Balancing The Working Relationship Between Game Designers And Programmers


Many people confuse the positions of game designers and game programmers, thinking they are the same role. However, as anyone who has worked in a development team of more than a handful of people knows, the game designer is responsible for specifying the mechanics and rules of a game, while the programmer is responsible for implementing those mechanics and rules as computer code. However, the game designer is not, and should not, be the programmer’s boss.

it is part of a game designer’s responsibilities is to advocate for refinements to the game design so that it is as engaging as possible, and to ensure that the programmer has implemented the design properly. However, individual designers vary in their zeal. If that zeal results in too many changes to the design, especially in the later phases of development, the game’s schedule and budget can be put into jeopardy. That’s one reason why development teams are not led by the game’s designer, but by a director or producer, who can be a bit more impartial in balancing a game’s quality and schedule.

A game designer’s zeal can lead the designer to providing excessive instructions and feedback to the programmer, resulting in micromanagement, a pejorative term for exercising so much control that its a detriment to productivity. A good producer will try to minimize micromanagement within a team, both from the designer and from the producer, so that the programmer is allowed to use some judgment and discretion. Although the designer is responsible for the game’s design, everyone on the team should be able to make suggests for it, since almost everyone in the game industry plays games and can contribute good ideas to the game.

Yet another problem can come from the designer providing too little direction to the programmer. I have also known many programmers to seek out the game designer and get more information about how a design is to be implemented and to get feedback on their implementation, sometimes needing to pull the game designer away from another task that he or she is working on. Here too, game designers vary on their desire and ability to give clarification and feedback to the programmers. When designers are so hands-off after the game design document is written that they become neglectful of their playtesting or balancing responsibilities, the producer needs to step in an ensure that there are regular communications between the design and programmer.

Just as gameplay needs to be balanced so that the game is neither too easy or too difficult for the player, the game development process needs to be balanced so that the designer is neither too much of a micromanager nor too hands-off, while the programmer is neither too autonomous or too constrained is his or her implementation of the design.


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 September 25, 2017, in Game Production and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. thank you for the explanation

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