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Subject: Caring for your game after release rss

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Sam Mercer
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This is cross posted from our game design blog: Exampleofplay.com I had to draft help from some clever Psychology friends of mine for this weeks article.

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Once you have finished your game, your job is not finished.

Let’s say you have done really well and you have published, kickstarted, print on demanded or what-have-you) your awesome new game “Bunny Jungle”*. Now you can go hang out in the “designers” club. Your game now exists on the shelves of at least 1 person: the good ladies and gentlemen around this world have more games thanks to you – but your job as a designer is not finished.

I was speaking to some of my Pyschology friends and have found out that, in doing this, you have successfully set up an Ingroup. In psychology, an Ingroup is a social group where someone can psychologically identify as being a member. Id Est “I play Catan”, “I am a Catan player”. (and we all know what Catan players are like …)

Now you have released your game: you have opened the doors to your club house, and it will soon be filled with the Ingroup that decide to settle there. Even if you have sold 5 copies – there are 5 people that can now declare that they are (hopefully) fans of Bunny Jungle.

This group has been brought together by your game, and so: by you. If you find yourself in this lucky position, you now have a responsibility that lies outside of simply designing your game.

Retail companies call this “after market care”. Big corporates can call this “growing the franchise”. Marketeers call this “social media content creation”. Whatever the name of it, it involves you giving attention to your Ingroup.

Rules assistance, “fan service”, periphery content, news, events, new game modes, submission acknowledgement – all of this stuff is your job.

There is 1 negative point, and 2 positive points in undertaking this task.

Bad:

1. It takes ages and might never stop. If your game is a hit “classic” game that gets very well received by the community, you can expect to be answering rules questions years after you have released your game. Your attention will still be required in speaking to your fans long into the future. This is the same reason why celebrities sometimes get irksome about taking pictures and signing autographs with their fans – they have been doing it for so long. But realise that if I ever saw James T. Kirk or Jean-Luc Picard (apparently they have real names too!) out on the town, lord knows I would want a signature, a picture, and to just “hang out” with them a while. N.b Let it be known that the last Star Trek episode to feature the original James T Kirk went out over 40 years ago. Here, I am essentially asking for “aftermarket care” 40 years down the line.

Good:

1. Happy fans beget happy fans. Aka “Growing by referral”, ”building a fanbase” or a multitude of other such insipid slogans, meaning: people will often go out of their way to try and persuade you to join their club. They enjoy their club – and they want you to enjoy it with them. Remember the first time you ever played a boardgame? Who was it with? Are you still friends with them? Do you “owe” you’re love of games to them? I certainly do, mine was my Dad, and I am eternally grateful to him for it. I bet Games Workshop was thankful for it too.

2. It sets you apart from a LOT of other designers. Not many people do this. Think how many publishers or designers you have had genuine contact with? How many microbadges do you have declaring your Ingroup allegiance to a certain game, designer or publishing house? When people DO engage in a bit of “aftermarket care” they are set apart from the sea of faceless back-room designers. To their fans: it shows that they actually care. Indy Boards and Cards is a publisher that has produced some notable games (The Resistance, Haggis etc) and also maintain a very active presence on Internet Forums. Owner, Travis Worthington is good at this, and is the reason behind my respect and appreciation of his company and his games.


An interesting part of this aftermarket care also is formed in the shape of releasing more games. Some people don’t identify as Game Fans – but of Game Designer Fans. I’m sure you could list at least 5 designers that, if they made a game today, would sell like hot cakes: regardless of the game. You can even expand this to themes or ideas too: “I’m a fan of Co-op games” or “I’m a wargame Grognard” or “I only play serious games” – part of the responsibility you have as a designer is, weirdly, to make more games!

So don’t worry guys, I’ve already started working on Bunny Jungle 2 and its spin off Dog Forest. See you over at the bunny jungle forums and if you would like a free bunny jungle poster, just let me know.


*Each player is a lost bunny trying to navigate their fluffy way through a terrifying jungle! Dodging hunters, toothed beasties, and trying to stay out of your hutch as long as possible at night** – it is a chit-based action game that combines simultaneous player navigation with interesting rabbit-based player powers

**I swear my fionce’s bunny is like an excitable, defiant child when it comes to going to bed at night
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J C Lawrence
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Cogentesque wrote:
If you find yourself in this lucky position, you now have a responsibility that lies outside of simply designing your game.


No, there is no such default responsibility. There is a marketing activity that might be specified by a publishing contract, or a hope that such activity might lead to additional market success, but there's no such default responsibility or obligation to do so.
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John "Omega" Williams
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There are plenty of hands-on game designers out there.

