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Subject: My philosophy on game design rss

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Michael Nerman
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Hey folks,

I wrote the following for my game's Facebook page. Thought it might be interesting enough to share here:

I want to talk about something that's been bugging me.

I've been making games since I was a kid, and I've always thought of it as a part of my life. Making games and playing them with my friends has been a load of fun and very meaningful. I would occasionally hear people mentioning off-hand how I should publish them and make a bunch of money "like Monopoly" (or Trivial Pursuit, or Cards Against Humanity, etc, etc.) But I passed that off as being impractical, like buying a lottery ticket. It's easier to get rich through pro sports or acting than it is as a game designer. I was content to make games and just play them with my friends.

Then something happened with Win, Don't Lose. I realized I had something really great that I wanted to share with the world. However, I didn't think my handwritten-on-library-cards game was somehow inferior to mainstream "published" games, and at the time I had no interest in making it look like those mainstream games. Also, by writing it on library cards, it was a game that had virtually no negative impact on the environment (which as far as I'm concerned makes it superior to the later editions). So, I started handwriting extra copies on old library index cards to give out at conventions and to friends.

Fast forward to when I recently started showing off my Game Crafter cards. Now all of a sudden I'm hearing "oh, it's official", "it's legit now" and people are calling the library cards I gave them "prototypes". I noticed that I was starting to get angry when I heard these things. It suggests that what I have been doing all my life wasn't worthwhile, that the only way game design is "useful" or significant is when someone can make a lot of money off of it, when they commodify it. But I refuse to do game design for the money. I will always design games because I want myself and others to enjoy themselves.

So if you have a library card version of WDL, which by the way took me probably about an hour and a half to write and gave me a blister and/or hand cramp, don't call it a prototype. That was the first edition of Win, Don't Lose.

So I encourage you to dare to have fun and to create. Dare to do excellent things without expecting to be paid for them. And support people who do such things, go to local music shows, watch "amateur" theatre, play hand-written games and display your own art in your homes. Tell people that their creations are good for their own sake, and not just as something that could be sold. Connect with the people around you through your creations.

Thanks for reading. And thanks for playing.
Michael Nerman
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Michael Nerman
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Does anyone know if I can link this to Win, Don't Lose, so it will appear in the game's forum as well?
 
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Russ Williams
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nerman8r wrote:
Does anyone know if I can link this to Win, Don't Lose, so it will appear in the game's forum as well?

To make the same thread show up in multiple forums, I believe you can geekmail one of the relevant forum admins and request them to make it so.
 
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Jeremy Lennert
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I think a lot of designers publish their games not as a way to make money, but as a way to share them with more people. Being profitable (even a tiny bit) allows the operation to scale up, so you're printing and shipping out thousands of copies instead of spending your weekends hand-writing on library cards.

Also, don't underestimate the importance of visual appeal in getting people to look at your game long enough to form an opinion of it.
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Josh Zscheile
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Good philosophy and it is refreshing to see some game designer actually care for the environment (though the publisher might still have added plastic inlays and/or pieces to your game, I don't know).
 
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Bojan Prakljacic
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And this is the way of game design philosophy I also follow.
I do not make games because I want them to be published, thinking I will get rich on my ideas and imagination. Sure, I wouldn't mind to have some of them reaching audience, but that is not why I'm making a journey.
I make games because I love the feeling that I have while making them. Period.
I just feel ecstatic, with purpose, like working on a puzzle and solving it at the same time. And that moment when I show my new game to people, explain the rules and they start playing it, when everything comes together and I see they have fun while they play something I have made... Uh, that's the best moment.

I wasn't designing games as a kid, I was actually more into comics (was drawing comics since my early age), but transfer to game-making was kinda natural for me, since what we do is: we're make imaginary worlds that have their rules and then we enter these worlds and play by those rules transferring ourselves into theme and roles of those worlds.
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Dave Platt
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Don't get angry about it. It's not that they don't value your first edition stuff, it's just that they don't understand real value. Lots of people in our world are like this, it's not really their fault, it's just a failing in a society where so much emphasis is placed on material wealth. It's a paradoxical failing too because it's this pursuit of wealth which drives our society on to create wealth which in turn frees up our time to do stuff other than that which puts food on the table, stuff like making games.

