What Does a Developer Do?

I think the role of "developer" is a nebulous one to a lot of folks in the tabletop gaming hobby, but it's one that is very important to the process of making games. Everyone knows what a "designer" is — they make the game, right? And a publisher is responsible for putting the game out for sale in a form people can use. There are a bunch of talented people who get involved along the way, from editors to artists and graphic designers.

But what is a "developer?" A lot of RPGs don't even list one on the credits page. Well, sometimes they're called "developmental editor," but that's not what I mean. Simply put, a developer helps the designer execute their vision. They take the rules draft and see how well it matches up to the design goals. Where they can, they offer suggestions and edits to make systems more coherent and to better fit to those goals.

It's possible for this role to fall to the book's editor, but the editor is also responsible for clarity and structure of the text. A lot of great editors can do both, but having a separate developer means that both can give full attention to their specific tasks. I believe that every tabletop game can be made stronger by having a dedicated developer, and I hope that more smaller and independent publishers start using them.

Note: this is all particular to tabletop RPGs. "Developer" means something else in the world of video games. That is something I'm much less knowledgable about, and from everything I hear, I'm much better off for it.

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