Example of Play

Commentary on Games Design


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The Shape of Games

Games, much like stories, often follow a set plot. How the game unfolds or how it builds momentum as it progresses can turn a “yeah-it’s-kinda-fun-I-think” game into a polished, table-top hero. This can be wonderfully illustrated by borrowing one of Kurt Vonnegut’s lectures “The Shapes of Stories”.

Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) was an American writer and one of my own personal heroes. An early science fiction writer, he wrote with dark humor, satire and intellectualism and famously lectured on writing. His work is often characterized by wild leaps of imagination, mixed with humanism and cynicism. I think that his best stuff came from his uncanny ability to look at something from an exciting, almost childlike point of view. Even simple topics like going to the postoffice were investigated by a mix of unashamed wonder and “what if’s”.

Vonnegut gave a talk on “The Shape of Stories” which broke down story plots into simple curved graphs. Good fortune and happiness is at the top of the Y-axis, with ill fortune and misery at the bottom. The X-axis is made up of the “B.E.” scale; the Beginning, and the End. The first of his story examples is “Man in hole”.

Man in hole

“You will see this story over and over again. People love it, and it is not copyrighted. The story is ‘Man in Hole,’ but the story needn’t be about a man or a hole. It’s: somebody gets into trouble, gets out of it again.” – Kurt Vonnegut on the shapes of stories.

In summary: A man starts on a nice high – everything is ok. Then he falls into a hole and plunges into ill fortune “Oh no!” he shouts from his tiny hole in the ground. “Everything is terrible!”-this is the lowest point of the story. Then he saves himself and climbs out, ending on a point that is better than when he started.

pandemic

The Shape of Pandemic

Pandemic, the disease-prevention game, is a stellar example of this “Man in hole” plot. The players, acting together start in a pretty good place – they’ve got a fancy new player-role to explore, they are armed with some Epidemic gameplay cards – sure there are a few outbreaks of disease here and there – but overall, the players find themselves in a pretty good condition. After a few turns the diseases build up. More people get sick and Buenos Aires gets infected 3 turns in a row. Then the cubes start mounting into high towers. Then someone forgets to work on Baghdad and the “Blue Cube disease” outbreaks to Moscow, Baghdad, Algier and Kairo. Another outbreak hits in Peking which overflows to Shanghai. People are dying, infection is spreading. The outbreak counter is high and there are only 6 black cubes left. At this point, the players find themselves, much like the man who has fallen into the hole, at the lowest point of the story. If it gets any worse, it’s game over. Then, just as all hope is lost, the medic solves Jakarta’s “Orange cube Disease” and in 3 turns manages to pass the Johannesburg card to the Scientist who discovers the last cure at the final moment – the players win and the man climbs out of the hole. Everyone feels even better than when they started and the Shape of the Game is completed.

dominion2

Deck Builders

Dominion on the other hand represents a long, smooth incline, each new card your buy and put into your deck building engine pushes you ever further into “good fortune”. Here the very first turn represents your lowest point – it’s all up from here, your hand on turn 1 comprises of a bit of gold and a few “for the hell of it” victory point cards that clog everything up. There comes a point in dominion, and many other deck builders where your engine is at it’s “most efficient” within the constrains of the time frame. Once the game has reached this point, most turns consist of buying Provinces until they run out, shown by a small plateau at the end of the Shape.

werewolves

Games with two teams

We can give a shape to Werewolf (Mafia, The Resistance etc.) while taking a different view of it. Each opposing team will have a different “unfolding” to their game. In the Shape here, we see it is a very bad match for the villagers and they fail at catching any werewolves. Whereas the werewolves are having the opposite, matching game. Each step here represents a villager being eaten or burned, the villagers sinking lower and lower with each terrible incident. The werewolves on the other hand are getting more and more good fortune as they evade capture. The starting point for the villagers is slightly below the norm also because even from turn 1 the bleak prospect of “You are going to die” is not very comforting for them.

