Game design process – time element

I received an email from a collegue asking about how long it should take to do a game design. An analysis he was involved in made a remark that a given project had take only 2 months when the “normal time” to put on a game was 3 months. He asked if there were any references for standards on how long it should take to “put on a wargame”.

I thought I knew the answer, but I looked around, and thought I would post here to see if I was off-base. I looked through Perla’s Art of Wargaming, the various CCRP pubs on experimentation, the NWC papers on Global and my own past time limes for wargame projects. Not unexpectedly all were silent on the “time it should take put on a game”. Like most creative endeavors, the scope (how many players, how many sides and how many different lines of analysis), and scale (how many different “layer” – strategic, operational, tactical – the game has together with the physical geographic extent) determine how long it will tames with large scope at a large scale (not like maps – large scale meaning covering a large physical area at a number of different levels of war) will take a long time. And vice-versa.

The other problem is that in most cases a game project will expand to fill available time and short cuts are taken if insufficient time is allocated making the metric of “time to design” a bad metric to begin with.

If one is conducting essentially the same game repeatedly, with the same process, then there may be some internal value to finding out that a process that started out taking 3 months, can now, because of refinement of the process (dare I say Leaning 😉 may reduce the time to 2 months. Even with very similar games, interactive wrinkles of innovative ideas can add complexities that can throw off schedules. There are a lot of parallels to software development in this regard. Unfortunately I don’t belive this is the case in the instance generating the question.

Coincident with the question, I came across (hat-tip to Linked -in) this blog with an interesting look at how people deal with time elements in general. I took the quiz and found that I am “chrononomically bi-polar”. I tended to answer either A’s or E’s with very few in the middle. Overall I was “Moderately polychronomic” but something about the questions had me scrating my head that this is trying to make a multidimensional problem two dimensional and I found myself thinking that between 2 situations my “chrononomic bi-polar” axis would shift 180 degrees from one end to the other.

It was a very enlightening few minutes of self-examination though…

About Paul Vebber

"If you read about something, you have learned about it. If you can teach something, you have mastered it. Designing a useful game about something however, requires developing a deep understanding of how it relates to other things."
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5 Responses to Game design process – time element

  1. The answer your colleague is looking for is “how long does it take for [this specific wargame]” and not “how long does it take for [a] wargame”. Without a better definition of scope, he might as well ask “how long does it take to write software” or “how long does it take to write a book”. Too many unknowns…
    It’s why us contractor-types (especially working on firm fixed price gigs) insist on tightly-defined scope documents whenever possible

  2. Jon Compton says:

    My stock answer to that question is that it takes as much time as you have.

  3. Pete Pellegrino says:

    At the Naval War College the answer based on a survey of 13 games over the last year is 8 months (median time). These are large, research based multi-sided games. This is not just design time, but concept-to-execution time, which includes a fair amount of adminstrative overhead, affectionately known as “wedding planning.” Following the commerical model for entertainment game production (and acknowledging the differences between our two modes of gaming), initial game design should only consume 20% of the available time. Beta testing and iterative game development gets the remaining 80%.

    Of late the college’s War Gaming Department is trying to use a development timeline closer to the commerical standard, vice our previous defacto timeline which tended to push off testing until the 80% point, leaving little time to adjust. This requires sponsors to settle on an objective sooner rather than later. Unfortunately for some of our games, sponsor interest is indirectly proportional to the time remaining. This is where the contractual approach has a distinct advantage.

  4. Christopher Weuve says:

    Pete said most of what immediately occurred to me regarding large seminar-style when I read Paul’s post, but let me add the following nuances:
    1) The wedding planning parts are an iterative process, that require the assistance of multiple people in your organization whose paycheck you do not sign and whose fitrep you do not write;
    2) And then there’s the outside world — the sponsor whose input is needed to both define the problem and facilitate the game, and the players who are needed to come to the game. If nothing else, the planning process has to start far out in order to get beyond the “my calendar is full” stage.
    3) Don’t forget the Data Collection and Analysis Plan. The entire purpose of a game is often (but not always) to get a pile of the right type of data into the analysts’ hands. Figuring out how to do that can add time as well.
    4) If you add computerized parts, you need time to write and debug code, and get OOBs into computers.

    I did once witness an example of just-in-time game design — we designed the game literally the day before we executed. BUT we knew the topic and the players, and the limited time severely constrained our approach. Nonetheless, I would NOT recommend this.

  5. Brant says:

    “I did once witness an example of just-in-time game design”
    You need to hang around us a bit more… somedays it seems like this is all we can do 😛

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