Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

13 August, 2016

Weekend Design Challenge: Explaining your game

So, let me dust off this old thing and let’s talk about explaining your game. This is a vital part of game development on multiple levels.

Let’s take a look at why it’s so important, with a little challenge for you to ponder.


The impetus for this comes from indie game developer Rami Ismail and a few tweets he made:

Now, I haven’t bought No Man’s Sky yet as I’m busy right now working on my own project, so I can’t complete this challenge myself. But, I’m interested to see who can.

The importance

There are three main reasons why this is important.

The first is talking to investors. The infamous “elevator pitch” is mentioned a lot for a reason. You want to convey your idea as simple as possible in a limited amount of time; the idea is that if you’re in an elevator with an investor, you want to pitch your idea quickly and have them get excited about it.

The second is talking to employees and collaborators. You want people to get excited about the idea. Droning on for several minutes won’t get people fired up, but a smart description can help pique curiosity and get people interested in finding out more.

The third is talking to press. Rami was talking to the press about the game, and being able to summarize a game into a broadcast-worthy soundbite is a challenge sometimes. Especially for a game that tries new things.


The problem with describing a game succinctly is that it doesn’t always work right. People fall into certain pitfalls when trying doing this.

One big problem is relying on clichés or shortcuts that don’t give the full story. In games, this often takes the form of “It’s like game X, but with Y.” For example, “It’s like Metroid, but as a roguelike.” Can you guess what game I’m describing? If I told you the game, you’d probably agree, but the description isn’t very complete and it might get you thinking about the game in a way that is restricted by those categories. It also requires that the person getting that description understand what the game and element are, which isn’t always the case.

(The game I was thinking of was Spelunky for those playing along at home. Think you can give a better description? Write it into the comments below.)

The other issue is that it can be hard to encapsulate novel ideas into a brief description. This was a big problem with Storybricks, where it was tough to communicate what was so exciting about the idea quickly and easily. AI hadn’t quite become a buzzword yet, and especially in games people tend to think of AI in a very limited capacity. It took a bit of time to come up with a few concrete examples which I think helped get people excited, although I don’t think we were completely successful. I suspect this is one of the problems with No Man’s Sky, where they are doing some cool things that don’t always fit into a soundbite.

Your turn

Okay, so follow Rami’s challenge and talk about what makes No Man’s Sky interesting. Bonus points for doing it to a non-gamer. Or, if you want to participate but haven’t played the game yet, describe your own game concept succinctly, or pick a game you do like. See if you can also avoid the pitfalls I listed above.


  1. It’s a spaceship exploration game about flying to different planets and seeing things no one else has seen (in precisely the same way.) It’s special because it lets you experience the sense of discovery and awe of exploring an unmapped frontier. It’s unique because it uses a very visually striking color palette reminiscent of old sci-fi book covers.

    Mind you, I haven’t played it either, just watched some Twitch streams here and there. I also very conveniently fail to mention either the grindy basic gameplay loop of harvesting resources and trading/selling, or the remarkable number of crashes and technical difficulties some people appear to be having at launch… But eh, elevator marketing pitch, right?

    Comment by Jeromai — 13 August, 2016 @ 10:32 PM

  2. No Man’s Sky is yet another realization of a long-established, traditional fantasy of space exploration, this time done with a retro-futuristic 1950s aesthetic. It’s special because it’s very much bigger and very much more more overtly populist than any previous version. It’s news because of claims that it does things with the available technology that haven’t been achieved successfully in previous attempts.

    Or, even shorter, it’s Spaceman Spiff on Haribo.

    Comment by bhagpuss — 14 August, 2016 @ 4:13 AM

  3. It’s a game that takes the exciting parts of being an astronaut and scientist. It lets you explore strange planets and discover new wildlife while learning of an alien civilization. The best part is you share what you discover with everyone else that plays.

    That’s my best description.

    Comment by Tyrannodorkus — 14 August, 2016 @ 5:03 AM

  4. No Man’s Sky is a game about loneliness. You travel about the galaxy on your own, getting money and better gear, and mostly there is no one else to talk to or cooperate with. Trading is done through a market-making computer. You start not knowing any words in any of the three alien languages. Somehow you try to communicate. Sometimes the aliens are afraid of you and just want you to leave them alone. Meanwhile, there are robot sentinels everywhere, who get “mad” and try to kill you if you do too much mining, or take the wrong item from the wrong place. There’s never any explanation of what’s acceptable and what isn’t either. The game is about being a stranger in a strange land (or galaxy).

    Comment by Toldain — 14 August, 2016 @ 8:48 AM

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