Decision-making in game design: 9 critical factors to consider

Credit: EA Games

4minutes read


As a video game designer, decision-making is a vital skill. Troy Dunniway, award-winning Game Designer and creator of CG Spectrum's game design courses, takes us through the types of tough decisions a game designer needs to reckon with and why decision-making is so integral to the role.

Troy has shipped more than 100 titles on almost every platform and genre over his 25-year game development career, working with companies like Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, Insomniac, Disney, and Samsung. 

The “cost” of a game designer’s decisions and requests

As a game designer, it is VERY important to realize that everything you design, decide, request, alter, change your mind about, redo, take a risk on, or spec out will take someone time to implement. Time is money and resources, which are always in limited supply. 

Even a massive, top AAA game with a $50M+ budget still needs to make considered decisions about where and how to spend their money, time, and resources. Besides your own time, many other team members might be involved in creating code, art, audio, animations, effects, UI, stories, levels (and who knows what else!) for the game.

It’s vital to remember that game development is a business, which (usually) means we need to create a product that makes money (or reaches another goal, like high downloads).  If we want to advance in our career as a game designer, it's vital to meet (and exceed) the expectations set out for us. For each individual game, respecting the team’s needs and the budget, along with the player experience, is critical.


Just a few of the 100+ titles Troy Dunniway has shipped — all of which required decision-making skills

9 decision-making factors in game design

When making games, Game Designers face a multitude of limitations and factors that affect decision-making. The 9 most common considerations include:

  1. Budget: The total development budget will be your biggest limiter which drives most of your decision-making.
  2. Team Size & Configuration: Your budget will often dictate how many people are on your team. However, other staffing issues like how many people are in each department or area (e.g. how many engineers vs. artists you have) will also determine many factors.
  3. Team Experience & Skills: You cannot underestimate how much having experience working on a particular game genre, technology, or platform matters. 
  4. Development Time: The other factor to consider is how much time you have. Even with a massive budget, you usually cannot throw a LOT of people at a problem to just shorten the time needed to make a game.
  5. Game Engine: Your technology platform and game engine (Unreal Engine, Unity, or another) can significantly change a game and your decisions.
  6. Hardware Platforms: Every platform (PC, Consoles, Mobile Devices, Handheld Devices, VR HMD, or anything else you are developing for) has a different CPU, RAM, and hardware configuration, which can greatly affect your performance and decision making.
  7. Streaming: If your game is an open world or needs to utilize streaming, this not only changes a lot of the game engine technology but also significantly affects HOW the game is created and what design tools are used. 
  8. Process: EVERY developer and publisher has different methods for how games are made. Most games have points where they must be evaluated by someone outside your project to determine if development can continue. This might be executives, investors, publishers, or others involved in managing the project. These important milestones affect a lot of internal decisions and processes. 
  9. IP/Brand: Every brand or license has a lot of limitations and things that you need to adhere to.

As you can see, these are just some of the factors and limitations that can affect your decision-making. These decisions get added together, causing a chain reaction into ALL areas of the game. For example, a level in the game must usually be a certain size, have a limited number of enemies, have a limited number of assets, and adhere to many performance considerations. 


Understanding nuanced niches in game design

Almost every game's design will be different and what is essential to understand is that EVERY game is a specialized niche. Every game, genre, platform, budget, teams’ skills, technology limits (the list goes on!) will affect your game's design. This is especially true with PC/console and mobile game design but also with many others. 

Even if you have been designing games professionally for 20 years, you can’t necessarily just jump in and create a new game in a new genre that you have never worked in before. In the past, even top teams, companies, and designers have struggled when trying to shift to new platforms or genres. 

Something critical to understand is that a LOT of what CG Spectrum’s game design courses teach is conceptual. Lessons focus on how to develop more “mainstream” genres for PC/console, which can also be more easily implemented in Unreal Engine. We do not directly teach how to design many different genres of games as it would be unrealistic. If you are interested in creating a more “non-standard” genre of game, then talk to your mentor. Together, you can take a realistic look at what you had in mind and determine if you would be able to design and build it by yourself. 

In our Game Design Courses, you will mostly be learning basic (and advanced) concepts, theories, and applications of core game systems. Think of this as learning to walk — or, as an artist, you need to learn sketching, color theory, and other basics before you can be the next master artist.

Want to learn more about being a Game Designer? Watch Troy's short video!

So, with each new game (unless you are doing a VERY straightforward sequel or just outright copying another game), you will need to understand how to adapt what you know and apply it to the specific game you are working on. This, of course, also applies to your decision-making process. 

Learn how to think, adapt, be flexible, and problem solve right now. Decision-making is probably the most important thing you need to learn now, as well as how to be a great communicator. The rest of the rules you will learn along the way.


For more game design insights and advice from Troy, check out What skills do you need as a game designer?

Game design decision-making starts with your education!

Whether you’re beginner-level or advanced, CG Spectrum's game design courses go beyond just practical training. As an Unreal Academic Partner and Authorized Training Centre, the curriculum is continuously updated to reflect game industry practices with a strong focus on career outcomes. This, coupled with mentorship from industry insiders, small class sizes, personalized feedback on your work, and additional career services, you’ll gain plenty of soft skills, like decision-making, to complement your technical and creative development. 

Decide on your future today by enrolling in Game Design!



[more]Read Shoshanah Wall's bio[/more]

Shoshanah has almost a decade of visual effects production experience, coordinating VFX teams in Australia and London. Her credits include Mad Max: Fury Road, Ant-Man, John Wick: Parabellum, Game of Thrones, and Christopher Robin. She now enjoys getting to write about the film and games industry.