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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 50 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Half-Baked Games and Design Culture  (Read 20165 times)
Balbinus
Member

Posts: 290


« Reply #30 on: April 27, 2007, 03:05:55 AM »

Ack, that last para should read:

Maybe designers should talk to consumers a little more, from where I'm sitting I think that (although there are tangential issues in this thread I strongly disagree with) the core point that people are releasing incomplete games for reasons of community status is spot on.  In the long run, that could really damage your whole movement, as people will buy stuff and be disappointed and may extrapolate that disappointment to other indie rpgs undeservedly.

I did read it through before posting, but didn't pick up that it was ambiguous whether I disagreed with tangential issues or the core point.  I agree with the core point Ron and Ben and others are making, I didn't speak to the tangential issues I disagree with because they are tangential.
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AKA max
Pelgrane
Member

Posts: 125


« Reply #31 on: April 27, 2007, 03:29:05 AM »

I come from a slightly different perspective because I use a different publishing model, but I will focus here on the problems I perceive with some indie games playtesting. The most important thing to remember is that the actual play derived from the text should approximate the intentions of the designer. It should not require contact with the designer, discussions online or not with other people who have experienced actual play, nor should the game be transmissible solely by actual play. Playtesting must have an absolutely perfect focus on the nature of the play which arises purely from your text.

This does not mean, of course, that the designer should not thoroughly and informally develop play through in-house playtesting, or even online. It does mean that you should make use of playtesters who do not know anything about your game, who do not have the opportunity to discuss your game with other playtesters or read the comments of any cheerleaders. You need a well developed set of playtest questions which focus on the playtester's experience of play and not on their concerns about what might happen in circumstances which do not arise in their play. Examples of phrases to crush:

"Less experienced GMs might find..."
"I could imagine some players might feel railroaded..." (this GMs didn't)
"Players were concerned that they might run out of points" "Did they?" "No"

Once you have reworded the text to make sure your originally intended meaning carries across, or adjusted the system where it is broken, you will re-playtest. This will be both with the original playtest group, but also with a completely new generation of playtesters. You should reuse your tried and tested groups but always find new ones. Repeat this process until you are happy that people understand how to play your game from your text, even if they don't like it.

Finding such large groups of playtesters is difficult and time consuming, but I think it is an essential part of game creation.

Simon Rogers
Pelgrane Press Ltd
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Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #32 on: April 27, 2007, 04:30:29 AM »

Max, you've brough up your disagreement with my stance twice now. It's fine with me if we disagree, but you should realize that there is no regulating body that guarantees some predetermined level of intelligibility for gaming products. I see nothing morally wrong in writing a game that requires community participation to be intelligible. It might be culturally harmful or difficult for outsiders to navigate, but that never stopped Blizzard from selling World of Warcraft in game stores. Complaining about a game being directed towards a certain community culture is like complaining about mathematicians being jerks for not writing their textbooks in a way you can understand.

Also: I'm talking very much as a consumer when I say that Shock: has a bit of sloppy editing, but nothing that prevents me from utilizing it. It might be that I am a designing consumer or a consumer who doesn't mind some fiddling in his game experience, but I should imagine that that's as valid a consumer expectation as anything else. When a guy who bought The Mountain Witch from me last summer wants to buy Shock: now, I have no trouble at all selling it to him: he'll figure it out, and if he doesn't, I can point him to the right direction. I'm comfortable selling that level of product to roleplaying hobbyists, even while I strive hard to do better in my own work, so as to breach new markets and reach new people.

(By the way: linking the idea of pickpocketing with a certain discernible level of product intelligibility or playability-out-of-the-box in the rpg context is outright ridiculous, considering the spotty history of the market and tremendous swings in product quality. As a rpg consumer, the least you should expect when buying product is that you might have to do some thinking and research before you can play the game. Shock: is easier to get into playing order than almost any traditional rpg design, despite being somewhat vague compared to some other games. If Shock: is pickpocketing you because you think it's too difficult to play, I've been pickpocketed by every single rpg I bought before Dust Devils in 2004. And frankly, DD only gets the pass because I'd been educated into playing rpgs and that particular kind of rpg pretty well before I read it, so it didn't have any appreciable gaps for me at that point in time.)

