Helpful Lum Is Helpful: Design Blogs And You

i want to make game
it may be awesome or not
i want to make game

Matthew Weigel’s awesome whiteboard haiku/commentary on game development

Do YOU want to make game? Then you probably blog about it! Cuppycake tried to be controversial and failed on the topic, because everyone agreed with her. (Aww, it’s OK. Just belittle a PvP game, that usually works for me.) It’s already created a fiesta of trackbacks, and instead of saying yet another “yeah, what they said”, I’ll chip in with my own experience.

See, I’m still fairly new at the whole game design thing. Sure, I’ve been wanting to do it approximately since I was 10, but that’s beside the point. So I do a lot of reading on the subject so that I don’t completely suck at it. Most of which are… well, game design blogs.

Use a blog reader. This may seem an obvious point, but the best blogs you find in this field are not going to be updated often, because the people who write them do other things besides blog. You know, like work on games. You WANT to read the stuff from the guy that never updates, ever, because she usually has something good to say when he does.

Don’t get deluded by star power. Resume != competence. And more importantly skill != writing ability. As Raph Koster noted in his comment on the subject, just because one is a good game designer, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are a good writer. And some of the best design discussions I’ve found have been written by amateur designers. Critical thinking and analysis is required here. It’s required for coming up with healthy game designs, too, so you need the practice.

Get outside your comfort discipline. There are great discussions of game theory and development on blogs that theoretically have nothing to do with design. Given that a good designer is also, most likely, going to work hand in glove with art, marketing, engineering, community, and production, an appreciation of their challenges is vital. A bad designer will write – or worse, not bother to write – documentation that exists in its own bold and creative space outside of any possibility of implementation. Don’t be a bad designer. It makes the coders laugh at us during lunch.

Don’t pretend Twitter and Facebook are relevant to your job. Unless you’re making a Facebook game (and I hope you’re pushing it out quick, because everyone else is). They’re social networking tools. Your job may well involve coming up with a coherent social network design, but be honest, you’re not playing Mafia Wars or obsessively following @ashtonkutcher to learn about how people process connections. It’s a time sink, not a resource. Be aware of this. (This blog you are currently reading, also 99% of the time counts as a time sink. Just so you know.)

MMO-specific message boards are actually relevant to your job. But they’re still time sinks. Enjoy the contradiction, and don’t get tangled up in flamewars on the political forums, because someone WILL throw your job in your face at some point. If you’re smart, you’ll make a completely anonymous account and use that for interacting on forums. You’re not smart.

Things You Should Read, Please:

  • Damion Schubert’s Design Doc Presentation. No, really, if you read ONE thing on the Internet about design, learn to write frakkin design docs. It’s the one bitch I constantly hear from experienced developers about inexperienced designers. I could just direct link it but instead I’ll send you to his site and you can view trying to find it as a test (note that if you fail, he also is one of the aforementioned good bloggers who never update because they’re busy on wanting to make game.)
  • Raph Koster writes about everything but lately he’s been writing about all the emergent games that everyone with WoW-lock have avoided paying any attention to. You could pay attention to them. Or you could be a dinosaur and wait for your extinction-level event. Your choice, really.
  • You probably are cloning World of Warcraft. Just admit it. And if you are, the best design discussions on what you’re cloning are over on Elitist Jerks (which despite its name is not particularly jerky, though it can be fairly elitist). Tobold’s blog is also a good place for player-centric commentary.
  • Daniel Cook’s blog isn’t very MMO centric. Read it anyway. Thinking about the why behind style and presentation is why that iPhone in your pocket is so ineffably awesome. (If you have a Blackberry you are dead to me.)

This list is pretty short. Partially it’s because I’m not including the literally dozens of blogs by clueful amateur designers, live team veterans, and industry analysis. And partially it’s because, well, there’s just not that many blogs specificaly focused on the how and why of game design. Well, that are very good, anyway.

(See, Cuppycake, THAT’S how you do it! 🙂  )


51 Responses to Helpful Lum Is Helpful: Design Blogs And You

  1. Cuppycake says:

    Unfortunately, the thoughts in my head were more controversial than the actual blog post was.

    What I wanted to say was – design bloggers….you’re all full of shit, and relevant people in the industry making kick ass content aren’t reading a word of what you say (and if they are, they’re laughing).

