How to create a game design document: A step-by-step guide for new indie game devs

Let’s face it, creating a game design document, or “GDD” for short, can be absolutely, mind-numbingly boring. I mean, who wants to spend time writing up a paper on how their game will unfold narrative, mechanically and otherwise when they could just dive headfirst into developing it instead?

The truth though, is that a well-structured GDD is a crucial step in your journey toward success as an indie dev. It lays the foundation for your game, provides clear direction for your development team (or for yourself if you’re working alone), and helps keep you on track so you can meet your deadlines, be they self imposed or otherwise.

To make a solid GDD, you’ll need to break it down into specific sections that each encompass all your vision. A typical doc should cover the game’s concept and genre, story and characters, gameplay mechanics, art and sound design, technical requirements, and yes, even the marketing plan. Creating a roadmap this way means you’ll have an idea not only of what will be in your game, but how each of those elements will work together (or won’t!)

Just so you know…

You can find many templates online, and each one is quite different – some being simple and others more complex. I’m not going to talk about the benefits and drawbacks of each one here today, because the most important thing for new developers is to just pick one and get started. You can fix it up and expand upon it over time and as your needs change, but if you never even create one to begin with, then you’re just not going to make any progress at all, now are you?

Okay, now let’s dive into the basic steps for creating your first game design document. Afterward, I’ll give you a FREE template to get started with. Of course, you can always just copy and paste what you see here, but the template will be more involved, and I would love to connect with you since Indie Game Mode is dedicated to bringing you more great content just like this!

Outlining your Game Design Document

Make your title page pop! – Add a subtitle and a catchy high-level concept sentence that tells readers what your game is all about. Don’t be afraid to get creative with your designs and fonts, but a simple one-liner works best.

Give your readers a taste of what’s to come – Introduce your game’s genre, target audience, and unique features that make it stand out from the crowd. Maybe it’s an epic adventure game with massive bosses or a puzzle game with mind-bending challenges.

Is quite a lot of work…

Level up your game mechanics – Make sure your game mechanics are on point. Outline the unique mechanics and controls that players will use to interact with your game. Show off what makes your game fun and engaging, and give examples of how they work in action.

Create a story that rocks – Develop a compelling backstory, narrative, setting, and characters for your game. Define your characters’ motivations to make them feel real and relatable. If you’re making an RPG, make sure to create an immersive world filled with lore and interesting non-playable characters. Indie Game Mode will bring you plenty of content on all of these areas, especially storytelling, so just get something down for now!

But you’re almost done

Level” up your game design – Design each stage or level of your game, including the environment and obstacles that players will face. Keep them challenging but not frustrating. Give examples of how the player can overcome these obstacles, like using their platforming skills or solving complex puzzles.

Make sure your UI is user-friendly and easy on the eyes – Create a UI that enhances the player experience with menus, buttons, and on-screen prompts that are intuitive and informative. Consider accessibility and ease of use when designing your UI. Give examples of how the different elements work in practice, like how players can navigate around or use prompts to progress through the game.

And it’s important to your success!

Spread the word – Identify your target audience and create a marketing strategy that resonates with them. Will you utilize social media to reach them? How often will you post to show your work and loop them in on your community? Will you create engaging videos and screenshots or GIFs that showcase your game’s unique features? Write down the tools you will use to do this. There are social media scheduling tools like Crowdfire, Hootsuite, and Buffer that let you schedule posts for the most reach. Whatever you jot down, it needs to be actionable.

By following these steps, you can create a comprehensive design document that outlines the vision and scope of your indie game and helps you stay on track throughout the development process.

But it’s just the beginning of your journey

It’s important to note that creating a design document for your indie game does not guarantee your success. Developing a great game requires dedication, hard work (lots of it), and a willingness to learn from your mistakes. However, a well-crafted GDD can help provide direction and focus, and serve as a valuable reference tool throughout the game development process, even though that process is shifting and ever-changing.

As you work on your game, you may find that certain aspects the doc need to be adjusted or revised. That’s perfectly normal! This is just a tool and is meant to act as a living document that changes and evolves as you progress in your creative endeavors.

One last note…While social media isn’t always the most effective way to reach people, it’s a free way to build your brand and participate in events like Wishlist Wednesday or Screenshot Saturday, so it’s still worth doing, especially if you’re just starting out! Consider creating a Discord server to build your community and connect with fans, as Discord has become a popular platform for indie game developers. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to connect with your audience and build a loyal following.

More on this in the FREE gift below where I’ll talk all about the changing landscape of design documents, the tools you can use that are more versatile, better-suited for different types of developers, and more.

Creating a game design document is an essential step in the dev cycle. By breaking it down into smaller pieces and tackling them on-by-one, and then by following the steps outlined in this tutorial, as well as staying flexible as you work on your game, you can create a roadmap for your game development that is easy to follow and update as you progress. Good luck on your journey, and don’t forget to check back for more news and resources on indie games and development!

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