Of course, it's pretty much a given that Joshua and others have not been actively trying to write games that really are only for their friends and co-practitioners, but that's what they've managed to create. Which, for me, is a matter of productizing: you make the kind of products you want. I want to make games that are playable by newbies, mainstream people, non-nerds and such, so I take exquisite care to formulate the game in a complete and clear manner. Despite that, check out any of my playtest documents: they are just like Shock:, skipping over the "obvious" (that is, obvious to me) and outlining only the pertinent rules. The crafting of form comes later, and it comes, because the kind of product I'm making requires that step. So you can clearly see that with different priorities, different phases of the process gain in priority.

Which all has nothing to do with what Ron is discussing (it might have something to do with Ben's original viewpoint, though): the proposed ashcan method and cooling-off (I think of tempering steel here, myself; just like a steel implement, you need to temper a game, perhaps multiple times, to get to the highest level of quality) are useful methods whatever your target audience, as long as you're shooting for that highest level of quality. I was just pointing out that a part of the perceived lack of quality pretty obviously stems at least partially from different expectations as to what the product is. It might not be smart to write rough-edged community discourse products and pass them off in the general market, but then, they do it in certain poetry scenes, so I don't know that it's completely without precedence. I definitely know people who's career pretty much consists of forcing the audience to make the effort buy-in if they want to be part of the scene. One might say that Gary Gygax is one of those. Might be completely sensible for a certain set of priorities.
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Balbinus
Member

Posts: 290


« Reply #33 on: April 27, 2007, 05:25:27 AM »

Max, you've brough up your disagreement with my stance twice now. It's fine with me if we disagree, but you should realize that there is no regulating body that guarantees some predetermined level of intelligibility for gaming products. I see nothing morally wrong in writing a game that requires community participation to be intelligible. It might be culturally harmful or difficult for outsiders to navigate, but that never stopped Blizzard from selling World of Warcraft in game stores. Complaining about a game being directed towards a certain community culture is like complaining about mathematicians being jerks for not writing their textbooks in a way you can understand.

I don't think the mathematicians analogy holds Eero, because specialised texts of that nature are marketed as what they are.  I also don't think you're correct that these games are written for a certain community culture.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with writing a game that requires community participation to be intelligible, if that's your intent and you tell people that's what you're doing.  But I think if you do that there is something wrong with then marketing that game outside that community without indicating that you need to be part of that community to get it.  At that point, your marketing is misleading.  That's hardly unusual in the world, we don't need to go to poetry circles to find examples of misleading marketing, but nor is it particularly laudable.

But to be honest, this idea of yours that these games are intended to be played by a small circle of like minded designers, I don't think that's true.  If you posit that, then we have misselling but not misdesign, but I don't see anything beyond your assertion which supports the idea that these games are not intended to be playable rpgs outside of a very limited social circle.  Also, I think you're missing the point that most of the complaints are from within the community anyway, not from outside it.  Hell, those outside aren't buying that much, and I think this issue may be part of why they aren't (though a small part in my view).

You say they are directed towards a particular community culture, but the marketing of the games does not support that, the threads promoting them at various internet fora do not support that and to be honest conversations I've had with the designers and members of the community don't support that.  I think these games are intended to be played, and that part of the current design process is hampering that intent being achieved.

My understanding is that the ultimate point of this debate is to help people produce the games they want to produce, games that are capable of being played as intended and that give the results in actual play that the designer intended for them.  If the game cannot be understood as written, then that isn't happening and that's a problem.  It's a problem apart from anything else for the designer, who has had their intent substantially frustrated.

I have no view incidentally on Gygax or his practices, I'm not especially sure what the relevance of that is.  If the point is that others have behaved similarly in the past, I don't see anybody denying that.

I won't be posting to this thread again until Ron or Ben have added more, I don't want to go into tangents without realising it and would prefer to wait to see if what I'm saying is sufficiently relevant to their core points to merit continuing with.
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AKA max
Ben Lehman
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« Reply #34 on: April 27, 2007, 05:37:58 AM »

This thread has, at this point, been totally derailed from my original purpose (what can we change about our culture to make fast-release less rewarding).

