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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 62 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Half-Baked Games and Design Culture  (Read 20716 times)
Ben Lehman
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« Reply #45 on: April 29, 2007, 05:44:10 PM »

Okay, Ron has asked me personally to come in and redirect this thread, so here I am.

As far as I'm concerned, everything since Ron's second post in the thread has been a derailing, with the exception of Marco and James (thanks, guys, it means a lot to me.)  Ron's post is on-the-fence, at best, for reasons I'll get into.  (What I'd like him to do is to make a follow-up post about what he wants to be done that isn't just "I'm going to be huffy if you do this.")

First off, this thread is to talk to designers about the culture of designers.  Are you a pissed off consumer?  Great.  Go start your own thread.  I'll post in it.  You're welcome to post here if you're not a designer, but understand that you're entering a professional conversation and not an internet forum bitch-fest.

See, what I was trying to do with the thread is get people to talk about *us* and what we could change about ourselves.  What has happened is you've all moved into talking about *them* and what they could change about themselves which, understandably, is a much more popular and easier topic to talk about, because it involves no personal sacrifice.

I'm honestly not too concerned about this problem.  I think that it has been the case -- to greater or lesser degree -- that some things are published half-baked since the beginning of the Forge, the beginning of RPGs, the beginning of bound books.  The reaction to the problem, though, is worrisome to me in the extreme.  I've got two observations I want to share, which hopefully will highlight how bad I think this is.

Observation 1: Let's look at two reactions to a crisis.  The first reaction is to look at yourself, and your own community, and what you can change about it to make things better.  The second reaction is to find a community that you don't wield enough influence in to make a change, tell them that they need to change or everything will be horrible, watch as everything continues to be horrible, then smugly retire to your mountaintop, content that you did the best you could and if those fools had listened to you everything will be fine.

I feel like the "blame the blogosphere, blame Story Games" crowd are doing exactly the second.  This is *regardless* of any truth value of their claims about whatever culture they perceive and its impact (which I think are also pretty tenuous.)  The simple fact of the matter is that we have to change our culture, here, in solid ways, to get any results.

I'm happy to have a conversation about "them" rather than "us" but it will not happen in this thread.

Observation 2: If we have this situation.  "Here is a suitcase with $10,000 in it.  If you pick it up, it's yours to keep, but we'll all glare at you."  I expect that most people will pick up the briefcase and keep the money.  I don't think that's an unreasonable expectation, and I think that's equivalent to what all of you have been doing.  "Be a good boy and don't rush out a game, please?" is going to be a frighteningly ineffective disincentive.

If blaming others and reminiscing about the good old days is our community's reaction to a crisis, we're dead in the water.  Let's not be dead in the water.

yrs--
--Ben
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guildofblades
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« Reply #46 on: April 29, 2007, 06:48:44 PM »

Hi Ben,

I guess for me, I don't see too much of a problem. Its a publishing strategy and one of choice and people make that choice is being made both by indie designers and multi million dollar corporations. You can not and will not be able to affect a change in this reality so long as the fiscal pressures remain that force some companies to decide to move a project along a little faster than might otherwise be ideal.

For the record, our own company hardly ever does conventions, does not use distributors and does not begin marketing a title until the first set has been printed and is sitting in our warehouse. Our primary marketing strategy continues to be on brands and core, existing products for those brands. New releases are usually just a short term outreach to grab the attention of a specific focus group. As such our company has no outside driving forces to push a project along and the only internal one is the desire to be done with it and to move onto the next interesting task. As such I'll post our own internal development process and let you guys pick it apart, if you care to. And you can post why or why not you see this process as a part of the problem you have raised.

1) Game concept. The very first stage of development is that initial inspiration that lends us the game concept. At this stage its merely a desire to do a game based on a them, topic, period, etc. The idea is presented at the next company meeting and if no good reason can be seen why it shouldn't be pursued, it gets the green light.

2) Stage two is the creator decides if any of our existing game engines will be suitable and if so, how it will become a part of the brand. How the game system must be tweaked to make it fit to the topic or theme on hand is figured. If its going to require an all new game system, then the creator has the freedom to pursue whatever system design they feel will work for the game.

3) The system requirements and design elements. ala, all the primary features of the game are presented. Unless anyone in house can poke a hole in the game system, concept on how the game will be played, it continues onward. This is usually the stage where others in the company will offer suggestions on how aspects can be improved. The designer has the go ahead to chose to implement them or not. If there is a potential big flaw, it gets addressed more rigorously.

4) The game system gets its production estimate established. This mean, we determine the size of the game, the components it will use, its artwork and design requirements, and come up with the production guide. Unless otherwise impossible, the game will fit to these design specs. Some aspects like the addition of another game chart, bigger page count for rules, etc, remain flexible and not fixed in stone. Basically, we're just pegging down the costly elements of production to arrive at a close estimate on production costs and establishing a benchmark on MSRP, box size, etc. If outside artwork needs to be commissioned that happens now.

5) The designer finishes up the rules and makes drafts on other game play elements. Game boards, character sheets, charts, etc. Anything that will be needed to complete the game enough for it to be played. Artwork doesn't need to be completed and game boards, rules can be close drafts. It just needs to be playable.

6) Game goes out to our two play tests groups. They play it and tell us what is unclear in the rules or if they find any bugs or exploits in the game rules.

