Why Playing Games as a Designer Sucks

The photo to the right pretty much explains my Saturdays.

The conundrum is very akin to the one most people spout when talking about fast food jobs:

Either you work at a place you hate, and hate your life and the place you’re working at 10x more, or you work at a place you love and hate it after you leave.

I find myself game after game – starting with Dragon Age II last year – analyzing every single aspect of a game. From the amount of control I have to customize my character, to the very story.

Every gamer does it, it’s part of the experience of gaming – the reflection on the experience. Designers do it as well – right in the middle of it, though. I literally spend 15 minutes to sit back and discuss something like this with my wife: “Now that’s stupid. It feels [blank] and if they had done [blank] it would’ve been better,” to a 1 minute cutscene.

She jokes (half-heartedly) that I ruin video games for her, and she can’t play in the same house as me anymore. I’m starting to agree as I continue to move on to games such as Star Wars: The Old Republic, TERA, or back to World of Warcraft.

As technically being a competitor with them via the Amalos project, I spend as much time trying to figure out what works and doesn’t work as I do just simply playing the game! My leisure time every day looks slightly more like work time.

I recall when Mists of Pandaria first came out and my wife and I spent the first week racing to 90. We took about an entire day on our Tiller’s farm simply because I would stop every 5 minutes to talk for half an hour about what it could mean, what I felt works and what doesn’t.

Once we reached 90 and did our first couple of Raid Finder raids, and using the Elder Charms of Good Fortune, I reflected on what I felt didn’t work: the basic game design principle of player perception. My biggest problem with the LFR loot system is the fact that it feels like I’m getting loot less often, because I don’t even see my piece of gear until the time I win it. Or the second time.

I realized that issue while I was fighting the second boss. I spent and entire boss fight reflecting on the previous boss fight – so much that I missed the enjoyment of the fight. That’s my problem.

It has come to the point that games bore me because I can’t invest myself into them without the mindset of “What could I do to make it better?” or “What could I do different to draw more people to my product?” that I simply lie around on my Saturdays trying to figure out what to do.

Those of you in the industry, familiar with game design, or the development process how do you handle yourselves while playing games? Are you in the same boat?


  1. I’m not in the same boat at all. I love games, all kinds of games. I’ve always loved games. I write them, design them, write about them, play them. I am looking forward to Neverwinter for the Foundry, and I just know I’m going to spend more time designing dungeons for other players as I am actually playing the game, despite writing here, being in the middle of writing one game and about to start editing another.

    But I don’t see playing games as a chore, I instead love playing new ones to look at the different ways the designers work on solving problems. The same as an editor – I still love reading as much as I ever did, even when reading something makes me want to throttle the author because it’s full of errors. I’ve been doing this for over 10 years now and I love games just as much, if not more than I did when I began.

    It sounds like you may need to take a break. I periodically take on jobs that have nothing to do with games, just to keep things fresh. Whenever I look at something I’m writing and think – ‘this looks just like X’ – I know it’s time to take some jobs working on brochures, or adcopy, or fiction, anything that’s not game related.

  2. Probably.
    I mean, I still DO enjoy games and such, it’s just it’s not in the same way as it used to be, or as pure. This post sounded more pessimistic than it could’ve, but eh. It gives off the feels I have on my Saturdays.
    One thing to note – this is how I’ve been all my life though. I’ve always analyzed things to see what could be done better, and how could *I* do it?
    I was actually in 2nd grade when I remember starting doing this. I was noticing loopholes in classwork that I could exploit, and I did, then I told the teacher about it to help her out.

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