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Subject: Changing your game's theme that may be unpopular rss

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SLThomas
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I'm working on an economic game called Deep Water that effectively involves players drilling for offshore oil. Really, like most games, the theme can be swapped out for another while keeping the core mechanics, but the underlying inspiration of the mechanics was the theme of offshore oil rigs (similar to themes of North Sea Oil and North Sea).

However, I'm acutely aware that this theme is perhaps a little more controversial and off-putting than it may have been a decade ago (and for the record I'm a supporter of taking massive action on Climate Change).

So I'm now thinking about retro-fitting my mechanics into a theme whereby instead of players drilling for offshore oil, players are explorers on another planet with an entirely liquid surface, and have to deploy dive ships to extract "minerals".

The theme vs mechanics debate is not what I'm looking to raise here, but rather how would you deal with a socially unpopular theme - start over with a new lick of paint, or stay on track?
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Bruce Gazdecki
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I would say it depends on how socially unpopular the theme is.

In your case, i don’t think the theme is that controversial and unpopular so you would probably be ok leaving it as is.

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John Albright
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Whether or not a theme is socially unpopular is largely dependent on context.

You could set your game in the year 2020 and it might put some people off.

You could set your game in the year 2040 in a "Mad Max" style post-apocalypse and it might really interest some people.

These two games could be mechanically identical. If your game is adaptable enough to fit nicely with a different theme, I would explore your options and choose a theme that really best captivates imagination while staying true to what makes the game engaging mechanically.

Alternately it could be set in the past as a historically educational game. You do you.
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Arvid
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Or you could set the game in the 80s and keep the theme.
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Ken
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Me, I would design the game that I"d want to play and not worry about what anyone else thinks. But, that is just me.
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KC Schrimpl
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I think you should change themes. Oil drilling is only going to become more unpopular as time goes by.
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SLThomas
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Thanks for the food for thought... and dissenting views, which is something even meatier to chew on!

Now, as they say, back to the BURNER!

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Tim Earl
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kmikolaj wrote:
Me, I would design the game that I"d want to play and not worry about what anyone else thinks. But, that is just me.


That's going to depend on if he wants to invest his time and money in a game that won't sell well.

It's a legitimate concern, but as others have stated, this particular theme isn't really that controversial compared to others that have become notorious. It really depends on how the subject is treated. As long as the tagline isn't something like "exploit the Earth," I think it should be OK. Setting it in the past, as someone suggested, is not a bad idea. But I don't think even that is necessary, as long as there are negative consequences for things like spills, which there should be for the theme to make sense anyway, it shouldn't scare too many people away.
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Brian Church
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sproyd wrote:
Thanks for the food for thought... and dissenting views, which is something even meatier to chew on!

Now, as they say, back to the BURNER!



I immediately thought of the oil platforms in Warcraft 2 and how twisting the theme into fantasy would make the game feel completely different. I think others have said similar things above.
 
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It’s worth thinking about how to turn around perceptions with minimal change. In the case of your specific game, perhaps you set it in a near future version of our world in which the big new opportunity in sea drilling is for carbon capture through mineralization, and drillers are getting out of oil and gas.
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-43789527
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Sarah Kelley
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Do *you* like the theme? Assuming so, or you could have used a different theme. If you like it/don't mind it, some people will feel the same way.

That's my answer. If you like the theme, keep it. If you don't like the theme, ditch it. Me, I don't care to play games about resource drilling on any planet. But I could say, 'make it about paleontology or dentistry or truffle hunting' and you could be like, 'why the heck would I want to play a game about any of that stuff?'

The flip side is, you can make a game with a completely unexceptional theme and everyone already owns 4 games with that theme and no one wants another one That *isn't* what I'd do.

I'd try to find a theme that appeals to you for your game. If it's oil drilling, it's oil drilling. Stick with it. If not, new paint, here you come!
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Tim Earl
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SarahKelley wrote:
I'd try to find a theme that appeals to you for your game. If it's oil drilling, it's oil drilling. Stick with it. If not, new paint, here you come!


This advice is problematic if the goal is to make money on the game. If the theme you like is considered socially unacceptable by a large number of people, you'll generate negative publicity, and nobody wants that with a product they're trying to sell. (Disclaimer: As I wrote above, I do not think this theme falls into that category. It's not that problematic).

When someone is considering a decision that could have major financial repercussions for them, it's irresponsible to say "Do whatever you want to and don't worry about what other people think!" You'll care very much what those other people think if you've lost thousands of dollars.

Don't encourage people to stand on your principles when it's not your money at stake.
 
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Phillip Edwards
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You could make a game about sea creatures fighting back with magical powers against the evil corporations. This type of game seems to be pleasing to the types of board gamers that would find your current theme unpopular.
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BG.EXE
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schrimpl wrote:
I think you should change themes. Oil drilling is only going to become more unpopular as time goes by.

Brass is all about using coal, coal, and more coal, yet it’s a super popular game.

I’d play a game about drilling for oil. Pipeline literally just came out. Do what you think is best OP, I don’t think this particular theme will result in fewer sales (though not more either to be totally honest).
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SLThomas
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Robotron5673 wrote:
You could make a game about sea creatures fighting back with magical powers against the evil corporations. This type of game seems to be pleasing to the types of board gamers that would find your current theme unpopular.


Haha very good
 
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SLThomas
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boardgamesdotEXE wrote:
schrimpl wrote:
I think you should change themes. Oil drilling is only going to become more unpopular as time goes by.

Brass is all about using coal, coal, and more coal, yet it’s a super popular game.


It's a good point, also Power Grid remains a perennial favourite and involves burning coal, oil and nuclear waste!

