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Game Design

7 ways you can improve your game right now

Last week we walked through 5 ways to know your game is ready to pitch (or self-publish).

In today’s article, we’re going to look at 7 ways you can improve your game right now. Whatever stage you’re at, from idea to minimum viable prototype (MVP) to documenting your rules to working out the final touches, there are always ways that you can make your game even better.

So, let’s look at some of the things you can do right now to improve your game.

#7 Streamline gameplay

What are the most fun parts of your game?

Is there anything getting in the way of getting to these fun parts? Could you get to them faster?

Think about administrative overhead and bookkeeping aspects of your game. Think about ways to allow players to do more of the fun stuff and spend less time (or even no time) doing the less interesting aspects of your game, like re-setting all the components or doing a lot of math.

#6 Tie your theme and mechanics even closer together

A great theme can draw people to your game.

Clever and innovative mechanics will give your game more depth and interest.

An interesting theme or mechanic alone can make for an interesting game, but tying these together is where you’ll really create an amazing experience that people will want to come back to.

Are there any ways you could bring your theme and mechanics even closer together? Is there anything that doesn’t quite match up?

Think about your game as a whole experience. If it is a game about cooking, do the actions you take feel like the things you would do in real life?

Just make sure not to turn this into a simulation rather than a fun game. Sometimes you have to forego some reality (like washing the dishes or doing the books if you are running a restaurant) and suspend disbelief to make it a fun experience.

Take out the potentially boring or mundane aspects that might exist in the theme, and add more of the fun stuff!

#5 Look for ways to improve the graphic design

In order for players to understand how to play your game and what happens next, you need to have good graphic design in your game. This doesn’t mean you have to be an amazing artist yourself or pay someone to do this for you, rather you need to ensure that gameplay is intuitive through the interface you have created.

Iconography, symbols, text, and font (size and style) are the basics you’ll need.

Make sure that icons and symbols are clearly defined and intuitive, text is legible, and everything flows well.

If players need to hold cards in their hand, ensure symbols are placed where they can be easily read (the top-left corners are usually visible).

English speakers generally read left to right, top to bottom (this may vary for other regions and languages). So, make sure important icons and text are displayed well, such as the cost for a card and the ability it provides. Things like flavour text can be included at the bottom.

Look at other games with great graphic design as examples. You will see that many of these games use similar formats. This shows that they work. Learn from these examples, as you don’t need to re-invent the wheel.

#4 Look at your game from the angle of a game developer

Your game may play really well, but will it sell?

It’s always a good idea to think of your game not only as a game but also as a product. That’s where you need to put on your game developer hat.

Think about whether every rule and component are necessary.

Do you need that many cards?

Could they be double-sided?

Is that fiddly rule really necessary or is it a bandaid for a larger problem?

There are lots of different questions you can ask yourself that will help you develop your game into a better product. We’ll actually dive into this in more detail in next week’s article.

#3 Playtest

No matter how well your game is running, it’s never a bad thing to run another playtest. This will give you more data, confirm what is working well, and may highlight issues that didn’t come up in previous playtests.

If your game is at an early stage, playtesting is crucial! This is the only way to get outside perspectives, constructive criticism, and improve your game to the point where it will be publishable.

Don’t be afraid to put your game in front of others. If it breaks, you’ll know exactly what needs to be fixed, and it’s much better to find this out earlier rather than later!

#2 Ask someone to review your rules

Writing rules is one of the hardest things about designing a game. You may understand every little intricacy of your game and be able to teach it like a pro, but when someone buys your game down the road, they won’t have you there at their game table to explain it to them!

That’s why it is so critical to have a well-written rulebook.

However, while your rules may make sense to you, they may not be as intuitive to a new player. So, ask others to read your rulebook and see if there is anything unclear to them.

You can even do a rules exchange. That’s where you review another designer’s rules and they do the same for you. This is a good way to see how others document their rules and help out another designer, returning the favour.

#1 Blind playtest your game

Going further with that idea of reviewing your rules, make sure to also blind playtest your game.

