Experience-Focused Design

Experience-Focused Design

Experience-Focused Design

Thinking in terms of ‘Experience’ will help you design a game that fulfills its promise to players.

In designing a game, it’s important to focus on experience. 

Why experience? Why not mechanics? Why not theme?

Because players who sit down at the table are sitting down to an experience, and they’re going to judge your work based on whether it delivers the promised experience.

If you pitch an action-packed game about swashbuckling pirates, but your actual gameplay is picking up and delivering treasure chests while upgrading your ship, you might make a great game, but it’s not going to deliver the experience. People will just say “I expected more action-packed swashbuckling.”

Experience is the fusion of everything—does the combination of theme and systems, weighed against complexity and accessibility—deliver a net positive outcome for each player at the table?

That’s our goal—maximize the percentage of plays that deliver a great experience fulfilling our promise. The higher we can push this number, the better the game.

This is good news for the designer. 

It doesn’t matter what the trends and fads are. 

It doesn’t matter what mechanics you choose or invent. 

It doesn’t matter if your design is extremely complex or dead simple. 

All you need to do is make a promise to your players and keep it.

Picking an Experience

Experiences can be tricky things to describe, but the best way to start is the classic elevator pitch. 

Describe your game in thirty seconds. Avoid game-specific terms like mechanics and genre, and instead focus on the feeling that the game is going to create. For example:

“This is game where you have to escape from a haunted house with the barest resources, while an endless horde of monsters chases after you.”
“This is game where you’ll colonize a small planet and mine its material wealth to trade with other local planets. Build the strongest economy in the sector to win.”
This pitch is your promise to the player, and it will be the criteria by which they judge your work once the game is over. Communicating the experience is important, so work hard on your pitch. The better you articulate the target experience, the better your players will be able understand how they should feel while playing the game.

Feature List

Once you’ve got the experience, you can proceed with supporting features. What activities are critical to achieving the experience that you proposed up above?

For the survival horror game, we might need a system for brutal, disabling wounds, a system for limiting ammunition, a system for crafting things from scavenged resources, etc.

For the colony game, we would probably need a way to build the base, a method for trading with the other players and an open market, and a way to score your total economic output. These and other activities comprise the feature list for the game.

This is a time to brainstorm. List out all the possible activities, then go through your list and put a mark by the ones that are absolutely critical to the game, and cross out any that just don’t seem that important. The rest will be take-it-or-leave it, depending on the size of your game.


Now the next critical question: What will the actual product look like? Is this a big table-hog, or a lightweight card game? Does it play 4–5 players, or 2–10? Will it be complex and crunchy, or streamlined?

A few questions to answer:

  • Ideal Player Count
  • Target Play Time
  • Price Point
  • Intensity (Casual vs. Heavy)
  • Box Size
  • Thematic Genre

And keep in mind as you develop your own process that you may want to add more questions of your own!

Those Metrics will help you figure out how many of the discretionary features you can afford to pack in. If you’re making a big box, you can have a lot. A smaller game should try to be as spartan as possible. 

You may even decide that some of the features are exciting enough, but also tangential enough, that they ought to be placed in an expansion rather than a base game.

The Metrics will also help to guide your next big task, which is assigning systems to implement each of the selected Features. I’ll be covering the details of that process in my next post!