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Requirements prioritization and preserving the creative/core vision

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Dear game designers and creative minds,

My name is Alex Chervenkoff and I am a master student at Utrecht University, The Netherlands, doing my thesis project on Requirements Prioritization for the gaming industry.

This post is a continuation of my search for expert opinion (meaning your opinion) on the topic of prioritizing game requirements – “How it’s done today?”, “How can it be improved?”, and generally, “How can the core/creative vision of a game project be preserved during the pre-productionand production stages of game development?”

To illustrate the problem I’m focusing on, think of agame such as SPORE, where a perfectly brilliant game idea was smothered by the studio’s inability to prioritize and focus on the requirements/ideas that make-or-break the game – ultimately resulting in a disappointment proportionate only to the initial hype SPORE created.

In software development, requirements prioritization generally evaluates the cost of implementation (time, money, people etc.) andrisks of implementation (e.g. new and untested technologies, dependencies between requirements etc.). However, as sunandshadow put it on a related topic:


So let's say you are the lead designer or producer ofa game, whatever title but the point is that it's your job to decide prioritization. The game design you bought says "we need either feature A or feature B here". Feature A and feature B would cost about the same amount to implement. You don't have a personal preference between the two. How do you decide? You have to decide because otherwise it's a stumbling block for your own personal work efficiency and the whole project. I think you need to have some overall strategy or rule of thumb for making this kind of decision.

Of course, this is an oversimplification of the problem, but it illustrates the logic quite well. To try and summarize my intentions with my thesis: I am trying to develop a method for requirements prioritization for game development where the dimensions of cost and risk are supplemented with another dimension – the degree to which the core/creative vision of a game project is dependent on aspecific requirement/idea. In simpler words, how important is a specific requirement to the core idea of the game.

In order to be able to do this, I need your help in understanding the process of prioritizing features in the game industry today.

The developers I have talked to generally take little or no interest in the prioritization process or in the notion of preserving the core/creative vision of a game idea. In my opinion, this has to do with the fact that developers get blocks of already prioritized requirements (think agile development, SCRUM etc.) and all they need to do is code, code, code.

On the other hand, the few designers I’ve talked to had a greater interest in having a clear definition of the core/creative vision of their "child". This is why I end up here, asking for help in answering the following questions:

How do you decide if feature A or B is more important to your game design? (regardless of their cost or risk of implementation)

Do you think it is important to preserve the core/creative vision throughout the development?

How do you do that?

Do you think it is a good idea to prioritize requirements not only based on their cost and implementation risks involved, but also according to their importance to the core/creative vision of the game design? How would you do it?
(P.S. The product of my thesis revolves around this question and it’s answer.)

I will highly appreciate help answering any of these questions! Moreover, if anyone is interested in closer collaboration on developing a method for requirements prioritization for game development, I will be extremely happy – just PM me! The final thesis and any product will be publicly available, and will hopefully provide novice designers and developers a good practice for requirements prioritization and preserving the core/creative vision of a game development project.

If you have any questions, I will be glad to answer them. If there is any need for clarification, just say so, and I will try my best to explain. Also, since there is a similar topic based on the same research, but from the developer's point of view, you can check out the detailed explanation of the reasoning behind my research there.

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What "core/creative vision of the game design" is?



The main idea, the backbone of the game, the concept... The core vision, the most important and simplest representation of the game design.

It is a very good question, as I would like to hear the definition of this term by designers - what do you think is the core/creative vision? How would you define it?

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How do you decide if feature A or B is more important to your game design? (regardless of their cost or risk of implementation)

Whichever is the most important in creating the experience I wanted for the player. Not a hard and fast rule but the closest thing I can come up with.

Do you think it is important to preserve the core/creative vision throughout the development?

It depends. In the initial stages? No since the idea is still being developed. Later on yes I think it's important to preserve the core idea as much as possible, there are countless games that have watered themselves down later on in their developed. Funnily enough I'm not sure spore is one of them. In fact I would say it's hard to tell if that indeed happens, what we (as outsiders) perceive as a change in the core idea could just be the developers poorly explaining or downright lying about the type of game they are creating.

How do you do that?