 
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Tim Earl
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sproyd wrote:
It's a good point, also Power Grid remains a perennial favourite and involves burning coal, oil and nuclear waste!


Actually, Power Grid doesn't address nuclear waste at all. Just power generation.
 
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Cornixt
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How about changing the theme to mosquitoes trying to suck blood?
 
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Chris Willett
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Bruiser419 wrote:
I would say it depends on how socially unpopular the theme is.

In your case, i don’t think the theme is that controversial and unpopular so you would probably be ok leaving it as is.



I agree with this. While offensiveness is objective and everyone is different, I think your theme should be fine. This is especially effective if you just set the timeline of the game as a few years ago. The game can simulate a real thing like oil drilling as something that was more common or more acceptable in the past?

You could also, depending on how your game works, incorporate rewards for people who cleanly mine for oil. Something like that might help?


Maybe because of water (loose connection) I find myself thinking of Fleet. Overfishing waters could be bad, but taken in scope as a game that is about that, it is fine and accurate. I also don't see Fleet as troublesome though.

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David Fenton
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sproyd wrote:
The theme vs mechanics debate is not what I'm looking to raise here, but rather how would you deal with a socially unpopular theme - start over with a new lick of paint, or stay on track?

Some depends on what the focus is.

If it's about the technical challenges and increasing difficulty of finding and drilling wells then it might be ok. If using unsafe and generally bad practices is needed to get ahead in the game, then I can imagine people having problems.

In real life, disasters (environmental, safety, or financial) are major setbacks for major companies and should be represented as such. It's cheaper for big companies to do things "right" than to pay fines and lose business / shareholders / customers).

Thus there should be advantages to doing it safely, efficiently, and in an environmental sense, and penalties to skipping those. For example, in SpaceCorp you lose profit for moving or building or building in certain areas without sufficient radiation shielding: "These costs represent health risk to your teams and the resulting litigation and public outcry"
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SLThomas
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cheng wrote:
sproyd wrote:
It's a good point, also Power Grid remains a perennial favourite and involves burning coal, oil and nuclear waste!


Actually, Power Grid doesn't address nuclear waste at all. Just power generation.


Enriched Uranium to be specific, I was paraphrasing to make a point
 
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Tim Earl
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sproyd wrote:
cheng wrote:
sproyd wrote:
It's a good point, also Power Grid remains a perennial favourite and involves burning coal, oil and nuclear waste!


Actually, Power Grid doesn't address nuclear waste at all. Just power generation.


Enriched Uranium to be specific, I was paraphrasing to make a point


I figured.
 
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Yaron Davidson
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I think it's true that the theme would probably be off-putting to people, and would cost you sales. At this point in time I'd assume it won't do so very much, or widely.
So if you had sounded very attached to the theme, or like changing it will require a lot of mechanical changes, I'd have said to just keep it as-is, with maybe some clear explanations in the rulebook about the history and economics, and the environmental impacts.

But since you yourself state that changing the theme will probably not be too problematic for you, I really don't see any good reason to just stay the course.

So, options to consider:

1. Change the theme. Low cost (assuming you haven't already paid for art, flavor text, etc...), and solves the problem. You're no longer pushing a game with a problematic theme. And you're not longer pushing a game that you think in advance will lose sales due to the theme. And you already thought about it and have some directions you're ready to take this in.
I'm not even sure why you're even asking, when you essentially presenting this, as far as I read your post, as essentially "I can lose money and make it more likely my game will fail, which I really don't want to happen. Or I can stick with a theme I liked but don't really care that much about, and think it will be fairly easy to replace. What does everyone think?" . Only issue is if you actually really do want to keep the theme, despite stating that it can be swapped out and was an inspiration rather than strongly integrated with the mechanics.

2. Go educational. Not sure if it will fit your game, better if it's detailed/complex and closer to a simulation, rather than a light euro. But if you can add enough actual real-world details about the equipment used, reasons for each action, historical situations the game follows, and such, all seriously and with acknowledgement of the real-world costs and damage, you should be fine. The main cost here is probably research, that it won't work with some game styles/types, and that you'd probably need components that can carry text or have world-accurate art (which may or may not be a problem depending on what you already have)

3. Gamify the problems. Add read costs in game to the different types of environmental damage, and ways to control and mitigate. Let players drill for oil without ruining the environment, while still playing competitively. Not practical if you're already ahead in the design, or if you do want to be very historical, but can be helpful otherwise by making it possible to play, well, responsibly. Again be clear and explicit in the rulebook about real-world situation, and that you use the theme because you wanted to explore the related mechanics/economics, but are fully aware of the problems and want players to be as well.

4. Maybe go over-the-top and extra ridiculous. Playing real oil companies, drilling for oil and causing real damage, is a problem. Playing comic mustache-twirling full-blown supervillians, and having all the art be silly comic/animated style, could also be fine. It makes it extremely clear the players are asked to do bad things, but at a level really inapplicable to the real world. This is sort of a re-theme, except you're still drilling for oil, it's just a much different flavor of the theme. Main cost is probably art. And that it might be difficult for some players to see past the silly art to a serious game underneath (so this one is probably better if the game is light, maybe medium, rather than heavy). Have to be sure you're not laughing at the damage done by oil companies, but rather at oil companies.
 
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James C
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cornixt wrote:
How about changing the theme to mosquitoes trying to suck blood?


I hate mosquitos way more than pollution.
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Mlai00 Mlai00
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I don't even have a problem with the oil theme, but I still think your sci-fi alternative idea sounds more fun (asteroid mining, drilling on exoplanets or Venus or whatev).
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