What Are the Hard Skills of a Game Designer?

There are hard skills and soft skills.

Hard skills are things you can practice outside of any context. Soft skills are usually built upon the soft skills.

Basketball players can practice shooting three-pointers over and over outside of the context of a real game. During a game, knowing when to take a three-point shot is a soft skill, which depends on reading the defense, knowing the shot clock, and keeping in mind the current score.

When I think about hard skills vs soft skills, I found myself struggling to think of the hard skills of a game designer.

A game designer needs to be able to communicate, which means writing and drawing well. But I have a hard time seeing writing prose as a core exercise in getting better at designing games.

A game designer needs to be able to establish rules for setup, for procedure, and for resolution. But how does rule-setting translate into a hard skill that I can practice outside of the context of a game? Do I train as a game designer by setting arbitrary rules for everyday activities? “When getting ready in the morning, I must do everything with my non-dominant hand.” It might be interesting to experiment for a week with setting rules and restrictions where they don’t need to exist, but will I really get better at game design for it?

A game designer needs to be able to prototype and playtest. Do you take an existing game and create your own board, cards, and tokens? Does doing so actually help with future prototyping? Maybe. I actually like this idea. You practice with existing games, and it helps you get a more intuitive feel for exactly what goes into a game of your own creation. Maybe you didn’t appreciate how many different cards are in a game of Onirim until you tried to make them yourself.

But hard skills specific to game design seem hard to identify. Game design tends to be about trade-offs and figuring out second-order effects of rule changes, which are mostly about soft skills. But maybe I’m missing something basic that I’m not appreciating.

What do you think? What are the hard skills of game design?

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