Tips for Building an Effective Game Design Document

Allison Bokone
Allison Bokone
Last updated on February 26, 2024

While many might shudder at the thought of 100+ page design documents – and yes, those are artifacts of the past – at some point there is still a need to communicate the vision of your game to people. To consistently share your vision and inspire your team and stakeholders, consider writing your ideas down in a Game Design Document (GDD).

What Is a Game Design Document?

A GDD is a blueprint for your game. It communicates the vision of the game and outlines key mechanics, themes, features, etc. so that anyone working on the game – including artists, engineers, designers, producers, and everyone in between – will have a clear understanding of what the game is, what it is not, and what the current plan of record is. The GDD usually changes over time and becomes a historical artifact the team can use to look back and see how the game has evolved during development.

When Should You Make a Game Design Document?

The simplest answer is: as soon as possible. Getting your ideas down on paper can help you identify gaps or conflicts and build out more detailed and rich ideas. You don’t have to write the entire document as soon as you have an idea, but you can write a page or two to capture those initial concepts.

As you progress towards prototyping, you might add some additional information so everyone working on the prototype is on the same page. Once you are ready to enter pre-production – particularly if you’re working with a team – you’ll definitely want to have a more detailed GDD. This way, everyone contributing to the project has a shared understanding of the vision.

Sharing the GDD with your team and other stakeholders, such as investors, is also an opportunity to get feedback and allow them to ask questions about your game. You can refine and clarify your ideas further before getting too far into development, where it will be harder, and more costly, to make changes.

What Goes In a Game Design Document?

This depends on a lot of factors. How big is your game studio? How complex is the game? Will you need to pitch to investors? The answers to these questions can all influence what you include in your GDD, and your answers may change over time. This is also why it’s a good idea to start small and use your GDD to align everyone on the core concepts for your game at the beginning. Then, as you get further into pre-production or production and plans become more complex or specific, you can come back to the GDD and add more details.


Introduce the project with a clear vision statement. Your introduction is often a high-level pitch of your game where you explain the core game concepts and what makes this game unique.


While your goals are likely articulated throughout the document, it’s a good idea to have a succinct, well thought out list of specific goals listed up front. These can include player experience goals, sales goals, who you hope to reach with your game, or what you hope to accomplish in the larger world of art, education, or entertainment.

Gameplay Mechanics & Progression

Mechanics detail how the player will interact with your game, and how the game will respond. Progression explains how players will advance through the game and how that adds to the player experience. It can be useful to illustrate mechanics and progression in storyboards, diagrams, flow charts, or other visual elements.


Describe the main characters, types of characters, how they relate to each other and the overall story. A character web that shows how characters are related can be a useful visual element for this section, as well as concept art.


If your game is light on story then you can leave this section out or give a brief overview of the overall plot of the game. If your game is more narrative-driven you’ll want to give a synopsis and outline of the overall story that highlights key plot points. You can also discuss branching strategies and what level of impact the player will have on the story.

Levels & Environments

For each level, outline the layout, progression, and goals. A level design outline typically includes specific details about locations – where they are, what they look like, and what their purpose is. This section is also where you describe the overall aesthetics of your game world and how they influence the environment design and relate to themes in your level design. 

Art & User Interface (UI)

While there is often concept art in many of the previous sections of the GDD, this section is where you can focus on the overall art style and what aesthetic you are trying to create in your game. Describe UI elements such as menus, HUDs, and interactive components in terms of purpose, functionality and layout, and how they fit into the larger art style of the game.

Audio & Music

Discuss how audio elements will contribute to the atmosphere of the game. Consider sound effects, narration, dialog, ambient sounds, and noises for player feedback. Music can have a strong influence on the player experience – what types of feelings do you want to evoke with your music choices?

Technical Requirements

List out any technical requirements for the game, including system requirements for players and what software and hardware are required for development. Explain your choice of game engine and discuss any additional plug-ins, middleware, or other gaming software you will leverage during development. Also list out what platforms your game is targeting and if there are any differences in features, support, or requirements for each platform.


Depending on where you are in your planning, this may be a list of ideas for prototypes and a prioritized list of what to include, or screenshots, descriptions, and links to existing prototypes. You can also develop a paper prototype to include in the GDD as a way to illustrate your plans.

Accessibility & Localization

It’s important to start thinking about accessibility early because the way you design certain systems – for example the UI – can make or break accessibility features. By planning for accessibility early, you can save yourself from costly rework later in development when adding accessibility to features often reveals a mismatch in design requirements. Similarly, planning for localization early might impact how your dialog is stored or displayed in game, and allows your team to budget appropriately for localization costs.

Marketing & Monetization

Give an overview of what your marketing strategy is, who your target audience is, and what kind of promotional efforts you’re planning. Include details about what you need from the game team, and when you’ll need it, to make the marketing efforts a success. Include information about monetization strategy and how that does or does not tie in with the larger marketing efforts.

Timeline & Development Milestones

Finally, including a timeline with development milestones clearly called out is a good way to visualize your plans for the team. It doesn’t have to be exact or include everything, but it can be a quick way for stakeholders to refer back to the plan and ensure everyone stays aligned.

How to Write a Game Design Document

There is no one way to write a GDD. Our suggestion – start small and build from there. Pick and choose what is important for your game and what works for your team. If the GDD is getting too long or complex, you can create several smaller documents that focus on specific areas and link to them from your GDD.

This article describes some different GDD formats and goes into detail about how to write a one-page GDD, an idea put forth by Stone Librande in a GDC talk about Diablo III. There are many other examples you can use to get started – below are links to a few of them.

Game Design Document Examples

While this is a longer example, the Deus Ex GDD has been analyzed and discussed online and by the original development team extensively and offers many insights into the GDD writing process.

The original GTA (Grand Theft Auto) and Diablo GDDs give a succinct high level overview of the games.

The Grim Fandango and Silent Hill 2 GDDs are good examples of how to incorporate visual elements like flowcharts, relationship maps, and concept art into your GDD.

How Assembla Can Help Your Game Development

Assembla is an all-in-one platform that combines project management, version control, and collaboration tools specifically designed for cloud based game development. To learn more about how Perforce hosted by Assembla can help you accelerate your game development read our article on Cloud-Based Game Development with Perforce.

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Allison Bokone
Allison Bokone
Allison Bokone is an instructor at Miami University in Ohio for the Computer and Information Technology department, specializing in process and DevOps. Prior to teaching, Allison worked at Microsoft for 18 years, first as a Technical Writer, then as a Program Manager and Director at Xbox. In her last role she was a regular contributor to

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