Playing for Keeps: How to learn from other games
Of the many types of research required for successful game development, few are as important (or as entertaining!) as simply playing other games.
As developers, we can often get wrapped up in all the mechanics of game creation, focusing too hard on theory crafting and conceptual design without enough practical experience. In fact, we often think poorly of turning to other games for inspiration, as we think that using ideas inspired by others somehow taints or cheapens our final products. This, of course, is a total fallacy-- no game is entirely original. What gives a game value is not being totally original and unique; it is combing familiar elements in unfamiliar ways to create unique experiences.
Even more important than playing games is picking games. While it is easy to pick and play games that we already like, we can learn much more by playing new games --and even new genres-- that we may not normally be interested in playing. Every game, from the densest eurogame to the silliest party game, has something for us to learn from it.
So next time you feel like you are stuck on something in your game, take a break and play something else. At worst, you will learn how not to design games!