The Game Design Canvas: An Introduction

Did you ever think if successful games happen by chance, or the game developers are planning everything step by step?

Are the games that will somehow generate wonderful, memorable experiences and enrich our lives, are the results of the game developers and designers getting lucky or careful decision making?  Is there a way to analyze successful games to understand where their strengths and weaknesses lie and then apply them to your own games?

We believe that the answer to these questions is yes: a game’s design and development process can be mapped out, studied, and perfected in a reliable fashion.  Successful companies like Nintendo, Valve, Supercell or Blizzard would agree on this.  Legendary game designers like Hideo Kojima, Will Wright or Hidetaka Miyazaki would likely agree as well.  These companies and their game developers have found ways of looking at games that let them take decisions and improve their games.

Game design is the art of applying design and aesthetics to create a game for entertainment or for educational purposes.

Did you ever wonder what’s the most important skill for a game designer?


Game designers must observe many things.

Through analyzing countless indie dev and AAA titles over the course of the last several years, we’ve come to believe that there is a standard way of designing and analyzing game designs.  Indie dev or AAA rules are the same.  These are systematic laws that are immutable. 

This approach is called the Game Design Canvas. 
The Game Design Canvas’s goal is to provide a powerful analytical and planning tool for developers, game enthusiasts or entrepreneurs and industry veterans alike.  All the games have aspects that can be represented in the Canvas, and through it, it is possible to analyze the strengths and weaknesses for the purposes of developing or prototyping an MVP (minimum viable product).

This article will serve as an introduction to the concept of using the Game Design Canvas for people who aren’t familiar with it and they have a great idea and they want to develop a game

An Overview of the Game Design Canvas

The Game Design Canvas by Fan Studio
The Game Design Canvas by Fan Studio

The Game Design Canvas is a tool that can be used to make sure you cover every aspect of your game idea before you start the development.  Our game designers and developers can use the Canvas to find a design approach for your game.

The Game Design Canvas can be used to break down the systems that comprise different games and determine the aspects that make them what they are.  

Our Game Design Canvas is made up of these major components:

  • PLATFORM – Steam, VR, Nintendo Switch, PS5/xBox, Mobile – iOS & Android, etc
  • GAMEPLAY – Decide on the genre and gameplay mechanics. What does the player has to do?
  • HERO & ENEMIES – Who’s your main character? What are his abilities? How does he fight?
  • LEVELS – How do you progress? How does the level look like?
  • AUDIENCE – Who’s going to play your game? Where? Casual vs Hardcore players?
  • SCORING – How do you win/lose? How do you rewards or punishing the player?
  • STORY – What is the story behind your game? What’s the hero’s main goal?

Let’s dive for now into the most important of these components: the Core Loop.

What is the Core Loop

This is the feeling that the game is trying to evoke, the inner emotion that the player is going through as they play.  The Core loop is vitally important, because conveying an experience is the purpose of every game.  Games that have a well defined Core Loop are able to bring it to fruition more often enjoy critical acclaim and financial success.

  • Collect Coins -> Build -> Battle (Clash of Clans)
  • Run -> Avoid/Kill Enemies (Mario)
  • Explore -> Capture -> Collect -> Level Up (Pokemon Go)
  • Fight -> Find Loot -> Level Up (Diablo)

Life is an experience.  Games specialize in taking a slice of life (as narrow or wide as the developers likes) and then allowing the player to feel and exist in that slice for a period of time.  Books, film, and other media attempt to do the same thing.  They drop the reader into a short lived romance, or allow the viewer to observe a struggle.  Games go one step further in demanding that the player take action and be a part of the experience.

A game that succeeds in delivering its core experience will be able to predict how its players will describe it before they open their mouths.  The development team will be intimately familiar with their desired Core Experience, and their decisions during production will reflect that familiarity.  Games developed with a strong loyalty to their Core Experience are admirable works of art.

Ultimately, a game lives or dies by a correctly chosen Core Experience, and the success of failure of its implementation through to the other four aspects of the Game Design Canvas. The Base Mechanics, Punishment &Reward Systems, Long Term Incentives and Aesthetic Layout all take root in and draw their meaning from the Core Experience.  This is why defining the Experience of a game is so vitally important for development teams.  It is the task that should be done first.  If the first attempt was wrong, then adjustments must be made and the rest of the project must be altered as a result.  Letting any of the other four components drive the development of the game is a mistake that can lead to stunning visuals or a gripping story that mean nothing.

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