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Intentions versus Actions (in Game Design): a warning for new game designers

“[The road to] hell is paved with good intentions.” Traditional proverb

"You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do." Henry Ford

One reason why so many aspiring game designers “never get anywhere” is the confusion between intention and action. Different generations view this quite differently. Older people recognize that it’s what you do that is most important, not what you intend or what you say you’ll do or what you wanted to do. They're in tune with Henry Ford. Young people tend to believe that intention is so important that it can excuse a lack of action.

The classic, to my mind, is the student who loses his schoolwork because he lost his USB drive or otherwise lost the electronic copy and had not backed it up. He seems to think this excuses not having the work, though the teacher isn’t likely to agree. Another is the student who objects to the typical college policy that you cannot have drinks near computers for fear that they’ll be spilled onto the computer. The student says “I’m not going to spill it”. The teacher says “of course you don’t intend to spill it but we’re talking about accidents”. If there’s sticky pop spilled all over a keyboard it hardly matters that you didn’t intend to spill it.

In the business world - remember that if you intend to make money, game design is a business - actions count, not intentions. If your deadline arrives and you say “my computer died and I have no backup”, you’ve Epic Failed, and your contract could be revoked, you could even be fired. Isn’t it your responsibility to have several backups?

I can picture some young people saying “that’s not fair”. That’s debatable, but what isn’t debatable is that Life is Not Fair. Live with it. Though I have to say that I think it’s perfectly fair that if you failed to backup your stuff, you’re at fault.

I attended some panel discussions with published novelists at GenCon 2012 in Indianapolis. Several times they all agreed that one of the most important things in successful writing is meeting deadlines. "What does that have to do with creativity?", you might ask. Not a lot, but it has a great deal to do with business, as businesses must work on schedules and deadlines. Sucessful writers, just like successful game designers, are in a business. One panelist (it may have been Matt Forbeck, who writes novels at a furious rate, often as an assigned tie-in with a game or other intellectual property) described how when he was a game designer no one would give him a novel assignment until he'd actually completed a novel. Once he could show that (unpublished) novel to people, he got an assignment to write one.

One of the major differences between “real” game designers and wannabes is that real game designers complete games while wannabes never seem to. They intend to of course, but it just doesn’t happen, the later stages of development are too boring (and yes they are boring), life intervenes, they get distracted by another game. Publishers don’t want incomplete games, even if they normally change the games that are submitted to them. Nor can you sell an incomplete video game, or if you do people will probably find it’s a piece of junk and you’ll ruin your reputation.

And if you find yourself playing games so much that you have no time to design, your intention to design games doesn’t do you any good, nor will anybody in the industry care what you intended. They care about what you actually did.

Ask any professional in creative industries such as fiction writing, art, or game design, and they’ll tell you that one of the most important things is to meet deadlines. What your intentions may have been does not matter when you miss a deadline. What your (in)action does is give you a bad reputation that means people will be much less likely to entrust you with projects in the future.

Some advice to writers about what writers should know about cons. It often applies to game designers as well:


Great Post

Hi lewpuls,

You have covered some very important points here that any game designer should heed (or any "professional" in any industry should heed as well!)

I think many new or young designers undervalue the fact that game publishing is a business and that the publishers need to operate as such if they want to remain in business. It has been covered recently in the forums, but I think it is worth repeating, that not only are deadlines critical, but compliance with publisher requirements for submission, content, etc. is equally important.

I have a good friend in the game industry that has been mounting success upon success for years now; and what is the most common thing I hear from him? "Sorry man, I can't play tonight. I have a deadline coming up".

Sounds like words of wisdom to me...

I agree

I agree with every, single word.
It's really easy to lose focus and disperse energies in many projects, stopping when things get "boring".

It isn't that young people

It isn't that young people don't understand the difference between intention and action. The problem is that they are weak willed and react defensively to every perceived attack. They can't just accept their fate, they have to whine about it. They are looking for slack, deserved or not. They have been taught from a young age that stalling or negotiating out of punishment is a viable way to go about life.

I supervise a person who is the epitome of this stereotypical child. Quick with the excuses and "So and so should have done this or that"(so and so should have held his hand or done his job for him basically). The kind of person who dreams all day long about what he will do when he is rich, but will never do anything required to get there.

I see many young people who have a surprising amount of work ethic. I believe everyone can grow out of their childhood. It just takes time, some more than others. Unfortunately many do not grow up before they make some irrevocable mistakes.

The only thing I have to add,

The only thing I have to add, it that for example, I design a lot of theories about board game design by analyzing and observing other games. It's is sometimes important to pull out those theories and explain it to others. But it is also important to apply those theories to your own design to actually see them in action.

In many scientific field, there are teachers that explains various theoric concepts without ever applying any of those. So they have no experience on how to apply those theories.

So it could be another aspect of intention vs action. It's theory vs application. A good mixture of both is necessary.

Very good article. It's also

Very good article.

It's also the reason why people shouldn't be too worried about someone stealing their ideas for a board game. Ideas are cheep and easy. Turning those ideas into a working prototype, complete with a well playtested set of rules, all the numbers well balanced, an actually written and proofread rulebook, etc, etc, that is worth something.

I tell people, "You CAN

I tell people, "You CAN overcome your upbringing." Though it's sometimes difficult, other times it just requires thinking about what you really want to do and be.

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