It’s not just Winning and Losing

The simple possibility of “Winning” and “Losing” a game is not an excuse to have the shape of your game finish on a high or a low, after all, many games that you can win don’t leave you with a Good Fortune style outlook. I have played many games where although I have technically ‘won’, the scowl that my wife gives me afterwards does not leave me with a positive vibe. In fact I’m sure that most of us have at least one game that we will simply not play because it makes us feel like shit, Battle Star Galactica – I’m looking at you… (Edit: My copy of Citadels went from a fight to eBay in 24 hours – Matt)

To Sum

Like stories, games have plots or “Shapes”. Games don’t need to start in a certain place, but as long as they have variation in the shape, and end on a high they will be a rewarding experience. Certain styles of games follow certain plots and these Shapes can be a very useful tool in understanding how a game “unfolds”, a key property of your game.

bibliossummonerwars7wonders

jenga

 

 

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What social interactions should be in your boardgame?

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Don’t worry, we all did it too…

Arguably, the main reason to play a boardgame is human interactions. Be them with other real people or intrinsically within the mind of the solo player (a struggle between the mediating ego and your self-critical super-ego). Without humans involved, boardgames disintegrate into lifeless bits of plastic and round cardboard circles. Much in the same way: physical challenges aren’t fun, but the feeling of triumph when you conquer a 20 mile run can be hugely rewarding. The magic ingredient is “people” – As soon as there are other players involved in the game you are playing (outside of a single player game) social interaction becomes both inescapable and potent. Raph Koster’s book “a theory of fun”, has superb information here. Some of the key social forms that can be displayed in a game are:

  • Schadenfreude, “Hah! I won and you lost, this means you are inferior to me.” A drunken, gloating feeling you get when a rival fails at something – a put down.
  • Fieor, “YEAH!” *fist pump*. The expression of triumph when you have achieved a significant task. This is can be thought of as expressing to others that you are involved with success and as such, valuable.
  • Naches, “You’ve done well young padawan…” The feeling you get when someone you mentor succeeds. This is a clear feedback mechanism for continuing the tutor / learner relationship within your social frame.
  • Kvell, “You didn’t really have a chance, I was taught by the world champion.” The emotion you feel when bragging about someone you mentor. Signalling that you are valued in your socialframe and ear marked for special treatment.
  • Belongingness, “You’re like me!” said to be one of the most basic psychological needs, the tendency of humans to be part of a group. I hope you enjoyed the free lemonade at our cursor disco – you are one of us now.
  • Out-group Derogation, “You’re not on my side.” Where an out-group (eg: “The opponents”) is perceived as being threatening to your own kind. Also known as “No I don’t believe anything you say because I think you are a Werewolf”

We can see that Schadenfreude and Fieor will be easily on display on any table top, but how can Naches get involved? Gateway games perhaps? Family games? And perhaps we could find Kvell in a high level competitive CCG game? Perhaps the traditional “rules lawyers” gamer type: the ones that don’t let anyone else see the rule book and casually forget to tell people those crucial special-case rules, perhaps they exhibit constructs displaying Kvell. In a full competitive game, Belongingness would creep up in a ‘King-maker’ situation; where a single player (although not a winner herself) would be able to choose the winner. Simply put: she will choose who is most firmly in her own group.

The constant manoeuvring for social status that we all engage in day to day life is itself a cognitive exercise and as such: a game. Playing in a neutral and player-created gamespace these social rules can be both polarised and subverted. It is people that play your game, and it is the people that you want to tempt, exhilarate and entertain (however you game sees fit to do that) with your game. There is often far more going on in a players head than just the rules.


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How to write an Elevator Pitch

How to write an Elevator Pitch

Deep breath now...

Deep breath now…

The pitch is the interface between the hobby and the profession

Convention season is on us and you’ve just bumped into that industry professional you have always wanted to meet. You walk up to him with your game in your backpack and a big goofy smile. You exchange pleasantries and then he asks what’s in your backpack. You open your mouth, and then stop. Where do you start? There’s just so much to say! Then, as you try to scrabble to organize your thoughts, he is called off and on his way. You are sure that if you were better organized he would have been very interested in your concept. To break out of the hobby and into the semi-professional, your games each need to be equipped with a pitch.

Telling me about your game is boring.

Sorry to say, but if you just “told him” about your game ad-lib, chances are it will be a hodgepodge, scattergun approach that will take too long because you are so excited and unprepared. He may be very indifferent, lose interest, of even stop you halfway through your explanation. He may think that the next 20 minutes he will need to listen about your game before I can even decide if he likes it or not. These 20 minutes are lost. You would do better to get to the heart of the information as fast as you can. Ideally you would have a snapshot or some kind of movie trailer (with portable projector) for your game to have the good stuff condensed down. This want of a précis (indicative abstract) is exactly the same reason why we look at the back of a box before buying it – to get to the point.

