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Book Review: Games, Design and Play

Games, Design and Play (by Colleen Macklin and John Sharp) is a solid practical book that lays out an iterative design process. While it focuses on video game development, more than 90% of the material applies to game design in general (product design to a degree). This book is a fairly quick read and full of practical advice.

Review

Games, Design and Play is a book about the iterative design process. In many ways this book is a general overview of an iterative design process and could be applied to many creative endeavors.

Part I touches on defining games, which is pretty standard. However, GDP doesn’t focus on a tightly worded definition but instead wants to approach games as “things that generate experiences and different dynamics - in other words play”. This ideology is present throughout the book, focusing on the experience of the players instead of mechanics of the games.

Part II focuses on Process. GDP presents a methodology to creating games. This section covers a high-level creation process of Conceptualize, Prototype, Playtest, and Evaluate. The process includes more than just creating the game, but things such as design values, documentation, and teamwork.

Part III details the process from Part II. This covers such things as brainstorming to generate ideas as part of the Conceptualize to covering different kinds of playtesting. This section is fairly thorough, covering many aspects of the CPPE process. For example the prototype section covers eight different types of prototypes alone.

Summary

The Bad

There really isn’t much that I would change about this book. The worst critique is that this book is basic, which is great for a foundational book. This is a book I wish I had read years ago, when I was first looking at designing games.

In fact the Conceptualize, Prototype, Playtest, and Evaluate process could be altered for quite a few products. It would work for software design as well as most product development (stuffed animals, blenders, etc.).

The book’s first and only lens is really video games. While it occasionally will point out where the process could apply to other products, it’s upfront about its’ video game focus. Examples and anecdotes are all video games, which are interesting, but don’t connect the content to how it applies to board games directly.

The Good

This book covers the basics and does so thoroughly. If I had a group of people I wanted to work with, this is the book I would have everyone read. This book doesn’t just cover the creation of a game or product, but how to assign roles on a team, assign tasks, track progress, etc.

Games, Design and Play includes quite a few case studies to provide concrete examples of the concepts and processes covered. This ensures that the reader is on the same page as the authors. I cannot stress enough the importance of concrete examples to illustrate theory.

The Conclusion

This book briefly discusses why it is needed. Each year there are more and more books on game design. In some ways this book reminds me of a book I read about 15 years ago, Game Architecture and Design. It covered a process to make video games, but instead of using an analytical approach, it was much more about personal prejudices, such as how to handle designers that are ‘prima donas’.

So while the structure and objective of the book may not be brand new, the content is very good and covers modern collaborative practices. The authors cover many topics, both succinctly and in depth.

Who Should Buy This Book

Anyone who is interested in creating products as well as improving their own skills. People who want work in a collaborative environment, emphasizing remote work, which is pertinent now more than ever.

This book covers an excellent approach to game development, with concrete advice and a clearly defined process.

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