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Subject: Problems with the Tabletop Gaming Industry (#1,#2,#3) rss

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Noble Valerian
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Edit:

A post about some of the problems I see in the tabletop game industry. Link to the original post and copy and pasted after the link, if you want to read it here:

http://www.noblevalerian.com/1/post/2013/06/problems-with-th...

Edit: Fixed some punctuation.

***
Did he say “problems”? Umm... yeah. I think there are quite a few, and I am happy to describe what I think they are.

Let me start by defining “problem”. A problem is any matter involving doubt, uncertainty, or difficulty. So, this article is about what kind of things instill doubt and uncertainty in me regarding the tabletop game industry and what kinds of difficulties exist for those wanting to make a career in the industry.

I think I have established that I see a need for change. So, what's next? Well, I have a simple plan: Work hard and make it happen.

Yep. That's it.

Have you heard the sayings, “The devil is in the details” or “Easier said than done”? Sure, it won't be easy and I certainly will struggle to do it alone. I think one of the most important parts of solving a problem is understanding the problem. So, I am going to describe the problem as I see it and offer a possible solution.

Problem #1

Semantics. Semantics are the meaning, or interpretation of the meaning, of words and phrases. What does this have to do with the tabletop industry? Well, the way the industry functions is archaic. More than that, it's antiquated... as in old-fashioned... as in obsolete. What you expect from a game publisher presently is quite a lot more than what a publisher offers definitively. What you imagine a game designer does is likely significantly less than what a game designer actually does.

Why does this matter? It matters a lot, because it means even within the industry, we are not all on the same page. Right now the common expectation seems to be that publishers are responsible for getting a game play tested, getting the art commissioned, finding manufacturing and distribution, and marketing. Is it wrong for publishers to take on those responsibilities? I don't think so. In fact, it's a pretty good idea for a publisher to provide more services and gain an edge over their competitors. Are all of those things publisher responsibilities? No. That clean, that flat, and that straightforward. Nope.

If you market your game, are you now a publisher? No. If you research manufacturing possibilities, are you a publisher? Nope. If you do the art for your game, are you a publisher? No again. If you sell the game through your own website, you must then be a publisher, right? *Sigh* No. Okay fine, but a designer only thinks of the initial idea, so if you develop that idea into a functional product, that makes you a publisher, doesn't it? Umm... No.

You got me. What is a publisher? A publisher is a person or company whose business is publishing. If it is your intention to operate a business for the sole purpose of selling or distributing printed or otherwise reproduced textual and/or graphic material, or computer software to the public, then you are a publisher. Now, that is by definition. By definition, a publisher is kind of a retailer for a specific kind of product.

It gets better. To design is to form or conceive in the mind a concept or a plan. A designer is someone who creates and/or executes a design. To develop is to bring something to a more refined or evolved state, or to grow an idea/concept. A developer is the person (or thing) that develops. If you make games or know someone who makes games, then you can probably verify that person tends to do both of those things. So, is designer the best title for someone who makes games, especially when most game designers tend to develop their games long before approaching a publisher? I guess we should start calling ourselves designers/developers. Well, I can do you one better. To create is to cause to come into being and/or to evolve from one's own thoughts or imagination. That wraps those two things together pretty nicely, doesn't it?

It's more than that, though. Within the industry I do not see a clear standard for where a game falls. Sure, with innovation there is a lot of crossover and games can blur the line between categories. Still, there needs to be a standard. One prominent force in the industry calls something a theme, while another prominent entity describes what you previously thought was a theme as a genre, and yet another calls it a setting, and still another calls it a category... well, you get the idea.

To solve Problem #1, I think we should recognize publishers for what they are intended to do, regardless of the additional responsibilities they choose to take on. I think it would also help if we as “Game Designers”, who also develop our games, acknowledged ourselves and each other more accurately as “Game Creators”. And finally, I think an entity should be formed, supported by the industry in both the US and Europe, to establish a clearly defined standard of classification (or Taxonomy, if you prefer) for tabletop games. I am talking about the W3C of the tabletop gaming industry. As far as I know, this does not exist.

