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Players Making Decisions: Game Design Essentials and the Art of Understanding Your Players

Book Description

Game designers today are expected to have an arsenal of multi-disciplinary skills at their disposal in the fields of art and design, computer programming, psychology, economics, composition, education, mythology—and the list goes on. How do you distill a vast universe down to a few salient points?


Players Making Decisions brings together the wide range of topics that are most often taught in modern game design courses and focuses on the core concepts that will be useful for students for years to come. A common theme to many of these concepts is the art and craft of creating games in which players are engaged by making meaningful decisions. It is the decision to move right or left, to pass versus shoot, or to develop one’s own strategy that makes the game enjoyable to the player. As a game designer, you are never entirely certain of who your audience will be, but you can enter their world and offer a state of focus and concentration on a task that is intrinsically rewarding.


This detailed and easy-to-follow guide to game design is for both digital and analog game designers alike and some of its features include:

  • A clear introduction to the discipline of game design, how game development teams work, and the game development process

  • Full details on prototyping and playtesting, from paper prototypes to intellectual property protection issues

  • A detailed discussion of cognitive biases and human decision making as it pertains to games

  • Thorough coverage of key game elements, with practical discussions of game mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics

  • Practical coverage of using simulation tools to decode the magic of game balance

  • A full section on the game design business, and how to create a sustainable lifestyle within it