But. Some companies do not want their staff and designers talking on forums, etc.
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Cogentesque wrote:

*Each player is a lost bunny trying to navigate their fluffy way through a terrifying jungle! Dodging hunters, toothed beasties, and trying to stay out of your hutch as long as possible at night** – it is a chit-based action game that combines simultaneous player navigation with interesting rabbit-based player powers

**I swear my fionce’s bunny is like an excitable, defiant child when it comes to going to bed at night


My rabbit demands that I purchase this game immediately. And who am I to defy the master of the house?

Seriously though, I just have to tell him it's "home time!" and he hops right into the cage and waits impatiently for the inevitable treat to be dispensed. Someone's got someone well trained, but I can't figure out who trained who.
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Adam Kazimierczak
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There is a flip side to "aftermarket care" and that is some designers are very polarizing in their internet presence. They throw out flippant comments or troll their own game's reviews and take every negative comment as a personal attack. It is amusing to some, but actually damages the brand for others.

I guess the moral of the story is if you're a better designer than diplomat then you might want to maintain a low profile or have an alias. ninja
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J C Lawrence
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Determine what you want to accomplish and do that. I suspect that that many designer's primary interest is game design, not after market care.
 
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John "Omega" Williams
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kaziam wrote:
There is a flip side to "aftermarket care" and that is some designers are very polarizing in their internet presence. They throw out flippant comments or troll their own game's reviews and take every negative comment as a personal attack. It is amusing to some, but actually damages the brand for others.

I guess the moral of the story is if you're a better designer than diplomat then you might want to maintain a low profile or have an alias. :ninja:


This is horrifically true.

I've lost track of designers and companies that for the love of God/Odin/Zeus/insert-name-here should never have been let loose. No. Really. you should have kept your damn mouth shut!

This on top of designers trying to browbeat and/or bribe positive reviews. Its no wonder some companies keep their staff muzzled.
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Laura Creighton
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Success can destroy you. Not only can it ruin your critical judgment -- it's hard to admit, even to yourself, that the great idea you had might not be as hot as you thought when surrounded by people who overflow with uncritical admiration -- but as human beings we aren't well set up to handle vast amounts of strong emotion from multitudes of strangers. I've watched marriages fail when the relationship with the fans was so emotionally draining and time consuming that there was nothing left over for the family. Or to create the next thing with.
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Sam Mercer
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Mr Lawrence. - You are right, it is not a default responsibility - but in making a game, I believe it is an implied responsibility in as much as I am pretty sure you wouldn't be doing any marketing for Age of Steam Expansion: Sun / London. But yet you are answering rules questions 6 years after its release. I agree with you in that you could argue this is not called "marketing", but it definitely exhibits some type of care to your fans after you have released your game to the market.

John / Adam - You guys are right: if you are not great at anything other than designing rules, then it may well be in your interest to not have any kind of presence, or as you rightly say: go through some kind of proxie. I suppose in this way you could be supporting your game by NOT flipping out negative comments or trolling and what not.

Anna - Bunny Jungle (tm) (reg) is going to be released on iPad and WiiU and as a CCG soon

Laura - as an aside, you have just won the "most awesome avatar competition". Back on track, I really think you are on to something there by the way; "as human beings we aren't well set up to handle vast amounts of strong emotion from multitudes of strangers" - I will definitely be thinking about this in much more detail, this sounds very much true to me - Thanks.
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Laura Creighton
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Thank you for the kind words.

The badger is part of a larger collection of animals wearing clothes found here:
http://www.etsy.com/shop/berkleyillustration.
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Deviated in his zealotry? Surely not
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lacreighton wrote:
The badger is part of a larger collection of animals wearing clothes found here:
http://www.etsy.com/shop/berkleyillustration.


It's a badger!? I thought it was some kind of bulldog. [/derail]
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Laura Creighton
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Would help to know that my rpging name has been 'Grävling' for many, many years now.

Note to others: Grävling == badger in Swedish
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Cogentesque wrote:
Mr Lawrence. - You are right, it is not a default responsibility - but in making a game, I believe it is an implied responsibility in as much as I am pretty sure you wouldn't be doing any marketing for Age of Steam Expansion: Sun / London. But yet you are answering rules questions 6 years after its release. I agree with you in that you could argue this is not called "marketing", but it definitely exhibits some type of care to your fans after you have released your game to the market.


