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Proposal writing: 75% of the time = 5% of the words

November 28, 2007

The proposal that I was recently working on is finished, and I’m pleased with the results. I’ll send it off to the client later on once I’ve had a chance to read through it again. Ironically, the proposal doesn’t include the dynamic that got me off and running in the first place. I’ll save it for another project.

While it may not generally be known to those outside the industry, writing a game design proposal looks like this: 75% of the time is spent creating a little, bulletpoint list of features that reflect the core you’ve decided upon. Once that’s done, the rest of the document – 7 to 10 pages, generally – tends to fall right out. As I (and my commenters) alluded to, the initial process of creation and inspiration takes time, and it shows up with varying degrees of intensity from “wow, what a stupid idea” to “I’m in love”.

I’m planning to build a board game prototype for this proposal later on this week. I’m used to modeling things in Excel, but given my current re-fling with board games, this is the route I’m planning to go. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. aortiz permalink
    November 28, 2007 1:44 pm

    I find it ironic that the original idea you got so excited with ended up not being in your game. Is this a common occurrence in the industry? I know original designs are seldom the final product that comes through, but, on average, just how much do things fluctuate from their starting idea through the design process? It piqued my curiosity.

  2. bbrathwaite permalink
    November 28, 2007 1:54 pm

    Stuff gets added to and whacked from games on a regular basis. I’ve never really kept track of how often it happens to be any more specific than that, tho.

    If it works within the context of the game as a whole, including budget and technical constraints, and makes it stronger, it stays. If not, out it goes.

    In this case, the dynamic that I’m referring to ended up duplicating the effect of something else, so out it went.

  3. November 28, 2007 4:04 pm

    That’s how every successful studio (in any industry, really) works. In this industry, it’s almost hit-or-miss on certain features. I really compare it to building a Magic card deck. You lay out everything you could put in, and try combinations (based on the resources available). If you have 1000 man-hours of developer time, you want to make sure you get the most out of that, as long as it all works toward the same goal: fun.

    I’ve found that a lot of the time, putting idea XYZ together (which was originally the “killer idea” that got my brain-juice flowing) isn’t as effective as idea ZXA together. Until you actually sit down and start writing down ideas, you don’t know what’s going to work. If you marry your original idea, you’re rolling the dice as to whether it’ll actually work at all.

    I do a lot of web diagrams when brainstorming, trying to make sure every piece of the design works well with everything else, and all those systems come together into a cohesive whole. I nearly always find a better way of doing my original idea (and get another thousand ideas to work off of) after 5-10 tried of organizing the original.

  4. bbrathwaite permalink
    November 28, 2007 5:14 pm

    “I really compare it to building a Magic card deck. You lay out everything you could put in, and try combinations (based on the resources available).”

    Jesse – that’s such an excellent comparison, and so true.

  5. November 28, 2007 9:38 pm

    Why thank you kindly! I got a lot of experience making Magic decks at my last job (long story) so that was still fresh in my mind, but that’s about how it seems to me. Sometimes your original plan works out great, but most of the time you see something you couldn’t have even imagined until you establish a feel for what you’re going for.

    I spend a lot of time reading and keeping up-to-date with all sorts of design resources, but nothing compares to having an understanding of what’s actually fun about games and being able to establish relationships between them. I believe that everything else in design is secondary (which really goes back to your article on board games).

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