How to Write Game Concept Document and Why You Need to

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How to Write Game Concept Document and Why You Need to

Game concept documents are not so well-known among game developers. Everyone has heard of game design documents or GDD, but what is the concept document? It may be part of GDD, it may not be needed for every game, but it is good to use concept documents for every project.

game concept document example

In this article we will tell you what the game concept document is, how to write it, how to use it for game development and when you don’t need the concept to make a game.

What is game concept document

The concept doc is meant to explain to the rest of your team what game do you want to make. It looks more like a sketch instead of a complete “Bible” like the game design document is. Also the concept can be explained in 1-2 sentences while the typical GDD has 20+ pages, and that’s all.

game design document

In general, a game concept is needed to present the main idea of your game in less than 5 minutes of reading. Also, because it is so short, it can be included in the game design document in the “Concept” part.

Here’s a more detailed explanation: game concept describes essentials of your game, including plot, setting and basic gameplay mechanics. Game concept template must answer these questions:

  • What the player does in the game?
  • What obstacles does he face?
  • What goal does he want to achieve?

For example, “Player controls the good green alien fighting the bad gray aliens to save the Earth”. Sounds simple, but you’ll already be able to imagine the game in your head. alien game concept art

How to write game concept document

To write a game concept you may start from a template:

A player [does something] to overcome [obstacles] and achieve [something].

Do not bother if this sentence sounds too short, because it has to. Concept is useful only to drive your imagination and help to develop a prototype. It may be filled with strange and pathetic ideas because it’s only a concept and not the final game design document.

game concept template

Example of a game concept may be like this: “The player controls the space shark to eat space fish and doesn’t die from hunger”.

Why is there a shark in space? It doesn’t matter, if you’ll manage to create fun game mechanics around it. The most important thing is that the concept includes the player’s actions, an obstacle and a goal.

Remember, that the game concept is internal document. It may be even written with sharpie on a fridge, but if you are working with team, the concept document must be easy to read and navigate. The formal document style with headings and marked lists is the best solution.

Start game concept with player actions and interactions

The player is the most important element of concept and final game. You need to decide how the player will interact with the game and only after doing this you may think about story and art.

You want to choose how the player will interact with your game. Like, literally, what buttons he will push or what part of the screen he will tap. It will help you to not overflow the game with more mechanics than a player physically can use.

Here’s an example: Super Mario Bros. for NES. The NES gamepad had only two buttons: A and B. So the player can use only two mechanics at the same time, run and jump in case of Mario. Modern games can have much more mechanics because the gamepads got more buttons.

The next step is to think about how frequent particular game mechanics will be used. Most used interactions must be binded on easily accessible buttons so the player won’t lose control on the character because he was trying to jump. And the least used mechanics should be activated on buttons which won’t be pressed accidentally.

Here’s another example: melee combat in shooter games. Melee isn’t used as frequently as fire, grenades, crouch and jump. Also melee may be used while the character is moving and changing camera angle. The perfect choice is the R3 or L3 button, so the player won’t take his thumbs off joysticks. If the developers have binded it to the X button, the player would need to take his thumb off the right joystick and lose his ability to aim.

Another example with mobile games: running games like Subway Surfers or Temple Run. In those games the player must avoid obstacles with jumps, slides and going sideways. These games demand fast and precise reaction and the player wants no chance of missing the right button. The best control scheme in this case are simple swipes. And there is only one option for movement: running forward. There is no need to assign a separate button to run, so the developers made the character run automatically. If they won’t do so, the player would risk accidentally releasing the run button and losing the run.

Your goal at game concept developing is to come up with game mechanics that would fit the control scheme for the chosen platform. But don’t think that a touchscreen can fit an infinite number of small buttons, because it’s impossible to tap precisely on a small smartphone screen.

While in the concept phase you must describe the control method: buttons, swipes, motion sensor or something else. It will help you to properly develop game mechanics.

