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Designers vs. Developers

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Holly Verssen
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I've been asked, several times, the difference between a game designer and a game developer.

Most designers also do some of their own development, and developers often make suggestions that lead to changes in the design.

There is even quite a bit of development done by playtesters.

So, in your opinion, what are the job and responsibility break-downs between these two career choices?
How much overlap is there, and how much SHOULD there be?

rpghost
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The way I define it which may

The way I define it which may or may not be useful to you is... the designer is the guy who made up the game. The guy who approached us as a publisher with something they want us to produce. A developer is the guy who works for us (the publisher) and helps to clean up the game, stream line it, normalize it, hack it, etc... he's the guy that makes the game fit the mold the publisher wants it to fit. There is no reason the designer shouldn't be involved completly in all stages of making the game.

So, if you're good an analyzing a game that's already made and making changes and suggestions to existing work. Figuring out where the fat is and trimming it - then you should be a Developer. If you're just crazy full of fun ideas and want to make all sorts of original games, then be the designer, but be open to changes.

James
http://www.MinionGames.com

sedjtroll
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Compare to book publishing

rpghost wrote:
The way I define it which may or may not be useful to you is... the designer is the guy who made up the game. The guy who approached us as a publisher with something they want us to produce. A developer is the guy who works for us (the publisher) and helps to clean up the game, stream line it, normalize it, hack it, etc... he's the guy that makes the game fit the mold the publisher wants it to fit. There is no reason the designer shouldn't be involved completly in all stages of making the game.

So, if you're good an analyzing a game that's already made and making changes and suggestions to existing work. Figuring out where the fat is and trimming it - then you should be a Developer. If you're just crazy full of fun ideas and want to make all sorts of original games, then be the designer, but be open to changes.

James
http://www.MinionGames.com


James' descriptions sound really accurate to me. Of course, in all cases the designer should do a bit of development on their games as well, or else they're not so much a designer as a guy with an idea that might make a cool game!

I usually describe it to people in terms of book publishing, because that's familiar to a lot of people. Books have Authors and Editors. The game Designer is like Author of the game, and the game Developer is the Editor. It's a pretty direct correlation, and an intuitive analog for most people, I think.

MarkKreitler
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Slightly different?

The above definitions make a lot of sense, but the ones I use differ slightly. This could be because I come from the video game development field, where teams regularly exceed 100 people, causing us to develop a different vocabulary. Upshot: caveat emptor.

A "designer" is generally responsible strictly for game play elements: layout of the board, interaction of mechanics, distribution of randomized elements, etc.

Similarly, "artists" are responsible strictly for visuals, and "programmers" strictly for creation of tech. I bring those definitions up because they interact with the definition of "developer."

"Developer" can take on two meanings. On one end of the spectrum, it can mean any of "artist," "programmer," or "designer." On the other end, it means someone who fills more than one of these roles. This first definition applies on large teams, the second on small ones.

For me, personally, it boils down to this: I generally describe myself as a "developer" because I do design and programming, and can occasionally limp by on art. If I'm applying to a specific position within a large team, I describe myself as a "programmer" or "designer," depending on the position.

To be honest, it never occurred to me to use the word "developer" in the context of board games -- most people either fall into the category of "game designer" or "graphic designer," with some people able to do both (lucky stiffs!).

McTeddy
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I'm actually with Mark that

I'm actually with Mark that I've never heard "Developer" about board games... so my own opinion may be a little different than the initial question.

From my electronic gaming background Developers are the technical skills. They are artists and programmers that build the game from the ground up. They are responsible for the "implementation" of an idea and the final physical product. Developer's are concerned with the "Make it happen" aspect of a game.

Designers have a more knowledge-based role. It is a designers role to focus on the concept, the theme, and the idea's behind the game. They need to focus on the interactions and the rule-sets that control the game from a theoretical (Fueled by prior knowledge and testing) standpoint. Designers are more focused on the "What needs to happen to create the desired effect" aspect of games.

I believe that there is definitely overlapping from my point of view both ways... and should be even more. Developers benefit from understanding the effect even minor rule tweaks make... while designers benefit from understand what is actually realistic to create.

Too many games fail because someone didn't fully understand their game. Whether it was a great concept that gets bogged down by slow and dull mechanics or an idea that tried to do far too much and failed to deliver. A wider range of knowledge will help anyone improve their art in any field.

bhazzard
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I know that in the industry

I know that in the industry success comes from lots of luck and hard work. But specifically what is the general career path of a game developer? Do these folks usually have their own game design credits first? Is there even a "general career path"?

Holly Verssen
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Rock Stars

Designers are the Rock Stars of the industry. They create the cool games. They get their names on the box. And they win the awards.

But I think the developers have the harder jobs.

A developer is responsible for playing the game and finding all the ways to take advantage of the system. Where is the game too hard, or too easy? What is boring or unnecessary?

The developer makes suggestions to the designer, who takes the suggestions or not.
In the end, the game has to follow the designer's vision. The game will use the designer's mechanics, and be judged for the designer's skills. If the game does GREAT, it means the designer is amazing and did a really good job.

If, however, a game "Breaks" - if a ways is found to always win, or always destroy an opponent if you can get "this" combination of cards, or a component Just Doesn't Work - then it is the developer's fault.

The developer has a terrifying job. Come up with EVERY possible way gamers will play this game, all over the world, and make sure the game is unbreakable. If a single "break" is found, it will show up in reviews, on forums, and the game's sales will suffer.

Unfortunately, for the designer, if the developer fails, the embarrassment is thrown onto the Designer, not the Developer. It is a very serious relationship.

