What Separates A Bad, Good, and Great Game Designer

Civilization game designer Sid MeierA poster on Quora, a question and answer website, posted the question “What separates a good, bad and great designer?”  It so happens that the night before I read this question, I had explained the role of a game designer with my Survey of the Video Game Industry class at the Los Angeles Film School, and so I ventured an answer, which I’m reposting on my blog.


A bad designer is one who can’t be bothered to:

  • Be creative
  • Strive for originality within the established constraints of the project
  • Look beyond their initial ideas
  • Be willing to give up ideas that don’t work, don’t fit, or are too costly

Good designers also realize that their initial ideas are very rarely the best ones, so they will keep an open mind and keep nothing sacred as they playtest their designs and evaluate the results.

As one meme I show to my students says about game design:

  • If you don’t make mistakes, you’re doing it wrong
  • If you don’t correct your mistakes, you’re doing it really wrong
  • If you can’t accept that you’re mistaken, you’re not doing it at all.

However, a great designer will be able to realize when their gameplay tweaks have reached a point of diminishing returns and be able to identify when a game is good enough to be released without going beyond the time, budget and scope constraints.

Good game designers realize they aren’t making games for their own enjoyment — they are making them for other players’ enjoyment.  They will start out specifying the experience they want their players to have and playtest the game with potential players to see if they having the experience that the designer wanted them to have.  However, a great designer will not only listen to the problems are, they will figure out why they are saying they are having problems and what the real source of the problems are.

While a good designer might be inspired by the themes and mechanics they’ve played before and combine genres in interesting ways, a great designer is able to draw upon non-electronic sources such as books, art, plays, museums, history, and current events.

The Extra Credits YouTube channel has a great video describing the skills required to be a decent game designer and a really great game designer.


 In summary, to be a decent game designer, you need to have these skills:
  • A high level of technical writing skill (spelling, writing, grammar)
  • A solid grounding in logic
  • Knowledge of basic psychology
  • Understanding the medium your are working in
  • A solid grasp of mathematics, at least through advanced algebra


To be a really good game designer, you need to have:

  • A thorough knowledge of literature, philosophy and myth.
  • An understanding of world religions
  • Basic scripting and programming ability
  • An understanding of art principles
  • An understanding of basic audio design and musical principles
  • A practical knowledge of graphic design
  • A thorough internal library of games to reference
  • A well-balanced life experience

Most importantly, you need to create games.  What really separates bad, good, and great game designers are quality of games they have in their portfolio.



About David Mullich

I am a video game producer who has worked at Activision, Disney, Cyberdreams, EduWare, The 3DO Company and the Spin Master toy company. I am currently a game design and production consultant, a game design instructor at ArtCenter College of Design, and co-creator of the Boy Scouts of America Game Design Merit Badge. At the 2014 Gamification World Congress in Barcelona, I was rated the 14th ranking "Gamification Guru" in social media.

Posted on July 14, 2014, in Game Design and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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