Think Like A Game Designer: Eric Lang

Eric Lang is a legendary game designer who has created more games that I’ve personally enjoyed than almost anyone. Just to name a few Eric designed: The Game of Thrones Card Game, Quarriors, and Blood Rage. He’s launched several highly successful Kickstarters and has a lifetime worth of wisdom when it comes to game design. There are a lot of lessons here, grab your notebooks.

Check out the Podcast Episode Here:

“I have the game designer’s weakness. In any social situation, I’m deeply uncomfortable when people aren’t having fun.” (0:00)

From the very start of this episode, Eric opens up about his journey into game design. Eric discusses what it took to keep him going until he eventually had a career in game design.

“Splenda sugar packets are my CCG game design tool of choice.” (21:54)

Eric was a designer on Fantasy Flight’s Game of Thrones card game. As a big fan of the books, he jumped on the opportunity to create the card game. He was asked to design the engine in one day, playing his prototype over and over with sugar packets until he could get an emotional reaction out of himself. As we’ve said in previous podcasts, the core of game design is about crafting an emotional experience of the audience and ugly early prototypes are key!

“I’ve come to appreciate games as art, and one of the most important things about art is its historical context.” (25:40)

When asked if there was anything he’d go back and change from his previous games, Eric tells us that in the past he would have answers for this, but now he appreciates the games and their so-called mistakes. Even though he may not design the game the same way nowadays, he appreciates the stories that come from the games when they appeared in the market.

“You watch the table, you read the table, ideally you’re not even there.” (34:30)

Here Eric teaches us a few awesome tricks for getting feedback on games. You’ll have to tune in to pick up his lessons, as I promised to keep them secret. Having ways to get feedback for your games that’s honest, while also experiencing your own game when played by new players. His process and tools for acquiring feedback are incredible, don’t miss this section.

“I wanted to make a game that was just based on the pop-culture version of what Viking life must be like. The principle mistake was that the designer gave me 100% control.” (48:30)

We speak about how important it is to have people around you who can show you when and why you’re wrong. With 100% control it’s hard to know when you’re making mistakes. We talk about situations we’ve both been in where this has turned out to be a tough situation.

“I do think Kickstarter is one of the most transparent success models out there because every interaction that happens is out there.”(1:03:30)

Here we speak about Kickstarter. Stone Blade has a Kickstarter coming up this summer (July 7th), and Eric has launched a variety of highly successful Kickstarter projects. He suggests that entering Kickstarter with a track record in game design is one of the keys to success. He warns upcoming designers with Kickstarters to be prepared for the day the Kickstarter ends and is backed, “that’s when your troubles begin.” Eric teaches some valuable lessons about mitigating the post-Kickstarter hurdles.

“Every decision about whether to go Kickstarter or not should be a tough pro and con list to make.” (1:12:20)

Here we speak about the game designers who don’t have a track record in Kickstarter or the Game Design industry. Eric talks about what to consider when deciding whether to Kickstart a game and the potential side-effects of a big success on your first game.

“Your designers are not you.” (1:23:45)

Eric teaches us some of the mistakes to avoid when building a mentorship program or game design team. He explains that game design teams need empathy and chemistry, and that team needs to be able to adapt to make the game the fun of all of you. He talks about why trying to teach a game design team to design just like you doesn’t work. He talks about everyone getting a voice, but you as the lead designer making the final decisions. The key is having the honesty to admit when a team member’s idea works better than your own, but also to have the confidence to move forward with your vision.

Thanks for reading the show notes, right now my company Stone Blade has a huge upcoming Kickstarter planned for our biggest game yet: Ascension Tactics. If you’re interested click this link to check it out!