Inspired by Good Product Manager / Bad Product Manager, I thought I'd give my take on what makes a good game designer
A good game designer understands their job is to make a fun game. A good game designer knows they have a lot of responsibilities, but nothing they do matters if the game is not fun. A bad game designer does a lot of small tasks that make them feel productive.
A good game designer creates memorable and fun moments for the player. A bad game designer thinks a game is like a series of widgets that need to be fit together, and just wants to make it long enough.
A good game designer is clear and easy to understand. A good game designer knows that written documents, videos/gifs, and talking to someone all useful. A bad game designer can’t explain what they want. A bad game designer gives too many details when brainstorming a design, and too few details when communicating it to developers. A bad game designer blames others for not understanding them.
A good game designer is open-minded, but will defend their design. A good game designer understands no game in history has ever make 100% of people happy. A good game designer realizes that other people, even those with lots of experience or “management,” are just other people with opinions; thus, a good game designer is not afraid to disagree. A bad game designer will say “the game wasn’t fun, but it wasn’t my fault. XYZ people wanted it that way.”
A good game designer knows that there are a million small decisions that the developer must make to implement their design. A good game designer does not try to specify all million of these small decisions and instead trusts their team to make decisions. That is why a good game designer says “we made this game.” A bad game designer thinks “I made this game.”
A good game designer understands the above is true for every other part of the team, not just development.
A good game designer knows if they cannot trust the people they work with, that is a Big Problem. Depending on the situation, a good game designer may give direct feedback, train their team, or communicate to management. A bad game designer will avoid the issue.
A good game designer will work with developers. If engineering says a design is too hard to make, a good game designer will strive to understand why and suggest alternatives. A bad game designer either fights with engineers all the time, or is so wowed by engineering that they take everything they say at face value.
A good game designer guides our artists by providing reference images and describing the feel of the game. A bad game designer micromanages by providing an exact layout for everything but doesn’t explain why. A good game designer gives feedback on art quickly. A bad game designer tells the artists to redraw the room’s perspective after a week of iterations since they forgot something.
A good game designer introduces complexity only when absolutely necessary. A good game designer understands no one will understand the game as well as them, and that players very easily get confused. A bad game designer mistakes complexity for greatness and says the player does not understand the beauty of their design.
A good game designer stays with a game until it is finished. A good game designer will make sure the parts of the game they thought were fun and important are intact when the game is made. A bad game designer thinks the initial design phase is the sexiest and most important part of design, and doesn’t follow up on the details as the game is made.
A good game designer respects their players, and wants to deliver a fun experience for them. A good game designer knows they can succeed and make a game they are proud of. A bad game designer is cynical and thinks they didn’t succeed because they didn’t “sell out.”
Haiku Games has an entirely remote team. We’re not stuck on the idea - if it makes sense, we’re happy to get an office in the future. But in the spirit of celebrating what we have rather than worrying about what comes, here are some of our favorites parts of our remote setup.
No Commute. I live in Silicon Valley, there are a lot of great things about it - great tech companies, startup culture, and interesting people you meet. The disadvantage is the terrible commute times to go a seemingly short distance. It turns out commuting is a major contributor to unhappiness. Since starting Haiku Games, it’s amazing to have that hour or two back each day where I don’t have to commute. It feels great for the environment as well.
Work from Anywhere. Most of us are based in the US, but we work with people around the world. In the early days of the company, I had the chance to live in New Zealand for a few months as my wife had some time off at the end of medical school. We did a combination of working, relaxing, and exploring the new country. It’s very freeing to be able to explore and work at the same time.
Gene Mocsy of Irresponsible Games, the designer for Allied Spies, said "It's freeing just to be able to move abound town. I took my laptop to UC Berkeley's Doe library and designed the deadly library in Chapter 5."
Hobbies. Because our schedule is more flexible, it’s possible to make time for hobbies. For example, Gianluca, our developer in Rome goes to Crossfit almost every day. I have started playing badminton with my dad. And of course as Adventure Escape designers, one of our hobbies is playing real life escape rooms. Hers is a picture of part of the Haiku team escaping a room as a break and inspiration:
Family Friendly. Michelle Woods, the game designer behind Starstruck and Murder Inn says, “As a mom of three, I love the flexibility of working remotely with Haiku Games. I've been able to create a full-time schedule that still allows me to spend time with my family.” From our perspective, we feel lucky to be able to work with talented parents who may not be able to fit their life into a normal 9-5 schedule!
We hope this post gives you a sense of our setup at Haiku Games. If you’re interested to apply, check out our jobs page here. We’re always looking for great people!
Haiku Games is looking for a game designer and a game developer. What type of people would succeed at Haiku?
We believe the best way to make quality games is to empower everyone who touches the game to make changes to it. It's not just the game designer's responsibility. For example, our developers might adjust the timing of animated effects so they feel exciting and satisfying for the player. Our artists might suggest a compelling new perspective for our rooms so they look more beautiful and dynamic. Having everyone think about the player experience increases the quality of our games.
If you've ever found yourself so stressed out that you can't do anything, you know that productivity and stress do not go hand in hand. We believe you are most productive in an environment that is relaxed and lets everyone see the big picture. This is doubly important at a game company where creativity is such an important part of our jobs.
We believe the best games are made when people communicate with each other. We also love working with nice people. At Haiku, we strive to be nice and direct people. It's easy to tell people that things are going great (and we do - frequently!) but we believe it's just as important to let people know when things aren't working out. If you believe in this type of open, trusting communication style, you'll fit right in at Haiku.
If there's one guiding principle at Haiku, it's that if you don't know what to do, it's best to just do something. Preferably quickly. The ability to do work fast with minimal guidance is key because we are a small company. We often don't have the extensive market research or statistics that a larger company might have. Creating something and seeing whether it works is typically easier than agonizing over what might be optimal. At the same time, it's important to know when to slow down and set up a process for something we will be doing multiple times. The ability to function in "optimal chaos" (working quickly, but not so quickly such that everything breaks) is key for working at Haiku Games.