The two main ways i can think of are to have a single person in charge of keeping a game in line with the core vision of the project and some form of communal information hub (like a wiki). You can find a more in depth look at that idea in the MMORPG section (by Seamster and Danuser) in the book "Writing for Video Game Genres: From FPS to RPG". They relate it to the story of the game but the ideas are perfect for other areas of design as well.

Do you think it is a good idea to prioritize requirements not only based on their cost and implementation risks involved, but also according to their importance to the core/creative vision of the game design? How would you do it?

I think it is a good idea, if you can possibly do it. Outlining what you (and the team) think are core concepts to the game idea and regularly making sure the game is still sticking to those where possible. Using someone outside of the project (who can look at the bigger picture) would probably be best.

What do you think is the core/creative vision? How would you define it?

Depends from project to project. I would put as to elements that if you were to make a pitch of the game would be included. A very basic example would be "I wish to make a console based RTS with focus on large armies and RPG style character progression". The core concepts of this game are:

  • It being an RTS
  • Is using large armies
  • It having some form of RPG like character progression
  • It being console based

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How do you decide if feature A or B is more important to your game design? (regardless of their cost or risk of implementation)

Whichever supplements the theme better and/or generates a better experience. Most of the time, it will evolve and develop with time -- in the beginning, you may think A is the most suitable feature -- as time and development progresses, B might turn out to be more appealing, be it due to cost(both time and money) or just fitting better.

Do you think it is important to preserve the core/creative vision throughout the development?

Depends what you define as a core. To some, the core of the vision is using a new graphics engine. To some, it is the story or art style. Most games tend to focus on a few key aspects and build a game around that. Yeah, it is important -- it is this core/creative vision that you pitch towards the men with the money (or men with skills if we are talking hobby games). Changing the core is changing the expectations of your client, which is neither fair nor wise.

How do you do that?

By any means possible I guess? A creative mind won't have problems with finding workarounds for problems. And an overblown vision will crash and burn any way, so only the strong will survive.

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Neat ideas here Bigdeadbug! Thanks! :)


How do you decide if feature A or B is more important to your game design? (regardless of their cost or risk of implementation)

Whichever is the most important in creating the experience I wanted for the player. Not a hard and fast rule but the closest thing I can come up with.


I think what you are proposing is quite logical. I see you say "the experience I wanted for the player", but what happens when you are working in a larger project, with more people who assume the role of defining the importance/priority of a requirement/idea, how do you communicate the desired experience with the rest of the people involved. How do you make sure everyone knows what that player experience is? I'm curious.


Do you think it is important to preserve the core/creative vision throughout the development?

It depends. In the initial stages? No since the idea is still being developed. Later on yes I think it's important to preserve the core idea as much as possible, there are countless games that have watered themselves down later on in their developed. Funnily enough I'm not sure spore is one of them. In fact I would say it's hard to tell if that indeed happens, what we (as outsiders) perceive as a change in the core idea could just be the developers poorly explaining or downright lying about the type of game they are creating.


That's interesting, why do you think SPORE failed then? And you bring up an interesting issue here - the communication problem between designers and developers - what would you say is the reason(s) for this poor communication of ideas?


How do you do that?

The two main ways i can think of are to have a single person in charge of keeping a game in line with the core vision of the project and some form of communal information hub (like a wiki). You can find a more in depth look at that idea in the MMORPG section (by Seamster and Danuser) in the book "Writing for Video Game Genres: From FPS to RPG". They relate it to the story of the game but the ideas are perfect for other areas of design as well.

Great! Thanks for the literature, that will be quite useful for the research :)

I think your ideas are pretty interesting. About the first one - a single person in charge of keeping a game in line with the core vision - who do you think should be in charge - the designer? Or the person who came up with the idea for the game? Or maybe someone else?

About your second idea, the wiki - as an information science student, I have come across too many cases of companies (... true, business companies) that have trouble using a shared repository (such as the wiki you propose). What would make/motivate the people involved in the project use this wiki? And how do you think this wiki should be laid out - how would you structure the information in it? Would you put everything in there (i.e. the whole game design document content) or would you select only what is important to be shared with the rest of the team. In the case of the latter, what would you say is important and needs to be made clear across all involved in the project.


Do you think it is a good idea to prioritize requirements not only based on their cost and implementation risks involved, but also according to their importance to the core/creative vision of the game design? How would you do it?

