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Subject: Letting fans pitch in on game design rss

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Sam Liberty
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Giving fans some control over the product they're backing is something that a lot of kickstarters do to varying degrees. In general, I think it's great to engage the backers, since without them, your product would never see the light of day.

However, there's certainly a line. After all, you are the game designer, and the fans are backing you because of what you created. At worst, giving fans control over your game could create an inferior product - something no game designer would ever want. The integrity of the game itself is paramount.

So how much backer feedback is enough? How much is too much?

I have a kickstarter which is live right now for a game called Clusterfight. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gamesalute/clusterfight

It's a party game, which fortunately lends itself better to fan input than strategy games. It would be an enormous understatement, though, to say that we didn't work hard on the rules set, and curating the card list into the lean mean machine it is today. We've been playing this damn thing since 2006!

It's hard to give up control and let fans tinker with your baby. We managed to have our cake and eat it too by offering a backer-submitted expansion. I'm not sure how many games have done something like this in the past, probably a few, but I thought I'd share our process for the backer-created expansion.

First - the main deck is supposed to be 300 cards, and backers must pledge a minimum of 30 bucks to receive it.

The kickstarter expansion will be 50 cards, and a pledge of 40 bucks gets you the game and the expansion.

Of those 50 cards, 25 will be fighters, and 25 will be battle cards. Battle cards are extra tricks that modify the fight, be they items, statuses, battlegrounds, or actions which actually have card text.

Each week of the campaign we're calling for submissions for one of the card types. Last week was the first week of the campaign, and we asked for battlegrounds: where do you want to fight? The update had around 50 comments, with 100s of suggestions from a number of backers. This week we're asking for item cards. Next week will be statuses and actions, and the final week we'll be looking for Fighters (the most exciting card type - saving the best for last).

At the end of each week, we close submissions and curate a shortlist of cards. We were actually amazed at the quality of suggestions from our backers for battlegrounds, and had a lot of trouble narrowing it down. In the end, we gave our backers a list of 15 battlegrounds, all suggested by them, to vote on. The vote is still pending, but by Friday, we'll have narrowed it to the final 3 that will actually make it into the kickstarter expansion.

We'll be doing a similar process for all the other card types.

This approach has a lot of advantages. I'll try to enumerate them below.

*Since fans can submit any number of card ideas, there's no limit to how engaged they can be.
*Fans whose cards are shortlisted and included feel recognized for their input.
*Fans that vote get to have impact on the final product.
*Fans that DON'T want the fan-created cards don't have to purchase them.
*Our main deck remains true to our original vision.
*We get to lend an experienced eye to the submissions through the shortlist, so no "bad" cards make it in. (There's a lot more to Clusterfight design than meets the eye)
*Still, every card is suggested by players, and we do not have final say about which cards make it in. It's their creation.

So far, the vast majority (5-1) has opted for the reward package that includes the kickstarter expansion. We hope that fan engagement will drive the campaign's momentum in the weeks that come.
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Bruce Gazdecki
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I'm probably one of the minority. Kickstarters that allow people to suggest names or do their picture or what not make me feel like the game isn't completely done, and the creator ran out of ideas. Plus it opens up names, places, or other things that make no thematic sense and detract from the game. I actually stay away from these types of projects for the most part (the KS for the recent Alien Frontiers where people submitted ideas for Alien Tech cards being the only exception I can think of).

I pay good money for someone to design and produce the game, I don't want someone who decides to bid a few extra bucks to ruin my experience.

Just my opinion.
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Robert Seater
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Bruiser419 wrote:
I pay good money for someone to design and produce the game, I don't want someone who decides to bid a few extra bucks to ruin my experience.

I agree, and I think the key point is that the designers still need a strong arm of design oversight. Inspiration from another source is good, but losing control over cohesion, balance, and elegance can be a disaster.

However, for a game like clusterfight, I think things are a bit different -- it's a creative comparison game, so most of the work is in coming up with clever ideas and oversight is a lighter load on the designers. So, I think that's the perfect place for fan-contributed ideas. In contrast, strategic euro games with fan contributions usually end up being a mess.
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Sam Liberty
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I think the above posters both nailed it with their replies. We're being very careful with our shortlists to make sure that nothing comes to a vote unless it's something we are OK with including in the game. Letting people pay to add cards to the deck is something we never wanted, and would never allow.

Like Rob said, we are using a strong guiding hand to curate the fan input, and ensure a good final product. This is wildly important, because the majority of players will have the kickstarter expansion as a part of their experience.
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Jacq L
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I think it's really dependant on the type of customization and also the type of game.

Maybe I'm on the other end of the spectrum when it comes to content, though, as I've backed a project at a level that included a custom card of my design in the game*. Since it's a party game and there are usually many choices of cards, I don't see a problem with fan content - after all, players can always remove bad or stupid cards when they're playing.

