Sunday, June 24, 2007

Game Design: The Nine Phases of Game Design

What follows is a general description of the various phases a game goes through from beginning to end in the design process. By outlining these phases, my hope is to provide a some common jargon game designers can use. For example, if one is asked about where one's game is in the development process then, rather than refer to numerous little details in trying to communicate the concept, a designer can simply say "my game is in phase 3" right now.

Phase 1:
-Beginnings of either theme, basic mechanics, or both

Phase 2:
-Beginning designs: many ideas considered and written down for further testing
-Small prototyping (very simple pieces, perhaps a basic printed board)
-Beginnings of some minor play-testing for various ideas

Phase 3:
-Medium prototyping (some generic pieces, more refined board layout)
-Play-testing begins to reveal loopholes and potential breaking points of the game system
-Lots of experimentation - typically major adjustments to the game take place in this phase (such as a change in theme or a major change in mechanics)
-Many ideas will be tested and many will be discarded
-If the basic game idea is not working, it will generally be in this phase that the project is abandoned.

Phase 4:
-Game beginning to take shape: Theme and Basic Mechanics are somewhat in place
-Many loopholes and breaking points have been discovered and compensated for but many more have yet to be discovered
-Beginnings of a working, organized rulebook (instead of just personal notes)

Phase 5:
-Game mechanics and theme are nearing completion
-Major loopholes and breaking points have been discovered and compensated for but minor ones may still exist
-Play-testing begins to take on specific purposes (such as trying out extreme strategies simply for the sake of testing potential loopholes or breaking points)
-More formalized prototyping (beginning to acquire more theme appropriate game components)
-Continued work on rulebook

Phase 6:
-Game mechanics and theme are now complete
-Play-testing of the rulebook - how its worded, terminology used - now becomes a focus (i.e. can someone take your rulebook and your prototype and understand how to play the game without you being there to teach or answer questions)
-Perhaps employment of an artist for a final prototype

Phase 7:
-Final prototype with play-tested rulebook completed
-Contacting of publishers begins

Phase 8:
-Prototype(s) sent to publisher(s) for consideration
-Final adjustments from publisher

Phase 9:
-Game formally published

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