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I am a programmer and have worked on games although never attempted design myself. I am now attempting to design a game myself, working with a modest team of programmers and artists.

Game designers have been telling me it is important to establish the need your game fills, in order to develop a more complete vision of the product. I think in terms of mechanics and gameplay and am having trouble finding a "hook," even in existing games.

Any advice in identifying why a mechanic is fun, and what need a game fills, to help develop my own ideas is much appreciated.

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I think you mean finding a niche? – The Communist Duck Apr 8 '11 at 15:18
Not so much a niche, more like the selling point. I apologize if I am being vague. – Danny S. Apr 8 '11 at 21:05
up vote 6 down vote accepted

I thought this article on prototyping games in under 7 days had some interesting ideas. The suggested focusing on a single theme and exploring it:

“gravity”, “springs”, “evolution”, “sound”, “predator and prey”, “addictive games”, “drawing”, “exponential growth”, “vegetation”, “balance”.

I also appreciated the suggestion to focus on getting it working quickly so you can get a feel for the mechanics and if it's not right, fail quickly and move on to the next idea.

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Great article, with some very good suggestions. – o0'. Apr 10 '11 at 10:58

Find your OWN need that wants to be filled. My personal game idea is something that I've searched high and low for, but I've not been able to find a great game to fill that void.

Because I also have fairly typical interests, I get encouraged by the fact that my game will likely not fail. That it's something I really really want to play helps me keep motivated too.

Minecraft (seems to by my favorite example these days) was built because Notch noticed a void that needed to be filled. He filled it and is now a multimillionaire.

Find something missing and build that. It's the best reason for building a game ever. =)

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On identifying why a game is fun, A Theory of Fun is a good book.

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+1 This looks like it will be a tremendous resource for me. Thank you so much. – Danny S. Apr 11 '11 at 13:27

I get most of my motivation, inspiration, and design ideas from playing other games. In fact, most of my motivating "spark" comes straight from the super nintendo emulator these days.

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This is good advice. As is, I already play a slew of games both new and retro of many different genres. That is probably what makes not being able to identify what need these games fill so disappointing. – Danny S. Apr 8 '11 at 14:51
Play more games! Even if you don't want to invest in the platform / game itself, watch some videos on youtube. I develop mobile games, so I'm always looking through the latest games that are released, and I've found some great ideas in doing so. – stephelton Apr 8 '11 at 14:54
I primarily deal in mobile myself although not games. A lot of the mechanics in hit mobile games are lifted directly from retro games so I try to analyze them when I play. Given this is a PC game and my first crack at design, its a bit exciting given opportunities the hardware offers, but daunting given the high bar and amazing content a lot of independent studios are creating, – Danny S. Apr 8 '11 at 14:59

You might pick a pick you like, and figure out how you could improve it. Or take a game that you thought had potential but didn't deliver, and figure out what could have saved it. In the process, you may come up with an idea that you like.

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