Bez ShahriariUnited Kingdom
I am one of several organisers of Playtest UK meetup groups. Sometimes I get questions. Here are two.
"how "ready" are the game usually when they are presented?"
It varies massively.
Also, note that every game has a different story.
A meetup group with lots of designers is the ideal place to try out a game that probably won't work. I have had an idea on Wednesday, pondered it on Thursday, spent an hr or so mocking it up on Friday morning, then taken it to play that Friday. Sometimes, I'm still prototyping at 10am when folk are arriving.
Conversely, I continued using the same meetup group for late-stage testing of Kitty Cataclysm (along with the 2 expansions). At a certain point, I was changing maybe a couple of numbers every 10 plays. It was fairly 'late stage'.
And sometimes you even get designers testing expansions to existing games. As such, you'll see final-quality components on the table. Don't be put off by this - bringing along bit of paper with scribbles on, asking folk to play for 5-10 minutes, and then having a 20 minute discussion on why it didn't work is totally fine.
Honestly, the important thing is to be upfront regarding the game's state. And be respectful of people's time. It's totally OK to show a game that probably won't be fun if you're learn a lot from it. Conversely, if you're not learning anything from a game being played (maybe you've already realised there are major changes to be made), don't force folk to play any longer.
At our Friday daytime playtest sessions long as you are respectful of other folk and spend time testing other designers' things, you can organise your 'slot' however you wish. One designer in the past just wanted to gather 2 or 3 other folk to chat through ideas and that's totally OK!
"the games that are presented are somehow patented or it's more a matter of trust among the group?"
There are 2 parts to this. Firstly, it's generally not worth the time/effort/money to patent part of a game. And patents are of limited value anyway. Secondly, the attendees are either coming to have a good time, or to work on (and improve) their own ideas. People aren't coming to steal ideas.
Yogi will probably be my most financially successful game ever. It is currently paying my rent. I'm sure that many other folk realised - during its creation - that it had potential to sell a reasonable amount. Yet, there was never any doubt in my mind that it wouldn't be 'stolen'.
Theoretically, if we were working on toys that were likely to sell in the millions (e.g. Pie Face), we might start getting some 'spies'. There is simply not enough money involved so we have fostered a relatively healthy environment of folk who genuinely want to help each other create the best games possible.
If something ever were to be stolen, you'd have some witnesses to confirm that your game came first. But remember that you can't easily protect game mechanisms.
I am a full-time designer/artist/self-publisher and I am available for freelance work. I go to cons as a trader and help run the all-day Friday playtest sessions in London. I left my last 'real' job in 2014. I was getting benefits for a few years. I'm currently writing sporadically, but getting back into the habit of daily posts. If you have any questions/topics you'd like me to address, send me a geekmail and I'll probably address the topic within a week.
Archive for playtesting
04 Jan 2020
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Folk talk about 'when to shelve a game design'.
I feel like shelving a game can sometimes be easier than scrapping a mechanism and trying something totally different.
Shelving a design is something that can be undone. You can grab that design again.
I could probably argue that making a wild change to a game is more difficult, emotionally. You're not just abandoning a thing, but admitting that maybe its entire DNA was invalid.
But that is the nature of design.
Start somewhere. Add things. Change things. Sometimes you need to remove things. Sometimes you need to change the game completely. In some ways it's a different game.
In the same ways that we keep changing each moment, and 'you can never step into the same stream twice', you are constantly killing your game.
You have to be OK with that.
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22 Jul 2018
Research is exploring the world around you, thinking deeply about everything you see, and wondering if this could be a game.
Examining a method of establishing government, a psychological bias, or the movement of an animal, or the nesting of ducks, or the growth of an apple tree, or anything else.
Maybe you don't need to do the wondering or pondering. Maybe simply gaining the experiences to draw upon could be called research. Whether you're playing boardgames or living your life and paying attention to everything. Being mindful of the world around you is research.
Let's call that INCIDENTAL RESEARCH.
(Note: for this and the other terms, please tell me if there's an existing term/framework for this.)
