How to develop a game design document
It has become increasingly important for game studios to be able to work quickly, collaboratively and with the right tools at their disposal. There has also been an increase in demand for remote work systems.
It is therefore not surprising that we are seeing the advent of sophisticated solutions to an age-old problem in the industry. How do you develop a clear plan, the tools to execute it, and inspiration for key game elements in a space accessible to everyone on your team?
The best of these solutions is a fully integrated and well-formulated Game Design Document (GDD). But why is it important, and how do you create one?
Encourage collaboration, innovation and inspiration all in one place
A GDD is an important tool for studios looking to advance in the games industry. It forms the foundation from which a game is built by breaking down the key elements of the development process, while also acting as a blueprint for what the game will ultimately look like.
A successful GDD is one that is done in collaboration with other members of the development team from the start, giving the game development process a clear structure as other elements are added. Without a clear and consistent GDD, developing a game becomes a much more difficult task than it should be.
Without a clear and consistent GDD, developing a game becomes a much more difficult task than it should be.
What’s so useful about a GDD is that it can be used in so many ways by game developers. At its basic level, a solid GDD can offer a clear guideline for studios to follow when putting all the elements of their concept together.
Keeping track of all facets of game development and design, especially on large scale projects, can be a huge job in itself when a variety of different tasks are being undertaken at the same time. A GDD can serve as a log of what is done and when, with many developers using it to clearly mark tasks as planned or in progress.
It’s been very exciting to see the emergence of more sophisticated GDDs that also include tools that developers can use to actively create key elements of their next game, such as mechanics, characters, or level design. I think studios should use a GDD as a central hub that team members can use for a wide range of different game design and conceptualization tasks.
Don’t make your GDD too complicated
One of the most common mistakes when creating a GDD is making it too long. This was especially true when the GDD first emerged as a key industry tool over 30 years ago, with studios keen to make their initial GDD as detailed and comprehensive as possible.
While it’s always important to include specific game concept and design information in a GDD, if it gets too long, it has less room to fit. A successful GDD must have the potential to develop alongside the project to which it is attached. With the industry growing at a faster rate than ever, studios are increasingly choosing to streamline their initial design document.
A GDD should be a constantly evolving document
It is important that a GDD be flexible to the needs of the team using it. As such, there are few “necessary” requirements for what to include in a GDD.
A summary at the beginning of a GDD can be very useful. The concept of the game, the scope of the project and a timeline in which to execute it, as well as other elements such as the genre the game belongs to and the audience it will seek to target. A GDD summary can be a point as the project progresses, ensuring that the whole team stays on the same track throughout the process.
The GDD can be structured according to the preferences of the particular studio or developer building it. So they can choose to have gameplay, game mechanics, and design all in one section. Others may decide to separate them, having clearly defined sections for each to allow the space to explore different possibilities and focus on what suits their concept.
Remember your game idea comes first
If a unique area of your game concept is its innovative game mechanics, then dedicate a significant portion of your GDD to this key game element. A GDD should be something you are confident you can create and refer to, at least as the concept of the game begins to take shape.
A GDD should be updated whenever significant changes occur in the development process. These changes may be small, but if they change the course of your game’s development, the GDD should reflect that change.
Keep your GDD up to date
Your game is going as planned, according to the initial summary you put together with the rest of your team. As a team, you have decided that a key point of your game’s concept is its unique and innovative level design. You have chosen to create an open-world environment, in which the central character can interact with various dynamic in-game geographic elements and NPCs. However, during a productive development session with a small portion of your team, you decide that A more appropriate approach is to make the levels more linear and episodic, as this better suits the game genre.
This demonstrates the need to update the GDD whenever a significant change occurs. That’s not to say you can’t archive older versions of the GDD as historical benchmarks. In fact, it’s something like a way to evaluate your process at the end of a particular project. However, each member of your team works from an updated version of the development process GDD.
Build your GDD in collaboration
When creating a GDD, it is important to do so collaboratively. It is a center for discussion, development and exploration of new and innovative game ideas. Involving your team from the start will not only open up a wider range of ideas for the game itself. It will also allow each member of the team to become familiar with its use from the start.
The whole team should have access to all information, and this is one of the many reasons for using GDDs in the game development process.
To recap, here are my key points:
- A GDD encourages collaboration, innovation and inspiration in one place: They can act as a central hub for teams looking to develop their next game effectively and efficiently
- Don’t make your GDD too complicated: The more your GDD is simplified at the start, the more room it has to adapt and evolve
- A GDD should be a constantly evolving document: It should contain a clear summary of how your team intends to approach the development process, while also containing sections that explore key elements of the game.
- Remember your game idea comes first: Always structure your GDD according to the priorities of the project, making sure to leave enough room for what you consider the most important elements of your game
- Keep your GDD up to date: You should update your GDD whenever there is a significant change in game development, making sure everyone is working from an updated version
- Build your GDD in collaboration: Be sure to consult with your team when building your GDD as it will benefit you all as development progresses
Tom Pigott is CEO and founder of Ludo.ai, a platform that equips game creators with artificial intelligence and machine learning tools. Pigott is also the founder of Jetplay, a creative studio that develops mobile games.