It’s been about a year since I’ve written about codesigning and I’ve definitely learned more about it since! You can check out the previous article here.
In the last article, I completely forgot to talk about why codesigning is great! It’s now my favorite way to design and I’d much rather codesign at this point than work on designs by myself.
One of the most important parts of having a codesigner is having someone else to rely on, give feedback, and help make decisions. If you’re ever unsure of what to do, just ask your codesigner! They also do part of the work and can be an extra set of eyes to spot any errors.
It can also be really motivating to have a codesigner; if you know that someone else is waiting to see what you’ve come up with, you’ll be more likely to get things done on time. Excitement over sharing your progress with someone who’s invested and avoiding disappointment are both terrific motivators.
Finally, working with someone else means that you’ll create things that are different than what you would create alone. If the codesigning partnership works out well, you’ll create something that is better than any of you would create on your own.
Finding a Codesigner
There are a few parts to finding a codesigner(s):
When to look for a codesigner
Where you should look for a codesigner
What should you look for in a codesigner
How many codesigners you should work with
The answers for all of these are very specific to you. What works for you might be completely different from what works for me or anyone else.
When to Look for a Codesigner
I’ve found that the best codesigning relationships I’ve had were formed during the idea process of a game. Whether I’ve had an initial idea or just asked someone to codesign and then started talking about ideas later, I’ve been way more successful when everyone gets to contribute to the game idea before the prototype stage.
I have tried to get other people involved with designs that I’ve had, but it’s never worked out well as they were never as invested in the idea as I was. I have heard of this working with other codesign partnerships, but you have to find someone that is willing to care a lot about an idea that isn’t theirs while also being really open to implementing their own ideas so that the game can become something that they have a stake in as soon as possible.
When you’re finding a codesigner for a prototype that’s already created, you could look for a codesigner amongst the designers that playtest your game; if anyone is really into your game or has a lot of good feedback, you might want to ask them if they would be interested in being your codesigner.
Aspects of a Great Codesigner
When you’re trying to decide who to codesign with, the answer might change depending on the project. Some people work with the same person all the time and some people change depending on the game.
I usually try to find a designer that I have something in common with, who’s also better at different things than me. Finding someone who’s really good at the things you’re not is a huge win.
For instance, one of my codesigners is really good at putting feelings into the game and thinking about emotions, so he’s a fantastic partner as I’m way more a spreadsheet designer.
The best codesigning relationships I’ve had have been when I think about the project and how I want that project to go, then discover what I’m not great at with that particular design, such as a specific mechanic game weight.
Actually Finding a Codesigner
I’ve tried a variety of ways to find codesigners and what has worked best for me is reaching out to specific designers for specific reasons. If you’re playtesting regularly with other designers, you can get to know what kinds of games that they work on and find out what different designers specialize in. You can also just get to know designers better and you can find out if you have any design ideas in common based on their feedback to your games and how they talk about game design.
I have tried simply posting in a group or on social media that I was looking for someone to codesign with, but that’s never worked out in a good way for me, just because all the people that reached out weren’t passionate about any of the projects I had going and I wasn’t really passionate about theirs. But one thing I didn’t do when I posted about wanting a codesigner was being explicit about what kind of codesigner I was looking for and why. If someone has an idea of what kind of game you want to make or what kind of help you’re looking for, you can get started at a much better place than starting from nowhere.
Figuring out how to successfully split responsibilities between all the codesigners will keep everything moving and will mean that the relationship actually works out.
I’ve done this in two major ways:
Everyone has a specific area that they deal with
Having responsibilities change at every meeting
If everyone has a specific area that they really enjoy and are good at, then it’s nice for the jobs to stay the same week to week. Everyone will know what’s expected of them and how to do the thing that they need to do. You do want to make sure that each person really likes the aspects that they’re in charge of, though, or else they’ll become steadily less happy and invested as the project goes on.
What I’ve found tends to work best is having a set list of tasks at the end of every meeting or playtesting session and having people volunteer to complete certain tasks. It does mean that there’s usually someone that’s in charge of the meeting and writing things down, but it definitely helps to keep things moving if the people involved have a variable amount of time to work on their designs. In a lot of my codesigning relationships, we don’t always have the same amount of time each week, so on the weeks that I can do a lot, I try to, to make up for the random weeks that I just don’t have any time. If everyone tries to make an effort to be in charge and doing the bulk of the work every so often, then the game can make a lot of progress consistently instead of only moving forward when everyone has downtime.
Number of Codesigners
The number of codesigners you want to work with really depends on your style. For me, I really enjoy working with one or two codesigners at a time. Having three total people on a project means that you can playtest two- and three-player games easily, there’s less work for everyone, and you can easily vote on things.
It’s a lot harder to have four people all happy with the final product and the direction that the game is going in, but it can work in some cases. Most of the codesigners I know work in pairs, though. With two people, it’s a lot easier to get everyone to agree and to find times to playtest. There’s less arguing and progress can go really fast if the two people have the same idea on what the final product should be.
Ideally, I’d love to work with 3 total codesigners on all my projects to split around the work, but I’m usually working with only one other designer, as it’s simply faster and easier to get things done.
Things That Don’t Work
There are some things that tend not to work for codesigning:
If anyone needs to get their way all the time
If anyone is a lot less passionate about the game
If anyone has no time to spare for the project
Basically, if you get people that want to collaborate, have time to work on the project, and really want to work on the project, you’ll have a good chance of making a great game.
General Tips for Codesigning
Here’s a bunch of general tips I’ve learned about codesigning:
Be open and willing to hear what other people think. If you’re not willing to hear what someone else thinks, they’re likely to stop listening to what you think as well.
Try to distance yourself emotionally from the design and remind yourself that this person is helping you, doing work, and bringing this game to life if you get into any arguments about how a game should be.
Decide on how to solve arguments before you have them. For instance, if you want to make a thematic game, you might want to make decisions based on theme. That way, if you and your codesigner disagree, you can both step back a bit and think about what the thematic option would be, then go for that.
Always try to make sure everyone has had a chance to say their thoughts, especially at the beginning of the codesigning relationship. If you’ve noticed that someone hasn’t said anything on a certain subject, ask them what they think about it. They might not have any other thoughts, but they might also not want to voice them for whatever reason. Being sure to specifically ask everyone you’re working with about all the different aspects of the design means that everyone gets a chance to say something and they won’t feel like they’re interrupting. This is also a great way to help people stay invested!
Always be grateful to your codesigners! I try to end every session of playtesting or design talk with thanking people for their effort and pointing out something that they did well. Whether that was the fact that they updated TTS, updated the graphic design well, or just were really positive towards the playtest, there’s almost always something you can be grateful for. Being grateful for work encourages people to keep working and earn more gratefulness as well!
Be introspective from time to time and get to know what your strengths and weaknesses are. We all have weaknesses; the only failure you can face with weaknesses is not knowing what they are. If you know what they are, you can get codesigners that are strong in those areas or at least make them aware of where your weaknesses are, so that there can be more eyes looking for issues and they can be found sooner.
Always be willing to learn and encourage progress. No one knows everything, and if your goal is to make progress every week, you can make that happen most of the time. Staying positive can help you stay focused and will make you better to work with.
Overall, I’ve found that I really love codesigning! I want all of my designs to be codesigns, as I love the collaboration and having someone else to rely on and to help make decisions, but it’s certainly not for everyone. I also didn’t think I would like codesigning until I actually tried it (and failed at it a few times). It takes a lot of effort and learning to figure out how to best work with people and keep seeking out people that you’ll work great with.