What is the goal of a ‘pitch’?

There are many evolutions and vehicles of a “pitch”; mission statements, public strategy, sales presentations, “Barking”, poster events, executive summaries, etc x 1000, but the one that you need to concentrate on as a boardgame designer is the “Elevator Pitch”. The goal of this is to tell someone enough about your game for them to make a judgement in the shortest amount of time possible. “Yes I will playtest your game, yes I will listen to your full pitch, yes I do think this is a decent concept”, is what you want to hear after a pitch like this. Remember, that if the answer is “no thanks, that is not interesting” or similar, then you will be saving time for yourself and your subject – this is a very good thing and leaves you with more time to speak to others that will have better inclination towards you.

You get one chance, so make it good.

“What if they say No, but I didn’t really have time to get to the best bits?”, then unfortunately, your pitch was bad. This kind of pitch is a concise verbal presentation of your idea that acts to summarize your proposition. The long and the short of this, means “Put the good bits first”, aka “get to the point”.

The anatomy of an Elevator Pitch

  1. You have thirty seconds to say it all. Traditionally this was the time you had to speak to someone in an elevator ride up to their floor.
  2. Use clear language. No fancy words, forgo all abbreviations and assume no prior knowledge of your game. Concise.
  3. Use powerful and visual words. It is ok for this to sound a little bit “salesy”, it needs to demand attention and leave the listener with a strong and visceral image.
  4. Tell a story. Why does this game exist? What are the steps that brought you here?
  5. Practice. Yes in front of the mirror. Yes you have to know it off the top of your head. Yes you have to practice in front of friends.

How do you create an Elevator Pitch?

Step 1. Write everything down. Write down a few different ways of explaining your game. Don’t edit yourself at all; just start collecting your ideas. Put in as much long-form, blabbery, stream-of-consciousness stuff as you can here; write it all down in all the ways you can think of. Why does this game exist? How did you make it? What was your goal in making this game? What are your hopes for this game?

Step 2. Leave it for 24 hours. For at least one day, leave all of this information and don’t touch it. You will come back tomorrow with a fresh look on everything. This is ironically one of the most important steps, do not negate this as it will give you an exceptional look into your own game.

Step 3. Revisit and highlight the best stuff. With a highlighter, find the parts that really stand out to you (remember to keep the above list in mind here)

Step 4. Bring it together. This is your chance to start writing the script for your main pitch, using your fresh eyes and your highlighted stuff; you will start drafting the pitch and connecting the best pieces together.

Step 5. Success and practice. Read it aloud to a friend or family member. Read it again to a mirror, if you have the technology and inclination, read it into a Dictaphone or record yourself speaking, this will highlight some very important weaknesses, not limited to the fact that you do not sound anything like James Bond even though you think you do (L).

To Sum:

Write it all and condense it down to 30 seconds. So when someone asks you “Tell me about your game”, you will be properly equipped and prepared.


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The benefits of crappy prototypes

The worst possible prototype is an amazing looking prototype.

Ok, the intro line here is a bit of a con (after all, the worst type of prototype is no prototype at all). When I say “amazing looking” what I mean is the shiniest, most chrome filled, graphically superior prototype that looks like it has just popped out of a modern Speil de Jahr winner,  Daniel Solis‘s* design cupboard or Brett Gilbert’s* graphical mastery.

Take a look at this:

serenity layout

This is the prototype layout to one of the games Matt and I are working on; a Firefly themed game crossing a deck builder and a wargame that takes place during the Battle of Serenity Valley. The game so far looks to hold up quite well, but the point is that this is a prototype card. The background art is not mine of course, all rights to the firefly comics there. Does it look good? Well I think it does rather. Would I consider changing the layout of it as a prototype? HELL NO! I’m not going to destroy all of this hard work I have put into this beautiful card! This took far too long and looks far too fancy to change.

If you are unwilling to change it, it is not a prototype.

