(We have created an 8-part comprehensive report containing a series of one-to-two page “briefs” regarding learning game design. This is part 6: Constraints that Affect Design. If you would like to see the white paper in its entirety, check out the White Papers section on our website.)

Here are some of the big constraints that will influence design decisions:

How much money can you spend?

If you want a virtual world with multiple levels of play and a degree of realism that rivals your actual work environment, you can spend quite a bit of money. The commercial video games such as World of Warcraft cost seven figures to create – and took years to build. However, realistic simulations of a task can be done for much less than that. We created a troubleshooting simulation for a hemodialysis machine for less than $50K in the span of three months.

A casual game – similar to the Hangman game shown here – can be done for $10-25K.


Do not reject the idea of a game because you assume you cannot afford one. Consider, too, the ROI of a game. If the learner stays engaged – and retains the info and/or builds skill through the game – how much is that worth?

How much time do you have?

If you need something more than a casual game (e.g. the Hangman game), you need at least a few months to develop it, depending on the complexity. You cannot build a successful game from a traditional testing approach, such as alpha, beta, final. You need multiple rounds of play testing and revision to ensure you get a great game. Very simple games (e.g. the Hangman game) can be done in a month or less. This Knowledge Guru™ game took us several hundred hours to evolve – even though it seems simple on its surface.

If you want an online game, what platform(s) do you want the game to run on?

This decision can make you – and/or the game developers – crazy. Trying to figure out which – and how many platforms – to support is a major decision. Creating a game for a desktop or laptop means something very different than creating a mobile game for a tablet (which, in turn, is different than a game optimized for a phone). Your platform decisions can have an impact on your budget and your timeline. If you need to develop for multiple platforms, expect your timeline and budget to increase.

Who’s the target audience?

Is the target player someone experienced or new to games? Are they 20-somethings or 50-somethings? From experience, we’ve learned that 20-somethings don’t need – or want – much direction. They want to immediately start playing, and they will figure things out as they go along. A 50-something might want a complete SECTION of directions and then want navigational cues throughout the game. Know your audience!

What genre or category of game play are you looking for or are limited to?

Some clients want to avoid everything but the most vanilla game play experiences. They do not want to blow things up, kill people, or do anything that might be perceived as negative by anyone. You have to consider the corporate culture and figure out what is acceptable within it. Avoid, however, making judgments too quickly about what is acceptable and what is not.

What features do you want?

Do you want people to be able to create their own avatar? Do you want a sound track? Do you want videos? Do you want a world with multiple levels and layers? These features all influence budget and timeline.

 Rule to remember:

Theme matters tremendously in the player’s perception of the “fun factor” of a game. A simple hangman game can become exponentially more fun, for example, when we apply a “pirate” theme to it. Check out Walk the Plank here.