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Soren Johnson on game design

The following are excerpts from a discussion with Soren Johnson, Design Director for Zynga. Previously, Soren was the Co-Lead Designer of Civilization 3, Lead Designer of Civilization 4, Designer/Programmer on Spore and Lead Designer of Dragon Age Legends. Check out his blog Designer Notes.

EL: To start with, what is game design?

SJ: Well, it’s a broad question so you’re going to get a broad answer. The simplest way of putting it is, game design is how you find the fun of a project.

But, it really is managing that loop between the player and the machine, where you’re presenting them with decisions; they make a decision and then you give them relevant feedback, so they know the results of their action and then they make another decision.

The role of the designer is to make sure every step of that loop works out, because there are lots of ways a game can fail. A game can have really interesting decisions, but it doesn’t give the player good feedback on the results of their actions. So then they feel like they’re just playing in the dark.

Or, a game can give you really good feedback, but the actual decisions themselves are all very tiny variations of each other and there really isn’t any distinction.  Or, there’s just this one completely dominant strategy, so the game is not particularly interesting.
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