This damned card set us back about 4 weeks of development because I was too stubborn to change it. I thought that entertaining a change of layout (and thus: mechanics) would ruin all of this effort I put into the card, for fear of it being slightly damaged. If any part of you would “rather not” change a part of your boardgame – then you no longer have the right to call it a prototype. This is true of any resource: dice, cards, board, etc that you would prefer not to change. Even if you kind of want to keep it, but maybe you know … whatever. That is as bad; you are biased and you will tilt in your duty as a designer to be empowered to change things, you cannot call something a prototype if at ANY POINT you are committed in keeping something because of any reasons other than gameplay.

Board making guides also suck.

I was really getting into making the board for this prototype as well. I went so far as to buy some “book binders tape” JUST to flex my craft muscles and make a real four way hinged board. The board is really great now by the way. I’m really proud of it and the way it folds all nicely, I spent ages on it. Then the shrill but distant far away voice is heard:

*Hey … Sam, what do you think about the idea of not using a board anymore at all?*

W- … what do you mean, strange voice of reason?

*You secretly know that games downfall is the board, lets try using player tableaus, I’m sure that will really help the game out!*

B…but the board i- … it folds. Do you not see? It folds into FOUR sections strange voice, FOUR!! (Sam flips the board between it’s two states in the air as if he were preparing to break the ‘Rubik’s Magic’ world record)

Why a crappy prototype is better.

If you realise you have made a really crappy, rubbish, pencil based, graph paper, style prototype then there are a few points to consider:

  1. You will never feel too attached to the game to avoid changing it
  2. You will focus on the mechanics – as you are no longer bound by the prototypes transient and physical nature
  3. Some of you may actively dislike the look of the prototype – leading to a positive reinforcement or push to change it, if only because it looks so terrible!
  4. You are able to “let it go” if you or a publisher choose to retheme it

Don’t let your pride, your graphics abilities, your fondness for chipboard, your perfectionism or any other such irrelevant desire bind you to something that only exists to be changed changed and improved.

Why does this happen?

Well, in the psychoanalytic theory that Freud made popular: specialised strategies are brought into play by the unconscious mind to deny or distort reality to maintain a socially acceptable self-schema or self-image. This is some awesome-psycho-babble-science for what me and you know as a “Defence mechanism”. The thinking goes that we give insincere rationalizations (we make excuses) for things that we have created because these things have been born of our own hand, and are physical manifestations of ourselves. They are our gorgeous babies. In destroying and changing your babies, you are, arguably destroying and changing yourself, forcing us to concede that something is “wrong” with our babies, and so, ourselves.

This neatly leads on to another interesting point; a lot of designers (myself included) get upset or angry if you criticise our prototypes. If you stop for a minute and think about this, it makes no sense at all. Here you are, with 3 willing playtesters in front of you all keen to help you develop your latest prototype, Ambulance Quest. Now imagine this; they play your game to help you make it better. You say, “Hey, what did you think about the board?”, the reply is an uncomfortable “It is bad, we would prefer player tableaus” and you are sad, hurt, and a little angry. This makes NO SENSE. You asked them specifically for their opinion to help you with the design – and now you are making up reasons why they are wrong “Well, perhaps you didn’t invest enough ambu-cash into the bonus cards…”. This my friends is called Cognitive Dissonance and is prevelant when your mind is aware of two contrasting thoughts. In this case: the amount of work you put into your prototype, and the fact that if all your playtesters says its bad. This is especially the case with very shiny and over produced prototypes.

To Sum:

Save yourself time and stop yourself getting upset; make crappy prototypes.

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Awww yeeeaah. You should see the “Wolf” cards.

*Daniel and Brett are two of the most amazingly gorgeous designers I know of, they are both really cool guys as well. I would heartily recommend checking these guys stuff out if you want to see what I think the gaming industry will look like in 2 or 3 years.


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Game Design Secrets #3 – Rapid prototyping

The faster you can prototype a game, the better.

The worst thing that can happen to your beautiful new creation, all shiny eyed and full of joy, is a pained visit from the grizzly arm of indolence. Manifesting itself to gently place your keen-baby-bunting game on the top shelf of your cupboard, with all the other “Didn’t give it a go, probably would be great to finish” games –shelved to rot.

The cause of the decaying stack of chits and boards on my shelf can mostly be traced back to one point. Rapid prototyping.

I promise myself to get the rules up soon – and then once they are ready, I’ll paperfy the thing, it’ll be great just you watch. Then, 2 months later, when the game is in no other state than which I left it, I have lost my urge for it. My very own hype for the game has evaporated because I didn’t give the idea a life.

