iterate on a product.

Novels

There are way too many to list here, but reading novels always provides a great stash of ideas to help create your next big game. Fantasy and sci-fi are of course great genres for our industry, but read everything to really build up a treasure trove of material. And hey, some (but not all) classics are classics for a reason! Feel free to share your suggestions below.

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to send your questions to rdonaldson[at]vfs.com or post them in the Comments section below, and check back next week for more Question Block.


Ryan Donaldson teaches the Business of Games course at VFS