When I just played games, I didn't worry too much about the process of creating them. Occasionally I'd recognise that the odd name appeared on several games I owned and start looking for other games with the same designer, but I didn't really know anything about them or how they behaved. Now that I'm getting into designing games I'm getting a much better idea about how the people behind the games behave and I've been increasingly shocked by what I've found.
The backstabbing, underhanded, insidious attempts to thwart each other's every move that's endemic to the board games that they create isn't even slightly reflected in the attitudes of their creators. The vast majority of people I've had any sort of contact with have been really lovely. Here's the first thread that I wrote on boardgamegeek after first getting this job, asking for general advice and help to get started. Look at the number of game designer tags there are there and how generally helpful everyone is, it's not all positive, but when it's negative it's coming from a place of "Here's what might go wrong for you and you should think about how to avoid it." I've come across a great many communities who're less welcoming, especially on the internet.
The involvement of creators in their creations is also a thing to watch. The other day I was playing Risk: Legacy and one of the players wanted to [SPOILER] the [SPOILER] with a [SPOILER]. It only took a few minutes to find someone who'd come across the same issue and who'd received a direct response from the designer on how the game was supposed to be played. The thing that I love about this is how normal it is for things like that to happen, the level of post release support that board games designers offer to their products is awesome and it's just "business as usual" to get it done.
It's not just the attitudes of designers either, recently it's been more common for me to be talking to reviewers and interviewers and I think that they've all got something in common. They all seem to want the hobby of boardgaming to be as awesome as it could possibly be.
Steve at Polyhedron Collider was up for having a look at my game, but had a little blip coming up on his calendar in the form of getting married, it looked like there wouldn't be time for me to get a finished prototype to him, but he was up for me sticking the current (not so great) prototype in a bag and mailing it over to him right away. He owes me nothing, but was up for finding a quicker way to get things done at a super-busy time of his life, just for the sake of doing a good job. That's cool and hard.
Mark at DMFiat is interested in interviewing people who're launching kickstarters so I got in touch. It turns out they're big on audio interviews so we needed to skype, no big deal except that we're in radically different time zones. We had to bounce back and forth a bit looking for a solution, which at one point sounded like it might be me talking at 2am and trying to be coherent, but he was up for giving up some of his Sunday afternoon to get it done at a reasonable time for everyone. Plus just talking to him, it's really apparent that he's this super-nice guy. That's cool and hard.
I got a similar sort of vibe when I did that interview with Steve at Bellwether Games not so long ago. I don't know if this comes across from reading it, but it very quickly felt like it'd turned into a conversation between two people who were excited about and interested in games. I'd heard that in other industries interviews become some sort of adversarial thing between people working at cross purposes to peddle their wares or entertain an audience at each other's expense, I like that this hasn't been my experience with gaming folk. That's cool and hard.
I don't really have time to talk about everyone I've dealt with in this regard, but I've had a good time of it dealing with Jarek, Michael, Eric, Jeff, Rahdo and Ryan. Not all of those folks are doing what's best for me (some don't have time to review my game) but I do believe that they're all doing what's best for gamers, their motivation seems overwhelmingly to make things that are great. I also like that basically every reviewer I've spoken to has said "You're aware you'll get an honest opinion, not just praise, right?" The emphasis is not on getting the most prototypes fastest or making designers lives easy, but on doing what's likely to encourage the best possible games to get made and bought. That's cool and hard.
I don't want to skip out on the efforts of designers either. For instance Sarr got in touch before they started their phenomenally successful kickstarter for The Agents to do a playtest exchange. I printed and tested his game and sent over some feedback but he didn't get around to doing mine - no malice there, but it was way closer to his release date than mine and he was hella busy. He could've just let it go there and I'd feel a little irked that I didn't get my end of the exchange, but instead he got in touch to say sorry about not having got around to it, expressed how busy the success was likely to make him and talked about the sort of dates he could get a playtest done by. Those would likely be after it was too late for me to make much use of the feedback, so he agreed to give us a shout out to their 4000ish backers when we launched instead. I've always got a lot of respect for people who stick to the spirit of their agreements rather than the letter, so much respect for that!
There's also a load of good information out there on blogs. I try to contribute to that, but some of the things that other people have done have blown me out of the water. Not so long ago James Mathe did a survey to find out reviewer details, gathering data on who reviewed what sort of game, the nature of their audience and all sorts of other helpful bits and pieces. In some industries that'd be the sort of data that got hoarded by a marketing department someplace or at least cost money to grab. He just put it up for free for anyone who wants it. Some of the reviewers I've mentioned above are people I contacted because of that, so that act of generosity allowed a dozen others that improve things and that was just via me. I can respect that.
Of course no discussion of generosity from board game designers would be complete without talking about Jamey Stegmaier. I regret not coming across his stuff and getting involved earlier, not is he a great game designer but he goes out of his way to encourage other people to be the same. He's written over fifty articles on kickstarter, some of which give away things that in other industries might be considered 'competitive advantages' (especially this one on shipping). An overriding attitude of "I'm going to make gaming (not just my games) as awesome as physically possible" comes across in everything he writes and in his actions (stuff like offering free, no questions asked, returns for his games). I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who couldn't respect that.
I'm not really going anywhere with all of this. When I started writing I'd thought about discussing what features of our industry make it possible for stuff like this to work out (I think there are some economic factors that impact on company structures that make it possible) or contrasting it to problems in our culture (a subject I write about from time to time) but really I think I just want to leave it out there as a celebration of all of the many things that are done right. It'll be good to have something like this to look back on if things work out for me, hopefully it'll remind me to behave the way that successful people were behaving when I was trying to get started.
In academia there's a lot of talk about standing on the shoulders of giants, but now that I've made the jump to designing games I actually feel like I am. It's pretty awesome.
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: https://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/58777/index
12 Aug 2013
- [+] Dice rolls