Making it easy on yourself

rapidproto

All the necessities. Also a hole punch for tokens. Those things are awesome. When you bring your hammer of justice down onto the soft card to create money tokens, you feel like … well like a hero to be honest.

Having readily accessible material helps the rapid protyping immensely. Try and remove all barriers between the ethereal idea in your head and the paper in front of you. I would recommend any enthusiast go on ebay, amazon, whatever and get:

  1. A load of blank cards
  2. Lots of heavy gauge paper (Greyboard or any thick card equivalent)
  3. Some fancy permanent pens (I love Posca Pens)
  4. Sheets of A4 sticker paper
  5. Some blank, indented dice
  6. 1 inch (30mm) hollow hole punch

This whole game design kit will cost you somewhere between £20 and £50 ($30-$75) and will … essentially … set you up for ever! Get this stuff, have it handy and accessible. Tidy your desk a little and get a big nice space ready to go. Pick up some blank cards – and start writing.

A quick analogy; if I locked someone in a temperature controlled clay design room, with a clay spinning wheel, loads of clay, clay tools, patina paints, and a kiln for 1 week, what do you think would happen?

The quicker you can get the idea down in an alpha playtest state, the more chance you give your creation. Now this next bit is tricky, but bear with me:

Rapid Prototyping will enhance the possibility of success AND failure.

Embrace the possibility of failure. As Matt’s excellent previous post advised us all, we need to understand that “bad game” is a good thing. It enables us to move on quicker to the next one. In exactly the same manner, good rapid prototyping accelerates the game design process, both for good and bad – which is good.

Following this quickening will force you into a position where you will say “Well, this very quickly turned out to be … utter horsecrap” – embrace that. Embrace the horsecrap. Now you can have a new chance to make something that will be better! By the time that you have prototyped one game, decided it’s rubbish, and then prototyped the next game, you will be on a better footing. Embracing the possibility of failure encourages creative risk taking.

More Time =/= More quality

Working for 30 years on a project does not make a good project. Some of the best games in the world have been conceived in the time it took to have a shower.

Build the toy first

If you are worried about the time it takes to proto a big ‘ol box game, then find the toy of the game, and do that bit first. Even if you feel scared about prototyping 200 cards for your mammoth deck builder, the core of the game will be able to be formed in a matter of minutes. Start there.

 

To sum: have a stock of accessible materials, write it down, start at the core, discard it if it’s bad, and do it again.


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Make the most of a convention as a designer – 7 Principals

I'd remember him...

I’d remember him, look how much whimsy he has!

Conventions are wonderful places.

Full of intrigue, wonder, and whimsy! Like-minded people convene to enjoy their hobby with others. First and foremost: at a convention, you need to have fun. Everyone is there for the same reason and non-mass boardgames can be quite a cottage industry, as you know, there is no worse feeling than having your work hat on while everyone else left theirs at home.

Remember though, as a boardgame designer, conventions can places of particular importance. There can be many points to consider here, and sticking to a few principals can be very helpful. Know that people at the convention here are your friends, customers, competitors, co-designers, publishers, artists, revenue, and industry contacts.

A convention is (at least in one view) the absolute apex of being a boardgame designer. Weirdly, this is also where you should do the least amount of boardgame designing – so what gives?

A quick aside: If the convention you are going to is 100% dedicated to games design like the global games jam, or a convention with special playtesting teams such as www.playtest.co.uk in attendance, where you have a special place to playtest and design, then do that. But if it is a straight-shootin’ convention then there are special avenues you can take.

What are you here for?

– get to know publishers or distributors?
– pitch your game to that great publisher that will be there?
– meet new people and make friends?
– meet new contacts and make business acquaintances?
– put your name out and get known?
– shill your game at the playtest tables?
– feel popular?
– absorb the atmosphere?
– meet those convention friends of yours and have a drink with them?
– play and experience new or unreleased games?
– scope out the competition?
– find new and hot trends?

