There are three guaranteed ways to waste studio development time and money.
The first is to try and make all of a game’s components simultaneously.
The second is to build a large team quickly and then have no real work for them to do for 6 months.
The third is to hire Ernest W. Adams.
This may strike you as a mean thing to say. Why not be more general, and say “design consultants” and spread the blame around? Well there aren’t that many of them, and for seconders because Adams is by far their most prolific and public advocate. Those are good reasons. Mostly, however, it’s because he’s rubbish. And everybody in the industry knows he’s rubbish. But nobody says it publicly due to the general industry practise of omerta.
He writes copious articles and wiggy books about how he thinks game design should be done. He hosts lectures and workshops that teach his methods, and does the GDC circuit. He also works for ihobo (who are also, basically, rubbish). Yet the main problem with Ernest is that he’s never actually designed a major game in his life. His CV includes such wondrous achievements as audio producer on Madden and … something to do with Bullfrog when it became a department of EA that never amounted to anything and … audio producer on Madden…
Ernest is actually a documenter. When hired, he - and other design consultants - mainly produce documents. And charts. And occasionally very large Excel spreadsheets. These documents tend to be very large, they tend to be written in highly academic language and they tend to be somewhat oblique. Their method consists of acting to all intents and purposes as a screenwriter does to the film world.
It’s not completely Ernest’s fault that he’s rubbish. It’s the fault of the studios that hire him assuming that since he talks the talk he must walk the walk. It’s basically because most studios don’t know what a good game designer is or does, and so they just muddle along as best they can. The great open secret of game development is that nobody reads design documents, but that doesn’t stop designers and design consultant writing them. Nobody can tell them what it is that they are supposed to be doing, so they might as well do that.
This method has many problems. It doesn’t embed the designer with the team, nor does it get into actively prototyping. It also assumes a level of design language familiarity among other departments which they don’t generally have, and so most of the work is wasted. Everybody knows that this approach to design generally doesn’t work, by the way, but that doesn’t stop studios from doing it.
What design documents actually do in the industry is make publishers feel happy. That is their sole use. This is because publishing executives are usually morons who know even less about the realities of game development than Ernest does. Since the documents are never read and the development team don’t understand them or the value of spending a week teasing out the consultant’s genius, the whole exercise is a dead loss.
Rule Number Four: Do not hire design consultants. They are not worth the money. Get a junior tester to write the documents instead because it’s cheaper and about the same value in real terms.