A blind playtest is a playtest in which you hand over your game, rules and all, and let new players who have never played it before set it up and play from the rules alone. You don’t interject or clarify anything, you simply sit back, observe, and take lots of notes.

Not only will you identify where you need to make rules clearer, but you may also see players do things that are more intuitive to them. As a result, you may make rule changes that will make more sense to players.

Blind playtests are harder to do. You have to find all new players and not everyone likes learning from the rules. However, blind playtesting is super valuable and necessary to ensure your rules make sense, which is really helpful if you want publishers to be able to play your game correctly!

Wrapping it up

No matter what stage your game is at, there are always ways you can improve your game. From further playtesting to rule clarifications to graphic design improvements, you can always come up with at least one thing you can do right now to make your game even better.

Which one of the above ideas are you going to apply next?

Please leave a comment and let me know.

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    Useful comments! It’s helpful to tie these together in your succinct style.

    However, I wonder if all these are really necessary in all cases – especially #0 Wrapping it up. I have dozens of my games on the back-burner, all waiting further improvements – and, arguably, every published game that has needed belated FAQs, reprints, new editions and expansions were all presented before the final wrapping up.

    My problem is knowing when the game is ready to put out there. I suppose the criteria are different for the various routes you wish to follow. Thus producing a free PnP needs lesser standards, presenting to a publisher who will apply their own development needs tight rules but the graphics may be less rigorous (I presume), and a self-publishing effort that isn’t 100% right merits a public apology (but then, isn’t all publicity good publicity?)

    I would welcome your thoughts on how to know what route to take and how to judge when you are ready.

    Thanks for your comment, Andrew! The section called “Wrapping it up” was meant to be more of a summary and closing for the article rather than a separate method.

    In terms of knowing what route to take, this is different for everyone.

    Some are happy just making a game they can enjoy with friends and family, which is totally fine.

    Others want to maintain control but aren’t in it for the money and don’t really care how many copies they sell. Gamecrafter or PNP may be a better fit for them.

    Some love making games but have no interest in running their own publishing company or taking on all the responsibilities and roles necessary for doing so. However, they still want to get their game out there into the world for lots of people to enjoy. These folks are better off pitching their games to publishers.

    For those that want to maintain complete control and find a larger audience, self-publishing might be the best fit. This requires a lot more time, money, and energy, but if the thought of running your own business appeals to you, this might be a good approach.

    Of course, just because you take a specific approach with one game doesn’t mean you can’t switch things up for the next.

    The level of polish needed increases as you go down this list of options. If you are doing this all yourself, you’ll want to make sure everything is as solid as possible. You’ll probably need to hire an artist, graphic designer, and possibly a rulebook creator and game developer to make your game look and feel just right. However, if you are pitching to publishers, they will handle getting art and graphic design done, along with potentially doing the final game development (or getting you to help with this).

    I hope this helps!

    Great advice Joe! These can also be seen as a sort of checklist. I (luckily) ‘recognize’ and apply these elements to my game design(s), but fair to say that I should do this much more consistently.
    When you are working on your game for more then a year, you tend to get a bit blind on certain aspects of your game.
    That’s why I specifically like your #7 and #4 and will take some extra thinking time to improve my game in the next 2 weeks.

    I’m currently working on a few things in my current game system, one of those things is : Player Turn Phase.

    A few years ago during a playthrough of my current game (still in development) , the player knew the rules of the game but was not sure of turn abilities during their turn.

    The player was in analysis paralysis and though we explained the rules he was having a good time playing but felt left out ,”Like what do I do during my turn”.

    So after all these years, I know it’s my fault and I need to fix that problem of writing turn phase order. I didn’t have turn action phase cards, just allowing players do what they wanted to do during their turn order.

    I know , it looks like it was bad design development but I had envisioned something different that didn’t work out during that playthrough, so I’m currently working on the problem.

    Creator of Dymino Monsters;

    It’s good to recognize that your game has an issue and that you need to work on this, Jesse. This happens many times during playtesting. Do you have or have you considered reference cards for players to help them to understand possible actions they can take?