    But, I try to be a little sunshiney and rainbows and try not to make mass generalizations…;)

  2. Now, see? If you had said THAT you’d have a lot more trackbacks!

  3. TPRJones says:

    “If you have a Blackberry you are dead to me.”

    I love my Blackberry, and nothing you say can ruin that!

  4. Kleedrac says:

    I would also highly recommend adding Andrew Doull’s blog “Ascii Dreams” from – coming from a roguelike developer (read c-coder-overlords) he has a rather unique perspective and freely shares not only the how’s of his game design but (more useful to me) the why’s!

    Please note I am not Mr. Doull advertising in comments … but his and yours (Lum’s) are the only two design blogs in my RSS feeder atm

  5. Longasc says:

    I do not understand how a community manager, by definition a blabbermouth, can make a statement that armchair designers should stop blogging because not many people are reading their blogs. 🙂

    Sorry, I do not want to be offensive, but who reads game design blogs? It is not only potential developers, but also gamers who dream of better games.

    There is potential in blogs, not only game design blogs. If a designer who is really going to make and release a game in the end gets one or two good ideas from a pile of crappy ideas on countless blogs or forums, everyone has won.

  6. Tachevert says:

    Quoth the Cuppy: “What I wanted to say was – design bloggers….you’re all full of shit, and relevant people in the industry making kick ass content aren’t reading a word of what you say (and if they are, they’re laughing).”

    If relevant people AREN’T doing some reading and evaluation — even of amateurs — then they aren’t going to STAY relevant. 🙂

  7. IainC says:

    ‘Some reading and evaluation’ is not the same thing as carefully weighing the opinions of every single person with bandwidth to burn.

  8. Cuppycake says:


    Disagree. I don’t think game designers need to read blogs at all, whatsoever, to design fun experiences in games or to stay relevant. I think blogs in general are minuscule (and I say this as a blogger) in the scheme of things, and often bloggers (and people who read them) analyze way too much into the opinions. Also – I think that designers learn more from playing a variety of games, reading the news, and seeing their ideas succeed and fail than they do from reading opinions on the web.

    Just my 2cp 😉

    And Longasc, who said they should stop blogging? I’d never say anyone should stop blogging…it’s a fun hobby. And my post also wasn’t targeted at “armchair designers”, it was targeted at “professional designers”. And it was simply a question. 🙂

  9. Longasc says:

    I really did not understand that, Cuppycake. Why should game designers, especially MMO designers, not use the internet they use as a medium to talk about what they are doing. Why should they not know what they are talking about?

    Raph Koster mentioned that there are great designers who do not blog, and I know authors who stopped blogging to focus on their work, this is true.

    I think you should be more precise. You wondered about the signal to noise ratio – does actually anything of value come out of game design blogs of professionals. That is the question then?

    Yeah, there are ingenious people who do not blog, have no academic background, and might even have failed high school.

    You are right when you say that blogs are not that important for the future of design. Still, I say they could be. They could be more important in future.

    I think this is about to change. Rainer Knizia was mentioned, he does not blog, but he is said to use a rather scientific approach to game design. The WWW was developed initially as a tool for scientists to exchange texts and ideas quickly. So why should game designers not communicate ideas over blogs.

    The guys working at Blizzard are usually very secretive… you just cannot spoil all good ideas to the competition, after all. But there is still enough to talk about.

    Be a bit more optimistic, writing is a creative process, and if game designers write and think about a problem, maybe they get inspired. Or they read a comment that inspires them, for example.

    The notion that great game design comes from a genius mastermind that suddenly creates a supreme game – I doubt it works anymore.

    MMORPGs require so much money, it needs more than an idea, it needs a team, ideally some people with knowledge in this or that area. Behavioral sciences, game theory, lots of things. Just waiting for the original genius mmo designer is not going to do it.

    I think game design blogs are a great opportunity for game designers, a great medium to communicate with players and other developers. It is called the games industry, not the industry that is just waiting for a genius to show up and design another MMO that sells, after all.

  10. Tesh says:

    I see greater danger in ivory tower devs who can’t accept that there are good ideas that aren’t found in their own minds. The game industry is pretty inbred (everyone making WoW, not just the armchair quarterbacks) overall, and as ea_spouse and that fallout has illustrated, we don’t necessarily have the best and brightest, just the most tolerant or most “passionate”.