After the concept has been decided, you might be doing research to either see what's out there, or find out about the world you're portraying. Maybe you're making an alternate-history steampunk game about machines gaining sentience, and so you start reading about the British monarchs and old technology, maybe paying special attention to Charles Babbage's machines in the Science Museum.
I think this is usually called HISTORICAL RESEARCH, although it'll only serve games that actually have some grounding in reality.
Maybe you're making a big-body dexterity game, so you read all the information about the (few) other games you can find in the same genre on BGG. Maybe you even buy one to play.
I guess that is MARKET RESEARCH?
Playtesting is it's own sort of research. It's a form of experimental research that instantly informs your future creative work. When I played the terrible game (I'm not being humble) that informed the creation of In A Bind, I paid attention to what was fun. What was confusing? What was boring?
Nowadays, I do a lot more pondering and simulations in my mind, but this sort of experimental research is the fundamental cornerstone of all game creation. Making something, seeing how real-life-humans react to it, then making decisions based on that new knowledge.
This sort of research is basically either PLAYTESTING (in one of its many forms) or BLIND-TESTING for the rules, which I'm dividing only because at that point you may be investigating how to create the best rulesheet, rather than what the best set of rules is.
Of course, you will get all sorts of INCIDENTAL PLAYTESTING during the process. By the end of this year, I'll have self-published 10 games (3 different IAB decks, 6 W++ games and Kitty Cataclysm). One of the W++ games was changed because of the creativity of a proof-reader (Mick Wood). Three games were changed for the 2nd edition Wibbell++ deck because of my observations when my primary purpose was demoing/selling.
In the end, you need to decide whether your game is good enough to sell. And should you print 3,000 or 1,000? Or is it a good enough mass-market game that a publisher can guarantee 20k initial print run? Some of this will be based on your knowledge of the industry, what already exists, and how many copies other things sell. Thanks to all the incidental research you've done by virtue of either working in the industry, or just having a major interest.
A few ways to do this are via MARKET RESEARCH.
This might be demoing your game to the target audience and asking them how much they will pay; asking surveys; or running a KS. This isn't demoing with the primary purpose of improving the game. This is demoing with the primary purpose of testing the market.
Do you think I've missed out any forms of research? Would you give any of them different names?
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21 Jul 2018
1 - have a vague objective/restriction/notion. E.g. "I want to make a game a bit like Fluxx but with more control."
2 - ponder possibilities.
3 - Draw a deck. (I mean, literally. With a pencil and/or pen.) Play it. Look at what the fun parts are.
4 - Come to terms with the fact that the fun part is nothing to do with my initial objective. Change my objective. E.g. "All the silliest cards that challenge your running, hopping, contortion and voice-acting. Let's just see what happens."
5 - Ponder possibilities
6 - Draw a new deck.
7 - Repeat steps 4-6 (removing anything 'below the table')
8 - Repeat steps 4-6 (removing the vocal stuff)
9 - Eventually, I start just redrawing parts of the deck rather than the entire thing. Iterate.
10 - Continue iterating.
11 - Continue iterating.
12 - Continue iterating.
13 - Continue iterating.
14 - Continue iterating.
15 - Continue iterating.
16 - Make a crazy change (E.g. Removing points - each card was worth '1')
17 - Continue iterating.
18 - Make a crazy change (taking away a 'score' and adding player elimination)
19 - Continue iterating.
20 - Continue iterating.
21 - Continue iterating.
22 - Finally realise what I'm making - a game wherein tasks are done simultaneously and becoming exponentially more difficult. This is the point where I'd say the 'concept' was finished.
23 - Focused research into similar things. (Mainly via BGG) For inspiration and to avoid making something that already exists.
24 - Continue iterating.
25 - Try something completely different, just for the sake of it, partially 'for a laugh' and partially justifiable in retrospect as 'doing due diligence'. (e.g. a new deck that had no physical 'binds' at all.)
26 - Confirm - after a couple of playtests - that this idea is terrible. Go back to the earlier iteration.
27 - Continue iterating. Start demoing it with intent to market it.
28 - Continue demoing & iterating.
29 - Continue demoing & iterating.
30 - Check prices with printer. In retrospect, I'd say that my design was finished at this point, but development had barely begun.
