Greg's Design Blog

A collection of posts by game designer Gregory Carslaw, including mirrors of all of his blogs maintained for particular projects. A complete index of posts can be found here:
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Games for Artists

United Kingdom
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Original Post

Recently I threw a survey at the 3DTotal audience to find out what games they've been playing and how they rated them. This audience isn't really a games audience and the majority of them probably aren't buying games, but they will all see my project when it goes live so if I can make things exciting for a few of them it'd be a boon. I also think it's interesting to see what games are being played by "artists" (or perhaps "art lovers") rather than what psychologists laughably call "the normal population".

Not being a scientist anymore, I asked about 17 games that people might've played. Of the 26 respondents who played games more than once a month here's what they've played:

Chess 20
Monopoly 18
Magic 14
Warhammer 11
Trivial Pursuit 9
Carcassonne 8
Munchkin 7
Settlers of Catan, Snakes and Ladders, Heroquest 6 each
Dominion 4
Agricola, Cosmic Encounter and Zombicide 2 each
Space Alert and Shadows over Camelot 1 each
Malifaux 0

The sample size is pretty small so generalising would be unscientific, but as I recently mentioned I'm not a scientist anymore. I'm somewhat shocked by the number of people who've played snakes and ladders being so low. I know that 'real gamers' (whatever that means) get disheartened when they see high stats for monopoly, but only 15% of people hadn't touched a game outside of the traditional games set (chess, monopoly and snakes and ladders).

There's some testament to the power some games have to be a hobby in their own right. Magic and Warhammer are both somewhat special cases in how they're marketed and engaged with. Someone who plays Settlers of Catan is quite likely to ask "What else is out there?" and encounter some other games. Where there are plenty of players of Warhammer or Magic whose answer to that question is "More of the same!" That's not necessarily a bad thing, to a degree it speaks to the skill that's gone into the design of those games that there are still new things to do with them after so long. It's interesting to read some of Mark Rosewater's more recent articles on how the remaining design space in Magic is a finite resource that the design team is being increasingly careful with.

It's a little disheartening to see that we're down to about 30% of the audience once we're talking about "What's the maximum number of people who might play (not necessarily buy) a standalone game that doesn't have years of tradition or a marketing giant behind it?" It's nice to see some proportion of people trying out games beyond these though and in a reasonable mix. There doesn't seem to be a huge bias towards Ameritrash or Euros (If that's not a false dichotomy) and there's not a huge skew towards games that are more recent. There were also "write-in" votes for Game of Thrones, Earth Reborn and Ticket to Ride (Which might've been interesting to consider in the original question. To be honest the selection of games was quite arbitrary, but hopefully broad enough for the info to be interesting).

There is, of course, a world of difference between trying something and liking it. Most people have tried monopoly but it doesn't mean they like it. I also had people rate the games they'd played as 'excellent', 'good', 'poor' or 'terrible' (No sitting on the fence today!). Treating these scores as 2, 1, -1 and -2 respectively the average scores are...

Agicola 2
Space Alert 2

...downright misleading. Space Alert can do very well on the average of the one person who's played it and loved it (multiply by one and then divide by one to work out what score that person awarded the game. I'm lazy so I got a computer to do that for me). Okay lets do something a little more complicated, first we'll recode to 1.5, 0.5, -0.5 and -1.5 so that the difference between categories is always the same. Then work out the average score assigned and subtract it from all scores, so that the total of all scores awarded is 0. At this point we can just add up the scores for a given game to get some idea of its quality, the system means that a game with lots of ratings can get a more extreme score (high or low) than a game with few ratings, but it doesn't systematically favour the frequently rated games and prevents the games with few ratings dominating by virtue of being a single persons opinion amplified. There are plenty of problems with this approach that I'm sure will drive statisticians mental - feel free to vent in the comments. Be sure to make your arguments now before you look at the results to avoid making arguments about flawed statistics to rationalise disagreement with the results.

Warhammer 5.64
Chess 5.38
Settlers of Catan 2.62
Agricola 1.54
Magic 0.77
Space Alert 0.77
Heroquest 0.62
Cosmic Encounter 0.54
Munchkin 0.38 (Hello median! Nice to meet you.)
Carcassonne 0.15
Dominion 0.08
Malifaux 0 (Well of course, nobody played it. Also, welcome to the mean)
Shadows over Camelot -0.23
Trivial Pursuit -2.08
Zombicide -3.46
Snakes and Ladders -4.38
Monopoly -8.15

Well, there's some ammunition for everyone who's ever argued that the existence of traditional games puts people off trying out things that they might love! Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly and Snakes and Ladders were all rated terribly; I've always wondered how much truth there was to the notion that boardgaming as a hobby suffers because traditional games give people shitty experiences that mean that they never try other games and that they might love those other games if they tried them. Well, it seems like there's at least a kern of truth to that.

So what else is going on? Apparently people who appreciate 3DArt like their games to have some crunch. Warhammer has never been the most strategically sound of games, but it generates the feeling that it is. Chess is definitely all about the mechanics. It's surprising to see the likes of Settlers and Agricola doing so well, I might have anticipated that an art based audience wouldn't have so much patience with games that are light on theme and art. On the other hand Carcassonne and Dominion received below average ratings so maybe I shouldn't read too much into it. (Internal mental monologue at this moment: How did Puerto Rico do? Huh? Absent from data? I could swear I asked about Puerto Rico!)

Looking at these numbers I wonder if I underestimated the 3DTotal audience when I predicted that they'd be more about the quality of the art than the quality of the gameplay, on the other hand this data is limited to people who play games more than once a month. The rationale was that people who play games less than once a month probably don't buy games frequently enough to be a part of the audience I'm likely to swipe. Some analysis of their numbers could be interesting though, maybe I'll do in another blog post sometime in the future. Anyway, the point is that this data could be interpreted as "Gamers who happen to like 3DTotal" rather than "3DTotal followers who happen to play games", I'll dig into the truth of that matter in the future.

On a personal note there are a few surprises in there. Magic and Warhammer had similar "played" numbers, but Warhammer aced Magic on the "what do you enjoy" question. I might have predicted the opposite; perhaps the ease with which someone can try one game of magic is an issue? Someone who plays a game of Warhammer has to commit a lot of time and effort to the attempt, so might only do so if they're already pretty sure they'll like it. It's nice to see Space Alert above the median, since that's my favourite game. I'd have predicted that Snakes and Ladders would do worse than Monopoly, though this might be an artefact of the system allowing games with more raters to get more extreme results (both were fairly broadly hated, though both got at least one "excellent" rating). Also more people should try Malifaux, it's great!

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