There are two distinct sets of questions now known as the Big Three: the original set was developed by Jared Sorensen as part of coaching material to help designers to focus on their design goals; a second set became popular on internet communities like The Forge shortly after the original set was created.
Original: The Three Big Questions
Jared Sorensen developed the questions (originally known in his game design notes as The Three Big Questions) to be part of Sorensen's presentations on game design at least as early as February 2005, and they were used as prompts in convention seminars at least as early as the Game Design seminar at Gen Con in 2005. Sorensen also said (in 2006) that he coined the term Big Three for these questions, but it is unclear when the term was first used.
Sorensen and Luke Crane have since used the original Big Three in other seminars and panels as prompts and conversation starters with new designers, and they have also been used by other designers including John Wick for the same purpose.
The Big Three have been worded and presented in several different ways, but one basic formulation is as follows:
- What is the game about?
- How is the game about that?
- What behaviours does the game incentivise in the players?
The goal of the Big Three is to focus on the most central and important concepts of a new game design project: its basic premise or theme, the fundamental elements that support the premise (whether that is rules, setting or anything else), and how players are encouraged to use those elements to focus on the premise (as part of the game's system). The questions are for the benefit of designers at the earliest stages of conceptual game design.
When Sorensen and Crane asked the questions at game design seminars and panels, they found short and punchy answers to be the most useful as they could lead to useful follow up questions. Luke Crane has also said that a game's setting and premise are inextricably linked, and can both be included in a full answer to the first question.
John Wick has sometimes added a fourth question to the list: How do you make this fun?
Second set: Big Three
The second set of three questions developed on the forums of The Forge, based on various questions that were regularly asked of new and inexperienced game designers in the Indie Game Design section of the forum. It is not known who came up with the individual questions, but they were likely codified in 2005 by Troy Costisick, first in a forum post "Rant" on RPG Theory on The Forge and then in a post on his personal blog, Socratic Design (although he had used the questions in forum posts even before his "Rant"). By the time of Costisick's personal blog post, the questions had come to be known as the Big Three (e.g. by Josh Roby), possibly by cross-contamination with Jared Sorensen's set that had been used publically earlier in the same year. Costisick later came to refer to Sorensen's questions as the Alt. 3, since he had learned them later (saying also that he but found both sets to be valid but incomplete tools for game designers), and this terminology has been picked up by other design theorists.
The later version of the Big Three is:
- What is the game about?
- What do the characters do?
- What do the players do?
Even in his initial "Rant" blog post, Costisick said that his three questions were incomplete. He later expanded these to a longer set of questions called the Power 19, which go into more detail into the later design work (including publishing goals).
- Jared Sorensen (2005-02-03). "Game Design". Memento_Mori on Livejournal. Retrieved 2020-01-10.
- Aaron Kesher. Comment on "Games, The Standard and Spoons". Ludanta Reto. Retrieved 2020-01-10.
- Jared Sorensen (2006-09-19). Comment on "The Three Big Questions". Story Games. Retrieved 2020-01-10.
- Nathan Russell (2009-09-28). "The 3 Questions (+1)". The Stockade. Retrieved 2020-01-10.
- Brennan Taylor (2007-01-25). "Game Design Process (Part 1)". Why Is a Raven Like a Writing Desk?. Retrieved 2020-01-10.
- Luke Crane (2009-07-17). "Kill Power 19". The Forge. Retrieved 2020-01-10.
- Troy Costisick (2005-09-13). "Troy's Standard Rant #1". The Forge. Retrieved 2020-01-10.
- Troy Costisick (2005-12-26). "What are "The Big Three"?". Socratic Design. Retrieved 2020-01-10.
- Troy Costisick (2005-08-26). Reply #1 to thread "Ember [game concept]". The Forge. Retrieved 2020-01-10.
- Josh Roby (2005-12-12). "Games, The Standard, and Spoons". Ludanta Reto. Retrieved 2020-01-10.
- Troy Costisick (2006-03-17). "What are the 'Alt. 3'?". Socratic Design. Retrieved 2020-01-10.
- Nathan Paoletta (2006-11-). "RPG Design Handbook: Chapter 2 (part 1)". Hamsterprophecy: Prevision. Retrieved 2020-01-10.
- Troy Costisick (2006-01-19). "What are the 'Power 19'? pt 1". Socratic Design. Retrieved 2020-01-10.