When I decided that I wanted to become a serious game designer (and isn’t that an oxymoron) I didn’t know where to start. The step between dabbling in game design and doing it systematically, accountably and efficiently seemed nigh on insurmountable.
I really wish that someone had given me Keith A. Meyers “Paid to Play” right about then.
Reading “Paid to Play” is the equivalent of spending a year or more perusing BGDF and the BoardGameGeek game designers forums. Everything you need to know about the basics of professionaly designing games is here, from finding your target market to the skills you need as a designer (persistence, persistence, persistence) to licensing and the dos and don’ts of submitting a query. Incredibly it’s all crammed into 87 quite airy pages.
Compact and thoughtful
Meyers doesn’t waste a single word. Everything in the book is there for a reason. Yes, it may be a bit on the shallow end (we’re talking about an introduction after all) but there’s nothing redundant, not a single word thrown in for the hell of it. Everything is paired down to the bare minimum required to get the point across.
That makes Paid to Play a very fast read. And since it’s very rich in content it’s fast without being light. The amount of good information is enough to keep the book going for a long time, and the brevity will make it useful as a reference later on – I borrowed it from a friend but I will be buying it the next time I order books. I’ll also be recommending it to all beginning designers I meet; in fact, this is the book I wanted when I bought Brian Tinsman’s “The Game Inventor’s Guidebook”.
While Meyers does skim through a lot of material he does present quite a few good ideas, even for people like me who’ve gotten though the first shaking steps of game design. I incorporated the section on what to look for in playtests (tip: listen for the “ooh”:s and “ah”:s) and what makes a good game good into my design methodology right away.
If there’s one thing to complain about it’s the fact that Paid to Play isn’t very entertaining. There are no anecdotes to share with friends, no inside stories from the game industry to amuse you. And since its so packed with information it’s very hard to paraphrase and give your friends the “condensed story” – the entire book is the condensed version. But those are minor nitpicks as Paid to Play is a book that sets out to teach the rudiments of the business of game design and it succeeds admirably without falling into the traps of being heavy, long winded or shallow.
So if you want something fun go search in the fiction section; Paid to Play is my new “best first book on professional game design”.