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What would you consider to be compelling watch parts? I could tell you about bridges, wheels, and springs all day. But you'd be no closer to understanding what makes a "good watch. Even the people who say they do. Game mechanics are like watch gears. A "compelling" game mechanic only makes sense in context. Transplant that mechanic into another game, and there is no guarantee that it will work.

KOBOLD Guide to Game Design, Vol. 2 (Print + PDF)

This is not to say that games can't borrow mechanics from each other. But blindly transplanting pieces from one mechanism to another is a terrible way to design. You can't just throw a bunch of random watch pieces together and expect them to tell time. You must have a plan.

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When you break a game down into its component parts, you can certainly learn about that game. But you can't apply very much of what you've learned toward creating a new one. Breaking something down into components really only teaches you about the components; it obscures your perception of the whole.

A map of Spain tells you very little about the New World. It's hard to be a creator when all you have is critical skill. That's why the jobs of critic and creator rarely overlap. If I ask the question "all good watches are blank ," what do you say? The whiteboard is empty.

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They have a face. Uh, they have gears. They have an alarm. Keep throwing things out there, and I'm sure I can think of a counterexample for each one.

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A watch without hands, for example. And I can also think of something that is not a watch that has most of these things. In fact, a varsity football player makes it most of the way through the list. Did that get us anywhere? We've thoroughly defined "watch," but we aren't much closer to making a new one. Hitting everything on the checklist is no guarantee of being good. And plenty of watches have little in common with the list. The player is the consumer of the game. It's his opinion you should really be courting. What makes someone buy a new watch?

People buy watches to express who they are. Even if "who they are" is summed up as "I bought a cheap watch because I don't care to express who I am through my choice of watch. So to make a new watch, you have to consider aspects of the marketplace and the mind of the consumer. The mechanics of the watch are basically a given. Getting a customer to notice you has almost nothing to do with that. Games are the same, only I think more complicated. When a game-maker does his job correctly, most of the moving parts are invisible, even when you break open the case.

And games have this weird albatross word that, I would guess, watches don't have. That word is "fun. When we try to define "fun" we usually spin our wheels for a while, and then we realize that we are just recapitulating the process of defining "game," and we're back where we started. They have a board.

Or some kind of pieces. Or not, I guess.

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