The 7 principals

Now remember this is an exercise in getting the most out of convention, as well as having fun. An important point here: doing these things will take mental agility and emotional patience, you will be flitting and flying between things, and it will take its toll. All of which mean that it is a very exhaustive exercise. So, this is where we get our first rule of thumb:

1. Have a quiet haven somewhere

– Conventions are busy places so you will need somewhere to retreat to. When a general faces overwhelming odds, he needs a Plan B. There will come a point where you will either dissolve into madness or need go somewhere quiet. You might use it to reflect on your most recent conversation, write down some notes or have a more intimate chat. Somewhere peaceful is needed, like your hotel room, a group of unused chairs, behind an advertising board, the cafeteria, the bar, or outside. “Hey there John, well sure, I have seen your game and it sounds quite good, have you got somewhere quiet we can go?” Remember that in most public situations like this, more “deals” are made behind closed doors than in front of the cameras.

2. Get straight to the point

– Think to yourself “What’s the point of my current exercise?”. If it is to test out new games and buy the best one – then do it! Ask the demo guy “What’s this game about, why should I test it?” If you are coming as press then it will not only speed up your process, but give the person an easy restriction to work in. “Tell me why people should buy your game, in 2 minutes”. To the publisher: “Would you ever consider taking submissions?”

3. Use a notebook

– Write in it sparingly, and effectively: Use every line (don’t skip any), always make a note of their name, any points of interest, and any leads. eg “Matt Green: designer, did “Big Game X”, Loves Diet Coke. Wants to make an Egyptian game.” or “Big Jim. Gatekeeper publisher for “Gamey Games inc”. Really nice guy. Used to be a chef. Looking for quick gateway games.” This is a distilled form of what people call “industry knowledge”. When you get home (or back to your haven, see point 1), open the notebook and extract the vital information, send follow-up emails and behold, you have already bridged the stranger-gap. “Hey Jim, if you remember, we met at Convention X and had a great chat. I have been using those recipe suggestions you gave me from your Chef days – they are great! Is Gamey Games Inc you still looking for quick gateway games? I might have something coming up soon.”

4. Rule your own time

– Very important advice here. Conventions are very fun and it is very easy to get swept up into something. But if you have promised a famous Designer that you will see him at 4.00pm, then you must damned well see him at 4.00pm. The choices are: “See him on time” or “Miss your opportunity and get a black mark on your relationship”. This is my personal biggest challenge (too much of a butterfly) so I try my hardest to rectify this point. The same applies here when trying to arrange meetings with publishers. Email them before “can we meet on the Saturday at 3?” or ask them the day before “can I spend 10 minutes with you tomorrow at 2?”, giving them lots of time and options. If you don’t want to, you don’t need to get suckered in to long games or demos.

5. Be a clever butterfly

– Keep moving. I love this about conventions (too much actually) but there is just SO much stuff going on that you can see hundreds of things within a few hours. As a games designer this is great. There is lots of everything. Publishers, new games, ideas, people, components; why not do it all! The more people see you, the more you talk with people, and the more your name gets out. People talk about being “known in the industry” That is this. If people don’t even know you – how can they respect you? One problem is that you can do it too much – zipping from one place to the other like a whirlwind-frenzy. This is why you have to be a clever butterfly. Eg  Games’n’things (they don’t take submissions) have just released “scrabble 2” and are inviting players. At the same time over by the bar is that new publisher guy you met before, having a sit down and enjoying a beer. So, clever butterfly, where should you spend the next 15 minutes?

6. Give before receiving

– The size of a convention plays a part in how to behave. The bigger it is, the less time people will have. Remember that ALL attendees and exhibitors have their own specific agenda and, for now, you are nothing more than one of the crowd. People are scientifically more likely to trust you if you show trust in them first. Same applies with a positive attitude. If you ask someone to look at your game, they will maybe do it. If you buy them a drink first, they will probably do it. If you buy them a drink and 20 of their games, I can almost guarantee they will look at your game. Understand that this can be seen as immoral, or even as “bribery” in a certain light, but as long as you’re keeping everything friendly and fair it is a very useful tool. eg: “If I come back in 4 hours and bring you and your demo team pizza, will you THEN sit down with me?”. Pizza is the always the key.

7. Stand out & be memorable

– There are two distinct units of measurement in conventions. The first unit of measurement is You & your entourage. Second is Everybody else. The easiest (thus, most recommended) way to break through this barrier of anonymity is by standing out. Being memorable. Exercise: Do you remember that guy in a black shirt that was into wargames you spoke with at that last convention? No? Ok, do you remember that guy with the luminescent green hat with the feather in? If you have trouble purchasing a fancy a green and zebra-stripe pimp hat, then you can make do with a nickname and some business cards.

