Recently, we have been running an online WARLINE tournament (via the Tabletop Simulator edition). To my surprise, even after hundreds of other play tests, players have been running into edge case rulings and uncovering other unsatisfying "bugs" that were heretofore hiding deep in the crevices of the game rules. The discovery, and resolution, of these issues during tournament play has proved to be immensly rewarding (to me as a game designer) and immensely beneficial to WARLINE.
Why is it that, through countless plays prior to this tournament, we had never come across these issues? I'd like to explore this question, and propose my theoretical answers, in effort to highlight the incredible value of testing a game design within organized play. Perhaps this post will inspire other (competitive) game designers to thoroughly test within organized play environments (if they are not already doing so).
• When real stakes are at play (the winner of our tournament takes a $100 purse), players care more about how the rules work, and the ramification of rules. As a result, players look with more scrutiny at every nuance of the game, because they desire to gain every edge that they can.
• Competitive players tend to be more pedantic when playing games (see the previous point). Since organized play is competition focused, the number of pedantic players you have is significantly high.
• Sometimes game design bugs are not literal--sometimes the bugs are psychological and emotional. When playing for stakes, players tend to be more conscious of how they feel whenever anything happens.
• To successfully run organized play online, as an independent designer/developer, it is impossible to "referee" every match. In a highly-technical game (like WARLINE), you will find more and more players stymied by ambiguities and lack of clarity, as you are not there to smooth out kinks. (In non-organized blind play tests, this can also happen--however, because of the first couple of points above, more players will be vocal about it within organized play.)
• When a game is designed as a platform for organized play, players have certain expectations of the game design. When those expectations are not met, the players will let you know about it.
Are you designing a game that is optimized for organized play? If so, are you testing within an organized play environment? If not, I highly encourage you to do so. This experience has resulted in even further hardening of the WARLINE game design--which I believe would not have been otherwise possible.
I want to give a holler out to the folks on the WARLINE Discord server. They have been instrumental in the effort to polish the game design to a shine, and ensure that it is satisfying in every regard.
Until next time!
Justin D Leingang
A look inside the making of WARLINE: Maneuver Strategy & Tactics
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