Problem #2

People out for only themselves. This was, and is, incredibly common in the art community. Art is also a difficult industry to compete in. So, how many people do you think are reaching out to help their fellow artists? Especially considering those fellow artists are essentially competition? Please don't insult me by suggesting this isn't a prominent theme in game design. I have heard countless interviews about the “process” of developing a tabletop game that results, almost verbatim, in a comment like, “Well, I can't/won't/don't want to go in to too much detail, but...”. Are there helpful designers in the community? Of course. Are there helpful publishers out there? Probably. In my opinion, there is mostly a lot of “positive vibes” with very little information being shared. I think, at it's source, Problem #2 is a result of Problem #3.

Problem #3

Fear. Oh yeah. Like scared little kitty cats launched, like lightning, into the sky. It is a tough market right now and that is scary. You know what, there is no shame in that. There is this misconception that someone who is brave has no fear. I don't believe that. If you are not being challenged and fearing the possibility of failure, then there is nothing to confront. Confronting those fears and challenges is how you show courage. I think we can solve Problem #2 by solving Problem #3. Face your fear. Share that information you are holding on so tightly to. I firmly believe knowledge is power. Share the power! In my experience, taking that extra [scary] step forward to help someone is so much more rewarding than looking over your shoulder. If nothing else, it's a nice distraction.

If, for whatever reason, you don't want to broadcast the specifics of your deals with publishers, that's fine. If you aren't comfortable telling a bunch of people about new game mechanics for the project you are working on, that's fine. If you don't want to publicly share the number of sales you have had as an indie game creator, that's fine. At some point though, someone will reach out to you, anxious and excited about being a game creator. They are gonna want to know these things. At some point, stop looking at every other designer as your competition and open up.

And I will say, I have no intention of leading you to believe I am not guilty of these things.

I wish I could say I was wrapping this up, but it's just not true. However, for a single post, this is something else! I will post again soon with some more problems and some proposals for getting things moving.
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mike
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#2 and #3 pretty much apply to any business that develops products and that's really not limited to the Toy and Game Industry.

Is #1 really that big an issue? Look at other creative fields such as the film industry where an Actor might be an Actor in one film a writer for another or even a director or producer at some point during their career and in some cases they might have multiple roles in the same Film, look at Kevin Smith or Ben Affleck
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Curt Carpenter
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Pentegarn76 wrote:
NobleValerian wrote:
A bit too long for BGG I think


Nah, I've seen longer posts than that before

It was a euphemism for "I'd prefer to drive traffic to my site".
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Noble Valerian
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It was a euphemism for "I'd prefer to drive traffic to my site".


Thank you Curt for recognizing my needs
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Jarrett Dunn
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80sgamer wrote:
#2 and #3 pretty much apply to any business that develops products and that's really not limited to the Toy and Game Industry.


What do you mean any business that develops products? how about any major business at all, and most of their employees. Why do you think most places I work documentation is lackluster? Simple, because if you don't share the information they think that makes them irreplaceable. Countless are the times I've seen people leave a company only to be hired back at a higher rate or as a contractor, for however limited a time, because parts of the company couldn't function without them. If people see an easy way to protect their livelihood by simply not passing on the info they are going to do it. And it is going to take an act of God to get that to change given how many times people have been screwed in the past (i.e. Edison taking many of Tesla's patents and registering them as his own when they both worked for Westinghouse, Morse taking Vale's idea for the telegraph system and patenting it and keeping all the profits for himself, etc.).

The issue is not a problem with the board game world (to address the OP), the issue is with society as a whole and most people's desire not to be screwed.

Quote:
Is #1 really that big an issue? Look at other creative fields such as the film industry where an Actor might be an Actor in one film a writer for another or even a director or producer at some point during their career and in some cases they might have multiple roles in the same Film, look at Kevin Smith or Ben Affleck


Agree with this, don't see where the issue is, and people can be multiple things. I.e. FFG is both a publisher and Design house, those people who design their own games, do a kickstarter and have them published themselves are likewise both the publisher and designer (with the printshop being whatever firm they hire to actually manufacture it). Don't see where the issue lies.
 