  • Table of Contents

    1. Title Page
    2. Copyright Page
    3. Dedication
    4. Acknowledgments
    5. About the Author
    6. Contents
    7. Preface
    8. Who Is This Book For?
    9. How Is This Book Organized?
    10. Part 1: Getting Started
      1. 1. What Is a Game Designer?
        1. Responsibilities of a Game Designer
        2. Attributes of a Game Designer
          1. Varied Interests
          2. Persistence
          3. Mindset and Purpose
        3. Make Things
        4. Cultivate Your Gardens
        5. On Ontology and Dogma
        6. Formalism
        7. Summary
      2. 2. Problem Statements
        1. Defining the Problem
        2. Low-Hanging Fruit
        3. Functional Fixedness
        4. Brainstorming
        5. Summary
      3. 3. Development Structures
        1. Production Methodologies
          1. Waterfall
          2. Iterative Processes
          3. Climbing the Pyramid
        2. Scope
        3. Summary
      4. 4. Starting Practices
        1. Analog Games
        2. Theme and Mechanics
        3. Next Steps
        4. Designing for Others
        5. Opening Questions
        6. Summary
    11. Part 2: Prototypes and Playtesting
      1. 5. Paper Prototyping Development Techniques
        1. Software and Materials
        2. Art
        3. Cards
        4. InDesign Data Merge
        5. Summary
      2. 6. Playtesting
        1. Playtesting Goals
        2. Playtesting Benefits
        3. Listening to Feedback
          1. Fear of Critique
          2. Confirmation Bias
        4. Finding Playtesters
        5. Iterating
        6. Summary
      3. 7. Playtesting Methods
        1. The Testing Environment
        2. Keep Playtesters Talking
        3. A/B Testing
        4. Self-Playtesting
        5. Summary
      4. 8. Prototypes and Intellectual Property
        1. Do I Need an NDA?
        2. Ideas and Value
        3. Summary
    12. Part 3: Meaningful Decisions
      1. 9. Flow and the Fundamental Game Design Directive
        1. Game Flow
        2. Interest Curves
        3. Learning Curves
        4. Individual Differences
        5. Summary
      2. 10. Decision-Making
        1. Player Agency
        2. Anatomy of a Choice
        3. Less-Interesting Decision-Making
          1. Blind Decisions
          2. Obvious Decisions
          3. Meaningless/Misleading Decisions
          4. Handcuffing Decisions
        4. More-Interesting Decision-Making
          1. Trade-offs
          2. Risk/Reward
          3. Expected Value
        5. Summary
      3. 11. Randomness
        1. Completely Random Games
        2. Completely Skill-Based Games
        3. Fairness and Mitigating Randomness
        4. Summary
      4. 12. Goals
        1. How Players Determine Game Goals
          1. Example: SimCity
          2. Example: Minesweeper
        2. Criteria for Goals
        3. Solving Goal Problems
        4. Summary
    13. Part 4: Describing Game Elements
      1. 13. Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics (MDA)
        1. What Are Games About?
        2. MDA
          1. Example: Realm of the Mad God
          2. Example: Monopoly
          3. Example: Habitat
        3. More Dynamics
          1. Turtling
          2. Kingmaking
          3. Button Mashing
          4. Grinding
          5. Press-Your-Luck
        4. Summary
      2. 14. Milieu
        1. What Is Milieu?
        2. Polish
        3. Player Types
        4. Motivation
        5. Milieu as Design Focus
        6. Summary
      3. 15. Rules and Verbs
        1. Rules
        2. Qualities of Rules
        3. Types of Rules
        4. Verbs
        5. Summary
      4. 16. Balance
        1. Symmetry
        2. Self-Balancing Mechanisms
        3. Progression and Numeric Relationships
          1. A Triangular Relationship Example
        4. Balance Heuristics
        5. Summary
      5. 17. Feedback Loops
        1. Positive Feedback Loops
        2. Negative Feedback Loops
        3. Feedback Loops in Action
          1. Positive Feedback Loop Methods
          2. Negative Feedback Loop Methods
          3. Mixing Feedback Methods
        4. Fixing Problems
        5. Summary
      6. 18. Puzzle Design
        1. What Is a Puzzle?
        2. Possibility Space
        3. Breadcrumbs
          1. Extrinsic Breadcrumbs
          2. Intrinsic Breadcrumbs
          3. No Breadcrumbs at All
        4. Features of Ineffective Puzzles
          1. Incomplete Critical Information/Missed Assumptions
          2. Lack of Ability to Experiment
          3. Brute Force
          4. Triviality Surrounded by Complexity
          5. Lack of Possibility Space
          6. Arbitrariness
        5. Types of Puzzles
          1. Deduction Puzzles
          2. Truth Puzzles
          3. Deception Puzzles
          4. Paradoxes
        6. Other Puzzle Types
          1. Critical Path Puzzles
          2. Strategy Puzzles
          3. Algebraic Puzzles
          4. Physical Manipulation Puzzles
        7. Summary
    14. Part 5: Game Theory and Rational Decision-Making
      1. 19. Equilibria in Normal Form Games
        1. The Prisoner’s Dilemma
        2. Solving Games Using Strict Dominance