  11. Frost says:

    Cuppycake :

    What I wanted to say was – design bloggers….you’re all full of shit

    Well, Game Designers are charlatans anyway, right. ( So how come that they blog about it, when pretty much everyone blogs?

    No. They are not full of shit. It is just interdiscplinary and still need to fathom a few things.

  12. Seth says:

    I’m actually coming at it from the other direction. I don’t plan to work on anything even remotely resembling an MMO, just small things for my own edification. I do have your blog on my RSS reader however, because you seem to have some good things to say. Thanks for the useful links!

  13. Tide says:

    Thanks Dr.Lum, nice post. There are also some really good books on game design (not just video games) that pretty approachable and not overly academic. Please pardon the linkage (there’s a certain _Massively Multiplayer Games for Dummies_ book included here):

  14. Melf_Himself says:

    Some useful links to design blogs that you might find interesting (yes Scott, they fulfill the requirement of not being updated often – quality over quantity!)

    I’d have linked to Dan C as well, but you already covered that.

    This may be my first constructive reply to your blog. What is the world coming to :p

  15. Freakazoid says:

    It’s too bad I only like your blog. I tried to read other people’s blogs, but they can’t communicate like you communicate, nor do they have your history. They feel more like glorified forum posts, a slightly larger soapbox to stand on.

    I did make an exception for the design doc guide, as I have never seen a guide to making a design doc, ever. That kind of practical information is what we need, rather than even more speculation on how to design a fun game.

  16. J. says:

    See, I pretty much knew all that, realized I wasn’t going to win anything by trying to out-blog anyone else, and just abandoned all expectations.

    Within a few months, I got hired for a game industry job. It works.

    And Matt Weigel is a pretty Zen dude.

  17. Triforcer says:

    Does He Who Must Not be Named blog? (B a t t l e c r u i s e r guy)?

  18. Vetarnias says:

    Here’s a little haiku of my own:

    I am a gamer
    I allow you to have jobs
    Some gratitude, please!

  19. Cuppycake :
    Unfortunately, the thoughts in my head were more controversial than the actual blog post was.
    What I wanted to say was – design bloggers….you’re all full of shit, and relevant people in the industry making kick ass content aren’t reading a word of what you say (and if they are, they’re laughing).
    But, I try to be a little sunshiney and rainbows and try not to make mass generalizations…;)

    And before blogging existed, from the point of view of the people who needed to do hardcore implementation, instead of the target being “bloggers” it was “people who had enough free time to go to conventions and give speeches about what good work looks like, instead of actually doing good work.”

    There is a certain symbiosis that occurs, though – All the greatest implementation in the world isn’t going to be useful without a good vision, and the best vision in the world is useless when it doesn’t have a viable implementation.

    There’s good and bad in people of both types. You just need far more good implementers than you need good visionaries to succeed.

    On top of that, it’s far more difficult to tell a high quality bloviator (someone who has good, *implementable* ideas) from a low quality one (someone who has amazing ideas that are completely impractical) than it is to make the same comparison with those doing the implementation.

    The quality of a given *implementation* is evident to all but the most casual observer, and compounding the problem, the implementers frequently end up taking the blame for the low quality bloviators.

  20. Tesh says:

    Indeed, Scott, especially if the metric is financial success, rather than any solid analysis of what good *game design* actually consists of.

  21. […] she later clarified to actually mean this: What I wanted to say was – design bloggers….you’re all full of shit, and […]

  22. Larry Lard says:

    Whatever else, this post has definitely coined the correct collective noun for trackbacks 🙂

  23. Stabs says:

    Looking at other fields of professional work some kind of extra-curricular research is generally expected. Here in England for instance a lawyer loses the right to practice law if he doesn’t perform a set amount of hours per year of training and education known as Continuing Professional Development.

    Most game designers will have some method of keeping up to date with their profession. For instance a game designer who hasn’t heard about the COH mission editor is missing an important development in his genre and may find that one day his skillset in mission design gets replaced by player-developed content.

    There are always some people who keep their broader professional skills up-to-date and some who just focus on what non-games industry workers call the 9-5. Generally the first category will be better at their jobs than the latter. The conscientious lawyer who goes to a conference on his field is better at his job than the guy who just does the minimum and relies on his college education to practice law.

