James Perry
United States
Spring Hill
Tennessee
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Nate had asked me about my thoughts about what worked and what didn't from the organizers perspective. Below is the email I sent to him, I would love to hear from other organizers and from designers about what they thought about this contest.

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Let me start from the beginning:

I had missed the initial announcement of the contest so I was about a month behind the curve. In the end I'm not sure that that mattered in our case due to the structure (or lack of) of the contest. Never the less, I was left to figure out several things on my own.

1) How to run the contest.
2) How to promote the contest at GameCon Memphis.
3) How to get playtesters.

So the first thing that I did was take your initial rule set and build out a rule set to use to run the contest. The biggest thing that was not addressed in the rules (at least according to the questions I received) was questions about legal rights/ownership. Many of the designers were concerned that if they entered the contest that they would be giving up rights to their design. The second biggest thing was the confusion about previously published / copyrighted work. You had indicated that those would be grounds for disqualification so I did DQ two or three games under that reasoning.

Of course, at this time we needed to set deadlines. Since the convention was the last weekend in September that part was easy. Ending the registration was a bit trickier. I had very little idea what it was going to take to do this, in the end we settled on two weeks before the convention. I also had to set up a method in which the designers could register their games. We didn’t have time to do much to the website so I simply had Neal add a form that would send me an email. I didn’t know exactly what to ask for so I asked for Designer name, game name, play time, theme, and a short description.
Next I started promoting the design side of the contest. I tried getting the word out to not only my local gaming community but also the regional community and other designers who may not have a local branch of the contest. I posted on the forums for all the local conventions, on our Facebook page, to our game group mailing list, and a few other places. Honestly I stopped promoting the design side once I had about a half dozen designers talking to me about the contest.

This brought me back into the "How to run" side of the problem. Once I got the designers email from the website I shot back an email asking for a digital copy of the rules. I figured that it didn’t matter what the game looked like as long as the rules were "complete". I didn’t try to figure out the game from the rules. This worked out pretty good as I was able to catch one game that had been previously published and caused one designer to quietly drop out (I assume his game wasn’t complete enough for the contest). Next I asked for the games before the convention. Here I made a mistake: I didn’t require the games in advance of the convention, as a result I got one game the day before the convention and two games were hand delivered to the convention (and one game that was mailed arrived at my house on the Saturday of the convention and thus missed the contest completely).

Here is where I made another mistake. I had all of this wonderful information about the games, and I did nothing with it. I should have had the information about the games put onto the website to build interest in the games, and possibly have had the designers send me a picture or two to go with the description. After the convention we posted some pictures and I’ve had one person request more information about one of the prototypes from seeing only the picture, so I think if we did this in advance of the event it would have helped.

So now we are up to the weekend of the convention. Originally I had planned on announcing the winner of our part of the contest at the convention. To do this I would need time to compile the results before closing out the convention on Sunday, therefore I was going to end the contest around 2PM on Saturday. That would have given me twelve to fourteen hours of play testing Friday night and Saturday morning. I also needed to get people play testing. We had some product that we had been donated so we announced that we would hold a drawing for a game. Every game you play test gets you one entry into the drawing. I ran into two problems here: first, since I was also the tournament coordinator and we had decided to segregate the tournaments from the rest of the gaming which meant I was across the hall from everyone and so were the prototypes. Second Friday was slower than I had anticipated. I decided to go ahead and run the play test event the entire weekend. After a few announcements into the main hall that we were giving away the Carcassonne Big Box for play testing games and Saturday was much better despite competing for space with the Settlers and Munchkin tournaments. We may not have had to give away something that nice if the play test event was in the main hall since the games would have had greater visibility. Also play testing picked up speed on Friday and Saturday nights around 10 or 11PM as people were looking for something do following the panels. There was even some play testing going on at 1:30AM Sunday morning (and let me tell you doing math involving Roman numerals at that time is interesting...)