That said, I don't like the "your face in the game" tiers. There's a really, really funny geeklist that I've lost the link for, that shows images of these kinds of rewards, and the resutls really are horrendous and laughable most of the time.


* If you're curious, it's a "Black Market Item" card in Machine of Death: The Game of Creative Assassination, the shop is "Poetry R' We" and the item is 'something that rhymes' e.g. stun gun, or laced toothpaste.
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Sam Liberty
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Machine of Death seems like another good candidate for that kind of feedback. Did the designer of the game have any sort of oversight, or was it just "You paid, so you get your card in?"

I totally agree about "your face in the game." Pure silliness.

On a side note, I never really fully understood Machine of Death, despite having watched the video and read the rules. The players just say stuff until it sounds plausible?
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Adam Kazimierczak
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Most of the time I think the call for backer input or customization of a Kickstarter game reflects poorly on the game and publisher. It either screams "unfinished" or it is an obvious ego trip funding level to ensnare those who want to be in game celebrities.


One kickstarter had a stretch goal that let you "be a playtester for all their future games."

So a random goon with money is now a permanent unpaid intern in your publishing company? Strange business model...
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Sam Liberty
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I agree that "you get to playtest" is a pretty poor incentive. There was one kickstarter for a board game, where the actual campaign was just for the PROTOTYPE. If you backed, you got an unfinished game, which you were then asked to playtest for free. It was not funded - and rightly so.

I disagree that any call for player feedback is necessarily cynical, though. One of the things that people like about crowdfunding is being part of something - and giving feedback on the project is a very powerful way to do just that.

Not to say that it hasn't been done cynically, just that it's not by definition cynical. As a designer, I've actually enjoyed seeing players ideas a great deal. I've been pleasantly surprised by their creativity, and seen a very positive energy inhabit the campaign. I do recommend doing something like that carefully, though.
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Jacq L
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sliberty wrote:
Machine of Death seems like another good candidate for that kind of feedback. Did the designer of the game have any sort of oversight, or was it just "You paid, so you get your card in?"

We went back and forth via the Kickstarter messaging. There was also about a month post-campaign where the backers at higher tiers had (read-only) access to the Googledoc of all the cards in the game (including finalized fan additions), so that stuff wouldn't get repeated.

Looking at my Kickstarter messages, we went back and forth for about two weeks (4-5 messages each). I submitted 4-5 ideas, we settled on a good one, and then finalized the flavour text and logo. I can only assume others had the same experience. edit: I also just remembered that some of the added fan and webcomics pals cards were later marked with a special icon that indicated they were potentially OP, very difficult, or broken somehow after the new cards went through playtesting.

sliberty wrote:
On a side note, I never really fully understood Machine of Death, despite having watched the video and read the rules. The players just say stuff until it sounds plausible?

I think it works much better if you think of it more like an "Improv exercise" type of game (like Superheros or Party Quirks) where you're taking some randomized/funny suggestions and fitting them into a mold.

However, I haven't played the "official" version of the game yet and I'm not 100% confident it will translate really well. I'm personally looking forward more to using some of the variant rules - Psychopath but using the Black Market cards to inform the killer's choice of weapon, for example. The scettegory and broken picture telephone variants listed there look like they could be really fun, too.

There's also a really interesting-sounding mash up game using cards from Machine of Death, Story War, and Cards Against Humanity that sounds like it could be pretty fun. (There are a lot of people on the Geek that dislike these kinds of party games, though, so I may be in the minority again by being excited for it).
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Chris Smith
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I'm perfectly ok with fans having pitch in content so long as it's extensions rather than core content. In fact this tends to make me enjoy it more, as I get to have an extra piece or card thanks to one dedicated person.

For example, in the upcoming board game Myth a backer pledged at a $2000 level to have himself in the game as a mini-boss with miniature & card. I absolutely love that everyone else is now getting an extra figure thanks to that one guy, and look forward to defeating him when my copy of the game arrives!

Another example is 404: Law Not Found where backers at a custom chip level get to add custom stuff to the game (Which again, we don't have to use!). The designer of the game has gone through their suggestions and had some back-and-forth + testing to make sure they're balanced enough to be included. I think these will work out to be great additions to the game too.

---

Essentially, so long as the custom content isn't required, and isn't 'replacing' something the designer has created that already works, I'm absolutely fine and in fact happier to have these kind of inclusions!
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Sam Liberty
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Yeah, that was one of the guiding princples we used for the Clusterfight Kickstarter Expansion.

Sounds like 404 did it in a somewhat similar way, and it worked for them. I think the real test of Clusterfight will be when we get to the Actions, which actually have card text - not just a word or phrase. We might have to tweek the card text to make it work, but still fit the ideas of the backers.
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Christine Freels
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it sounds like 1.if you do this, then you had better have plenty of time for sifitng & collating and testing all of the ides submitted. 2. The extra cards wont neccesarily be improving the game
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Jacq L
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Looking over your Kickstarter again, I'm struck by how similar it is to Story War. The similarities are pretty surprising.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cantripgames/story-war-t...

