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GDC + VRDC 2019 Session Scheduler

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Cursed Problems in Game Design

Alex Jaffe (Game Designer, Riot Games)

Location: Room 210, South Hall

Date: Thursday, March 21

Time: 4:00pm - 5:00pm

Pass Type: All Access, GDC Conference + Summits, GDC Conference - Get your pass now!

Topic: Design

Format: Session

Vault Recording: Video

Audience Level: All

Game designers love solving problems, perfecting games until they sing. But sometimes you hit a design problem so thorny that you just can't find a solution, and maybe never will. This may be a "cursed problem": a problem with some inherent contradiction of goals. Consider the kingmaker problem. A designer wants to emphasize certain player skills, but also wants free-for-all PvP, which incentivizes politics in favor of those skills. Cursed problems like these haunt designers across game and genre. And somehow all designers have to deal with them.

In this talk, Alex Jaffe (Riot Games) will present a theory of cursed problems. He'll show case studies of decades-old problems, and he'll explore the four design paradigms that have helped developers face these problems and survive.


Attendees will learn to recognize cursed problems, some of the hardest design problems in games. They'll build intuition for cursed problems through several case studies. And they'll learn the key techniques for finding creative compromises to these problems.

Intended Audience

This talk should be accessible and entertaining to any game developer. That said, it will be of primary interest to game designers, particularly those tackling (or hungry for) a major challenge.