I'm currently making games which I'll sell on ebay at no profit to myself, in fact I'll probably make a slight loss. If I were to put a price on my time and labour then it would be a considerable loss but I choose not to do that. I'm doing it because I think I have a good game which others will enjoy. My reward will be the satisfaction that I've created something worthwhile. If in time it becomes something bigger then that will be a nice bonus but it's not something I'm expecting.
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marc lecours
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I also enjoy designing games. I actually enjoy designing games more than I enjoy playing them. I have been doing this for a hobby for 40 years. Yet I don't have a finished game and hardly anyone has ever played any of my designs. I don't really care that much if people play my games or not. There are plenty of other good games out there on the market for them to play. I am past the point in my life where I need the approval of others.

As for money, I don't really need any. I am retired now, and have all the money I want to have. Like you, people tell me that I should finish my games and publish them (and make money). Except that finishing games is not interesting for me. I have a hobby that I enjoy and that is enough for me. I understand how other people feel, and I understand how they don't understand me, so there is no frustration on my part. It's all OK.
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Aaron Wan
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to be honest, if someone i knew who made games gave me something to play that looked and felt like a prototype, i wouldn't call it a prototype as a derogatory thing; if anything, the first edition of games are more personable than anything else!

i can understand what you mean though, but im pretty sure that they didn't mean that the first editions you made were of inferior quality or anything, moreso that its just a comment, a discovery, that there are different versions of the game (or at least thats what i hope).
 
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Michael Nerman
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Phew. Lots of stuff to respond to. I might not get to everything, but I appreciate all the comments so far.
 
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Michael Nerman
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russ wrote:
nerman8r wrote:
Does anyone know if I can link this to Win, Don't Lose, so it will appear in the game's forum as well?

To make the same thread show up in multiple forums, I believe you can geekmail one of the relevant forum admins and request them to make it so.
Thanks for the intel. In that case I think I will just re-post.
 
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Michael Nerman
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Antistone wrote:
I think a lot of designers publish their games not as a way to make money, but as a way to share them with more people. Being profitable (even a tiny bit) allows the operation to scale up, so you're printing and shipping out thousands of copies instead of spending your weekends hand-writing on library cards.

Also, don't underestimate the importance of visual appeal in getting people to look at your game long enough to form an opinion of it.
I don't have a problem with people using mass market publishing. I just think that making games to play with your friends is also valuable, worthwhile and meaningful.

I have no problem with people not liking my game because of its aesthetics. Different people like games for different reasons. I just dislike people saying that my game is worthless as a game because it's made a certain way or doesn't make money. For an analogy, I don't like Puerto Rico, but I'm not about to say that it's crap just because I don't like it.
 
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Michael Nerman
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Dagar wrote:
Good philosophy and it is refreshing to see some game designer actually care for the environment (though the publisher might still have added plastic inlays and/or pieces to your game, I don't know).
Thank you. I don't want to derail this thread with a secondary conversation, but I will say:

When WDL goes live on TheGameCrafter, I'm planning for a dollar of every purchase to go to an environmental charity to offset the game's impact. I also like print-to-order for the fact that I won't end up with thousands of copies sitting in my basement collecting dust, and I believe it avoids some of the damage done by shipping the game from publisher to distributor, etc, etc, since TGC sends it straight to the customer.
 
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Michael Nerman
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8Oj4N wrote:
And this is the way of game design philosophy I also follow.
I do not make games because I want them to be published, thinking I will get rich on my ideas and imagination. Sure, I wouldn't mind to have some of them reaching audience, but that is not why I'm making a journey.
I make games because I love the feeling that I have while making them. Period.
I just feel ecstatic, with purpose, like working on a puzzle and solving it at the same time. And that moment when I show my new game to people, explain the rules and they start playing it, when everything comes together and I see they have fun while they play something I have made... Uh, that's the best moment.

Dave P wrote:
I'm currently making games which I'll sell on ebay at no profit to myself, in fact I'll probably make a slight loss. If I were to put a price on my time and labour then it would be a considerable loss but I choose not to do that. I'm doing it because I think I have a good game which others will enjoy. My reward will be the satisfaction that I've created something worthwhile. If in time it becomes something bigger then that will be a nice bonus but it's not something I'm expecting.

Awesome! Glad to see some kindred spirits.
 
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Michael Nerman
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Dave P wrote:
Don't get angry about it.

Thank you for a thoughtful reply. I have studied psychology and emotions and I believe that anger is not a bad thing. Because I felt angry I knew something was bothering me, and that's what urged me to analyze my thoughts and write this post, which is a meaningful to me. However, I can also let go of the anger. It's not like I'm going to get an ulcer or something!