        3. Using (and Abusing) Dominance
        4. Zero-Sum Games
        5. Stag Hunt and Coordination
        6. Determining Nash Equilibria in a Larger Matrix
        7. Mixed Strategies
        8. Stag Hunt Redux
        9. Summary
      2. 20. Sequential and Iterated Games
        1. Game Trees
        2. Promises and Commitment Problems
        3. Iterated Games
        4. Experimenting with Strategies
        5. Successful Strategies
        6. Summary
      3. 21. Problems with Game Theory
        1. Rational Actors
        2. The Dollar Auction
        3. The “Guess Two-Thirds” Game
        4. Second-Price Auctions
        5. Summary
      4. 22. Marginal Decision Analysis
        1. Marginal Nuggets
        2. Balance on Margins
        3. Summary
    15. Part 6: Human Behavior in Games
      1. 23. Behaviorism and Schedules of Reinforcement
        1. Operant Conditioning
        2. Schedules of Reinforcement
        3. Anticipation and Uncertainty
          1. In Games: Coin Pusher
          2. In Games: Destiny Drops
        4. Ethical and Practical Concerns
        5. Summary
      2. 24. Learning and Constructivism
        1. Historic Approaches
        2. Novices and Experts
        3. Cognitive Load
        4. Expertise Reversal Effect
        5. Split-Attention Effect
        6. Tutorials and Learning Design
        7. Summary
      3. 25. Motivation
        1. Two Types of Motivation
        2. What’s the Problem with Rewards?
        3. Self-Determination Theory and Challenges
        4. Competition and Motivation
        5. Personality
        6. Other Motivation Effects
        7. Summary
      4. 26. Human Decision-Making
        1. Mental Shortcuts
        2. Attribution Errors
        3. Misunderstanding Randomness
        4. Anchoring and Adjustment
        5. Understanding Value in Uncertain Situations
        6. Loss
        7. Framing Decisions
        8. Summary
      5. 27. Attention and Memory
        1. Attention
          1. Attention Misdirection
          2. Attention Direction
        2. Memory
        3. Helping with Memory Limitations
        4. Perception
          1. Colorblindness
          2. Text Might as Well Be Invisible
          3. Gestalt Grouping
          4. First Impressions
        5. Summary
    16. Part 7: Game Design Tools
      1. 28. Documentation and Written Communication
        1. The Game Design Document
          1. Common Misconceptions
        2. The GDD Creation Process
          1. Step One: Determine Purpose/Desired Scope/Connected Systems
          2. Step Two: Research
          3. Step Three: Idea Generation
          4. Step Four: Murder Your Darlings
          5. Step Five: Fully Detail the Best Answer
          6. Step Six: Edit and Find Edge Cases
        3. References
          1. Appendices
        4. Documentation for Tabletop Games
        5. States and Flowcharts
        6. Summary
      2. 29. Probability
        1. Probability Is Fancy Counting
          1. Joint Probability
          2. Conditional Probability
        2. Adding Die Rolls
        3. Example: The H/T Game
        4. Being Careful
          1. Problem #1: The Boy-Girl Problem
          2. Problem #2: The Weirder Boy-Girl Problem
          3. Problem #3: Isner-Mahut at Wimbledon
        5. Summary
      3. 30. Spreadsheets for Simulation
        1. Why Use Spreadsheets?
        2. Basics
        3. Formulas
          1. Formula Operator
          2. Basic Math
          3. SUM, PRODUCT
          4. MAX, MIN
          5. AVERAGE, MEDIAN, MODE
          6. RANK, PERCENTRANK, PERCENTILE
          7. ROUND, TRUNC
          8. RAND, RANDBETWEEN
          9. CONCATENATE
          10. VLOOKUP, HLOOKUP
          11. IF
          12. COUNTIF, SUMIF
          13. OR, AND
          14. Common Formula Errors
          15. Anchors
        4. Goal Seek and Solver in Excel
          1. Goal Seek
          2. Solver
        5. One-Way Data Tables
        6. Summary
      4. 31. Monte Carlo Simulation
        1. Answering Design Questions
        2. Hot Hand
        3. Monty Hall
          1. Example: Dungeons & Dragons Advantage/Disadvantage
        4. Once Around the Board
        5. Martingale Betting
        6. Summary
      5. 32. Presenting Ideas
        1. The Thesis
        2. Text on Slides
        3. Data-Ink
        4. Do Not Waste Time
        5. Documentation
        6. Acquiring Images
        7. Example: State of Mobile Games 2014
        8. Risk
        9. Risk Analysis
        10. Pitch Questions
        11. Summary
    17. Part 8: The Game Design Business
      1. 33. Profit, Loss, and Metrics
        1. Profit and Loss
        2. Metrics
          1. Free-to-Play Metrics
        3. Virality
          1. Retention
          2. Other Metrics
        4. Cash Flow
        5. Summary
      2. 34. Sustainable Lifestyles
        1. Life in AAA Digital Game Development
        2. Life as an Independent Developer of Digital Games
        3. Life in Tabletop Game Development
        4. Market Luck
        5. Summary
      3. Conclusion
      4. Appendix A. Ludography
        1. Digital Games
        2. Board, Card, Tabletop, and Physical Games
    18. Index
    19. Code Snippets