We asked New Blood Awards 2020 judge Maria Sayans, CEO ustwo games, for her insights into how to approach a game design brief. Read on for insights into how to tackle a creative brief keep ideas fresh, and improve your creative process when it comes to game design, multiplayer gaming, and bossing a brief time and time again.
As you sit down with your team to think about how to tackle the gaming brief in this year’s D&AD challenge, here are a few things to think about.
First of all the idea itself, how will you arrive at the game design concept for your response to the brief? I think the brief is really clear that Xbox and Rare are looking for novel multiplayer concepts that facilitate a way and a reason for players to connect to each other and communicate.
One approach you might follow to come up with your initial idea is some form of game equation where you pick three references from different categories (childhood games, fictional settings, other videogames, social media behaviours, hobbies) and build an equation that is something like A+B+C, and then try to derive a game concept from that. After a number of iterations, this exercise will often result in a concept that you are curious about exploring further. We have seen many game pitches over the years where people are using three videogames as the components of their equation. But at ustwo, when we use this exercise in workshops, we only allow ourselves for one of the components to be a videogame.
Another approach to tackling this brief would be to start from the emotion that you are trying to create in the players. Hone in on one emotion that you are trying to create, and ask yourself, what kind of connections between players could create that emotion? What would be the most, say, joyful, or fearful, or greedy interaction between players we could design? That might provide a seed that you can build a concept around.
And finally, given the focus of the brief on creating connections and communication between players, another approach your team could follow to come up with the initial idea would be to focus on non-game connections. Think about everyday ways in which the target audience connects to each other outside of games, why those connections are taking place, and explore how a game could fill that need.
Once you have landed on a core idea, you will want to flesh it out. Although the normal advice is not to over design, and not to overscope - I think in this case you probably want to allow yourself and your team to go a bit wild, at first. Think of all the bells and whistles, and then trim it all back. This exercise of “yes and” and then purging to the core will help you be more clear and more confident on what the core of the idea is.
If you build a prototype, keep it as simple as possible - prove out the fun on its barest form. If you find yourself with time left to add some polish or extras to the prototype, do it in ways that contribute to the second to second emotional stamp you are trying to create. Don’t spend much time on background story or world creation. In a pitch like this you will get more impact from a bit of visual or audio polish than from elaborate world or character explorations.
There are many ways in which you can tackle this brief, but I think the key thing I will be looking for in entries will be exciting concepts that feel fresh and show a good understanding of why and how players will want to connect in a multiplayer setting, and gameplay mechanics that are well thought through.