Game Development Reference
Design Based on What's Worked Before, but Add Your
Paul Preece was a Visual Basic programmer in Britain who taught himself Flash on the side. He made a web-
based strategy game that was based on a popular level from World of Warcraft III, gave it some very clever
twists, and wrapped it up in a style that gave it great casual appeal. After millions of people played Desktop
Tower Defense, he realized the game “had changed my life.” He's now co-founder of KIXEYE, a social game
studio with yearly revenue approaching $100 million and a swank office in San Francisco.
Preece advises this: “Look to extend previous games. Go back to a game you enjoy playing. Not some AAA
game but a nice game you liked playing, and say, 'What would I have liked to see in this game?' Start the pro-
cess of re-inventing.” Desktop Tower Defense, as you've learned, evolved in this way.
He continues, “Because every game is 70 percent what came before, you are going to borrow from other
games. This is not a bad thing. This is something you should be doing. Then you only have to design that 30
percent, which is a good thing.” Everything is a struggle in the beginning, but after the fifth game or so, he
says, you'll be able to think about more innovation and risks. “You're basically going to dislike launching all of
your games because you never get to that 100 percent marker, you never get to include everything you wanted.
You're gonna get happier with them as you release more, and you'll get better at it.”
Design Knowing that Great Games Will Find an
Audience, Despite (and because of) Your Larger
Randy Smith began his career as a designer creating games for the PC, among them a groundbreaking master-
piece called Thief: The Dark Project, only to see Looking Glass, the studio of idealists who created it, abruptly
closed down. He worked for a time with Steven Spielberg on a game project at Electronic Arts, only to see de-
velopment on that canceled before it was released.
Now he develops his own iOS games for his own studio, Tiger Style, designing them with maximum artistic
and financial control. “The distribution channels are definitely crowded with games, but even on iOS, I rarely
discover something great that has gone completely overlooked,” says Smith. “The overlooked games are me-
diocre or at best flawed. If your game is great, it will be found and people will tell each other about it. So put
your emphasis into making a great game, and since it's very hard to know for sure, get outside perspectives on
whether it's great yet or not.”
Smith adds, “There's no substitute for play-testing. Don't be afraid to give up on ideas that aren't working.
Maybe backtrack and try something else. Being invested in a bad idea won't help you, but ruthless self-editing
will. Never confuse 'great' with 'huge,' either, especially when you're just starting out. We sliced Spider down
to its barest essentials, the most focused version of that game possible, and threw out everything we felt was at
all peripheral so we could put all our effort into nailing the core appeal. I have zero doubt this mentality was
fundamental to Spider's success.
“Big, well-funded studios make polished and entertaining games, but they leave plenty of space for indies,”
says Smith. “My favorite games across all platforms right now are pretty evenly split between indies and main-
stream. Indies are more likely to try riskier ideas and always have a sense of human personality that somehow
gets scrubbed away in mainstream works. So don't be intimidated, there is room for you in this crowded market.