In other words, emotions drive behaviour to help us meet our needs, and writing this post did just that.
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Michael Nerman
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rubberchicken wrote:
I also enjoy designing games. I actually enjoy designing games more than I enjoy playing them. I have been doing this for a hobby for 40 years. Yet I don't have a finished game and hardly anyone has ever played any of my designs. I don't really care that much if people play my games or not. There are plenty of other good games out there on the market for them to play. I am past the point in my life where I need the approval of others.

Fascinating. I think I get this. Designing games is a very stimulating mental exercise. I'll have to go easier on my brother-in-law. He's always telling me about the ideas he has for stories that he doesn't actually write!

But in my case I already play tonnes of games. Many of my designs are modifications for the games I have played that I think could be better if they had more development, or that I want to change to better match my specific taste for games.
 
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Michael Nerman
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schweinefett wrote:
to be honest, if someone i knew who made games gave me something to play that looked and felt like a prototype, i wouldn't call it a prototype as a derogatory thing; if anything, the first edition of games are more personable than anything else!

i can understand what you mean though, but im pretty sure that they didn't mean that the first editions you made were of inferior quality or anything, moreso that its just a comment, a discovery, that there are different versions of the game (or at least thats what i hope).
It's not that I think they are intentionally insulting me. It's just that the word "prototype" has a meaning. It means the game is unfinished. I have a dozen games that I have no intention of publishing. They aren't prototypes. I play them with my friends and they're fun, but I have no desire to publish them.

I want to share one example of what I'm talking about: this weekend I had someone call their WDL copy a prototype, and I said "that's not a prototype. That's a first edition." They replied by saying, "well, I'm going to call it a prototype." It *is* an insult. They are saying, "your game wasn't ready to be called a game."
 
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patrick mullen
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I think there is something to the fact that they didn't call it a prototype until you made a better produced version. People tend to like to have the best possible version of a thing that is available. Yes, they have devalued your original version slightly - but so did you in producing a better version. When there was only one, that was the best version and had the value. In producing another, there are now two - and one is "better" than the other.

While there is certainly something great about that first version, and you didn't consider it a prototype at the time, and it took much effort for you to make, it can be seen as but one step in your journey. I understand where you are coming from, but my creative philosophy is to throw away the old. It's served it's purpose and it is time to move on and let go. That doesn't mean all that you have been doing until now is worthless - you wouldn't have gotten where you are without it.

Whether or not being "sold" makes something more valuable or not is kind of another issue. However, the process of selling something, where you not only are opening it up to a wider audience but also expecting them to donate some of their hard work, translated into currency, for the opportunity to participate in your creation, can force you to consider different things. I think that there is certainly value in the creation itself; but the process of selling it can also add value, or shine a light on where in that artifact the value lies. If you produce many things, while it may be misguided to only pursue the types of those things that are loved by a wide audience, it can be useful feedback to guide you on what part of your art people actually respond to.

That doesn't make your unsuccessful or unpublished work valueless. Even if only one audience member - yourself - finds it worthwhile, it is still worth doing.
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J C Lawrence
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nerman8r wrote:
I want to share one example of what I'm talking about: this weekend I had someone call their WDL copy a prototype, and I said "that's not a prototype. That's a first edition." They replied by saying, "well, I'm going to call it a prototype." It *is* an insult. They are saying, "your game wasn't ready to be called a game."


That's your interpretation.

The prototype aspect could as well be directed towards the physical production of the game, specifically the refinement of its bits for larger scale production. The game design may well not change at all in that refinement, but the appearance and character and theme of the bits may change a lot -- and thus the game is a prototype in that process, despite the game design being locked down.

FWLIW I take the that looks like a prototype comment as a compliment. It suggests that the game still seems like the direct and personal production of the designer, not something anonymised by production scale.
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Michael Nerman
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saluk wrote:
I think there is something to the fact that they didn't call it a prototype until you made a better produced version.

1) This isn't quite accurate. Even when I only had the library card edition, I received quite a bit of "you should publish it and make a million dollars" reactions

2) The newer editions aren't strictly better. The library cards were awesome because I could just make a new card whenever I felt like it, and I have over 200 different hand written cards. Every copy I handed out was also unique; I would switch up which cards were included in the deck. Finally, some people just really love the library cards. Similarly, the PnP is quite flexible as it wouldn't be too difficult to make up new cards.
 
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Michael Nerman
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Consider this analogy: someone tells their friend about their D&D campaign and the friend says, "why don't you write stories about this world and sell them and create the next Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms?"
 