    I think Cuppycake is misapplying Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is crap doesn’t mean just ignore blogs because 90% of them are crap, it means read the other 10%.

    Afterthought: some workers have other methods of gaining information about their field. A worker who doesn’t do any research but has lunch with one who does and spends the lunch break discussing industry developments is perfectly effective in keeping himself updated. You don’t have to specifically read blogs, you just have to not be an ostrich.

  24. Vetarnias says:

    I’m a Darkfall silver man, myself.

  25. Sutro says:

    Mmm. From my non-industry standpoint, at least, I think the whole glorification of game design uber alles is misplaced.

    I’ve been playing MMOs for 13 years now, and within my circle of experience, the reason people quit playing games are usually reasons unrelated to game design – loading times/system reqs (EQ2, AoC), unstable client (Shadowbane), bad UI (WWII Online), failure to achieve a ‘critical mass’ of people [which, honestly, often has more to do with marketing than design] (any product NetDevil has produced to date.)

    Among the game design bloggers I’m aware of who actually have employment, their games may not be smashing successes by whatever standard that is, but they’re making enough money for them to be blogging about them rather than sitting in a bar wishing what could have been.

    Notable here is perhaps the most prominent of game design bloggers – Raph – who has yet to design a MMO that’s in the dirt right now. And it’s worth noting that when his hands were on SW:G, while it may not have been the multi-million poundcake that the SW license caused everyone to swoon over, it had a lot more players when he was at the design helm than when he wasn’t. (same with UO.)

  26. Steve says:

    As a programmer, here’s how I judge a competent (not necessarily good) designer: when implementing a system described in a design doc, I don’t have to go back to the designer and say “what happens in this situation” or “this part of the design contradicts that part of the design”. A good designer is one who is competent and whose design is fun and improves the game.

  27. EpicSquirt says:

    “Relevant people in the industry” is funny.

    They’re as full or as little of shit as design bloggers and tbh I seem to be reading more of those full of shit design blogs than playing those full of shit games.

    Maybe I’ve just missed all that “kick ass content”.

  28. Beene says:

    I’d read those links if the .plan file was presented on a black background with a red, blood drippy title font.

  29. Arkazon says:

    But Scott….don’t you blog fairly often? *cough*

  30. Bonedead says:

    Hah, the gold spammer gets through while I have to wait for my comments to be moderated! (not that I haven’t earned the privilege)

    I must not read any design blogs, because I haven’t heard of anything really new or innovative, which is what I would think designers would be striving for. A few years ago I would come across attempts at creating a new idea, but by the 2nd page or so, many people would have shot holes in it. WTB the return of different idea posts.

    I can’t stand the posts that take 5 paragraphs to say how 1 little feature is nice in “insert game here”. I know my blog sucks, but come on, what else would it do? I just try to make myself laugh while trying to remember what I did the last time I played (which can be difficult).

    I am really glad the majority of bloggers stopped doing that myspace bulletin quiz crap. Tag you’re it! Teehee! zomg I like purple crayons and I have a dog, neat.

    As EpicSquirt said above, about missing all the kick ass content. What are the newest additions to mainsteam (and not free) MMOs? Only two pop into my head and that is public quests and open groups. What about before then? Some would say AoCs combat, someone (that is into decorating) would probably mention appearance tabs (which are pretty much everywhere now), someone would probably mention vehicles in raids (because I gotta hate someone) as well. Ahh, I forgot about the uber weapons in WoW. Did they kind of take a page from Trials of Atlantis, mix it with some old school Diablo 2, and tada, why haven’t I always had 5 of these?

    edit–Forgot about CoH mission architect, perdy cool.

    Meh I say! Plus what is the point of being innovative if all of your competition is just going to add it to their game too? If you were lucky you wouldn’t even have to think, let everyone else do it, and just copy. Again, WTB new ideas please. WTB a game that doesn’t look or feel like anything we’re used to. (sweet sweet dreams!)

    The opening haiku reminds me of the open beta sign up for Ragnarok Online. One of the choices in the occupation drop down menu was Make game, I remember having a good laugh at that.

  31. J. says:

    Arkazon :
    But Scott….don’t you blog fairly often? *cough*

    Historically, he does it a lot more when he’s about to be unemployed.