I'm done with it.
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jdrakeh
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Posts: 120


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« Reply #35 on: April 27, 2007, 04:43:57 PM »

I'm going to put this thread on a specific track now.

Apparently, what many of the second generation of the Forge community has missed, was that nearly the entire first generation utilized the ashcan process.

Sorcerer was sold as an electronic file from late 1996 through early 2001. InSpectres was a free download, then a PDF, for years. The process varied in terms of publicity/access and in terms of commerce, but it was a staple feature. You can go through all the independent games which made the big splash between 2001 and 2004, and you can see this done, over and over. We all used the ashcan process.

You see, it's not just about editing and presentation, and it's certainly not just about "playtesting." This is where you're missing the point, Eero, and Remi as well. It's more than just playtesting and getting feedback. It's letting the game be itself for a while, but also subject to criticism and use. It's letting go of it for a while, and recognizing that one may or may not develop it further later. It's letting the game as a project recede from your current attention. You play it, others play it, and information accumulates. You do not plan to get it published further for a while. Then you return later and really bring your own attention and all the information that's accumulated back upon it as a project, in full knowledge that you might decide not to. You look at it and decide now what to do with it.

There is a really terrible, destructive assumption that many people seem to have brought to the independent publishing process - that you settle upon publishing a game, and once you do, well, you get that game published no matter what. This is distinct from the admirable creative and even commercial determination to publish one's work - why? Because it throws out the crucial variable of judgment.

At some time, one must look at one's game, no matter how much work and sweat and whatever has gone into it, and say, "is this good enough?" And even more important, even if it is very good, "do I actually want to take this into a more aggressive marketing model?" which is to say, a book format.

If you don't accept that the answers to these questions may well be "no," then you're throwing the key role of judgment - your judgment - out the window. Sometimes, that turns out to be OK because your answer would have been "yes" anyway - that's the situation for Kevin Allen and Primitve, in my unconstructed opinion. In the case of Perfect or Carry, it means the book ended up having small gaps or flaws that made it a wee bit harder to use, but the book can indeed be used and the game itself is solid. In the case of Shock, it means the book is completely inadequate to the task of explaining the existing game. In the case of Mortal Coil, it means that the book is sufficient to explain the game, but the game does not function well.

Yeah, I'm naming names. I'm going to be doing that a lot soon, specifically in reference to actual play. Why? Because when you publish Shock or Mortal Coil, you pick the customer's pocket. You just do. It's bad business. Never mind how it affects me or Adept Press publishing; you owe me nothing. But as I hope to show with my actual play account of Shock, it's a disaster for glyphpress.

Shock as a game is the only science fiction RPG ever published. It's innovative, fun, and powerful. Shock as a book is an ashcan, despite its physical design. It should have been presented as an ashcan, under whatever business model, and treated by you, Joshua, as an ashcan, as I describe above. With that key and undetermined-length time period of plain old setting it aside for play and letting it recede from attention as a project. You didn't. And it just so happens that unlike (say) Perfect, the primary flaw of this particular draft/ashcan is that it fails 100% actually to explain how to set up play. By not doing so, we bought an unusable book and you picked our pockets. That is the only reason why Shock is not being played by dozens and dozens of groups worldwide, and garnering the accolades and financial success that the (invisible) game deserves.

It is stupidity. It is arrogance. It is shooting for the quick buck. It is piggybacking on the work of others. It is intellectual laziness. It mistakes effor tfor achievement and social accolades for confirmation. It is the beta level of the independent RPG phenomenon, and it's time to identify the exact reason and to call out the main examples.

I'll be writing a lot more on all of this. I strongly suggest that you, the reader, save whatever fulminations and defensive cries and basic internet bullshit for your blogs and other websites. Here, I will not be fucking around, and I expect critical self-reflection from all participants.

What it comes down to is creative, intellectual, and social honesty. I've been watching the level drop steadily for about three years.