You could look at what elements of their campaign worked in regards to custom cards and player feedback.
(I would also suggest looking into how they handled infringing copyrights - or rather, avoided infringing copyrights.)

As a personal question, if I already own Story War and the Deluxe expansion, why should I buy this game? Or, put another way, what makes Clusterfight different from Story War?

edited for clarity
 
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Robert Seater
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Christia Barrett wrote:
it sounds like 1.if you do this, then you had better have plenty of time for sifitng & collating and testing all of the ides submitted. 2. The extra cards wont neccesarily be improving the game

That sounds no different than normal game design. The fact that the original idea came from a backer instead of a designer, playtester, friend, etc. doesn't change the work involved in making to work. Plus, at this stage of design, the designers are deeply familiar with the dynamics of the game, so balancing/aligning a few additional cards is quite manageable.

(But yes, it will be a lot of work for them!)
 
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Robert Seater
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Jacqland wrote:
Looking over your Kickstarter again, I'm struck by how similar it is to Story War. The similarities are pretty surprising.

The same question is addressed here:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1074750/how-is-this-diff...

In summary, they are very different games.
 
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Sam Liberty
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Indeed!

The games are quite different mechanically. Other games that are very similar in theme, if not in execution include Who Would Win? and Super Fight. Super Fight is probably the most similar, but they still fall into the trap of "Judge flips a card, everyone plays an answer" like in Apples to Apples, something that is super not needed in a game about kicking ass.
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Jacq L
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rseater wrote:
Jacqland wrote:
Looking over your Kickstarter again, I'm struck by how similar it is to Story War. The similarities are pretty surprising.

The same question is addressed here:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1074750/how-is-this-diff...

In summary, they are very different games.


Thanks for the info. The differences seem to be that
1. Items and battlegrounds are grouped together (as battle cards)
2. Copywritten characters in Clusterfight vs Public domain characters / Tropes in Story War
3. Cluster Fight has a betting mechanic.

That last mechanic sounds itneresting. It isn't explained very clearly on your main page, though.
(But doesn't quite answer my question of "If I already own X, why should pledge for Y?")

The attitude shown towards the competing game in that link leaves a bit to be desired, though.
 
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Brook Gentlestream
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1) I was kind of offended during one campaign where high-level backers could "buy" the rights to make suggestions for the game, especially since I had already been making suggestions via BGG.Why should I buy writes to "name something", when I had previously had design input before it went to kickstarter? It just felt weird. I'm not sure my reaction was entirely logical, in hindsight.


2) Some kickstarters try to "vote" on particular issues related to game design. This has never felt right to me - it feels like the designer should make an executive decision (or the publisher should go back to the designer or playtesters for input). A wise BGG user whose name I completely forgot (sorry!) convinced me once that this is ALWAYS a bad idea because all it does is make sure SOME of your backers are always disappointed and snubbed with the results of each vote. It's one thing to choose to make changes I would vote against (pink instead of red? WTF?!?) but another to ask my opinion and then make those same changes anyway.


3) I really loved the Nature of the Beast kickstarter where high-level backers could send in pictures and descriptions of their pets to have them turned into cards and characters for the game. That was awesome and contributed greatly to the variety of the game. (I don't think I would have nearly as many dogs otherwise, and I like dogs as characters.)

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Sam Liberty
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Here's a brief rundown of the betting mechanic in Clusterfigt, since you asked:

FIRST - All players except the judge play a fighter face up
THEN - All players except the judge secretly bet on who they think will win the fight. This is done by selecting a color-coded card, similar to DIXIT.

NEXT - all players except the judge (in counter clockwise fashion) get to play a Battle Card from their hands to tip the scales in their favor.

LAST - There is table talk, and the judge picks the winner.

If you successfully guess who will win, you get 1 POINT. But if the fighter you played from your hand wins, you get 2 POINTS. It's better for your fighter to win than for your bet to pay off, but you can actually pull sort of a doubling down move by betting on your own fighter for a potential 3 points. Betting on an opposing fighter is more like hedging your bets.

This allows you to make plans about what to play, and build short-term strategies for each hand. It also give everyone multiple stakes in each fight.


As for why you should pledge if you already own Story War, I would say if you love SW and play it all the time, then Clusterfight might not be the best bang for your buck, just like if you already had all the Dominion expansions and played it all the time, you might not want to shell out for Ascension, too.

On the other hand, you might just find you like Clusterfight better. If you don't feel comfortable pledging for the game blind, I would still recommend you try to track down a copy at some point and play it, because if you like SW, you will probably also enjoy this game.
 
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