Organizing my Designs

Over the last few months, I’ve been working on a new system for organizing my game designs. I was digging through some folders and realized that there were games I had largely forgotten about after I set them aside. And my folder system was becoming clogged, making it hard to know where anything was. But perhaps more importantly, I realized that if I was going to focus on getting games published, I needed to be able to track more high-level information about these games. And my mind wasn’t quite up to that task. So I took some time, geeked out, and created a spreadsheet to track progress on all of my designs. It has been very helpful to me so far, and I thought it might be useful to share both the method and the madness.But first, what didn’t work – a history. My first handful of designs just had their own subfolders in an all-encompassing if naively-named folder “Games”. But along with stuff for this site, other writing, rulebooks, fonts, template, and photos, it started to get clogged. And as I started setting old games aside to move on to new designs, I needed a place to store all of the games I was done with for the time being. (Remember, never delete, just save them in case there’s something you want to use later.) And I needed a folder for game ideas I hadn’t yet finished designing. So any game that was more than a text file got its own folder in one of those two places.

That number of folders was still manageable. But as I kept taking new designs to semi-complete prototypes, I needed to add yet another folder for games that were in progress, to be able to distinguish them from just game ideas. So now, I have game ideas, old games, and games in progress across 3 levels of folders in at least 4 different locations, and they move around depending on how complete they are and whether I’m actively working on them. It was time for a list.

I am a list-maker. I sometime make too many notes. But I changed from paper notes to (mostly) using Google keep a year or more ago. I started keeping a list of games I was working on. This quickly became 3 lists, games I was working, games I was testing, and ideas I wanted to develop. I think that lasted less than six months before each list was too big to be useful.

Enter the spreadsheet, which is the real subject of this post.


Names have been hidden to protect the innocent

I’ve got the basic information shown here:

  • Status: (DropDown) complete, active, inactive, or, cancelled when I know I’m definitely not returning to any time soon.
  • Size: (DropDown) Tiny for anything I can slip in a pocket, Small up to about 6″ by 6″, Medium up to twice that, and Large for anything bigger.
  • Difficulty: Estimate based on BGG rating spread. Roughly the following scale: 1.5 = Lost Cities; 2 = Carcassonne; 2.5 = Catan, 3 = El Grande; and 3.5 = Agricola. Above 4 seems to be almost exclusively sprawling day-long 4x civilization games and war games.
  • Players: Max player count. Min is easy, because I’ll do 2 if at all possible, which is driven by the main mechanics.
  • Length: In minutes. An estimate based on dividing the amount of time it takes me to play by 2.
  • Win Condition: This is the first really distinctive column. [The picture above is already out of date, since I’ve changed how I identify win conditions.]
  • Mechanics: Main/important mechanics in broad brush strokes. Mostly so I can make sure I’m not pigeonholing myself.
  • Progress: (DropDown) Concept ► Design ► Prototype ► Develop ► Testing ► Finalize. [Probably worth writing a whole post on this.]

The next columns form the status/progress chart. Length of the bar corresponds to the progress (farther right is more complete), and color corresponds to status. Green is good. Dark Green is in active development. Light green is complete. Gray is incomplete. Red is bad. Red is cancelled. At a glance, I can see what I’m currently juggling, what I need to work on and what type of work it needs to be, how many games are in that stage. Then I can adjust status to make it easier to see what games to work on.

Bringing designs to completion is one of my goals this year. Rather than jumping around between 11 things at once, the chart helps me focus on picking games and moving the bar on one or two things at a time. There’s no hard limit to how many games should be active in any category, but two seems about right. The chart gives me an easy way to set and visualize my priorities.

Even since I created the spreadsheet, I’ve taken two games that were cancelled and brought them back to inactive, by finding a possible way around the problems that made me set them aside. If these ideas don’t work, they’ll go back to cancelled. But with this chart, they aren’t just out of sight, out of mind.

Beyond the chart columns are even more important columns that deal with pitching and publishing. Not just the technical details, but important things like the hook and modes of interaction. While listening to a number of podcasts after the major conventions last year, publishers kept talking about wanting games that are unique, immersive, and innovative. One of my challenges in game design is making that all happen at the same time in a working package. While those are things I academically know to do, it’s much harder to keep that all in mind while working on a design. Adding these columns is a way to remind myself that I need to focus on the story and the experience besides just making the game mechanically and thematically sound.

  • Sell Sheet: (Y/N) Do I have a sell sheet for the game? They don’t all need sell sheets, So I should really change it to something like “ready to pitch”.
  • Publisher/Target: Being smarter about who I’m designing for, and who I want to talk to. There’s an entire other spreadsheet that supports this.
  • Theme Hook: What about the theme makes it stand out or appropriate.
  • Who Am I: What role does the player take on in the game? A leader? A worker? A god? Know what story you’re telling the player.
  • Gameplay Hook: What elements of gameplay will catch a player’s interest? What are the twists or new mechanics?
  • Interaction: How do players interact through the game? Interaction needs to be integrated throughout the game, not just added on at the end. I frequently struggle with forgetting this and my designs suffer for it.
  • Unique: Originality is so important, there are three columns devoted to it. What makes this game stand out? Might be the theme, or the mechanics, or both, but what do you want to focus on to catch a player’s (or publisher’s) interest.

Those last 5 columns basically write your elevator pitch. What’s the setting, who are players, what are they doing, and why is it different and interesting?

This spreadsheet has really helped me focus on what games I need to be working on, and what I need to do. I’ve experienced the joy of marking things complete, and the disappointment of making cancelled designs disappear. If it looks helpful, here’s a blank version you can download and copy to your own Google drive and use.

And, in case all of this this doesn’t quite give you enough information to organize your games also take a look at this great rubric assembled by designer Doug Levandowski over on The Nerds Table.

Happy organizing and good luck!.

  1. #1 by Robert on February 24, 2016 - 6:51 pm

    My folder system is way more sophisticated – my master folder is called ‘game designs’.

    Seriously though, good article

  2. #2 by Robert on February 24, 2016 - 6:53 pm

    My folder system is way more sophisticated – my master folder is called ‘Game Designs’.

    Seriously though, good article.

  3. #3 by bcasey21 on February 25, 2016 - 9:18 am

    Great article! I am a spreadsheet man myself so this is right up my alley. My design notes all reside in Evernote and all of the documents (rules, card files, etc) all live in Drive. Your spreadsheet will help me keep an eye on all of my designs without forgetting about them. Thanks.

  4. #4 by davidcraiggoodman on February 28, 2016 - 2:19 am

    Have you explored graphs? They’re a super set of tables which certainly could help manage and organize these collections of lists.

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