There is no default or implied responsibility. As a customer/fan of a game you may like to see it, and as a designer who wants to promote you might see the value in doing it - but none of these things entails that a game designer has a responsibility (default, implicit, implied or otherwise) to provide this service to their fan-community.

In much the same way a software company has no obligation to provide you with troubleshooting and installation assistance, but so many do that such an expectation has become the norm. Even though the norm and expectation implies a responsibility on software designers to provide such after-market care, I don't think customers are warranted in expecting it nor doing I think it's a responsibility so much as a nice thing to do. Yes, after-market care has a positive impact on a companies image; but doing it is not an obligation (unless you have a contract that says otherwise).

Note: I apologize if it seems like I am taking the term "responsibility" too seriously, but as someone who works (occasionally) in ethics it is a term I can't take lightly, nor do I think anyone should take it lightly. A responsibility, of any sort, is a big deal to levy onto someone.
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J C Lawrence
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Cogentesque wrote:
Mr Lawrence. - You are right, it is not a default responsibility - but in making a game, I believe it is an implied responsibility in as much as I am pretty sure you wouldn't be doing any marketing for Age of Steam Expansion: Sun / London. But yet you are answering rules questions 6 years after its release.


You are confusing cause and correlation. The reason I continue to answer rules questions has little to do with any implied or explicit responsibility toward the game's players and a lot to do with the hope that they will either find or answer an interesting question in the game.

Quote:
I agree with you in that you could argue this is not called "marketing", but it definitely exhibits some type of care to your fans after you have released your game to the market.


If I have fans, they are not encouraged by me.
 
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Adam Kazimierczak
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It's interesting that some players assume that game designers are by nature socially engaged with those that enjoy their games. While this does happen, it is not the norm by far. Inventors, artists, writers: these are all creative individuals who often live quite solitary lives (at least in regards to their creative process-- they may be gregarious in their family/social lives). Maybe it's that playing games is social unlike reading a book, so the assumption is that game designers are somehow all avid gamers with huge social gaming networks.

In contrast many nascent game designers protectively hold on to their designs and are afraid of outside critique and theft of their ideas. Sure, established designers work through these irrational fears, but these aren't team builders and social magnates by nature.

Ahem. Getting back on topic...

The idea of continued responsibility to fans is wholly fan created. Many game designers want to leave old projects behind to work on new ones, and trust that the game will speak for itself and evolve once it is out of its growing pains. I would no more want to micromanage a game I created 8 years ago than run my daughter's life for her when she has a job, 1.5 kids and a house.

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Sam Mercer
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I like your analogy with running your daughters life Adam, in continuing with the theme mind, would you not say you have an implied responsibility to answer her questions if she asks you in 10 years time?
"Hey Dad, just thought I would ask for your help to ..." Of course you could take the approach that it's her life now and what she does is no concern of yours, but you could also take the approach where you would help her out as best you could.
I agree no one need micromanage their fans or games, but if someone asks you a rules question 2 years after release and you answer them - I would put you in a more positive class of game designer than one that simply dismisses or ignores any such communication.
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Adam Kazimierczak
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Agreed, providing rule clarifications, extra content and a generally positive community presence is a good thing. I'm just trying to get into the head of an established, successful designer like Knizia or Vlaada Chvatil who may not be hawking all of their respective game forums. Of course a first time parent does a fair amount of nurturing and hovering, but after the 10th or 20th kid....
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John "Omega" Williams
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clearclaw wrote:
Cogentesque wrote:
Mr Lawrence. - You are right, it is not a default responsibility - but in making a game, I believe it is an implied responsibility in as much as I am pretty sure you wouldn't be doing any marketing for Age of Steam Expansion: Sun / London. But yet you are answering rules questions 6 years after its release.


You are confusing cause and correlation. The reason I continue to answer rules questions has little to do with any implied or explicit responsibility toward the game's players and a lot to do with the hope that they will either find or answer an interesting question in the game.

Quote:
I agree with you in that you could argue this is not called "marketing", but it definitely exhibits some type of care to your fans after you have released your game to the market.


If I have fans, they are not encouraged by me.


Theres also a downside to catering to fans.
Sometimes the designers listen to the wrong fans.

The road to game Hell is absolutely paved with games killed off because the designers listened to some negative complaint without listening to the positive. This is especially true in the PC/Console game biz. But it happens in the board and RPG gaming biz too with depressing regularity.

