To effectively develop a video game, a development team needs game design documents. Game design documents are documents that contain the information needed for a game’s creation – such as the features, gameplay mechanics, technical details, costs, target audience, and story – and are used to guide the development team during the process of making the game. These documents enable the team to turn their ideas and plans into a functional, marketable, and enjoyable game.
Why are Game Design Documents Necessary?
Game design documents have an essential role in the development of video games. These documents create an idea of what the finalized game will be like, which can be referred back to as needed. This, in turn, ensures that the development team knows what they need to do to achieve their objectives for making the game, and can organize their work accordingly. Such a document also aids communication and cooperation between team members by ensuring everyone is on the same page. In essence, a game design document acts as a road map for a game’s creation. In addition, having the objectives and information for the game detailed in this way makes it easier to bring newly assigned members of the team up to speed.
Game design documents also help in ways besides assisting the development process. Development teams could use these documents for marketing purposes as well. For example, one could use the document to clearly explain the project to stakeholders or investors, which increases its chances of being approved, or use it as the basis of a crowdfunding project. In addition, the document often contains information about the game’s target audience, which can be used to tailor the marketing strategies to better appeal to that audience. Another way game design documents can be used is to instruct and inform producers, PR specialists, game testers, and others about what the game involves and how it is meant to work. If they have this information, they can more effectively do their part in contributing to the game’s successful creation and release.
Components of a Game Design Document
The types of information found in game design documents can be broken down into multiple sections. While the amount of information contained, level of detail, or kinds of information can change based on a development team’s particular reason for creating game design documents, there are certain topics and sections that most instances of these documents cover. These sections include:
The summary describes the overall concept of the game, such as the game’s core features, its intended audience, platforms, and genre. It also explains the unique selling points of the game; that is, the features that distinguish it from other games and make people want to play it. This section is intended to quickly and efficiently explain what the game consists of and why it should be approved. This information establishes the central framework for the document, with all other sections building on it to create a detailed illustration of the final product.
The game elements section gives information on all aspects of the game that players will experience. This includes the game’s story, characters, setting, etc. It also describes what the gameplay and mechanics will be like, such as controls, abilities, levels, and in-game objectives. Finally, visual and auditory elements like the art style, music, and voice acting – if applicable – are included in this part. The development team uses the information in this section to create a game that will be fun and engaging for players. In marketing-centric game design documents, the information in this section often plays an especially important part, as the game elements frequently comprise the most noticeable aspect of both the game and are a core part of the appeal for many potential players.
This section describes the technical details and specifications of the game. It should explain what hardware and software are needed to make and run the game. In addition, the plans for the graphics, interfaces, game assets, and programming will be laid out here in detail. It should also make clear what role each technical expert involved in development has regarding implementing these aspects.
The resources section contains information on the material and financial costs required to create the game. It details what equipment and other resources the development team will need when developing the game, as well as how much time it will take. It also discusses how much money it would cost to make the game, including the costs of the aforementioned resources. This section should include at least a brief, simple explanation of why these particular resources are needed. The information contained here is quite important when presenting the project to investors, as they will want an idea of how much it will cost them and whether the cost is worth it when considering whether to approve or back the project.
The marketing section goes into detail on the marketing campaign for the game. It explains how the game will be promoted to the public and what kind of strategies will be used to encourage interest and purchases of the game, whether that includes advertisements, crowdfunding, trailers, or other means. Along with the previously mentioned game elements section, this section is among the most important in game design documents created for marketing purposes. For such documents, this section directly describes the strategies and ideas that will be used to accomplish those marketing goals.
Who Creates a Game Design Document?
The development team for a game also has the responsibility of creating that game’s design document. While a technical writer performs the task of actually writing the document, other members of the team also contribute significantly. For example, the game designer, artist, and programmers all provide extensive insight into what information the document will contain. They use their expertise in their respective fields to determine what they need to do to help make the game, and how that work should be explained in the document. Because the same team who works on the game itself also creates the design document for it, they would have a better understanding of the information it contains.
How to Create a Game Design Document
To create game design documents, a team first needs to establish what exactly the document should include to best illustrate the game in development. In other words, they should brainstorm on what information will be needed to achieve the document’s purpose. The first step in actually writing the document often necessitates that the team makes the table of contents for the document. Afterward, the team can create a general summary, explaining what the game involves, what platforms it would be released on, its unique features, and who its target audience is.
With these beginning steps completed, the development team goes on to the bulk of the document’s content. They should go into detail about the game’s story, characters, lore, gameplay mechanics, and level design. It is a good idea to include images that will act as references for what the final game’s assets and art are expected to look like. The team would then go on to determine and write down the technical specifications for the game, followed by a comprehensive tally of the resources and money needed to make the game. They should also describe their marketing strategies for the game to show investors a potential for ROI. When making a game design document for marketing purposes, a team should make the game elements and marketing sections as detailed as possible, without ignoring or sacrificing any of the other sections. Finally, the development team should write a conclusion to wrap up the document.
Important Factors to Consider
When creating game design documents, several factors should be kept in mind to make the documentation as effective as possible. First, the development team should find a balance between making the document as detailed as possible and keeping it simple enough for the intended readers to understand. One way to do this is by using graphs, diagrams, charts, sketches, and other visual aids alongside the informational text. The team should also consider the players’ experience and make their plans with said players’ enjoyment and satisfaction in mind. Finally, they should balance including enough detail in the document to effectively communicate their ideas while not making the document excessively long. Making the document too long can cost the developers valuable time and cause readers to lose interest.
Updating and Maintaining the Document
Game design documents are “living” or “evolving” documents, which means they are consistently modified and updated throughout the game’s development cycle. Through this continual cycle, the team keeps track of changes in the development process and can update their information in response. It also allows them to improve their plans for the game if they think of something new. Game design documents should be updated frequently to avoid the possibility of important information or context going undocumented.
Game Design Document Template
The following could be a template for a game design document
- Table of contents
- General Summary
- Core concept
- Target audience and platform
- Unique features or selling points
- Game Elements
- Gameplay mechanics
- Technical Aspects
- Software and hardware
- Financial costs
- Effort expended
- Marketing campaign strategies
- Early access project
- Marketing campaign strategies
Game Design Documents Bring Together Ideas
Game design documents bring together the individual ideas of a development team’s members into a cohesive whole that can be easily shared. Without these documents, game development would be much more disorganized and difficult to plan out. Therefore, development teams should make an effort to develop high-quality game design documents to ensure the quality of both their plans for a game and the game itself.
EDC Can Help with Writing Game Design Documents
Whether you need a single technical writer for a brief project or a team of consultants to produce a complete line of documentation, the quality of our work is guaranteed for you. Our clients work closely with an Engagement Manager from one of our 30 local offices for the entire length of your project at no additional cost. Contact us at (800) 221-0093 or email@example.com to get started.
Written by Noah Grayson