Game Design with Mike Strickland of Outer Limit Games

When I began developing my first game (an automotive racing game which was has yet been released) I had seldom played board games, I had never read any books on game design and I hadn't even played video games regularly in years. It was quite the shocker to me how difficult it truly was to create a game from scratch.

Now that I have been entrenched in the industry for a few years and have designed several games myself I decided to reach out to some of my friends who have had success designing games to get their take on the best tips for someone interested in game design.

So if you're looking to start in the industry or develop your game design skills here are some tips from industry pro Mike Strickland:

Mike Strickland (left) and his father Stan Strickland (right)

Mike Stickland is a co-founder and game designer at Outer Limit Games. He created the incredibly successful game, Tau Ceti, which raised over $100,000 on Kickstarter from over 1,500 backers. Here are his tips:

1. Is Your Game Fun And Is It Balanced?

We all love games that are fun, and balanced. Who doesn't, right?  If you're in the process of designing a game, these are probably going to be the two most important things you're going to want to focus on, from the very beginning. Typically, the "fun" part will be centered around your core mechanic, or hook. Finding your hook early on can help you develop your game in a way that will be fun and engaging, and keep you motivated as well.

Balance can usually be tweaked during play testing, and near the end of your design process, though you'll still want to ensure there is reasonable balance early on to avoid having to re-design parts of your game. I learned this the hard way while designing Tau Ceti: Planetary Crisis. I went through many iterations, unnecessarily, because I felt that a certain mechanic was not balanced properly. As a result, that change affected something else in the game, and at times, took away the "fun" part, forcing me to backtrack and rethink things.

Therefore, I highly recommend focusing on fun and balance before you begin designing, through purposeful planning. Also, blind play testing will be a very important factor in getting real unbiased feedback on how fun and balanced your game is. Most people who blind play test your game will be brutally honest, and 99% of their feedback will be legitimate.  You may not like some of their feedback, but you'll thank them later.

2. Marketing Before Design

While you might only be interested in designing a game, you still need to think about how your game will be marketed, that is, if you want your game to sell.  You're going to want to think about and plan the following things (especially if you're going to publish it yourself), before you begin designing:

  • Will most people, or is there at least a niche of people, who will like your theme?  You want your theme to be clear, developed, and likable. Granted, you can certainly apply a theme after a game is designed, but theme is an important part of a game's marketability, so why not give it some thought early on to inspire your design?
  • Design your game with pricing in mind, and "trim the fat" where necessary. Again, this is something we did with Tau Ceti after our 1st KS campaign, we eliminated extra components that weren't necessary, and found ways to consolidate them without jeopardizing game play. We relaunched with a funding goal that was cut in half, and a price point that was 12% lower. Lower price point = greater the chances more people will buy your game.
  • If you're going to launch on Kickstarter and self publish, consider having a "base version" and a "premium version" of your game. More importantly, the key to having success with this strategy is building LOTS of value into your premium version (maybe an expansion, custom dice, etc), while also ensuring that version has the highest profit margin for you. The price difference in your base version and premium versionshould be small, yet the difference in value (to the backer) should be so substantial that the majority of backers will want that version.  Meanwhile, the cost difference in the two versions should be marginal. A little creativity here can go a long way, and it's something to think about as you design your game.

Those are some great design tips by a very successful designer and entrepreneur! We're very thankful to have Mike Strickland share his knowledge with us. We'll likely produce several more in this series with other designers if enough people are interested.



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