Gamma World, which I've had a long hand in, could be the posterchild for this.
1st & 2nd/Revised? Players liked the naming conventions. = 3rd Ed: Meriga, etc ad nausium = Players like the oddness or 1st & 2nd = 4th Ed: more goofball = Players didnt like the animal players = Alt:GW = virtually none = Players didnt like the excessive goofball = d20: GW = Serious and no animals or plant players and the whole setting jettisoned = Players REALLY didnt like the grim setting and removals = D&D:GW = Absolute goofball, total jettison of the setting, etc, ad nausium rex. and so it goes. But there are plenty other examples.

Allways keep in mind that the people complimenting, or more often bitching, are the vast minority usually.
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Laura Creighton
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John Omega Williams has nailed one of the great problems.

The fans that like things just the way things are now, and trust you to do the best thing, and that is 99.95 of them if your fan base is large enough - they will never make a request from you. And only rarely wil they get a chance to say 'please do not change things too much, keep it the same.'

It's the other 5% who will get all the attention.

These are the influnce makers, the people who buy the new, they can make you very rich, very famous, and by continuing to respect you they can make you continue to be relevant -- and when the hotness goes away can you live with being yesterday's news? Just make these changes --- some of which you wanted to do anyhow, right?

I got mail last night from people who wondered how it was that success -- which they dream of -- could kill them.

This is one way to go.
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Breno K.
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clearclaw wrote:
Cogentesque wrote:
Mr Lawrence. - You are right, it is not a default responsibility - but in making a game, I believe it is an implied responsibility in as much as I am pretty sure you wouldn't be doing any marketing for Age of Steam Expansion: Sun / London. But yet you are answering rules questions 6 years after its release.


You are confusing cause and correlation. The reason I continue to answer rules questions has little to do with any implied or explicit responsibility toward the game's players and a lot to do with the hope that they will either find or answer an interesting question in the game.

Quote:
I agree with you in that you could argue this is not called "marketing", but it definitely exhibits some type of care to your fans after you have released your game to the market.


If I have fans, they are not encouraged by me.


When JC posts about his map, it seems to me more out of interest that people play it correctly (like when he posts about Chicago Express or any other game that interests him) than out of customer service, it doesn't strike me as an effort to get more sales or customer satisfaction.

I'd even bet that he doesn't really care all that much if players like his map or not, since he knows (since games to him are math) that the design is sound and that it follows his (uncommon) interests.
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Me, personally, I want to do the aftercare part. Jay comes from a sales background, while mine is in healthcare where I try to ensure "client-centred care" is more than just a buzzword. I don't do it to try to gain fans or garner more sales. I do it because my goal is to make a good game better, even after it's been bought and paid for. And that, to me, translates into a positive gaming experience.

Can I make everyone happy? No. Should I try? No. There are some very smart people out there and there's also a lot of tunnel vision on the part of the designers when it comes to things like wording and interpretation. We've learned a ton from listening to the feedback of other gamers once the games are released into the wild, such as ideas for variants and expansions. To disregard the feedback of our clients would be missing an opportunity to improve on the NEXT design if there's nothing we can do about the current one.

I believe that one of the reasons that we had such good participation in our expansion public beta testing was due, in part, to our positive and receptive nature.


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BrenoK wrote:
clearclaw wrote:
Cogentesque wrote:
Mr Lawrence. - You are right, it is not a default responsibility - but in making a game, I believe it is an implied responsibility in as much as I am pretty sure you wouldn't be doing any marketing for Age of Steam Expansion: Sun / London. But yet you are answering rules questions 6 years after its release.


You are confusing cause and correlation. The reason I continue to answer rules questions has little to do with any implied or explicit responsibility toward the game's players and a lot to do with the hope that they will either find or answer an interesting question in the game.

Quote:
I agree with you in that you could argue this is not called "marketing", but it definitely exhibits some type of care to your fans after you have released your game to the market.


If I have fans, they are not encouraged by me.


When JC posts about his map, it seems to me more out of interest that people play it correctly (like when he posts about Chicago Express or any other game that interests him) than out of customer service, it doesn't strike me as an effort to get more sales or customer satisfaction.

I'd even bet that he doesn't really care all that much if players like his map or not, since he knows (since games to him are math) that the design is sound and that it follows his (uncommon) interests.

I'll bet he does not even care about your bets about him... but he may stop by and point out where you are wrong. goo
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J Holmes
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Compare Christian from "Merchants and Mauraders" and Ed from "Glory to Rome: Black Box Edition"

----

Your Bunny game sounds like goofy good fun from what your put in the original post.
 
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Sam Mercer
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Hah, well thanks for the thumbs up for the bunny game Mr. Holmes!
When you say: compare the two, what do you mean? Does one communicate with fans regularly and another not? I'm afraid I am unaware.
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