I think it is a good idea, if you can possibly do it. Outlining what you (and the team) think are core concepts to the game idea and regularly making sure the game is still sticking to those where possible. Using someone outside of the project (who can look at the bigger picture) would probably be best.


That's my general hypothesis as well, but here comes the hard part :) How do you outline the core concepts? How do you check if an idea "sticks to those concepts"? You suggest an outsider, someone involved in neither the design, nor the development. Seems like an important role. Who do you think can be entrusted with such an important task? I understand you think it shouldn't be a designer or a developer, what is your logic behind it?


What do you think is the core/creative vision? How would you define it?

Depends from project to project. I would put as to elements that if you were to make a pitch of the game would be included.


I think that is spot on! And also shows how important requirements/idea prioritization is when selling/pitching the idea. I always thought that if there is a guideline/method for prioritizing game requirements, it should be available and applied before pitching the game idea, which means that it's game designers that should be using it. This is exactly why I'm here, talking to designers. It became quite clear that it's not the job of developers, even thought I think it might be quite important that developers at least understand the reasoning behind the prioritization.


I'd love to hear more on those issues.

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Neat ideas here Bigdeadbug! Thanks! :)



No problem :) .



I think what you are proposing is quite logical. I see you say "the experience I wanted for the player", but what happens when you are working in a larger project, with more people who assume the role of defining the importance/priority of a requirement/idea, how do you communicate the desired experience with the rest of the people involved. How do you make sure everyone knows what that player experience is? I'm curious.


Well I think there should always be someone "at the top" who governs the creative direction of the game (ideally the person who came up with the basic idea). Now yes others will have input but if the project is well thought out then the core should remain intact. As for how to communicate the ideas? Meetings of people involved in the project would be the best way to go about it and making sure from the word go that the core of the game is explained to everyone in person (or conference call). So long as you communicate all the time (or as often as physically possible) it should minimize any issues. As far as I know that's one of the reasons people use the SCRUM method.


That's interesting, why do you think SPORE failed then? And you bring up an interesting issue here - the communication problem between designers and developers - what would you say is the reason(s) for this poor communication of ideas?


Sorry what I meant was a communication between the developer and those that will buy the end product (i.e. the players).

Well I feel it was down to the developer and designer making a game aimed at children (or the family as Will Wright put it if i remember correctly) but that never being made clear to the people waiting for the game to come out. From my own personal experience people were expecting a SimCity style "serious" game with a cartoonist bent to it. In my opinion this was largely down to what the game actually was (a "multi-genre single-player god game" as wiki puts it). When these people in fact got a "family game" instead then all hell broke loose and it was deemed a failure. If you look at the game it's not really "bad" but it was (maybe inadvertently) marketed to the wrong people. It's then easy for people to assume that the designer betrayed their core ideals when in fact it was the game Will Wright wanted to along.


The reasons? I think lack of any quality communication. If it had been made clear from the start that it was a game for kids then people wouldn't have been expecting a huge complex sim game.

(Ok to thats all theory but from what I vaguely remember Will Wright saying afterwards it seems more probable.)


Great! Thanks for the literature, that will be quite useful for the research :)

I think your ideas are pretty interesting. About the first one - a single person in charge of keeping a game in line with the core vision - who do you think should be in charge - the designer? Or the person who came up with the idea for the game? Or maybe someone else?
About your second idea, the wiki - as an information science student, I have come across too many cases of companies (... true, business companies) that have trouble using a shared repository (such as the wiki you propose). What would make/motivate the people involved in the project use this wiki? And how do you think this wiki should be laid out - how would you structure the information in it? Would you put everything in there (i.e. the whole game design document content) or would you select only what is important to be shared with the rest of the team. In the case of the latter, what would you say is important and needs to be made clear across all involved in the project.



The lead designer would be the most obvious candidate (and has been the person to traditionally do this as far as I know). Really they just need to have overall control of the project but also not be too involved in the micromanagement of the game's development so they can still judge the game as a whole. I assume this would be the person coming up with the original concept but it doesn't have to be (so long as they understand the original concept and can be trusted to stick to it).