Remi, I have a suggestion for you - review the play-history of the Durham Three and your podcasting. How honest is it? When you say, "it was awesome!", was it? When you say, "we had fun!", did you? Before weighing in as a playtester, you need to reflect on what you guys were doing at the table, and how you presented it publicly.

Best, Ron


A long quote, I know, but I'm so fucking happy that others seems to finally be on the same page as me. Of course, I've been there for about three years now and received some serious hate along the way from those who were still trying to catch up (not you, Ron). Now that I'm not the only person who sees these problems and has the conviction to speak about them publically, maybe some change will actually take place. For starters. . .

Just because your buddy designs a game, doesn't mean you need to plug it repeatedly as the bestest thing ever. For god's sake, if it's crap, be a buddy and tell your friend the truth. Don't waste your buddy's time by hepling them publish half-baked crap. Don't waste your own time promoting it. Don't waste the consumer's money. It hurts everybody, at the end of the day. What the indie publishing cirlce needs is a bit more willingness to be honest with other members.

If somebody's game sucks, please for the love of god, let them know about it. They might not be your buddy after that, but at least they'll be refining a game that shouldn't be published as-is.
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Sincerely,
James D. Hargrove
Levi Kornelsen
Member

Posts: 210


« Reply #36 on: April 27, 2007, 11:58:48 PM »

*delurks*

If somebody's game sucks, please for the love of god, let them know about it. They might not be your buddy after that, but at least they'll be refining a game that shouldn't be published as-is.

In a perfect culture of design, your buddy already knows that when you try his game, you are going to first, tell him what you see as the good thing the game does or could do.  And then, you're going to tell him where he does and does *not* meet that goal.  Your buddy would feel betrayed if he ever discovered that you saw, and chose not to point out, clear flaws, in order to make him feel good.

*relurks*
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jdrakeh
Member

Posts: 120


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« Reply #37 on: April 28, 2007, 02:24:06 AM »

In a perfect culture of design, your buddy already knows that when you try his game, you are going to first, tell him what you see as the good thing the game does or could do.  And then, you're going to tell him where he does and does *not* meet that goal.  Your buddy would feel betrayed if he ever discovered that you saw, and chose not to point out, clear flaws, in order to make him feel good.

Oh, I agree completely. I have, however, seen people involved with small-press publishing go out of their way to hype a friend's game or encourage its production only to later admit (usually in private email or forum PM) that they didn't do so because the game was good or deserving, but because they thought that they owed as much to their friend/the movement/etc. This is how bad games happen.
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Sincerely,
James D. Hargrove
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
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« Reply #38 on: April 28, 2007, 05:42:10 AM »

This thread is for people for want to help solve this issue and no one else.

Max and Eero, you are being a pain in my ass. Take it to private email.

Max and Levi, you two are particularly good at following the Forge discussions and nursing grudges about the community (or tolerating them and validating them elsewhere), then jumping in as soon as it looks like you have a chance to complain. I'll tell you now: if you had a beef or comments about any of this, you should have brought it up on your own, on your own two feet, not sidling in when it seems safe. As is, you're merely taking the opportunity to throw stones.

You want to be heard here for real? Post the fuck in Actual Play.

Justin, it seems as if we are agreeing pretty well, along with Jeff and others. What I don't know is whether Ben agrees, or if I, especially, have drifted his thread. We'll wait for Ben.

Best, Ron
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Levi Kornelsen
Member

Posts: 210


« Reply #39 on: April 28, 2007, 07:57:35 AM »

As is, you're merely taking the opportunity to throw stones.

You want to be heard here for real? Post the fuck in Actual Play.

Hm.  You're right, I am.

Okay.
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James_Nostack
Member

Posts: 642


« Reply #40 on: April 28, 2007, 01:11:03 PM »

Regarding Ben's initial question about changing the culture of game designI have no idea if this is a practical suggestion, because I've never been to a convention.

But would it work if there was, like, a Time of Playtest Judgment at the convention? And at GenCon, all the new games get played by newbies (preferrably, non-indie-gamin' newbies, as a good control group for someone who doesn't already know how these types of games work).  The game's designer cannot participate in this event.

