Gaming like a Developer

Developers make games for players to play, and doing that requires you to understand what players are thinking about as they play. The best way to stay in tune with players is to keep being one yourself. Playing games can be a source of inspiration and motivation that reminds you why you wanted to start creating games in the first place.

We are going to discuss how to play, test, and review games in a way that makes you a better game developer.

The Power of Observation

In a study where participants were asked to name as many uses of a tin can on a string as possible, it was demonstrated that participants who had developed skills of observation, description, and acceptance without judgement were able to come up with the most answers. What this tells us is that creativity — the ability to come up with new, original ideas — is tied to the ability to see, talk about, and appreciate inspiration around us. Looking at each of these skills individually, we can see how they can be applied to playing games.


Observation is about watching the details and the bigger picture while you play a game. By studying game development, you will become more aware of what it takes to make an environment or animation, and become better at seeing the moving parts in games. Think about how the game works, how information is given to you as a player, and what visual, audio, and special effects elements are coming together to create the atmosphere.


Once you can observe how a game is working, the next step is to find a way to say what it is you are experiencing. The vocabulary you need for different elements and effects is another thing you will develop throughout this course, but you should start practicing articulating your observations right away. This could be in a personal notebook, a blog, twitter posts, or reviews posted on the distribution platform. Keeping a record of any kind will help you as you look for tools and ideas down the road.

Acceptance without Judgement

It might be contradictory to think about uncritical acceptance while you learn to play games critically, but this skill will help you get a more advanced understanding of what is going on, by giving games the benefit of the doubt that the choices were made for a reason, even if you wouldn’t have chosen the same approach yourself.

Follow your Heart

It can be easy to fall into the trap of deep overanalysis that makes you lose sight your your intuitions about a game, and it can be fun to get lost in a data-driven analysis of dungeons or hitpoint ratios, but be sure to cultivate your instincts and listen to them as well.

Games as an Experience

Games are an experience, and experiences are remembered through emotion. Pay the most attention to how a given choice, moment or style makes you feel.

One of Many

Another thing to keep in mind is that while you may have a strong experience with a game, people have distinct responses and what may not be your cup of tea may be another player’s favorite feature. In your own game, you also don’t have to think about pleasing everyone, just making something that you genuinely find fun and interesting.

Essential Questions

  • What kind of choices do you have as a player?
  • How does the world make you feel?
  • When is the game challenging? When is it easy?
  • How does the game teach you how to play it?
  • Were there points where you were lost or confused about what to do next?

ExerciseDevelop your observation skills

Duration: 30 minutes

  • Grab a pen and paper or open a document on your computer.
  • Divide the document into 3 sections.
  • Open Core and pick 3 games, write the name of each one in a different section.
  • Play 10 minutes to each game and write down great things about the game and how the game could be improved whenever you are feeling frustrated. Look at your emotions to spot good and bad experiences.
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