I have also found (although in small projects) that people don't tend to use these sorts of tools. People never get into the habit of uploading their work so a lot of work doesn't get uploaded initially and then people don't bother checking it so then people don't bother to uploading etc. I think it's down to forcing people to use it from the start. Make people upload the relevant work as they do it, eventually it will become second nature. Maybe even make people go back and read work others have posted that has some bearing on theirs. I suppose you could do this partially during meetings. As for what to upload this could be down to the different leads to govern what should and should not make it onto the wiki.

Off the top of my head I would copy Wikipedia's layout since a huge number of people are familiar with it.


That's my general hypothesis as well, but here comes the hard part :) How do you outline the core concepts? How do you check if an idea "sticks to those concepts"? You suggest an outsider, someone involved in neither the design, nor the development. Seems like an important role. Who do you think can be entrusted with such an important task? I understand you think it shouldn't be a designer or a developer, what is your logic behind it?


Like I said the core concepts are probably those that you outlines in your original pitch (the selling points essentially). It would be up to whoever is in overall control of the project (e.g. lead developer) to judge if an idea sticks to the central concepts of the game. At some points you could then get someone else, maybe a developer on another project or some other "higher up" in the company, who has little to know involvement in the game but a fundamental understanding of its core concepts to then periodically go over and give their input. I just feel it's important to get constant input from other people outside who the designer/developer trusts. It's all too easy for the designer/developer, even if they try not to, to lose sight of their gaols. This is good for the project as a whole not just for the core concepts.

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[font="Arial"]Appreciate the comment Zethariel :) [/font]



How do you decide if feature A or B is more important to your game design? (regardless of their cost or risk of implementation)

Whichever supplements the theme better and/or generates a better experience. Most of the time, it will evolve and develop with time -- in the beginning, you may think A is the most suitable feature -- as time and development progresses, B might turn out to be more appealing, be it due to cost(both time and money) or just fitting better.


[font="Arial"]What you are saying is quite logical and I guess by theme and experience you refer to the same thing I call core/creative vision. What I am looking for is for a way to describe what this means in simple terms, hence an abstraction explaining what the right amount and structure of information describing the vision/theme/experience of the future game is. As you pointed out, this artifact should facilitate change/evolution of the concept(s). Such an artifact could be used not only to communicate a common understanding of the project at hand, but could also be used to prioritize requirements that have similar cost/risk, by comparing if Req. A is in line with the vision.[/font]

[font="Arial"]This pretty much sums up what my research aims at, and if you could share any ideas on how can the vision/theme/etc. be formulated, and what would the right depth of detail be, you’d be helping me immensely.[/font]


Do you think it is important to preserve the core/creative vision throughout the development?

Depends what you define as a core. To some, the core of the vision is using a new graphics engine. To some, it is the story or art style. Most games tend to focus on a few key aspects and build a game around that. Yeah, it is important -- it is this core/creative vision that you pitch towards the men with the money (or men with skills if we are talking hobby games). Changing the core is changing the expectations of your client, which is neither fair nor wise.


[font="Arial"]What you say here gives me the idea of classifying the vision in several levels: technology used, story, art style… maybe genre? Hmm… I guess classification of these levels might be a good start for describing the core/creative vision. If you care to comment on idea and maybe suggest what you think would be most appropriate as classifications, I’d be real grateful.[/font]

[font="Arial"]As for the pitch, I think what I’m looking for hides in the definition of “the best possible pitch”. Only question is, what would that be? :)[/font]


How do you do that?

By any means possible I guess? A creative mind won't have problems with finding workarounds for problems. And an overblown vision will crash and burn any way, so only the strong will survive.


[font="Arial"]Darwinian logic :) Seems quite fair by natures laws, but my intentions are to help save some of “the endangered species” :P In other words, develop some generic and easy to apply method or guideline to defining a clear (core/creative) vision and use that definition to communicate it between stakeholders, preserve it throughout the project life cycle, and also use it as an extra dimension for prioritizing requirements. Moreover, such a method should be helpful when defining the initial pitch.[/font]

[font="Arial"]I hope you’ll agree this isn’t really that ambitious and would help me out with any suggestions that come to your mind, as you and everyone else here are the people with industry experience. I couldn’t possibly realize my research relying solely on academic literature.[/font]

[font="Arial"]Thanks again for the comment.[/font]

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