Game Development Reference
happened to be there just tweaked something to keep the system run-
ning. They looked for the easiest, most obvious fix that would be easily
understood by the most people. In almost all cases, this meant borrowing
a concept from film, software, or industry.
We can see evidence of this ad hoc process development in the huge
diversity of processes used in different companies. Every game studio
runs differently. There aren't standardized processes because nobody
has codified really good ones yet. The methods in common use are folk
knowledge. They are social norms that appeared more or less arbitrarily by
accretion of many Band-Aid changes. And just like any social norms, they
vary arbitrarily from place to place.
Thankfully, there are signs that the affliction of borrowed methods
is lifting. The best studios are replacing borrowed methods with new
processes natively developed to confront the unique challenges of game
development. But it's a slow transition, and many borrowed assumptions
The human mind is optimized for solving the problems of a caveman.
These optimizations work by making assumptions about the world, which
help us to avoid tigers and deftly navigate tribal politics. And for a cave-
man, this works well.
Unfortunately, game designers face very different challenges from
those of our tribal ancestors, while the assumptions in our brains have not
changed. In the modern world, these assumptions show up in behavior as
cognitive biases —places where humans make consistent, predictable errors
in perception or judgment. For example:
The halo effect means we can't judge the different properties of a thing
separately. If a man is good-looking, we find him more trustworthy. If a
game character has good art, we think it controls more accurately. The
human mind tends to classify things as entirely good or bad. This is deadly
for game designers because our job requires that we deconstruct every
game system into its aspects, understand how they fit together, and how
they contribute to the final experience. Loving and hating every design
element in its entirety is a lazy and misleading mental shortcut. There is
always some value, and there is always some trade-off.
Loss aversion makes us fear losses more than we want gains. This
leads game developers to hold onto broken ideas instead of exploring new
design concepts. Over time it can cause an escalation of commitment as
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