ResearchGate places a substantial emphasis on designing for meaningful play when creating games. Their study on hybrid digital game elements highlights seventeen design guidelines that aim to help designers avoid common pitfalls and evaluate different trade-offs including prevention of non-essential game component usage. The key idea of these guidelines lies in conducting “continuous game experience testing”: play, grasp inconsistencies, play one more time, and repeat the process.
While playing and testing the prototype, developers can see if games have inconsistent narration: such as introducing a character and not involving them in gameplay, unused components throughout the gameplay, odd themes, or unnecessary achievements. Identifying these issues before the start of gaming software development is essential to prevent wasted time and funds.
Game design is based around three core elements: theme, components, and mechanics. Game designers usually describe them in game documentation. It contains game vision (detailed game description of the theme, game components, and mechanics) and a Concept Document (initial game aspects, rules, and gameplay ideas and description).
Prototyping of the game starts with analyzing these core fundamentals:
- Mechanics: the game should provide risky rules and interactions for engaging gameplay.
- Components: dice, cards, and the game cover itself should be eye-catching art pieces.
- Theme: game narration, choices, and actions throughout the game should be meaningful.
During game conceptualization, the designer chooses the core game adventure (mechanics) and decides whether it will be closer to a simulation (real world complexities) or abstraction (more simplicity). The development team gathers information about each game element relevant to the game experience we’re trying to emulate (movements, actions, fighters, clothes, or characters’ skills and abilities).
These core game components will make an MVP (minimum viable product), and the prototype is an idea translated into the game mechanics. The best way to test it is to play. For example, if your game involves energy management concepts (e.g., captain is striving to strengthen the shields), you should be sure all the possible actions (mechanisms) of obtaining the strength are in the toolbox.
Game design ideas come from different sources. Wiki even created the Game Ontology Project, a framework for describing, analyzing, and studying games. No matter where the idea comes from, two components are essential: rules and fiction. Rules (the principles controlling the gameplay) and game fiction (gameworld, settings, story and narration, characters) allow game designers the possibility to implement game interdependencies, interactions, and other mechanics.
After conceptualization and prototyping, game documentation offers the following:
- the game designer explains game ideas, rules, mechanics, narration theme;
- the investor sees where money is allocated;
- the project manager can plan the task process considering the described issues; and
- QA specialists have information on what features to test while playing MVP games.