How can you avoid game design mistakes? Well,
when it comes to making a game, it all can
sound deceptively simple: You just need art,
code, music, and a game design right? Well
the truth is, there are a lot of moving parts
and challenges within each discipline. What
everyone is working towards though, is executing
on the game’s design. Everyone on the team
needs to be working towards a single vision,
and quarterbacking the team is the game designer.
The best music, art, engineering, and marketing
in the world can’t save a game from poor
In this video we are going to give you game
design tips straight from expert game designers
that will ensure you save time, money, and
build excellent designs. These are the same
tips that we’ve seen used while building
smaller indie games all the way up to massive
We are Ask GameDev, AKA Handsome Boy Programming
School, AKA I saw De-sign, AKA The Ace of
Base of Camel Case, and these are seven common
game designer mistakes to avoid!
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Let’s get into it. Here are design mistakes
We’re starting with this one because it’s
arguably the most consistent mistake that
we see in our industry.
It’s great to have a grand vision, but one
of the biggest mistakes we’ve seen game
developers make, is just simply starting too
big. Say you have 10 features to hit, and
you’re designing them all at the same time.
What happens if the first feature turns out
to be a dud? Would that affect the other 9?
Would it render the other 9 pointless? Designing
too big reduces your ability to pivot or modify
Instead, it’s better to take the opposite
approach. Define what your core is and tune
that until you are positive it works. Once
you’re happy with the core, you can start
layering the rest of the game on top of it.
In a nutshell: Keep your game simple and add
to it when you are confident in your core.
Just remember the ASK rule: Avoid Starting
Kingdoms. Start with a house, then grow from
A lot of today’s great games started from
bite-sized demos, or even emerged from game
jams. The dev teams took a small idea, made
sure it worked, and layered from there. The
concept for Superhot, for example, was originally
developed for the 7-day FPS challenge.
#2 – Not considering how to onboard the player
Designing complex systems or deep mechanics
can be fun, but it’s always import to consider
how the player will learn to play. As a designer
you will understand every little aspect of
your game, but you also need to consider what
a fresh player’s experience will be like.
If people aren’t understanding your game,
it’s not the player’s – or the playtester’s
– fault. It’s an indication of something
that needs to be fixed. Remember, you won’t
always be there with the player explaining
things as they play.
Here are some ways that you help the player
The most simple way is to have solid tutorials
with well-explained concepts, and feedback
loops, that teach through difficulty ramping.
You can also just have a really intuitive
design. How do you know if it’s intuitive?
And finally, you can have a well-designed
onboarding process built into the experience.
For example, if you’re building a platformer,
you can design levels in a way that compartmentalizes
things that the player needs to learn, in
a step by step fashion. Do you ever wonder
why Mega Man games have an intro level before
they get into letting you pick which Robot
Master to fight? Well, the intro levels are
designed in a way that you’ll learn all
the basics first, so that when it comes time
to choosing one of the next levels after,
you’ll be prepared for any of them, regardless
of your choice.
#3 – Being too committed to an idea
Like they say: ideas are a dime a dozen. A
particular design might sound brilliant during
a brainstorm, or look awesome on paper or
in your head, but the truth is, you don’t
know how much fun that design will be until
you actually execute on it.
If after prototyping it, or getting feedback
on your design, it doesn’t seem to be working
or isn’t fun, you need to be able to iterate,
adapt, or let the idea go. It’s great to
be a champion of your own ideas, and selling
your ideas is definitely a much needed skill
in this industry, just don’t get too attached.
Know when to hold ‘em, and know when to
One of the most famous videogame pivots in
recent history has to be the story of Fortnite.
Epic’s initial vision for Fortnite was “Minecraft
meets Left 4 Dead”, and it was launched
as a cooperative sandbox shooter. With the
success of Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds
skyrocketing around the same time of Fortnite’s
launch, they decided to pivot. They added
a Battle Royale mode and the rest is history.
#4 – Creating an overly rigid design
Don’t focus too much on “what’s supposed
to happen” or “how the player is supposed
to play”. Games are experiential and should
be fun to play. If your design is too rigid
(e. g. This is the only correct strategy)
then your game may not be any fun. You’re
creating the experience, but not controlling
the experience – make sure you make that distinction.
If your players are just following a series
of instructions, exactly the way that you
want them to, then the experience becomes
akin to just painting by numbers.
Some things you can do to make your designs
less rigid are:
Add open-world elements to your environments
Provide secondary or tertiary paths through
Use real-world physics. And
have destructible environments that let the
player decide how to advance. Broforce is
an excellent example of this. In Broforce
you can play through a level like a basic
action platformer, but since mostly everything
is destructible, you can also just tunnel
your way through a level. And since you use
a different “Bro” with unique skills each
life, there are numerous fun ways to take
down enemies, and get through a level.
#5 – Focusing on story too much up front
Unless you’re a making a visual novel, don’t
focus too much on story up front. There may
be exceptions and story is important but don’t
put all your effort into writing a plot if
you don’t know how the game will play yet.
Like a lot of the common game designer mistakes
on this list, this takes away room for you
to pivot, adapt, or completely change your
design if you feel the need to do so.
With a few exceptions, most of the core Mario
games have the same basic story: Bowser takes
Princess Peach. Mario saves Princess Peach
from Bowser. Even know we all know what’s
going to happen, we’re always psyched for
new Mario games because they’re extremely
innovative, charming, and fun to play.
#6 – Underestimating Polish
Polish, polish, polish! Never underestimate
how important tuning and polish are and how
much time it will take. When you are working
on a feature, and you think you are 80% done,
you’re probably only halfway there. When
estimating time, be sure to allocate a sufficient
amount of time on the schedule for tuning
We’ve seen a countless amount of games rush
through or even skip this phase, and just
end up crashing and burning at launch. Don’t
get your game skewered by rushing through
tuning and polish. As Shigeru Miyamoto says
“A delayed game is eventually good, but
a rushed game is forever bad”.
And lastly #7 – Arbitrarily adding things
When working on games, it’s easy to get
carried away and just arbitrarily add things.
You’ll hear the phrase “Wouldn’t it
be cool if….?” a lot! Sure a lot of things
sound cool, and probably are, but you have
to be purposeful in everything you add into
Beware of feature creep and know why you’re
adding something. Don’t just add a feature
simply because “it could work”. An unnecessary
feature may be harmless, but some may actually
harm good features and take away from the
overall experience. So at best, you’re just
eating up time that would be better spent
polishing the rest of the game, and at worst,
you’re adding things that ruin the overall
Some of the best games that we’ve played
are also some of the most minimal. Take Thomas
Was Alone for example. With great writing,
excellent level design, and a gamefeel that’s
tuned perfectly, Thomas Was Alone was able
to breath life into basic, colored, rectangles.
Well that’s all 7! If you’d like to protect
more freshly authored game code, you can take
a look at our previous gamedev mistakes video,
8 mistakes to avoid when making your first
What other game designer mistakes can you
share with the Ask Gamedev community? Let
us know in the comments!
And before we leave you this week, let’s
take a look at the Ask Gamedev Community Member
Game of the Week! This week’s game comes
from Sharky, who shared their game on our
Discord Server. Chromasia – Rock Paper Tactics
by Nexus Games.
Chromasia is a turn-based tactical RPG that
puts an interesting spin on Rock, Paper, & Scissors.
Explore your way through a dark but comical
story, and choose your own path to 1 of 8
Chromasia was built by a team of two people
and made with a custom engine that uses the
LIBGDX framework. It’s available now on
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