31 - Run a KS
32 - Tell people about my KS. Be lucky enough to have it fund.
33 - Ponder things. Solo test. Honestly, a couple of weeks' pondering and a full day solo-testing was all the development that I think this game needed. Because of the lack of interaction, solo-testing and pondering was far more useful than real-life testing would have ever been (in terms of hours spent. Note - the expansion deck had its own journey and had a lot of testing but I'm just focusing on the main deck.
34 - Write the rules
35 - try different layouts/ideas for art.
36 - Make decisions and do more solo-testing for the final cards.
37 - blind testing & rules iteration
38 - blind testing & rules iteration
39 - blind testing & rules iteration
40 - Start final art.
41 - Get anxious.
42 - finish final art.
43 - scan
44 - edit digitally and resave images
45 - put into a pdf
46 - rewrite the rules, with some 'flavour text'... lay them out.
47 - edit my own rules (I had no cash to hire an editor)
48 - Send to printer.
49 - get the games. Give them to backers
50 - ring up shops, asking them to stock the game.
51 - organise demo days for August.
52 - run events.
53 - be lucky enough to have a friend (Dave Cousins) take the game to Essen and show it to publishers.
54 - reply in a reasonable manner to Gigamic's email of interest, letting them know that I'm waiting for a reply from publisher X.
55 - (A few months later) Tell publisher X that their offer wasn't as good as Gigamic's.
56 - Sign with Gigamic.
- My responsibility kinda ends.
I mean, I did tell Gigamic a few months later to radically change one card. But the art/product design was entirely them.
So, in summary, the way I made it (and even the way I had the idea...) was 'a lot of iteration'. That's become my stock answer for when folk ask. But if someone is genuinely interested, I could talk for hours about it. :-p
- [+] Dice rolls
14 Jul 2018
Yesterday I was talking to Drew Richards (a product design graduate who made a co-op boardgame as part of their masters) about the creation process of a typical game.
I think of it as 'concept, design, development, mass production'.
Drew pointed out that 'concept' was the 3rd step in their opinion. They would add 'research' and 'insight'.
I'd like to tell you about my current mental model. Feel free to tell me why I'm wrong, or what your own model looks like.
This might involve reading, looking at the world around you, or first-hand experiences.
Sometimes you might think of a 'double diamond' shape - you look at all the possibilities, expanding your vision, then pick one to concentrate and 'converge' upon. Then you look at all the possibilities within this new, smaller, space. Then converge once more.
Research might start off loose. Be playful in your living and get inspired by everything. Or maybe you want to restrict yourself to research within a particular thing. Maybe just reading and learning about war (maybe you only make wargames).
This is something upon which to base the concept.
Drew gave the example of riding a bus as research. Maybe the insight is the separation in demographics between the upper and lower deck.
So then you decide that you'll make something to allow older folk better access to the top level. Or whatever.
It might be worth checking the concept, specially if you're making something more 'practical' than entertainment. Whereas entertainment is all about delight and surprise (presenting things that folk might not realise they want), it's still important to check the viability along the way.
For a boardgame, I think this means that you know what it is you're aiming to make. Maybe you have some intended experience, some component you're aiming to use, or whatever.
In the case of a game, you know what you're making and maybe you start writing cards. Or typing numbers into a spread-sheet. Or pondering possible mechanisms to use in your game. By the end of the design process, it should be a game that has been playtested a few times and been enjoyed.
The basic core mechanisms should be in place.
This is usually organised by the publisher. Sometimes, it may also be the designer.
Trying to maximise the fun experience that the game already is. There may be new elements added to support to central core, or things removed.
If there are numbers, some of them will be tweaked.
Simultaneously, rules-writing will happen - if it hasn't already - and there will be blind-testing to check the comprehension of the rules.
At this point, there as so many things that need to be done. Illustration, graphic design, messaging printers for quotes, sending files off, maybe getting a pre-production copy... and then the shipping.
Like so much of the above, it can really happen in any order. Maybe the illustration comes first and a game is made around it. The writing of rules can come at the start of design, or towards the end of development.