  32. hsinclair says:

    I’ve considered starting a design blog, but when it comes down to it, anything I would write would fall into three categories:

    1. It would break NDA like mad (talking about anything I happen to be working on)
    2. It would be a PR nightmare (talking critically about other game companies or my own company)
    3. It would be vague and handwavy to avoid #1 and #2 as to be absolutely useless

    That doesn’t leave all that much for me to blog about, so I don’t – and I can’t be the only one out here who has come to the same conclusion.

  33. EpicSquirt says:

    I like the Introversion Blog ( – you can get a few ideas of how it is to be an indie developer out there without burning yourself while trying.

    I agree on your first point: I think a lot of the “relevant people in the industry” lowered themself to designing and producing mediocre games. Their stance is “as long as there is some revenue in it we’re relevant” but I feel that many game (idea) designers aren’t creative and many (technical) game designers simply suck! I’m interested in starting own business at some point and I’d be an idiot if I’d blog openly about my best ideas.

    PR nightmare or not would depend on of you need the other game companies to achieve anything. If you’re independent and small (and if you intend of staying this way), then you have the right to laugh about all the million-dollars-budget-with-total-communication-breakdown-while-the-creativity-got-lost-but-still-we-got-memory-leaks-and-WoW’s-user-interface-so-that’s-something publicly. If you want to work with politically correct partners or if you want to aim for a publisher deal than having a high profile might be counterproductive. But hey, you could always blog anonymously.

    So what’s left? “Bitching” a bit about others without presenting own ideas, that’s cheap :-). All we need to do from time to time is to buy a game, play it and bitch about it / discuss it. Sometimes it’s simply enough to read what people don’t like.

  34. geldonyetich says:

    Given that I’ve been working on becoming a game designer myself lately, I feel like this entry is written to me. Which would be flattering, but I’m not holding my breath. How did that song go?

    Personally I think that my writings on Game Design make 99% of the field look like complete hacks. Thanks to the almighty dollar’s siren song and my own desires for quality gaming experiences, I’d make hardcore gamers happy like nobody who gets paid to do this for a living would.

    However, this screaming egotism is somewhat checked by the humble reality that I’ve all the drive of a common garden snail. I must conquer myself before conquering the gaming world, and it’s been a protracted siege.

    Re: Cuppycake and being controversial.
    Hey, I just wrote up a entry suggesting if you like Peggle then you’re no gamer. It’s the best desperate provocation on my Blog in years. 😛

  35. Vivianne Draper says:

    Everything you ever needed to know about game designers who blog:

    “Shut up and give me my ten bucks per month, little man. My Porsche needs some performance upgrades.”
    — Milo. Previously with EQ. Rumored to be with Bliz now.

  36. Abalieno says:

    See, I pretty much knew all that, realized I wasn’t going to win anything by trying to out-blog anyone else, and just abandoned all expectations.

    Within a few months, I got hired for a game industry job. It works.

    Hehe J, maybe you didn’t try to outblog anyone. But you surely tried hard to outpost everyone at IGDA 🙂

  37. J. says:

    That’s not hard, considering most of the people who ever post make one post, then are never heard from again, or come back perennially to post the same ignorant “just seeing what you guys think” tripe, and never really learn anything.

  38. […] at last her true feelings come out when she said this on Broken Toys: What I wanted to say was – design bloggers….you’re all full of shit, and […]

  39. Daniel says:

    @cuppycake. “I don’t think game designers need to read blogs at all, whatsoever”

    Well of course it’s true that designers don’t *need* to read blogs. But that doesn’t mean that blogs can’t be a useful tool because they can be.


    “On top of that, it’s far more difficult to tell a high quality bloviator (someone who has good, *implementable* ideas) from a low quality one (someone who has amazing ideas that are completely impractical) than it is to make the same comparison with those doing the implementation.”

    Again, there is truth to that. But at the same time it is the ideas which are wholly impracticable now that get implemented 10 years down the line once technology has caught up. There is a difference between long-term visionaries and short-term ones. We need the long term ones to goad us into doing the art of the impossible. Because if we are never challenged we will never grow.

