Working on Appearances is Not Superficial

Sep 10, 2014

Lately I’m in the process of redesigning and relaunching the Complete Game Dev Kit (formerly called the HobbyGameDev Kit). In addition to making improvements and updates based on conversations with customers, this also involved rethinking how I present my training materials and services.

In the process I was reminded, within business matters, of something important from videogame design: how we present our work determines who it will reach, and even more powerfully, how we’ll shape it.

There’s a strong desire, especially among developers with our natural skepticism toward marketing claims, to be careful about not being superficial in our work.

We don’t want to make something that looks like it’s good, we want to make something that is actually good.

In confusion over this it’s sometimes natural to feel guilty for putting energy into making something look like it’s good, as though that somehow takes away from whether it’s actually good apart from its appearance.

Going too far opposite of superficiality brings about different problems:

The solution to:

“We don’t want to make something that looks like it’s good, we want to make something that is actually good.”

Cannot be:

“Make something that is actually good, but does not look like it’s good.”

Because no one will ever try it to find out how well it plays!

The correct response (there’s unfortunately no easy way out of this):

“Make something that is actually good and also looks like it’s good.”

Put another way, the original phrasing was missing a couple of qualifying words:

“We don’t want to make something that just looks like it’s good, we want to make something that is also actually good.”

We’ve all been burned before by misleading hype, and that’s frustrating when it happens.

Equally unfortunate, but harder to notice, is when there’s something in the world that we really would want, that would fulfill our interests, but we don’t know about its existence because of how poorly it’s presented.

Although it’s virtually impossible to tell when we’re on the player or consumer side of that, missing out on what we don’t know about, I’ll bet that this sounds familiar from the development side: you put a ton of work into making something, and then realize that many of the people who would appreciate it aren’t finding it, or don’t know what it is to look for it.

What makes superficiality a problem isn’t that attention gets paid to appearances, but that in those cases attention gets paid only or disproportionately to appearances.

The problem with a game is never that it looks fun. The problem is only if it isn’t as fun as it looks. Never confuse that for an excuse to disregard appearances or presentability. Work hard to get the game to make a promising impression, and work hard to ensure that what you’re creating lives up to that promise.



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