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Michael Nerman
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clearclaw wrote:
nerman8r wrote:
I want to share one example of what I'm talking about: this weekend I had someone call their WDL copy a prototype, and I said "that's not a prototype. That's a first edition." They replied by saying, "well, I'm going to call it a prototype." It *is* an insult. They are saying, "your game wasn't ready to be called a game."

The prototype aspect could as well be directed towards the physical production of the game, specifically the refinement of its bits for larger scale production.

What I'm saying here is that by even using the word "refinement", you are saying that the first edition is only a step in the process towards the goal of making a "better" game.

To illustrate my point, I have a game "Rabbits" that is totally amazing; it's hand-written on library cards, and has some 50 or more hand drawn pictures made by a dozen people. It's not a prototype. Even if I did publish it, I would find my library card version to be 100 times better.

I tried to distill WDL when I made the TGC version and some might argue that the newer edition is better, but the old version acts as a "directors cut with deleted scenes."
 
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patrick mullen
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nerman8r wrote:
clearclaw wrote:
nerman8r wrote:
I want to share one example of what I'm talking about: this weekend I had someone call their WDL copy a prototype, and I said "that's not a prototype. That's a first edition." They replied by saying, "well, I'm going to call it a prototype." It *is* an insult. They are saying, "your game wasn't ready to be called a game."

The prototype aspect could as well be directed towards the physical production of the game, specifically the refinement of its bits for larger scale production.

What I'm saying here is that by even using the word "refinement", you are saying that the first edition is only a step in the process towards the goal of making a "better" game.

To illustrate my point, I have a game "Rabbits" that is totally amazing; it's hand-written on library cards, and has some 50 or more hand drawn pictures made by a dozen people. It's not a prototype. Even if I did publish it, I would find my library card version to be 100 times better.

I tried to distill WDL when I made the TGC version and some might argue that the newer edition is better, but the old version acts as a "directors cut with deleted scenes."


I think you need to decide whether you are designing for others or designing for yourself. I hate to break it to you, but other people have different viewpoints than you. You clearly care what other people think or you would not make the more produced versions. If someone told me I should produce my prototype I would be honored, not insulted. It means that they think my prototype is so good that many more people might care to enjoy it as well. Library cards are great for designing, but you seem to have over-fetishized the medium and are missing the message that you are trying to convey in game design.

If someone can't get into your game because it is only on library cards, you have to decide whether it is worth putting your game into a format they will respond to. If you have a really good game, I don't see why you would abstain from doing so, just because you think your library cards are "good enough" or even "better".

Again, since you have caved to people's suggestions and made the more produced versions, I feel like you are saying one thing and doing another. Your philosophy has some holes. If you truly believe your library cards are the ultimate version, and that making money is not important and devalues your work, maybe it's OK to NOT do those things? You may limit your audience, but it's a valid artistic choice.
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nerman8r wrote:
clearclaw wrote:
The prototype aspect could as well be directed towards the physical production of the game, specifically the refinement of its bits for larger scale production.


What I'm saying here is that by even using the word "refinement", you are saying that the first edition is only a step in the process towards the goal of making a "better" game.


No, I'm not. That's your addition to what I wrote.

Any refinement is for a purpose. The purpose might be a more playable game, a more saleable game, a more easily or cheaply manufactured game, a game with a larger addressable market, a game with better alignment with other product or any of a great many other metrics being optimised. They are all refinements for a purpose, they are better games for a specific purpose. Not generic refinements, refinements for a specific known metric which may well have nothing to do with you or your game as a game designer, or in fact have anything to do with the players either.
 
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saluk wrote:
If someone can't get into your game because it is only on library cards, you have to decide whether it is worth putting your game into a format they will respond to. If you have a really good game, I don't see why you would abstain from doing so, just because you think your library cards are "good enough" or even "better".


Not writing for the OP.

I design games for my own interest and edification. In this I've no interest in publication and don't pursue publication, but I'll happily talk to publishers should they approach me.

My playtesters are uniformly much more interested in my games being published than I am. Much of this is because they want their own copies or want their friends to have copies etc and don't want to go through the manufacturing effort themselves. Which are all fine and admirable reasons, just not my reasons. None of those reasons include "making a game that more people will respond to" or "more saleable"; instead they're all variations on, "I wish more people would see/play this!" I'm glad that some people are interested in that sort of market-addressability thing and are willing to invest their efforts in that direction, but I'm not one of them.
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