And hanging out, perhaps organzing the play, is one or two of the Old Hands (for various definitions of "Old Hands"), trying out the new game and seeing how it works.  But mainly, to sort of observe how the new players cope with this game, and whether it functions for them.

Note that:
* Poor play may equate to the Old Hands dissing you: you look foolish in their sight.
* Poor play also may harm sales at the Con.
* A game that doesn't get this vetting... well, maybe it's okay, but what's the designer hiding, huh?

Like I said: I have no clue if this would work, given the realities of the Convention experience and the ego's of the people involved.  Most worrisomely, by the time the game has been rushed to GenCon it's already too late to fix it.  But on the other hand, it would be an extra incentive to make sure your game is really, really ready.

I do think that something like the ashcan or its equivalent is probably a simpler solution, but if this trial-by-fire is the alternative, maybe it will encourage people to test their games a bit more rigorously?
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--Stack
Marco
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« Reply #41 on: April 28, 2007, 07:12:27 PM »

See, the thing is, it's all well and good for me or someone else who's already got a known, published game to go like "don't rush this game out the door for GenCon, sit back and polish it!  I mean, look at me!  I've spent three years getting Bliss Stage ready."  But that's beside the point.  I don't have a lot to gain from that: I already have the social status of being a designer.  To someone who doesn't, rushing a game out is a great idea, because the quality of your game is not nearly as important as the status of being a designer.

So how do we address this problem? 
My thoughts:

Make it a personal pledge to:
1. Don't promote other people's games anywhere but Actual Play for, say, 8 mos after publication. Be extremely honest and explicit in those posts. Assume that 8mos of feedback will be enough for a v1.1 that will will improve the game (get it out of ashcan).

2. Work against special social status for game designers. Hard to do (and, maybe, painful--since it'd mean losing your own if you have any) but by doing so it'll work against publication-for-social benefit.

-Marco
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eyebeams
Member

Posts: 93


« Reply #42 on: April 29, 2007, 03:19:21 AM »

You can read my offer here:

http://eyebeams.livejournal.com/318834.html
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Malcolm Sheppard
guildofblades
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Posts: 297


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« Reply #43 on: April 29, 2007, 07:21:36 AM »

Or, if a focus on such things must exist, praise people for original design concepts, but not merely "publishing". In my own time in the hobby game industry I have seen "HUNDREDS" of small companies introduce some new RPG, miniatures game, card game, board game, etc, come and go. Most companies manage to get 2 or 3 releases out the gate before giving up.

So, for a reality check, if you've published 2 to 3 game products THAT ALONE doesn't make you anything special. The list of people who accomplished that much in a wide range of "almost" achieved something good there to "spectacular failure" is very long indeed.

As designers of games, reward innovation. Absolutely. The designer in all of us can appreciate something cool and original. But I don't need to see something "published" to appreciate that. Unless by published people mean they've posted their innovation up on the web for free or shared a photo copy of it with me. I mean, I would need access to it in some form to even know it existed.

Bit to me, the kudos for publishing don't come in until such a time that you've accomplished something extraordinary. That means massive fiscal success, the development of a rabid fan base, a change in culture shift or a change on the design of games or some other major, profound, impact. And just for the record, 99% of games don't achieve that.

Me, personally, I'll give a nod of respect to anyone who can grow and manage a successful company in this industry, but that's just because I am come to appreciate the difficulties of the task.

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
http://www.guildofblades.com
http://www.1483online.com
http://www.thermopylae-online.com
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Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
http://www.guildofblades.com
Thunder_God
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Still Here.


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« Reply #44 on: April 29, 2007, 08:18:56 AM »

Hm.

I think that's the thing Ryan.

The way to get noticed is very often to get published. How many people hear of you when your material is there for free on the net? It's been talked about that if people don't pay for your game they add it to the list and very often forget to actually read/play it, which is why the games in the Ashcan booth have been given directives regarding their pricing.

But yes, that is the way, to acknowledge innovation and content before stage of content. And as Ron said earlier, "Published" used to mean even those of us with free content up, including beta-test level content.
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Guy Shalev.

Cranium Rats Central, looking for playtesters for my various games.
CSI Games, my RPG Blog and Project. Last Updated on: January 29th 2010
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