We had each play tester fill out a sheet that ranked the game on a five point scale in five areas. There were two follow up questions: "Would you play this game again?" and "Would you buy this game?". We assigned point values to each area and totaled the scores for each sheet. Initially I was going to use a modified Bayesian averaging to even out the games, but in the end the top two games had the same number of evaluations so it didn’t matter. The theory behind using the Bayesian averages was that not all games would get the same number of ratings and we needed a way to balance the games that got very few ratings. I could probably write a few paragraphs on this, but like I said it didn’t matter this year. Once we tallied the scores I hit another problem. We had a tie. I did not anticipate this occurrence before the contest so we didn’t have a clear way to break this tie. So what I did was hunt down people that had played both games and asked them "If you were to choose which one of these two games should win the contest, which would you pick?" and every one of them picked "Mob Ties", not that they disliked "Crossboard", they all felt (as I did too) that "Mob Ties" better fit Rio Grande Games lineup.

Some thoughts about the event: I think that twelve games were a bit much for the visibility that we had at the convention. It may have been ok if we had been in the main gaming hall, but I’m not sure. If we do this next year, and I really hope we do, I would either limit the entries to ten or I would have to have a preliminary round in which a few select players weed the field down to ten before the convention.

So here are the big takeaways for improvement from this year’s event:

1) Clarify what happens with the rights to a game up front. Does the designer ever give up any rights and if so, under what circumstances?

2) Clarify eligibility requirements for the designer and for the game up front. What would cause the publisher to pass on the game without further consideration? This could be copyright headaches, previous publishing contracts, theme, game length, or something that I hadn’t considered.

3) Get the games before the convention because there should be a filtering process before the convention.

4) Get better information about the games up front and use that information to promote the play test side of the contest.

5) Hold the play test event in the same area as regular gaming.

6) Have a clear method of determining the winner in the event of a tie.


If you'd like additional information or have any questions about something I said here just ask. This contest was great fun for me and I'd love for it to continue next year.
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James Perry
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I failed to mention that Norv Brooks was kind enough to share the eval sheet they used at Straticon which heavily influenced the sheet we used at GameCon Memphis.
 
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Tony Ripley
United States
Birmingham
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James,
Nice write-up. I enjoyed participating in the contest and learned several things.

I very much agree with your idea of having an initial review of submissions to keep the pool of games during weekend more manageable.

Also, maybe a way to really get some stronger feedback to budding game designers who do submit to the contest. There is already the feedback from play testing during the contest, but since you are potentially putting together a group to assist in vetting submission prior to the Con, they could also provide feedback about inclusion/exclusion.

Finally, it may be helpful to publish some minimum requirements for submission such as packaging, as I know you received boxes, envelopes, etc.

Thanks for taking on this additional event, I think it will grow to be a highlight for GameCon Memphis.
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Mark Salzwedel
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New York
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Our group was enormously open and even enthusiastic about helping to judge the entries. We set one deadline for emailed copies of rules and game graphics, and then another deadline 2 weeks later for physical prototypes. Almost everyone delivered their prototype on deadline day. The most difficult thing I found was that it was hard getting enough judges together to give each game the fair shot I had hoped (at least 2 plays with 2 different groups of judges and 2 different numbers of players) in the 2 weeks I'd set aside for judging. I would allow 4 weeks for judging next time. I didn't see any problem with having a category for visual presentation; for some games it was their highest scoring category, and the winning game didn't have complicated or stunning graphics, but the layout was convenient and the icons were clear. One issue I would bring up for a next contest is what to do when the written rules are not clear. Do we ask the designer to teach the game? Do we ask for clarifications? Do we make house rules?

We didn't allow designers to teach their games. In one case, I suggested the designer provide a cheat sheet for players to help simplify the graphics and their turn order. We also let the designer answer questions at his first session and submit a rules addendum for his second session. He ended up coming in second, because his rules still needed work.

Because this was such a big issue (one game never finished in either session), I made sure each game had at least one test with the rules taught (by me or an experienced player, not the designer) and one test with a blind test (everybody learning from a copy of the written rules). At the very least, an advisory to designers might be issued before entering that they should conduct a couple of blind rules tests before submitting their design.
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Tony Ripley
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Mark,

good info.

Interesting challenge: really want to help designers, but...

sometimes having your game fail through poor instructions is the only way to ensure you test them as much as you tested the game play. I've been there.

and these contest are pretty supportive and encouraging overall anyway.
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