I never went to design school and sometimes it takes me a very long time to understand simple things. This text is about is a neat thing that helps me to keep track of what I am doing.

The three ways of designing games

When we design, we are doing one of three things:

Nobody is walking on only one of these ways. During development, every designer will cycle through all of them.

Also, please note that the three ways of designing games are all equal in their validitiy. Neither is “better” than any other. They simply have different ramifications and produce different things.


Stealing is pretty cool. You just copy someone elses design.

Compared to the other ways of designing games, stealing is relatively comfortable. Thieves know exactly where they want to go.

They start with something that already exists and then work their way towards it.

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Still, they are often sad, because they feel that their work is not unique enough. In my experience, many sad thieves are very excited about a game design ajacent craft, like coding or drawing. They prefer to be creative in these areas and that is super ok, but they still beat themselves up about not being original enough.

They could go explore.


Exploring is amazing. The horizon is endless.

Compared to the other ways of designing games, exploring is reckless. Explorers have no guarantee of actually ending up somewhere. They can get lost. Sometimes they never return.

Explorers start from a familiar point and head off, out into the unknown.

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Explorers are often frustrated, because they never seem to find anything. In my experience, frustrated explorers are often generalists, people who have lowered their standards or can both draw and code. They see potential everywhere, but are not equipped to actually work with what they find and often leave everything behind to go exploring again.

They could learn how to work.


Work is straightforwad. You know where you want to go.

Compared to the other ways of designing games, work is pretty boring. Workers are not trying to replicate something that existed before. They are also not forever looking for something more interesting.

Workers have their own clear goal and they work towards it.

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In my personal experience, workers are people who have a lot of experience in stealing, exploring and life in general. They have designed a few released games and possess intuition and confidence. Workers believe in what they want to make, steal what they can and invent the rest.

They should probably take a vacation.

check yourself

The three ways of designing games are neither a horoscope nor a list of personality traits.

Every designer steals, explores and works.

No way of designing games is “better” than any other.

To benefit from this, take a step back during your games development regularily and try to identify how you are designing right now.

That is pretty easy. The hard part is changing how you design, if you think you need to.

For me, the power of the three ways of designing games is simple categorisation. It gives me something concrete to judge my own actions against. Simply knowing, even if only in rough categories, what I am actually doing right now helps me enourmously during development.

I hope it helps you too.

cheers, josh