Communication is a game design skill

Geoff Ellenor
2 min readMay 27, 2017

The video game industry is starting to mature. We have a better understanding of how to do the work we do. Game studios tend to realize that pizza and free soda are not all that is required to build culture. Games developers now hold themselves to the same professional standards as any other innovative industry.

This is terrible news for me personally, because I’m not really a grown up. I would prefer to spend a lot more time alone at my desk with my headphones on, doing design and tinkering with systems. But for real: to rock design in a largish game studio you need to be prepared to do some adulting.

Larger teams = more people who need information. In the absence of a clear, communicated vision, people will repeat the designs that have worked for them in the past. In order to innovate, you need to share and re-share ideas. The more effective you are at communicating the more powerful you are as a designer.

People need to know what you mean, and be excited about your ideas. In fact, being a good communicator is at least as important as any other design skill.

Tailor Your Message To Your Audience

You have a design to communicate. There are some questions you need to ask as you prepare your message:

  • Who will you be sending this information to?
  • Have they seen a version of this idea before?
  • Are they detail-oriented people?
  • Do you have a strong relationship with the audience?

These questions will help you tailor your message to your audience so that your communication will be effective. Strangers reject ambitious ideas almost reflexively so you should build relationships first. Programmers like to feel that you understand the level of complexity of the feature you’re proposing. Visual people like images and less text. Direct-style communicators don’t want you to start with a story about how you got this idea. Etc.

Know the Lifespan of Your Design Documents

As you write a design document you should consider how long the document will be needed for. Example: mid-production design documents last a long time. Conception and preproduction documents might be garbage a week later.

Put detail and precision into documents that reflect existing or “approved” aspects of your game. High levels of detail are for production-ready documentation that supports programmers implementing features, or quality-assurance testers who need to understand the expected behavior of the game.

Be quick to market with docs that are “conversation starters” which express ideas that will evolve quickly. New idea pitches should be kept light until the idea has some momentum with your team.

Ask Questions

Good conversation is ping-pong, not a firehose. Communication is two sided, not something you do to people. Ask people for their input; let them dig into your design and ask questions.

Ideally you want the other people on your team to help you improve your design at every stage of your game development. Asking questions and making it comfortable for people to challenge your ideas will help you succeed.



Geoff Ellenor

Game Director, WB Games Montréal. Video game nerd. Designer. Tech head. Views expressed here are my own.