Game Design as Work Design

My friends the game designers are at it again, posting stuff about their work which makes me think HARD about my work in the training field.

Mike Sellers at Rumble Entertainment recently pointed me to Warren Spector’s fascinating post on  the commandments of game design.

Written for an audience of developers of high-end games, the principles he puts forth are all about how you create the kind of immersive experience which will bring players back, in their free time, with their discretionary income, again and again.  That mission sounds really close to our ongoing quest for improved engagement, to me!

Now, game designers have the huge advantage of being able to design their environment from the ground up.

But we who toil in the mines of employee effectiveness optimization have a big advantage over these guys – our audience is PAID to do what they do, and they come to us with an expectation of devoting 10-40 hours of their week doing it!

Peruse this list from the point of view of somebody who just wants to facilitate the process of players (employees)  experiencing growth and mastery in that game we call their career. What could your org be doing to design jobs and workplaces so that what happens at work is as rewarding as what happens on game screens after hours?

Spector writes:

Here’s the list of rules, the mission statement for the game:

  1. Always Show the Goal – Players should see their next goal (or encounter an intriguing mystery) before they can achieve (or explain) it.
  2. Problems not Puzzles – It’s an obstacle course, not a jigsaw puzzle. Game situations should make logical sense and solutions should never depend on reading the designer’s mind.
  3. Multiple solutions – There should always be more than one way to get past a game obstacle. Always. Whether preplanned (weak!), or natural, growing out of the interaction of player abilities and simulation (better!) never say the words, “This is where the player does X” about a mission or situation within a mission.
  4. No Forced Failure – Failure isn’t fun. Getting knocked unconscious and waking up in a strange place or finding yourself standing over dead bodies while holding a smoking gun can be cool story elements, but situations the player has no chance to react to are bad. Use forced failure sparingly, to drive the story forward but don’t overuse this technique!
  5. It’s the Characters, Stupid – Roleplaying is about interacting with other characters in a variety of ways (not just combat… not just conversation…). The choice of interaction style should always be the player’s, not the designer’s.
  6. Players Do; NPCs Watch – It’s no fun to watch an NPC do something cool. If it’s a cool thing, let the player do it. If it’s a boring or mundane thing, don’t even let the player think about it – let an NPC do it.
  7. Games Get Harder, Players Get Smarter – Make sure game difficulty escalates as players become more accustomed to the interface and more familiar with the game world. Make sure player rewards make players more powerful as the game goes on and becomes more difficult. Never throw players into a situation their skills and smarts make frustratingly difficult to overcome.
  8. Pat Your Player on the Back – Random rewards drive players onward. Make sure you reward players regularly and frequently, but unpredictably. And make sure the rewards get more impressive as the game goes on and challenges become more difficult.
  9. Think 3D – An effective 3D level cannot be laid out on graph paper. Paper maps may be a good starting point (though even that’s under limited circumstances). A 3D game map must take into account things over the player’s head and under the player’s feet. If there’s no need to look up and down – constantly – make a 2D game!
  10. Think Interconnected – Maps in a 3D game world feature massive interconnectivity. Tunnels that go direct from Point A to Point B are bad; loops (horizontal and vertical) and areas with multiple entrance and exit points are good.

He then shares designer Harvey Smith’s addenda to the list

  • All missions, locations and problems will be specifically keyed to: Skills (and skill levels), Augmentations (and augmentation levels), Objects, Weapons
  • Gameplay will rely on a VARIETY of tools rather than just one – Character Capabilities (Skills/Augmentations), Resource Management, Combat, Character Interaction
  • Combat will require more thought than “What’s the biggest gun in my inventory?” – A more relevant question might be “How do I deal with this situation involving a few intelligent, dangerous enemies?”
  • Geometry should contribute to gameplay – Whenever possible, show players a goal or destination before they can get there. This encourages players to find the route. The route should include cool stuff the player wants or should force the player through an area he wants to avoid. (The latter is something we don’t want to do too often.) Make sure there’s more than one way to get to all destinations. Dead ends should be avoided unless tactically significant.
  • The overall mood and tone will be clear and consistent – Fear, Paranoia, Tension, Release (through combat and/or reaching a predetermined goal or NPC conversation)

Well, ok. I think I’d rather not attempt to design in fear, paranoia and tension – we get enough of that emergently.  But otherwise, I see a lot of parallels between good game design and good job design, good recruiting, and good development planning.