Everything is Contextual

If you’re a student of game design, literal or otherwise, you’re going to run into a lot of seemingly contradictory advice from equally smart and successful people with proven track records of great design. How do you go about resolving this? Who’s right? What’s the true path?

The answer? Often… Both people are right. Everything is contextual. I recently wrote about the value of designing for “satisfying experiences” as a guiding light, but it’s not always going to be correct. In fact, sometimes you’ll want exactly the opposite. Even designing to create discomfort becomes correct in the right horror game, or in the right sequence of a larger game (like when cinematographers use dutch angles and similar disorienting shots).

Always remember that advice on any subject in design is only true in a specific context. When the framework that supports that context changes the advice can become meaningless or actively wrong. A good example is the rule that Warframe’s devs were told about F2P success when they pitched their now mega-hit Warframe to publishers (and were universally rejected). One reason they were rejected was because they were told that their game’s graphics were too high quality for F2P, because the quality would make it impossible to build content quickly enough to satisfy the content demands of F2P models.

This was true, but only contextually. Warframe devs took this advice, but changed the context by not hand-crafting any levels when adding zones and generating *everything* procedurally, as well as changing their dev pipeline to make content easier to produce quickly in order to compensate for their high quality graphics. If they had not done this, if they had not changed the context, their critics would have been right. Warframe’s devs simply would not have been able to make content fast enough, and the graphics would have been blamed in the post-mortem articles that followed.

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