Game Design Seems to Takes Longer Than Writing Fiction

I’ve been working on getting into the fiction publishing field for many years, and I’ve had a few short stories published and written some longer works that I’m just waiting to edit and put out there. But for the last year and a half, I’ve decided I wanted to pursue writing towards another passion of mine, roleplaying game design.

When I started writing fiction, I was astounded by how long it took. I wanted my first draft to be my only draft (naive, I know). When I was done with my story, that was it, I was done! Learning to go back and edit was a hard move for me, but I eventually learned how to do it, and learned that it makes the process much longer.

Game design should be faster, I thought. After all, it’s typically fewer words, and those words don’t have to conform to story and scene structure, genre conventions, etc. Problem is, game design has its own nuances that make it much harder, and take much longer, to get to that first draft.

Maybe it’s easier to just get that skeleton of a table of contents together, maybe a few notes for each and then write it. But then what if the core mechanic doesn’t work? What if there was a major flaw in the way a resolution, action or stat played out that broke the entire system? You just wasted that entire draft.

No. Game design requires hours and hours of front-loading. You have to make that outline, play with the mechanics, then play with them some more. You have to let others play with them, critique them, destroy them. You need this on novels, too. People have to break down what’s wrong with each scene, all the way to the structure of it all, but seemingly less so than with game design. Because when you write that novel, you’ve written it. What people are breaking down and critiquing is the finished story, it just needs some reworking. With game design, it’s not so. You are playtesting and abandoning ideas on concepts before finger ever hit the keys for a first draft.

Maybe I’ve been going about it all wrong. Maybe there’s an easier way? If so, I’ve yet to find it.

What’s your workflow, your process, for game design? Are you like me, painstakingly writing down every rule and banging them against each other (and my head against a wall) before ever getting to the writing, or do you have another, less painful, method?

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