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I've realized that though I like playing videogames, I find it much more entertaining to actually make them. This makes me wonder, if I'm planning to develop an [X]* game, do I need to be an avid [X] gamer? How can I develop interesting mechanics if I play that genre sparingly?

In order to get empirical answers, I'm more interested in listening to the opinion of those who have worked/are working in the game industry. Are you and your co-workers avid gameplayers or "casual" gamers? What about the Schafers, Carmacks, McGees and Gilberts of the industry (should anyone know any of them :) )?

*being [X] any game genre: Platformer, RPG, RTS, FPS, etc.

PS: I'm trying to make this question as subjective-less as possible, so feel free to point any improvements.

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    \$\begingroup\$ interestingly (although I'm not sure all that helpful to you), I recall reading many articles on Japanese game designers who don't like playing games. I think the guy behind RE was one who said he doesn't game... also I don't think Miyamoto games much anymore (judging from interviews) as he did in his younger days. I remember recently reading about a Jap developer saying playing games would take away from the purity of his designs, which reminded me of a similar 1800s composer saying something along those lines. I wish I could find some of these interviews! \$\endgroup\$ – Jeff Dec 13 '10 at 2:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Inverted question marks is a Spanish feature, it's wrong to use it in English. @Jeff, careful with your acronyms, you can't write two letters out of context and expect people to guess what you are referencing. Using my incredible Google-fu I have determined that you most likely mean Resident Evil, but finding that out is really a waste of time. \$\endgroup\$ – aaaaaaaaaaaa Dec 13 '10 at 3:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jeff: Thanks for the reply. You should post it as an answer though, I think it qualifies as one (event more if you happen to find the links to the interviews ;) ) \$\endgroup\$ – Gastón Dec 13 '10 at 3:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @eBusiness: I know it's a Spanish feature and though I know it's not used in English, I thinks it makes sense to have an opening and ending "tag". Still, I can't see how is that relevant to the question (it's not like I'm writing in LOLCat or l33t); should you feel annoyed by that, please edit the question. \$\endgroup\$ – Gastón Dec 13 '10 at 3:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ It may make sense, but it disturbs the reading flow when you are not used to it. You may as well for that matter have filled in a bunch of 1337$þ34|<. \$\endgroup\$ – aaaaaaaaaaaa Dec 13 '10 at 11:32
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Why playing is important... If you were designing the interior seating and controls of a car would you start by never sitting in one or driving? You might be able to eventually design that interior, but you would been reinventing wheels all over the place and you would likely build an interface that would alienate users who were used to the steering wheel + 2 or 3 pedal conventions.

Understanding genre conventions: You should always take a look at the top games in whatever genre you plan on making. Your players are going to attempt to interact with your game based on expectations of having played those other titles. That doesn't mean that you can't deviate from the established conventions of a genre, but when you do deviate it should only be for something your title is focusing on.

See how things go wrong: I would also suggest playing a few of the lowest rated games in your target genre. Learning from good games is often hard as it can be difficult to nail down precisely what makes a system work since it can be effected by multiple elements. On the other hand with bad games, it is often incredibly easy to get a feel for what doesn't work. This lets you avoid making those same mistakes in your game.

Do designers play? Yes, all the time, and not just video games. Boardgames, card games, miniature games, physical sports. Playing a wider variety of titles is a great way to pick up on little mechanics or rule combinations that you can add to your toolbox for future titles. However, there is a big difference between playing a massive number of games, and playing a massive amount of one game. Spending massive numbers of hours in WoW or Call of Duty or whatever your interest might be is fun, but not directly helpful to designing. You only need to spend enough time with a game to see it's range of content and then move on. By all means keep playing for enjoyment, but at that point it's no longer research.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the reply. I didn't mean to imply that I wouldn't play games anymore, but rather that I may skip some features that just a hardcore player would notice. eg: I used to play FPS (mainly Sauerbraten) against the machine and from time to time against my friends over LAN. However, I'd never used the technique of using a grenade to jump higher (but taking some damage yourself), something that the first Quake introduced. As far as I've heard, that's something fairly common in a deathmatch but I never would have thought about that feat. Do you get my point? \$\endgroup\$ – Gastón Dec 14 '10 at 14:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well that's a good example. Rocket jumping is common only in arcade style deathmatch games like Unreal Tournament and Quake. It is not an element in military shooters like Call of Duty or Battlefield. So as a player it's something I might expect to see in a game like Monday Night Combat, but something that I wouldn't expect in Medal of Honor. \$\endgroup\$ – wkerslake Dec 14 '10 at 17:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Counterpoint: LoZ's designer rarely plays games and it took him until right before BotW to play Skyrim and love it. So a) gaming is inspiration and b) gaming not required. \$\endgroup\$ – Black Oct 31 '18 at 4:02
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You ought to play the type of game you are developing at least some so that you understand how the game type works.

One advantage of not playing too much is that your mind doesn't get filled with the ideas of other people. Give yourself a chance to think of things that are new and different.

One great way to at least get an introduction to new games is to play free demos. A few years back I went on a kick of playing all the 10 day free trials of MMOs I could find.

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It's important to do your research.

Playing other peoples' games is a great way to get some case studies. See how their controls compare to yours. See what features you have that they don't, and vice versa. You can also pull from these games to see what gamers expect who play that genre of games. This is particularly important to controls.

That being said once you get the core feeling down, the rest of it is usually just details that can be skipped over. You don't need to know the storyline, settings, or particular puzzles that other games in the same genre employ to make your own game. But if you're making a platformer, you'd better know that your movement and jumping is as good as the other games. If you're making a console FPS you should play games that get aiming down properly. Modern RTS games all have a "select idle resource gatherers" key binding, which unless you're making a game without resource gathering you should also include because the players expect it.

So no, you don't have to play games religiously in order to make good games. You do have to have an analytical, player-focused mindset, and most players do play other games and have certain expectations. Not fulfilling those expectations can lead to disappointments.

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In some games, there´s an special "behind the scenes" documentary where the interviewees talk about their gaming habits.

Lately, I´ve watched those from God of War, Heavy Rain and Uncharted 2.

Personal opinion: You don´t have to be a hardcore gamer but at least try to play those games similar to the one you want to make.

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Gaming can quickly teach you the standard way of doing things in genres. This is awesome because you get to know a lot of great practices very quickly. On the other hand this could be harmful because you get used to seeing things in a very conventional way.

The best way to learn to make games is to actually make games. The question is how to make games quickly and efficiently so you can learn from thousands of projects, instead of just a few.

The answer is rapid prototypes. You quickly mock-up a partial game ( might be a few mechanics or even a whole level ) and get feedback on it. Then iterate again and get more feedback.

Getting feedback on a game is another beast on its' own, but for some general advice:

  • AB test a lot of ideas
  • Get relevant metrics ( how many plays, how long, what meaningful actions did the player take, what did they miss )

Overall, I'd suggest in being educated on new games and how they work because it can potentially save you tons of time solving a problem that someone already solved. But don't play too much because you'll lose precious time that you might've put into making games.

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