Follow the game concept document with thought about the player

Just think of what the player will do in the game. In our “concept” the player controls a space shark hunting space fish. By the concept, the shark must eat fish — but how will it do it? Maybe the fish will just swim around meaninglessly, maybe it will swim away from sharks. Maybe the shark will automatically eat the fish when in range or the player will need to manually open and close its jaws.

shark game concept

Think about how the player will interact with the world and what interesting interactions you can invent. For example, in Darkest Dungeon the player always finds some objects in his way. Interactions with objects have two outputs: they can give useful loot or hurt the character. The player can use herbs, holy water and sedative to deny those harmful effects. See, how different it is from typical games where the chest always means free loot.

Let’s continue with Mario as an example. There are such types of interaction:

  • when Mario hits the block with his head, he destroys it and gets a coin;
  • when Mario jumps on the enemy, the enemy dies;
  • when a turtle dies, it leaves a shell. Mario can jump on it to throw it forward and hit other enemies;
  • also, Mario can jump over obstacles.

Jumping is trivial. Everyone knows that you can jump over the obstacle, but this is a complete game mechanic and way of interaction. There are obstacles which are too high, and the player can’t pass them without thinking and planning. Now imagine Mario levels with enemies and bonuses, but without obstacles. It would be boring.

level concept art in mario

So, while designing game concepts, you need to think about how the player will use mechanics to interact with the game. And decide how those interactions will give him joy and make him really think.

Remember: interactions must be linked with obstacles or goals. If the player does something, it must have a clear purpose and an outcome. In our space shark game the shark can open and close its jaw. Let’s make the shark faster than fish, so the shark can catch a few fish in its mouth and chew them at the same time. But there are also poisonous squids swimming around and the shark would be hurted by eating them. So the player will need to open the jaws while chasing the fish and close them when the squids are nearby.

Add some obstacles to the game concept

Every game has to satisfy the player from overcoming the obstacles or completing challenges. The obstacle can be anything that promises [game over]: enemy, abyss or timer. And the purpose of obstacles is to prevent the player from reaching his goal. If the goal is to save the princess, there must be enemies which will make it difficult. If the goal is to put 3 in a row, there must be a timer which may cause the player to restart the level.

In the case of space sharks we have poisonous squids and hunger. By the way, hunger is a typical timer: the shark needs to eat fish to live for a few seconds more.

obstacles in game design

Obstacles must not be very diverse so the player could remember them. By “diverse” we mean “various effects”. For example, there may be rocks, sunken ships, corals, isles, trees and other cool looking obstacles. But they serve only one mechanic: to make the player avoid them. If every obstacle had a different kind of interaction it would be impossible to remember them all.

The same thing goes with enemies: 4-5 types are enough to make a fun casual game. Squids are poisonous and cause periodic damage, electric eels blast electricity and slow down the shark, fish that looks like balloons with needles just hurts the shark and red plancton clouds make the jaws wide open for a minute.

The end of game concept document: add a goal

The goal is a player’s final mission, his main achievement and an end of the game story. The player must know the goal in the first minutes of gameplay and do not forget about it till the end.

hungry shark game

For example, the goal of Mario games isn’t to save the princess, but to complete the level. Also, the goal of the space shark game concept is to survive through difficult situations where there’s nothing to eat and the shark’s tummy says “Brrr”. And don’t forget about monetization: allow the players to buy the bonuses, time savers and stuff.


Game concept document must be written before the game design document. GDD is like a blueprint: there are many details, numbers and explanations of how the game should be. Some developers may spend several months finishing the game design document and while doing it transform the original game idea into something completely different.

Unlike GDD, game concept doc is a simple sketch that can be written in several days. But it shows the core ideas of the game and leaves some space to develop them into fun gameplay and setting.

If you have ideas about your future game but don’t know how to write them on paper or what to do next — contact us. We will give you a free consultation about game concept, development and game outsourcing.


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