Our community of educators continually tells us that students are eager to learn about game design and coding. One way to provide students with game design experience outside of the classroom is to host a game design competition. The competition doesn’t have to be large in order for students to get an in-depth look at the design process. Gathering other educators or community members to serve as judges can give students a new perspective on their work. From our experience, we have assembled a list of best practices when creating game design competitions.
Organization is key to a successful game design competition. Ensuring the contest is efficiently organized and provides clear expectations ensures participants have the opportunity to submit their best work.
To ensure a competition is well run:
- Create a detailed outline of the entry requirement
- Establish the rules for the competition
- Share how the competition will be scored in advance, so players understand how the competition will work
Marketing and promotion of the rules and submission criteria is critical. Determine if you will be disseminating information through digital communications, printed materials, or a combination of both. A best practice is to release the requirements for participation, rules, and scoring rubric early so that any misunderstandings or gaps in information can be corrected sooner rather than later. This also ensures that minimal time is wasted during the actual event.
Use the Competition to Teach About Best Practices in Learning Game Design
Give your student teams the right tools to think about how to make a great learning game.
Share Past Examples
Show games that have been completed in a previous competition so the students get an idea of the types of projects they should create.
Since your competition is for design, emphasize that a variety of skills are needed in order to achieve great design. Reiterate that skills such as writing, logical thinking, illustration, and diagramming all contribute to the success of the game.
Incentivize Participation with an Award that is Meaningful to the Competition
Just like a well-designed game, the best game design competition rewards are those that are authentic to the experience. Can you reward the winning team with seeing their design come to life?
While each student team’s design should stand on its own merit, we’ve found that it’s helpful if you also require each team to explain why their design is particularly good. Adding this requirement encourages teams to think through their design choices more clearly, knowing they will have to defend them.
Encourage Students to Interview Stakeholders Early and Often
Since educational game design involves creating a design that meets goals and learning objectives, an essential element of the design is to receive frequent feedback from the stakeholders who will use the games. This may be fellow students, the contest organizers, or experts selected by the contest organizers. Having stakeholders collaborate with student teams can be an effective way for teams to receive just-in-time feedback as they are developing their concept.
Don’t Limit the Platform
Great ideas come in every shape and size. We’ve seen everything from augmented reality game designs to board game designs win competitions primarily intended for digital games.
Games Should be Functional
Ideas not put into practice have yet to be tested, and testing is a very important part of game design. It’s difficult to judge the design of a game if the judges are unable to experience the gameplay.
Encourage a Post-Mortem
When everything is over and done with, encourage teams to meet together to discuss:
- What went right or wrong
- What problems they faced and why
- How they could have done things better
- What they would do differently next time
- What they learned from this experience
Prepare some questions for them and create a place where teams can share the results of their post-mortems, so that others can learn from their experiences. Some of these questions can be asked of the team during show-and-tell as well.
When Delivering Competition Results, Refrain from Comparing Entries to One Another
Designs should win or lose based on their own merits. Talk about what the entry did right and what it did wrong, but not in the context of a previously reviewed entry. This allows participants to focus on their own work and not get distracted by how their projects compares to other entries.