The Board Game Design Course

Where great games begin

Game Design

To co-design or not to co-design? That is the question

Should you work with another game designer or by yourself? That all depends. There are definite pros and cons to each approach.

For example, if you’re working by yourself you’ll have complete control over your project and be able to work on this on your own time.

However, when you co-design, you’ll have someone else to bounce ideas off, accountability to each other, and be able to incorporate ideas that you may never have thought of on your own.

But it’s not just a matter of whether you should co-design, but also who you’d be better off co-designing with, should you choose this path.

While it may seem like a great idea and a lot of fun to work with a friend, there are some potential pitfalls you’ll need to be aware of. Just like that time in university or college when you decided to room with your best friend, you may find out that being too close to each other can be a negative thing.

It may also be a little bit of trial and error. You may try working with someone and it just doesn’t click. But don’t let that dissuade you from trying to co-design with others. It’s all a matter of finding the right partner or partners to work with. And it doesn’t have to be the same person you work with on all your games.

You can also choose to work on some projects on your own, while co-designing others. It’s all about what works best for you.

I’ve come up with 4 key elements of successfully co-designing that will help you in deciding who to partner with.

1. Make Sure You’re on the Same Page

You’ll want to be sure that the game you’re working on excites both you and your co-designer. This has to be something you’re both passionate about and will see through to the finish.

As well, you’ll want to ensure you’re working towards a common goal. If one of you is serious about the game and the other just wants to make it for fun, there could be a conflict. In addition, perhaps your partner wants to crowdfund this through Kickstarter, whereas you have no interest in running a business and would prefer to pitch this to established publishers.

Failure to align on the goals and vision for your project could make working with a partner a serious challenge. So, make sure you both want the same thing.

 2. Blend Your Skills

One of the great things about working with a co-designer is being able to utilize both of your skill sets to the max. If you both have the same background and talents, there could be a lot of gaps that are difficult to fill.

Say, like me, you’re great at coming up with game ideas and quickly getting a rough prototype to the table to test, but you don’t have the same interest or skill when it comes to graphic design and making your prototype look good. In this case, it may be to your benefit to work with someone who enjoys the aspect of crafting a game and making it look visually appealing, but who can also offer a lot of insights into making the game design better. This is exactly what I am doing some of my recent games, and I have to say that this has improved the table presence immensely, which really helps in getting players interested in playtesting your game.

There are a lot of other aspects to designing and publishing your game where you might have strengths and weaknesses. Finding a partner that is strong in areas you are weak, and vice versa can pay tremendous dividends. Ultimately though, you should both also be very interested in designing games, particularly ones you are both interested in.

3. Similar Work Ethic

Do you remember when you were in school and had to do a project? Were you ever randomly assigned to a group where you ended up taking on more than your fair share of the workload? Maybe one member contributed little or nothing, and you had to pick up the slack (no pun intended).

This is something you don’t want to happen when you’re designing a game. When working with another designer, you’ll want to be clear about roles and responsibilities, along with ensuring that all parties pull their weight and work toward any agreed-upon timelines.

If the game is your idea, you’re really gung-ho, and you have a lot of time to put into it, whereas your partner can only do a little here and there, there may be some resentment.

You’re sure to re-think whether you want to co-design again if you end up doing 90% of the work on a project. So, it’s crucial to work with someone who’s just as eager as you.

One suggestion would be to work on two projects together, one that was your idea, and one that was your partner’s idea. It may not always be an equal 50-50 split of work, but between the two projects, if you both feel you are contributing reasonably equally, this can be a good method to pursue.

4. Communication and Expectations

As with every relationship, communication is vital.

You want to be clear exactly what your expectations are of each other at all stages of the project. This will help you to avoid duplicating work or branching off in completely different directions.

When you outline your roles and responsibilities, it’s easier to determine who will do what. This, of course, may change throughout the development of the game, but so long as you’re communicating and discussing who’s working on what at different points, you will run into a lot less problems.

Keep each other informed of where you’re at with the different aspects of your game, any issues with timelines, and any challenges you are facing. You’re there to help each other out, so get together in person, over the phone, or using whatever communication tool works for you, and hash out the problems.

If you decide to self-publish, you want to be clear about what role each of you is playing, and what other support you will need to outsource for the campaign. If you’re going to pitch this to publishers, decide if one of you will be the voice and a contact person, which is usually easier when working with a publisher. Just make sure to keep each other in the loop about recent developments and discuss any major decisions that need to occur.

It’s Your Decision

Of course, it’s your decision whether you want to create a game on your own or with a co-designer. And this may change with every project. Some of your games may be very straightforward and easy for you to complete on your own, whereas others may truly benefit from working with someone else.

It doesn’t always have to be the same co-designer either. Try not to let one bad experience determine all your future choices. Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the right partner to work with.

Have you had success working with other designers? What has made this a good or bad experience for you?

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    Thank you for this article. I am new to the game “business” so to speak. I have created games for a long time and am now a senior who would like to see my games in some printed form if not published. Like you, I enjoy creating, but do not want to do much beyond that. I am not computer savvy and really feel a bit lost. I think my games have merit, and to me they are fairly complete, although I’m sure they could benefit from game testing outside of friends and family. The problem is I don’t have any idea how to go about finding the right person to help me. I haven’t even found a graphic artist who is familiar with cards and game boards. So how do I go about finding such a person?
    I know location shouldn’t matter but I live in Maryland and was hoping to find someone local. Is that unreasonable? I have been told that other game designers just want to work and their own games and so why would they want to help someone with just the publication/printing part. Of course I’d be willing to pay for the services if I could find the right person. I look forward to any advice you have. I enjoyed the Virtual Summit and learned a lot although it was overwhelming for me, a beginner.
    You are such a good listener and were able to concisely play back what the presenters were trying to say. Being a counselor by profession, I appreciated your style very much!
    Thank you for listening to me also!

    Thank you kindly, Shereen! I’m glad that you enjoyed the Summit.

    Yes, to verify that your game is ready for “prime time”, it should be tested extensively by people who you don’t know and will provide honest feedback (other designers, playtesters, your audience). Then, you can make changes and make the game the best it can be. You can look for local game design events, conventions, Protospiels… anywhere people are playing each others’ prototypes.

    If you’re planning on pitching this to publishers once you feel it is ready, they will get all the art and graphic design done if they sign your game. You don’t need to pay for this. What you should do though is make sure your game is easy to understand and uses iconography, symbols, and layouts well. This is technically all about the graphic design, but it doesn’t have to be professional at this stage, just playable. Everything just needs to make sense.

    I hope this helps!