  40. […] technical background. Raph has a bit more academic bent to his blog, for example. By contrast, Scott Jennings brings a much more direct perspective, having worked is way to game design from an avid fan on a […]

  41. sinij says:

    J. :

    Arkazon :
    But Scott….don’t you blog fairly often? *cough*

    Historically, he does it a lot more when he’s about to be unemployed.

    Vultures already circling his job.

  42. […] blogs asking whether designers actually knew anything, which she later clarified (in a comment on Lum’s response) into design bloggers being full of shit. She scored high marks in what – paint me cynical – she […]

  43. Sanya says:

    @Vivianne – to be fair, he was trying to be ironic. Most developers don’t make any of the money that flows in from subs. Most players do not realize that, so the joke fell flat.

    @Scott – AAAAAAAAAAAARG. You SUCK. Make an anonymous account to post? NO. NONONONONONONONO. First, players will always figure it out eventually, and then there is Drama. Second, the mods figure it out immediately, because it says EA or Sony or whatever in the identifying line that doesn’t display to users, and the mods will either rat you out OR be unable to resist bragging about the caliber of lurker at their board.

    No. If you work for the industry, and are posting on industry related boards, you use your real name, or put your real name in your sig. You cannot go all that wrong being aboveboard and honest, assuming you are not a full metal moron.

    You can have your anonymous pirate name back when you leave the industry or post on an unrelated forum.

  44. foolsage says:

    @Cuppycake Hrm. Overgeneralize much? 😀 I agree with Stabs: this is a misapplication of Sturgeon’s Law.

    Not everyone with talent to design games is working in that industry; it’s arrogant and foolish to believe anything else. If you stop to consider the terrible reimbursement and lousy working conditions endemic to the industry (thank you, ea_spouse), it should be obvious that quite a lot of people have been turned off from something they might have enjoyed and been skilled at. Some of them might choose to blog about it, and some of those blogs might have some good ideas in them. Again, Sturgeon’s Law applies; find the 10% that isn’t crap. Some people who don’t design games for a living still have things to contribute.

    Further, not everyone currently working to design games, and certainly not everyone who’s ever previously worked to design games, is incredibly skilled at it. There are some truly stupid design flaws that have sunk games, even AAA titles in the last year, that make this point blatantly obvious: some people who design games for a living shouldn’t be.

    For myself, I don’t blog because I expect people in the industry to be swept away by my insight. I blog because it’s a subject that’s interesting to me and I like to write. My blog isn’t lessened by the number of people making kickass games who don’t read it. And if somebody does read it and laughs at it, then hey, I brought some laughter into the world. I can’t help but think that’s better than manufacturing negativity based on ivory-tower elitism, though the latter approach does get more page hits. 😀

  45. […] going to toss in my tuppence here.  Cuppy refined her original post by saying, “design bloggers….you’re all full of shit, and relevant people in the […]

  46. […] Player-centric blogger Tobold loves Free Realm’s collectible card game. If you want to get in on the fun and not look like a newb Pokemon player with a hand fall of Charmanders, check out his Deckbuilding 101 guide. […]

  47. […] World of Goo dev blog (they must not be very good designers if they are blogging, eh, wot?) […]

  48. Knurd says:

    ‘fucks sake, Lum. What has your blog turned into?

    “You can have your anonymous pirate name back when you leave the industry or post on an unrelated forum.”

    Lol. Not always. Sometimes they take your name as corporate property.

  49. XueyuanZhang says:

    i am really agree with your ideas about a game desiner especially mmo designer need read lots of other designers by useing internet
    .Actrually, many femous designers do that already. A designer can get many useful ideas form others comments eventhough they many
    get lots useless things. But i still have some advice to you, like you said that read bolgs is not very important for
    future of design. in may opion, it would and must be more inportant in future when internet becomes more comman.

    eventhoug, there are may many designers would talk many valueable things, like longasc said blizzard staff,they
    would not talk about their work or their designs. but we all know that, bilizzard alway are very secrective, like starcraft when know this game when the game in testing already. the reasons for that i think could be staff make
    some secreted contrast with the company.

    also , i strongly agree longasc’s idea about that mmo-games need much money for getting ideas, if the designer can
    get ideas by free from their bolgs is pretty good.

    but the difficult thing is that how to select a good designer’s bolgs, when we focus a game designer’s bolgs for one
    month or longer, then we find that all things are useless, it’s so bad for the wasted time.

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