To sum:

Start with a peaceful haven but get to the point. Bring your notebook, and a watch. Keep moving, give first, and wear a silly hat.


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Caring for your game after release

Once you have finished your game, your job is not finished.

Let’s say you have done really well and you have published, kickstarted, print on demanded or what-have-you) your awesome new game “Bunny Jungle”*. Now you can go hang out in the “designers” club. Your game now exists on the shelves of at least 1 person: the good ladies and gentlemen around this world have more games thanks to you – but your job as a designer is not finished.

I was speaking to some of my Pyschology friends and have found out that, in doing this, you have successfully set up an Ingroup. In psychology, an Ingroup is a social group where someone can psychologically identify as being a member. Id Est “I play Catan”, “I am a Catan player”. (and we all know what Catan players are like …)

Now you have released your game: you have opened the doors to your club house, and it will soon be filled with the Ingroup that decide to settle there. Even if you have sold  5 copies – there are 5 people that can now declare that they are (hopefully) fans of Bunny Jungle.

This group has been brought together by your game, and so: by you. If you find yourself in this lucky position, you now have a responsibility that lies outside of simply designing your game.

Retail companies call this “after market care”. Big corporates can call this “growing the franchise”. Marketeers call this “social media content creation”. Whatever the name of it, it involves you giving attention to your Ingroup.

Rules assistance, “fan service”, periphery content, news, events, new game modes, submission acknowledgement – all of this stuff is your job.

There is 1 negative point, and 2 positive points in undertaking this task.

Bad:

  1. It takes ages and might never stop. If your game is a hit “classic” game that gets very well received by the community, you can expect to be answering rules questions years after you have released your game. Your attention will still be required in speaking to your fans long into the future. This is the same reason why celebrities sometimes get irksome about taking pictures and signing autographs with their fans – they have been doing it for so long. But realise that if I ever saw James T. Kirk or Jean-Luc Picard (apparently they have real names too!) out on the town, lord knows I would want a signature, a picture, and to just “hang out” with them a while. N.b Let it be known that the last Star Trek episode to feature the original James T Kirk went out over 40 years ago. Here, I am essentially asking for “aftermarket care” 40 years down the line.

 

Good:

  1. Happy fans beget happy fans. Aka “Growing by referral”, ”building a fanbase” or a multitude of other such insipid slogans, meaning: people will often go out of their way to try and persuade you to join their club. They enjoy their club – and they want you to enjoy it with them. Remember the first time you ever played a boardgame? Who was it with? Are you still friends with them? Do you “owe” you’re love of games to them? I certainly do, mine was my Dad, and I am eternally grateful to him for it. I bet Games Workshop was thankful for it too.
  2. It sets you apart from a LOT of other designers. Not many people do this. Think how many publishers or designers you have had genuine contact with? How many microbadges do you have declaring your Ingroup allegiance to a certain game, designer or publishing house? When people DO engage in a bit of “aftermarket care” they are set apart from the sea of faceless back-room designers. To their fans: it shows that they actually care.  Indy Boards and Cards is a publisher that has produced some notable games (The Resistance, Haggis etc) and also maintain a very active presence on Internet Forums. Owner, Travis Worthington is good at this, and is the reason behind my respect and appreciation of his company and his games.

 

An interesting part of this aftermarket care also is formed in the shape of releasing more games. Some people don’t identify as Game Fans – but of Game Designer Fans. I’m sure you could list at least 5 designers that, if they made a game today, would sell like hot cakes: regardless of the game. You can even expand this to themes or ideas too: “I’m a fan of Co-op games” or “I’m a wargame Grognard” or “I only play serious games” – part of the responsibility you have as a designer is, weirdly, to make more games!

So don’t worry guys, I’ve already started working on Bunny Jungle 2 and its spin off Dog Forest. See you over at the bunny jungle forums and if you would like a free bunny jungle poster, just let me know.

 

*Each player is a lost bunny trying to navigate their fluffy way through a terrifying jungle! Dodging hunters, toothed beasties, and trying to stay out of your hutch as long as possible at night** – it is a chit-based action game that combines simultaneous player navigation with interesting rabbit-based player powers

**I swear my fionce’s bunny is like an excitable, defiant child when it comes to going to bed at night