But I guess that this is a vague notion of how I see the 'default workflow' currently.
Tomorrow I'll post a few vague thoughts about research.
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28 Jun 2018
You have invented all the abilities and special powers and options. Of course you're going to remember them without being flummoxed.
Maybe you've spent a while playing/observing already. Maybe you've let complexity creep in. Remembering all the upkeep can feel natural after a while. Without that cognitive load, maybe you're tempted to add another rule.
The rules you invent will be the ones that make most sense to your mind. But your friends, your siblings, and your future customers might not find it quite so 'obvious'.
You understand the reasons behind the rule so remember it more clearly.
There are so many reasons that you may be oblivious to the complexities within your game.
So pay particular attention when you get new players. What do they ask about multiple times? What do they occasionally forget to do? At what points do they feel overwhelmed?
Don't assume that they are an anomaly.
You are the anomaly.
You may be blind to the complications.
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There are a few groups you could playtest with.
- friends/family who are interested in you/your success
- curious strangers
- folk who genuinely enjoy playing your game(s)
- other game designers, who hope for reciprocation
Everyone has their own motivations. Game designers usually test for reciprocation.
It's a useful, educational exercise to playtest other people's things. In investigating your own thoughts, you learn to express yourself better, put forward suggestions that are more in keeping with what the game actually is, observe how others run a playtest...
But most designers go to a playtest session hoping to get their own game tested.
As a rule of thumb, I think you should playtest other people's things for as many hours as other folk spend on your thing. So if 4 folk play your game for an hour, it's reasonable to spend 4 hours playing other people's stuff. At a meetup full of designers, that's the only way that everyone will get a fair shot.
Of course, it's not a hard line.
At the events I frequent, we try to play everyone's game if we can.
But coming along for 90 minutes, to play your own game with a few folk, then heading off is cheekier than I think is reasonable.
If you're coming over and your game takes 2/3 of the day and uses up all 5 attendees and a couple of folk can't test their stuff as a result... at least show some gratitude at the end of it.
If you're just coming along and monopolising the time of folk who also want to get their own stuff to the table, that seems unreasonable to me.
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25 Jun 2018
When I call a game 'finished', I am of course acknowledging that nothing is ever finished. Games will continue to evolve and change. Even Yogi will be (very very slightly) changed in its next printing and I think that designers should feel free to continue improving the rules to their games, even after publication.
I was (and remain) proud of In A Bind, but when it was turned into Yogi, I asked Gigamic to remove a card. "Right hand right of right elbow" took people a second or so to work out at the best of times. When folk were stupidly drunk, they were able to enjoy the entire game EXCEPT for this one card.
Demoing it at shops, conventions and whatnot, I got to see a ridiculous number of games being played. You could argue that the copies I sold whilst at cons/shops was subsidising post-publication-playtesting, although that might an uncharitable way of looking at it.
Typically, a game will be played more in the month of its release than all the years before publication. Most of those games won't be seen by you, but you will get feedback. If you have folk enjoying your thing, you might see unsolicited videos, comments, photos and all sorts of other things that could inform some changes for the 2nd edition.
And maybe you grow as a designer. Maybe you come to some realisation.
Prolix became Wordsy.
David Sirlin isn't shy about improving their designs and making some functional changes between editions of a game.
Even though it's less than a year since release, 5 of the games I included with the 1st edition of Wibbell++ are changed. Alphabetickell has new rules thanks to the input of Mick Wood. Faybell slightly simplified thanks to observing drunken folk. Wibbell resets earlier based on my realisations and personal growth after observing several hundred games at Essen.
You might conclude that someone with a much larger budget could delay the launch of a game by a year, take a few pre-production copies around the world, and avoid any changes post-realease. But would I have had hundreds of folk willing to play Wibbell at Essen if I didn't have a stack of copies behind me, validating itself and it wasn't something that folk were able to buy?
I don't know. My observations would likely have been different - both in quantity and quality.
Furthermore, when would it be OK to release? Before sending files to print, I had played hundreds of games. I had no reason to assume that I would come across some realisation.
