Spreadsheet Tools in Game Design

Guillem Orpinell
Aug 7, 2018 · 4 min read

Almost 3 years ago I joined Social Point, a mobile games company acquired by Take-Two Interactive, as a consultant. My first project was to optimize the production of monsters in Monster Legends.

Monster Legends is an RPG game with 50M monthly active users

Currently, the game has more than 550 monsters and, every month, 10 new ones are added. Each monster has 12 unique skills and the production pipeline involves artists, animators, copywriters, sound designers and game designers. The game designers start the process in a briefing and conclude it by setting up the game configs. Google Sheets is the main tool used by Game Designers where they have formulas to balance stats, to create numeric models and to visualize the configurations impact.

By 2016, when I joined the project, game designers were investing 8 hours per monster only in the set up. Using simple maths, they were spending about 100 hours/month setting up monsters. Guess what? Most of the time it was monkey job. Copy-pasting, typing JSONs by hand or writing the skills descriptions are some of the time consuming examples. We decided to keep Google Sheets and boost the productivity by Google Apps Scripts.

Spreadsheet Tools: Google Sheets and Google Apps Script magic recipe

As the tools were shaping new content, we named them Shapers. And with the Monster Shaper it started a journey of innovations and productivity improvements I would never imagined before. Just to have an idea of the impact, we reduced the time to set up a monster from 8h to 30min only adding scripts to Google Sheets. And, right now, there more than 20 Shapers (aka spreadsheet tools) in the company helping game designers and project managers with their day-to-day tasks. Here you can see some examples:

Monster Shaper — Script generates skills description programmatically (Monster Legends)
Fog Island Shaper — Following the table briefing, script distributes chests uniformly in the map (Dragon City)
Tower Island Shaper — On edit trigger to format and validate a game editor (Dragon City)

The new paradigm was happily welcomed:

  • High impact on productivity
  • Low development cost
  • Enormous user autonomy

For instance, game designers are using copies of the spreadsheet tools to customize them to their last mile needs: Awesssome! Happy workers, happy project managers, but… what about the tools developer behind? What about the reliability, the maintenance or the updates? Ladies and gentlemen, here it comes Sheetfu 😁

As you might now, coding with rows and columns can be confusing and frustrating. Sheetfu is an open source library we developed in-house to manipulate spreadsheets as database tables. The ORM-like syntax in the Google Apps Script environment make the code much more readable. Moreover, by reducing the interactions with the Spreadsheet, scripts are faster, easier to debug and simpler to update. Along with the GAS GitHub Assistant, these dev-tools drastically changed how we were approaching the new shapers developments and the maintenance support.

Spreadsheets are not the perfect tools, but they’re definitely the best ones — Henrique, Game Designer

In a nutshell, Google Sheets become flexible and versatile tools, collaborative by nature, and easy to learn, use and extend. Familiarity with spreadsheets did embrace the user accountability and facilitated the knowledge transfer by relying the workflow in a tool. As David Hogue argued, there may not be one right answer, only the best answer in this context.

A SWOT analysis to understand and identify the Spreadsheet Tools context and scope

So, far from revolutionizing the world with a new technology, we have revolutionized the world of few game designers with a simple spreadsheet. Shapers have became handy tools for their daily work, helping them to focus in creative tasks and allowing to automate their repetitive operations. I have the feeling that spreadsheets came to stay. And it looks we are not the only ones betting on this approach: Airtable is rocking it!

Well, what do you think? Any colleague who would need a shaper in its life? Let’s make spreadsheets great again! 😜

PS: Got interested? Check this meetup hosted by Google Devs Group ;)

Guillem Orpinell

Written by

is a designer, developer, consultant and entrepreneur. Currently, focused on digital products user experience and its business strategy.

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