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Noble Valerian
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Agree with this, don't see where the issue is, and people can be multiple things. I.e. FFG is both a publisher and Design house, those people who design their own games, do a kickstarter and have them published themselves are likewise both the publisher and designer (with the printshop being whatever firm they hire to actually manufacture it). Don't see where the issue lies.


Quote:
Why does this matter? It matters a lot, because it means even within the industry, we are not all on the same page.


In the last topic I posted about, semantics were a large issue because the publisher advocates significantly downplayed the role of a game designer. I don't suggest anywhere in my post that it is not acceptable to wear many hats, but it is important to understand where the responsibilities lie and inaccurate labels can be misleading and confusing.
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Curt Carpenter
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I couldn't make it past (or even to the end of) #1:
Quote:
What is a publisher? A publisher is a person or company whose business is publishing. If it is your intention to operate a business for the sole purpose of selling or distributing printed or otherwise reproduced textual and/or graphic material, or computer software to the public, then you are a publisher. Now, that is by definition. By definition, a publisher is kind of a retailer for a specific kind of product.

That's a bizarre definition of publisher, and one that apparently only you use. Words lose meaning when people don't attach the same meaning to them. Do book or software publishers only print and distribute media? No. DO they care about the quality of the product and directly work with the creators of the works they publish to make the product the best it can be? Of course. It seems like you are going out on a limb to change the definition of publisher.

Ok, I lied. I did finish #1 just to see where this was going. I don't understand the problem. Many publishers explicitly use developers, and even call them out in credits. And vocabulary problems for theme vs genre vs setting? Seriously? You also assert that game designers are game developers, but as I mentioned above, that's often not the case. And I would argue optimally not the case.
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Jarrett Dunn
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NobleValerian wrote:
Quote:
Agree with this, don't see where the issue is, and people can be multiple things. I.e. FFG is both a publisher and Design house, those people who design their own games, do a kickstarter and have them published themselves are likewise both the publisher and designer (with the printshop being whatever firm they hire to actually manufacture it). Don't see where the issue lies.


Quote:
Why does this matter? It matters a lot, because it means even within the industry, we are not all on the same page.


In the last topic I posted about, semantics were a large issue because the publisher advocates significantly downplayed the role of a game designer. I don't suggest anywhere in my post that it is not acceptable to wear many hats, but it is important to understand where the responsibilities lie and inaccurate labels can be misleading and confusing.


::shrug:: I don't see the issue, welcome to business. In my field the business line downplays the role of the IT group (because IT after all is just a cost center, not a profit center), the IT group downplays the business analysts (because obviously IT has to tell them everything they need to do as the BAs aren't smart enough to do it themselves), the executives downplay everyone else as it was obviously their decisions in the first place that made the company successful, etc.... That's not a semantics or even industry specific issue. That's a business and human issue and it doesn't matter if you work in making board games, video games, the energy sector, the financial sector, or where ever. It IS going to exist regardless as everyone wants the biggest piece of pie they can get.
 
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Edward Uhler
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The font & italics are horrible on the eyes. No thanks.
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Matt Brown
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Pentegarn76 wrote:
NobleValerian wrote:
A bit too long for BGG I think


Nah, I've seen longer posts than that before


I've seen longer reads for game setups in rulebooks.
 
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If I ever wanted someone to write a vague and unclear article about how vague and unclear the boardgame industry is, I now know where to turn. If any of those are amongst the biggest issues with it, then it must be in good shape.

I'd say this was more to do with problems for people trying to break into the boardgame industry than problems with the industry itself.
Oh, and you are missing a few question marks.
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Ralph T
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Hi NobleValerian, you appear to be missing out on the modern board game design play experience. Some are pretty mind blowing.
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Noble Valerian
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Hi NobleValerian, you appear to be missing out on the modern board game design play experience. Some are pretty mind blowing.


How do you mean?
 
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You do not work in the actual industry, do you?
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Ralph T
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NobleValerian wrote:
Quote:
Hi NobleValerian, you appear to be missing out on the modern board game design play experience. Some are pretty mind blowing.