There are infinite situations that could arise and imagining that a designer or developer can have perfect knowledge of a strategically interesting game is folly. Maybe next week something will make me completely re-evaluate everything about Grabbell. Or maybe in a year. Or a decade. Or never. There is a tiny chance that it might be perfect already.
There is a risk of dividing - or confusing - the audience. If a few folk meet to play a game and are unsure what rules they are all playing by, that's an issue.
Beyond that, I can't think of any reason NOT to implement any improvements that occur.
As long as a game is cared for, it is never finished.
You could continue working on it forever - paying attention to folk playing, taking note of everything said about it online, analysing all the data and continuing to ponder all the things that could be changed.
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26 May 2018
This is a thing I typed out on FB on Thursday, as I was trying to explain to someone how I might make a game. I ended up making a new, unique, game for the Wibbell++ deckthat I'm fairly fond of and calling 'Extendabell'. I thought that the recording of the process may be of interest to someone. I did some light editing for grammar/clarity but left it largely alone.replying to someone asking how a game can be made for the deck
Think of a restriction and ponder that. Then take it down it's natural course.
I'll assume you've not made a game before so will give an example.
Maybe I want to make a game about hamburgers using the deck. It doesn't need to actually convey the mood of 'hamburgers' - that's just an arbitrary restriction that will hopefully give me some focus and get me thinking in a new direction.
How can I make a Wibbell++ game about hamburgers?
Maybe we're spelling words to do with food. Or maybe we have layers of cards on top of each other (a figurative bun with a 'burger' inside).
I like the idea of placing cards on top of each other in row. I've not seen that done for the deck before. Maybe the game is about spelling one word, then another, then another. The words maybe have to be the exact same length? Or what if they have to be an increasing length, to give it some escalation?
Maybe, to make the 'cards on top of each bit' actually relevant, you're able to use cards from the word underneath.
You need some way of getting cards. Maybe it's as simple as drawing (rummy style) from top of the deck, or the discarded card?
OK. I think I have a game:
2 (maybe more) players, ???min
Setup: each player takes 5 random cards. Place the rest of the deck in the middle of the table. Flip one card over to start a communal discard pile.
On your turn: either
- draw the top card of the deck, then discard a card into a communal discard pile
- take the top card of the discard pile and then discard another card
- make a word
When you make a word, each letter in the word should be represented by one of the cards in front of you, and each card can contribute at most one letter. You should be able to show the word clearly by laying cards face-up in front of you and moving the cards to show if you're using the top/bottom letter of each card.
The first word you make should be 5 letters long.
The 2nd word you make should be at least 6 letters long. You will only have 5 cards in your hand but you can use the 5 cards already in front of yourself. You aren't allowed to move those cards left or right but you are allowed to use the top letter if you previously used the bottom letter. Lay down any new cards on top of older cards you didn't use and also to the left-right of the old line of cards to 'extend' the word.
The 3rd word you make should be at least 7 letters long and wins you the game.
After you make a word, draw up to 5 random cards. You should always have 5 cards at the end of your turn.
If you ever run out of cards in the deck, shuffle everything in the discard pile EXCEPT for the top card.replying straight away to reflect upon the process
It looks like it took me 19 minutes to think of that game and write it down. It did take some concerted energy. I couldn't do that 21 times in 7 hours. And I do have a lot of practise. So it may take you several hours to get to your first ruleset.
But the point is to just think of something. The idea of the hamburger made me create a game I may not have otherwise made. And along the way, I didn't spend longer than a few seconds making any single decision. Try not to get bogged down in details that might not matter.
The next step would be to either simply submit it at this point, or to take the time to playtest.
You could find a (forgiving) person willing to try a new game with you. Or maybe just play it on your own, pretending to be multiple people. As you play it, you may notice that some things are wrong. Maybe the words are too hard/easy to make. Maybe there should be more than 3 words made by a player. Maybe there's a different method of acquiring cards that would work better. Maybe the core system of playing cards on top of others, to make increasingly long words, would benefit from some major tweaks.
