Thoughts by Bez

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.

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Design/process tips for an absolute beginner.

Bez Shahriari
United Kingdom
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I've playtested several hundred games, I think. I've not kept count but it might be thousands.

We get a lot of regulars, but we also get a lot of newcomers.

I have started seeing a lot of repeated mistakes and points of confusion from first-timers. Here are some.

CHOOSE YOUR FOCUS


If your game has dexterity, performance, word-building, low-conflict strategy and a small handful of 'take-that' cards, then it'll probably appeal to no-one.

For someone to love that game, they'd have to love all those elements.

If you isolate the dexterity aspect, you could be loved by lovers of dexterity. And so forth.

Even if I do love all those games, having a small number of 'take-that' cards in a game that's otherwise low-interaction just seems odd and incongruous. Maybe I started to enjoy the low interaction game and then got annoyed by being hit. I like a bit of dickery, but that should be the focus, rather than 2% of the game that might pop up for those who don't want it, and never arise for those who do.


THE WORST CASE SCENARIO WILL HAPPEN


Let's say that 10% of your cards are about screwing your opponents. With a big enough deck and few enough draws, it's possible (or even probable) that none of those cards will be seen.

If your game is published, there will be a game wherein all of those cards are seen.

If either of those things results in a terrible game, then think about some mitigation.

If you have an objective that relies on you drawing random things... there will be a game wherein they pop up perfectly and another when they never turn up.

Do NOT rely on 'statistically average' games.


THINK ABOUT COMPONENT COST


It's not your job to work out the exact dollar value of your game, but if your game relies upon a big fancy bespoke plastic component, then either it'll be an expensive game, or you need to be looking to sell hundreds of thousands of copies.

That will only happen if your game could be sold in the mainstream chains. Bookshops and supermarkets. If your game is more complicated than Scrabble, it's probably not a 'mass-market' game.

FRIENDS 'LIKING' YOUR GAME IS NOT ENOUGH


So many times I've heard folk say that their friends like the game. Or maybe just some folk that you went to their group a few times and then showed the game to.

Firstly, anyone who likes you is generally predisposed to like your game, unless they've trained themselves to be super-critical.

Secondly, 'liking' a game doesn't mean you'll go and buy it.

A simple test is to ask folk to write down how much they'd pay for your game, in the state it currently is. You'll get a good idea of whether your game truly is ready to be published.


COMING ONCE TO A DESIGNER-LED MEETUP IS NOT ENOUGH


I've seen people come to Playtest UK, get some constructive feedback, then go off, make a few tweaks, and then release the game on KS.

Maybe it does well enough if the art is pretty. But perhaps there were other ways it could have been improved.

Maybe there's even a way of maximising your win % that actually short-cuts all the fun. (In a game that's ostensibly about bluffing and strategy.)

If you think you've solved all the problems, bring it out at least 2-3 more times. Not just in front of the light gamers you may be targeting, but also in front of people who understand expectation value, and are prepared to try weird strategies.

If you're expecting 1000+ people to pay for your game, then you should create something worth their money.

You'll never please everyone - there certainly comes a point when improving a game for one audience will make it worse for another. (Keep your focus!) However, taking it to folk who think super-deeply about games might uncover some ways to improve it without lessening the core appeal.

DON'T TRY TO PROTECT YOUR GAME


Of the hundreds of prototypes I've played, maybe one has an idea worth protecting. That core idea couldn't be easily protected anyway.

If a publisher thinks that your game is worth stealing, spending loads of money to produce and market, then it's probably just easier to pay you a royalty and avoid the potential negative backlash.

OF COURSE...


Whatever you want to do is OK. If you really want to make a crazy hybrid then go for it! If you are happy to sell your game at a loss, then go for it! If you don't actually care about folk buying your game, or the publishing, then a lot of this advice doesn't matter.
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Wed May 2, 2018 1:45 am
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