How do you mean?


Here there are few people are scared to share their designs or mechanics. There's quite an open community about collaborating with input on game design on BGG. Perhaps it is because so many gamers have immense experience, playing hundreds of top notch games of European and American design.
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Noble Valerian
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Here there are few people are scared to share their designs or mechanics. There's quite an open community about collaborating with input on game design on BGG. Perhaps it is because so many gamers have immense experience, playing hundreds of top notch games of European and American design.


I play a lot of games but it certainly sounds like I am missing out on this collaborative, open design experience. Though, I certainly wouldn't limit the issue to the design and development of games.
 
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Ralph T
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The Board Game Design forum never ceases to amaze how many clever ideas people can come up with if just to make a print and play game that is given away to everyone.
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Adam Kazimierczak
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Whenever someone says the number one problem in a industry involves semantics, one has to wonder what's the big deal?



I don't see the crisis in calling a theme a genre or setting. As for the rest, nobody said boardgamers or board game creators were a homogenous bunch. The diversity and passion in boardgaming today is exactly why the industry is doing so well.
 
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Michael Carter
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Quote:

Problem #2

People out for only themselves. This was, and is, incredibly common in the art community. Art is also a difficult industry to compete in. So, how many people do you think are reaching out to help their fellow artists? Especially considering those fellow artists are essentially competition? Please don't insult me by suggesting this isn't a prominent theme in game design. I have heard countless interviews about the “process” of developing a tabletop game that results, almost verbatim, in a comment like, “Well, I can't/won't/don't want to go in to too much detail, but...”. Are there helpful designers in the community? Of course. Are there helpful publishers out there? Probably. In my opinion, there is mostly a lot of “positive vibes” with very little information being shared. I think, at it's source, Problem #2 is a result of Problem #3.


So I'm not sure in what context you are using the “Well, I can't/won't/don't want to go into too much detail, but...” answer. What is the hypothetical question being asked? I'm not sure how the relationship between a designer and a publisher is, but in the video game world there are non-disclosure agreements in which the employees doing interviews aren't allowed to talk about certain features. This is usually due to the marketing team wanting to slowly release information building up to the official unveiling so that they can build hype. I haven't been paying attention to board games long enough to know if that is how it works here, but in the video game world it is just as much about marketing as it is about keeping secrets.
 
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Please name a board game designer that you know of that only comes up with the initial idea, and then leaves the publisher to do all the remaining development work.

I bring this up because you keep mentioning this in your posts, but I don't think this is actually the case in the board game community.
 
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Noble Valerian
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Slyght wrote:
Please name a board game designer that you know of that only comes up with the initial idea, and then leaves the publisher to do all the remaining development work.

I bring this up because you keep mentioning this in your posts, but I don't think this is actually the case in the board game community.


If that's directed at me, you aren't reading the post correctly. My point is that game designers do a lot more than just come up with ideas. And that notion was from other posters on BGG on another thread. There is no doubt in my mind, at all, that this is not the case.
 
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2010 Releases ........................................ The Resistance, Haggis & Triumvirate ..................................... Now accepting submissions for 2011 releases ........................................ www.IndieBoardsandCards.com
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Everything is different, but the same... things are more moderner than before... bigger, and yet smaller... it's computers... San Dimas High School football rules.
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Noble Valerian
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T Worthington wrote:
Everything is different, but the same... things are more moderner than before... bigger, and yet smaller... it's computers... San Dimas High School football rules.



Hello 1989!
 
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Point one talks about semantics well
Quote:
tabletop game industry
surely means the little plastic soldier games that you push around on top a table, rather than the meaning you seem to suggest which, I at least, would call board gaming.
 
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Noble Valerian
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exparrot wrote:
Point one talks about semantics well
Quote:
tabletop game industry
surely means the little plastic soldier games that you push around on top a table, rather than the meaning you seem to suggest which, I at least, would call board gaming.


No. I feel pretty good that "tabletop game" is a better canvas for board, card, and dice games than just "board game"
 
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