+1 Game Design: A Problem-centric Framework

I was recently asked about the best approach to come up with a +1 mobile game design and wanted to cover this topic. In my view, a very specific approach and process to maximize your chances for success should be considered.

What is that approach? I call it a “problem-centric” framework.

What does that mean?

It means that you are taking an existing design and trying to improve that design by focusing on it’s core problems. However, designers should also be careful not to break the key factors in the game that already make it successful.

The steps to this approach include:

  1. Pick Base Design
  2. Determine top 3 Key Problems with Base Design
  3. Determine top 3 Critical Success Factors (CSF) of the Base Design
  4. Brainstorm Solution Set that addresses both Key Problems and CSFs
  5. Test the New Design against the Base Design

Base Design

The first step to this approach is to pick the base design. I would select a design which is:

  1. An old design that you believe may have been ignored for a while and doesn’t have much competition or that you feel can be improved significantly for specific reasons
  2. A new design that has recently emerged in the market and you think has room to expand or be improved in some major way (minor way won’t count as a +1 in my book!)

Here are some examples:

Base Design ModelExamples
Old Design
  • March Battle (e.g., Kingdoms of Camelot, Game of War)
  • Markup RPG (e.g., Castle Age)
  • Any old great Nintendo DS or Flash Web game
  • New Design
  • Pinball Mechanic (e.g., Slingshot Braves, Monster Strike)
  • Multi-hero Active Skill (e.g., DOTA Legend, Dragon Blaze)
  • Flappy Bird
  • Once the base design has been selected it’s now time to start the design process.

    Top 3 Key Problems

    We must first determine what are the top 3 problems with the game.

    A few issues to consider:

    • Think hard about whether the problems you come up with really are the top 3 problems, make sure you are right because this will impact all of the design moving forward
    • Problems with monetization and solutions in that area may not necessarily make the game better; start with the user and gameplay problems first
    • Sometimes problems are uncovered by asking a lot of questions: Where did I stop in the game? Why? What could make the game more fun? Who is the target audience for this game? How would a casual/mid-core/hard-core player react to this kind of game? What if I wanted to play longer? What would make me recommend this game to a friend? etc. etc.

    Top 3 Critical Success Factors

    Next determine what about the base game design has made the game so successful.

    A few things to think about as you decide upon your CSFs:

    • Why did you pick the base game?
    • What is it about that game that makes it successful?
    • What about the base game, if you took these things out of the game what would make the game fail?

    Brainstorm Solution Set

    Now that you have determined your design parameters, you need to come up with solutions to the key problems… and at the same time try to think of what about the CSFs you can change or improve to make the base game design better. What you are looking for specifically are changes or features that ideally improve CSFs while at the same time address Key Problems.

    Here is a very simple graphical depiction:

    problem-centric framework

     

    Make sure that the solutions proposed do not interfere with the CSFs of the base game that is making it so successful!

    Once you have selected the set of features/changes/improvements in your new game design  you are ready to test it…

    Test the New Design

    The next phase is to take all of the ideas and create a set of mocks/wires that incorporate the new design.

    Pro Tip:

    • In your new game design, if any feature does not solve a Key Problem or advance a CSF, eliminate that feature or have a really damn good reason you’re keeping it

    I suggest you create a full set of screens as per my design post about Screens vs. Flows. Finally you can put all of your screens into a prototyping tool like Concept.ly and then easily see how your new design may feel to a new user.

    Take this to new users and specifically create an interview guide that probes them on whether they feel the conceptual prototype they hold in their hands will address the Key Problems/CSFs. Talk to them about the original game and test whether you are actually right about the original Problems and CSFs.

    After iterating very quickly through this process you should be able to see before investing in writing a single line of code how well your new design may fare in the market.

    That’s basically it.

    If any of you reading this makes it big out there using this approach, please do remember the little guys like me who helped to get you there… 🙂

    1 Comment

    • Vincent Richer

      Posted May 15, 2014 1:22 am

      This should be standard for any games imo… How do you expect to surpass your predecessors if you don’t go through that process?

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