The point is, you can make whatever you want. Just get started. And even if your first ruleset is terrible or boring, maybe it'll either provide you with inspiration for your 2nd idea, or maybe there will be a tiny fun element that you can extract and then build it up again, keeping the focus on that fun part.2hrs later, I decided to try out this game and spent an hour solo-testing a few games, then wrote down my thoughts afterwards
So I actually played the game a few times. First time, I tried to simulate a 2p experience for the rules as I wrote them. I quickly realised that getting to 7 letters is fairly trivial and my motivation was simply to bear in mind what letter combinations might help me extend the word, and wait for a useful card to come up.
I then allowed myself the option of modifying words without extending, or continuing to extend the word. I got to 9 letters twice, at which point I struggled to get anything longer.
At this point, I was playing as a solo game. I noticed that I was getting tired/bored about half-way through and so tried playing with half a deck.
Since jumping various steps was too easy, I made it so each word must be - at most - 1 letter longer from the previous one.
Since trying to use cards in hand to modify the word was as interesting as extending the word, I tried to incentivise that. I considered having your final score be the number of cards in the final word, multiplied by the number of cards you used (i.e. did not discard).
After a bunch of solo-testing, it's become a thing that I'm actually quite fond of. A 1p game of having a hand of 5, only drawing after you modify/extend your word or discard a card.
I played with the 'final' rules twice, scoring 147 then 192. And if I didn't have other stuff to do, I wouldn't mind playing again.
Of course I'm biased, and I'm not saying that this is the best game ever or anything like that. But hopefully it gives you an idea of how you can make a game from any starting point.
In the end, playing the cards on top of each other was a direct result of the 'hamburger' theme and the other stuff may have been ideas I'd had in my mind/subconscious before but the restriction forced me to put things together in a new way despite having already made tens of games for the deck.
Your journey, making a first game for the deck, could be quite different. Some people (like Dávid Turczi) prefer to ponder things in their mind a bit longer before playtesting anything.
I guess, like all creative processes, the way to make a game (whether for the Wibbell++ deck or anything else) is very personal. You should give yourself permission to be playful in the act of creation and whatever process works for you is fine.
- [+] Dice rolls
For this post I re-purposed my reply to this thread.
I don't tend throw away prototypes. You can see a lot of my old prototypes for IAB/Yogi in this KS video.
Even so, I prioritise saving my own time, and only worry about the practical value of the game.
I almost never print anything, mainly because I find it faster to hand-write than set up and print a file. As long as your game is relatively simple (6 words or less per card on average) it might be an idea to consider this.
At the start of the design process, I don't really need art, unless the art is aiding comprehension and acting more to aid comprehension than add prettiness.
I use letters if I can't immediately think of a symbol (or the symbol would take too long to draw). F for food. ABC for resources that are chained.
My symbols should take me less than 2s to draw (and be the simplest thing regardless).
I played a new prototype on Friday. I had 'wood' that was rectangles. Someone joked, 'you were too lazy to draw [a cylinder]'. Yeah. I was. Or call it being efficient. Why would I spend any more than the minimum amount of time I need to if I'm not developing the final art?
I now use blank cards - because they're more practical for playing than paper cut out (which is hard to shuffle and semi-transparent) and faster than sliding that paper into a sleeve.
That's the level of efficiency/laziness I have reached.
In January, I made about 5 prototypes for one game. Not just changing a few cards, but completely redoing the entire deck. The old versions are archived in their own little baggies.
You have to be ready to ditch your entire prototype after 1 playtest.
The obstacle of remaking your prototype should be low enough that you can try a new idea just on a whim. Try making the gates 3 times cheaper, or twice as expensive. Make a new deck with an entirely new chain of resources. Just because you're unsure about the result. Not even that you think it will be better but either it MIGHT be better or you're just curious about the result.
I'm not saying to use hand-written stuff if your cards have loads of text. But do whatever is fastest and easiest to completely replace/overhaul when you inevitably need to do so.
At the start, you should consider trying radically different ideas. Try everything. You will learn more about your system. Even later on, you can't be afraid to get rid of half the deck.
Whatever methods you use to construct your prototype, make sure it's simple enough that you would be willing to completely redo that after just one or two playtests. Otherwise, it'll just slow you down, make you reluctant to change, and result in a worse game in the end.
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