Welcome back! In part 1 I outlined the various disciplines in systems engineering and how they relate to gamemaking. Let’s quickly review:
– ensure you know exactly what you want to make before you start to design
– brainstorm any and every idea and evaluate everything.
Configuration Management/Interface Control
– don’t break your game with future expansions. Keep the entire lifecycle of the system in mind when designing.
– plan for the unfortunate and be prepared.
– do lots of blind playtesting to ensure your design meets your requirements
Now I want to talk about the people involved in systems engineering and how some of those roles can transfer over to the team involved in making games.
Project Manager (publisher)
The project manager is the person that is responsible for ensuring the system is delivered on time, under budget, and meets all the requirements. This person runs the entire systems engineering team and has input into all processes although usually not solely responsible for any one process.
In gamemaking the Project Manager role is taken on by the publisher. The publisher is responsible for interfacing with the designer, artist, distributor, graphic designer, retailer, and others. It is vital that this person has good communication skills and can easily adapt to various styles of interacting with people. The game publisher will be interfacing with everyone involved in bringing the game to market. While others may not be as highly involved, everything (every decision, iteration, etc.) will pass through the publisher at some point.
Chief Engineer (lead design)
The Chief Engineer actually designs the product in question. This person (either by themselves or overseeing a team) completes the design documents and technical specifications.
In gamemaking this is obviously the game designer, the person who creates the mechanics of the game and writes the rulebook. I think that the game designer and publisher should be in constant contact throughout the process. This can help prevent problems like future expansions breaking the base game. The publisher and designer should both share their visions of the game and work to get on the same page for where they want the game to go.
System Analyst or Specialty Engineer (artist)
A specialty engineer is usually a person who is an expert in one area of a design. That person will focus all their effort on that niche area usually to mitigate risk in an area in which the Chief Engineer is weakest.
I think in gamemaking this role can correspond to the artist or graphic designer. Most designers (not true for all) are not skilled in art or graphic design and to really make their design stand out they need good, professional quality art. So they work with a “Specialty Engineer”. The artist/graphic designer may be one person or may be a group of people. They will not be as involved in all aspects of the project but will need to interface heavily with the game designer to ensure that the designers vision is present in the art of the game. They will also need to interface with the publisher and designer to ensure things like icons and symbols are easily recognizable and contribute to overall gameplay. There may be a small cross-over with retail if the chosen art has a possibility to affect sales either positively or negatively. These things should be worked out early on by the publisher and artist to make sure all the art is sellable at the retail level.
Test Engineer (play testers)
The Test Engineer is responsible for ensuring that the design fits the requirements as well as ensuring that the product functions according to the plan.
This, of course, is where playtesters come in. Playtesters can come in two forms: Developmental playtesting is done with the designer very closely involved. The designer will teach the game and often even take part in the game. This is to iron out big issues with the game. Blind playtesting is done with a group of people the designer doesn’t know. The group is given the rules and the game and is required to figure it out just from that. This can be helpful in identifying problems that are too small for developmental playtesting.
Playtesters are probably the most removed from the entire process, especially the blind playtesters. However, this does not make them any less important. The feedback that the designer, publisher, and even sometimes, the artist, receive from playtesters can make or break a game.
In systems engineering, the logistics piece is responsible for coordination of delivery of the product to the end customer. This person will ensure schedules are met and costs like shipping, customs, etc do not break the budget.
The logistics piece in gamemaking is usually handled by the publisher. The publisher is responsible for ensuring the product is printed correctly, ensuring delivery to warehouses or distribution centers, and ensuring the game finds its way into retail stores or online marketplaces. This is actually where the bulk of the publisher work will be done and also where the design and art team have the least input in the process. The designer may have a vision as to who would print and where to sell but for the most part this will be taken up primarily by the publisher.
Customer Interface (distributor/retail)
The person in charge of customer interface is responsible for collecting requirements from the end user, getting feedback from users and bringing that feedback back into the design.
The customer facing piece of gamemaking is accomplished by the distributor and retailer. A publisher will also have to have some interface with a customer as well but if they are in tune with their retailers/distributors they will know what types of games people are playing and what they are looking for. The publisher should be constantly reviewing the market and communicating with retailers and distributors to see what the trends are and what types of games are selling at the moment. This information can help the designer and artist fine-tune their designs. However, keep room for innovation as well. If everyone always copied market trends we would have no unique mechanics and themes.
Information manager (publisher/lead design)
The information manager is responsible for documenting technical information throughout the process. This person ensures that all aspects of the product are documented and any technical information is conveyed to the user.
In gamemaking the technical information is the rulebook. The game designer is responsible for writing the rulebook and works closely with the publisher to refine the rulebook. The rules are the most important piece of your game. If you cannot communicate to the player clearly how to play then people will not play your game and it will never sell. There should be constant communication among the publisher, designer, artist, and playtesters in order to get the rulebook just right.
So, what does all this mean?
I think the key takeaway here is every piece is vital to making a successful game and should be taken into account throughout the entire process. At Cosmic Wombat Games, we do not “purchase” a game from a designer and then never speak to them again until we deliver a royalty check. We intend for our designers, artists, playtesters, retailers, and distributors to be part of the team throughout the process. We feel that this will make better games in the end.
I know many publishers do things in many different ways and are very successful. I would say find a method that works for you and make sure your communication with all players is constant and you won’t go wrong. We like to get submission of games that are “not finished” so that we can work with a designer and the rest of the team to finish the game and bring it to market. But that is just one way to do it.
Remember, gamemaking is a team sport so get everyone involved and make some great games!
Also on the League of Gamemakers
Speaking of teams, here are a few other posts from other authors here at the League of Gamemakers:
- YOU CAN’T OVERUSE A GOOD THEME – by Luke Laurie
- HIRING AN ARTIST – by Dan Smith
- CHINA VS THE UNITED STATES – WHERE TO MANUFACTURE – by Tom Jolly
- AN INDIE PUBLISHER’S GUIDE TO BRAND GUIDELINES – by Christina Major
Latest posts by Jeff Cornelius (see all)
- How to Design Tie-Breakers – September 12, 2016
- Where in Gen Con is the League of Gamemakers – 2016 Edition – August 1, 2016
- It’s OK to Play With Yourself: Designing Solo Rules – May 30, 2016
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Do you know of a questionnaire to be given to playtesters to fill out? I have one on evaluation artwork but am probably not experienced enough in game design to know what to ask.