Shoe
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from my experience and

from my experience and research. Designers come up with a framework for a fun and flavorful game. the developers then try to break the game in half and then patch up all those holes in the original design.

lewpuls
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Yes, "developer" has two entirely different meanings

Yes, "developer" has two entirely different meanings, between the tabletop and video game industries. In the video game industry it derives from the broader idea that a "developer" is a programmer creating software. The name was then applied to everyone else involved in creating game software. Hence International Game Developers Association is open to everyone involved in creating video games.

The tabletop meaning for developer derives from SPI, where Jim Dunnigan felt that some people who researched history and tried to create a game, weren't really interested in making sure the game was a good (or even decent) game, they were interested in the history. So the developer made sure the history made a good (or at least, playable) game. Some well-known designers of historical games depend almost entirely on developers to make their games good. I even heard one described as turning in "a box of notes" for a developer to turn into a game, but that's an extreme.

So the analogy with a book editor can apply. Sometimes an editor will rearrange and rewrite (and sometimes, screw up) a book, sometimes the editor won't change a thing, and everywhere in between. Same with tabletop game developers.

Anyone who has designed a fair number of published games, has had a developer screw up one or more. I know I have. And most will also have had a developer be helpful. I know I have.

pelle
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lewpuls wrote: In the video

lewpuls wrote:
In the video game industry it derives from the broader idea that a "developer" is a programmer creating software. The name was then applied to everyone else involved in creating game software. Hence International Game Developers Association is open to everyone involved in creating video games.

Interesting. In the non-games software industry where I have worked for a long time, developer is pretty much just a different (more fancy) word for programmer. I didn't know it had a broader use in the games industry, but I understand they are also special in other ways that make it feel a bit alien to us other developers. :)

Quote:

Anyone who has designed a fair number of published games, has had a developer screw up one or more. I know I have. And most will also have had a developer be helpful. I know I have.

I have only one published game, but the developer (Alan Emrich) really did a great job on it imo. He got all the graphcis done, turned my confusing rules text into a proper rulebook, organized most of the playtesting, suggested many good improvements (mostly things to remove; it is easy to get carried away when designing...). But I still felt like I had final say (and have to take full responsibility for anything bad in the final game). Can really appreciate the value of having someone else step in as developer and sort things out before publishing. After having spent too much time on a game I don't think the designer is the best person to do the final development steps.

larienna
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Developer is mostly used in

Developer is mostly used in video game production. But if you want to know what it could do in board game, I think that the designer is the person that creates the game while the developer is the person that produce the game.

This means that a developer takes a working game and now plan the production: Calculate required pieces, select Artwork and graphic design, calculate production cost, etc. There is little creative activity involved.

I think that is one of the reason why they are called developers in the video game industry. Because once the initial design is set, you are only producing the game by building the code and making the art.

Dralius
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Holly Verssen wrote:The

Holly Verssen wrote:
The developer makes suggestions to the designer, who takes the suggestions or not.
In the end, the game has to follow the designer's vision

Sorry to break it to you but the publisher will make changes often without your input that will not be in line with your vision. For good or for worse this happens every day.

Look at it like this.

A publishing company that has been around any length of time has a wealth of experienced people developing your game. Maybe even 100 or more years of experience collectively. That being said I have seen some totally boned jobs done to games by publishers trying to save a buck or make a change for some other reason.

Traz
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too right Dralius!

I made a mistake once by selling a game, but not confirming that I be kept in the loop as the development went forward. The result was that the game was COMPLETELY changed [and not for the better]. My name went out on it as the designer, but not that many people had any idea how many changes had been made [except for the map, it was literally a completely new game]. Talk about surprised.

That experience put me on the path to doing my own work - both design and development. It was many years before I let a publisher talk me into submitting a designed game that required more development - my main problem was that everybody wanted to BUY my new game, but I couldn't get consistent playtesters to work out the kinks to save my soul. Finally the publisher convinced me to submit the game as-is, and he would get the playtesters from his own pool of regulars. With his promise that I would absolutely be kept in the loop in regards to every change, I decided to trust him.

He passed my baby on to the best freaking developer in the wargaming hobby - Lembit Tover. He has done journeyman work taking my design to the next level in ways I NEVER would have imagined and has made amazing progress with the design. Unfortunately, the design is in hiatus right now, as the company is going through rough times, but I anticipate the day when the company will get back on its feet and the game will be put through its finishing paces. When its finds a box it will be a hit and I absolutely want a lot of the credit to go to the Developer!

As a result of both experiences, I am now amenable to a publisher taking my work and changing it, as long as I am kept in the loop of the changes as it goes through development or redevelopment [though I am still hesitant about letting go of a design that I do not consider completely ready for the box].

I try to put myself in the position of a publishing house who needs to take a design and make it fit their lineup - I can do that.

As it stands right now, I continue to self publish my own designs with the idea that someday [not quitting my day job here] a publisher might run across one of them and decide they can't live without it - which is what happened to my most successful sale. Lightning hasn't struck twice yet, but hope springs eternal.

Orangebeard
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Design * Dev

I had not thought about it much until now, but I think I would have defined these roles as follows;

Designers are creators of new games that are then submitted to publishers

Developers work for publishers and their efforts are focused on whatever project the publisher dictates. This may, or may not, included the creation of a new game.

The important distinction to me is that a developer is a "hired gun" and a designer is a..."hopeful gun"?

Traz
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DUDE!

Good one, Mr. Beard! Your wit has nailed a large part of the jello truth to the wall. Not an easy task.

Designers work freelance or for the company - it is EXTREMELY RARE that a developer is ever freelance [none come to mind at all].

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