7) Input for our play test groups is brought back and tweaks are made. Artwork and design elements from the folks doing those are rounded up and final layouts begin. Different elements of the product begin getting printed as they are done with the design phase.

Cool Once all the elements have been designed and printed, then we schedule an assembly period and only then schedule a marketing roll-out. The game gets officially published.

If a game has problems in stage 2 its not forced out of stage two.

If a game can't have its production elements figured out so that it can be profitably published, then the game never makes it out of stage 4. And it will stay at that stage until such a time that publishing options expand to allow to make it possible. I have one game design that has sat at this stage for 12 years.

If a game gets murdered in the play test stage then after changes are made it might go to the "other" play test group. If the changes are small, no new testing is done.

If the products gets past all those stages, we're going to publish it. After its been out on the market we take the feedback we get then, eventually, if sales warrant, we upgrade on the next edition. Most games we've published have needed some changes on the move to a new edition. Some have been minor. Some have had zero rules changes but received cosmetic upgrades as our publishing capabilities have improved. A few I wonder how they ever made it through play testing with the errors they had and required major changes.

If your question is what social or fiscal pressures could be brought to us to make sure we spend an extra X amount of time refining each game prior to publication, then I really know nothing that would. If we spent a great deal more time on the creation of each game then publishing model would quickly begin to venture into an unprofitable zone. And I believe that to be true for most game publishing companies. I don't think the question is what would force us to do what you suggest. I think the question should be, what would double or triple sales to afford companies to lavish that sort of time on each design.

If your question is purely targeted on first time designers, then I'll shut up because I haven't been that for a long time and am likely not qualified to offer input.

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
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #47 on: April 29, 2007, 08:09:21 PM »

Hi there,

Ryan, although all that is interesting, I think Ben has stated extremely clearly that this thread is about something very specific. If it doesn't apply to you or for you, that's great, but now's a good time to let your points wait for another thread.

So, Ben, the trouble is, you're putting pressure on me to please you with my answer. I don't know whether I can do that. Here goes with how I see it, and whether you like it or not, I don't think that's a reason for abandoning the thread, the topic, or interacting about it at the Forge.

1. The us vs. them thing, at least in my posts. It's not Forge vs. elsewhere. It's my specific community of internet dialogue from 1998-2002 or so, vs. a lot of people who came and joined that dialogue (in one way or another) afterwards. Our "us" only became separate due to "them" and their perhaps inevitable response to the existing community. Ben, you're a part of that. I remember how suspicious and even resentful you were about the Forge and Forge people. That's not some judgment upon you, it's the way things were. It's point after which the default was not joining in as a pure and simple equal (which is pretty much where Vincent, suspicious as he was, came in), but joining in as a self-perceived junior member wary of being rejected or belittled.

About right now people reading this are getting really mad, I bet. Stick with me. You know sticking with me through complex points usually pays off. Breathe deep, punch a pillow, abandon all those responses you're composing even now, and hear me out.

The thing is, no one of that first generation, I suppose we can call it, ever understood that would happen, expected it in any way, or (as I see it) contributed to it happening. It really was and is totally not on my radar screen, or any number of others', whether person X has published a game. And "publishing," as I keep saying, only means making it available. The whole point is to publish like fiends at a grass-roots practitioner level and be happy about that, with further degrees of production design and marketing being an add-on.

So any sort of "them" in my post, it's arising from that history: a deep puzzlement on my or (say) Mike Holmes' part that publishing is perceived as acceptance, or as a status marker. As far as I'm concerned, any number of people completely inexplicably began putting a huge amount of pressure on themselves to publish, and not only publish, but to do so showily and dramatically. I did not like your and Tim's contest for sales in GenCon 2005. Even as a friendly bet, there was a poisonous undercurrent there. Regardless of any lack of seriousness on your or Tim's parts, others' reactions and degree of seriousness about it - and the impact on their behavior - were not trivial.

Like it or not, that's my take on why there's an "us" in my posts. But it's not all that important! What's important is this next bit.

2. Now, Clinton and I were talking this over, and here's what we wondered: does this status-having-published, social reinforcement thing actually exist? 'Cause it hasn't happened here at the Forge. Nor do we see it laid out explicitly anywhere else; I haven't seen it at Anyway, for instance. Rhetorically: was it the 20x20 Room? Someone's blog? Some clique of would-be young turks? As I say, that's rhetorical and I am not looking for an answer or discussion about it. My point is that maybe it did have a specific origin or impact, but also, and this is important, maybe it's mainly a matter of reaction rather than a phenomenon. It is not controversial to identify gamers, heavy internet users, and people in their early twenties as all extremely sensitive to perceived slights, and especially good at projecting their worries about their own selves onto others' interactions with them. Put all three of those together and you have one of the touchiest, most self-doubting, and most determinedly status-conscious profiles ever.

I see it every so often with phrases like "But what do I know, I'm not a game designer" from people like Judd (before Mu), in the middle of a discussion. To me, that's like walking down a street and having a guy jump out of a window and go splat on the sidewalk; my reaction is always, "Where the hell did that come from?" and "What the hell does that have anything to do with what we were talking about?"

The other effect besides hanging one's head in shame for not having published a game is to publish in an imitative, formulaic fashion based on the technological and social opportunities of the day. How is it done? This is how it's done! OK, I'll do it! Which is only a negative thing if that crucial step that I talked about (with its myriad of individual processes) is missed.

So here's my call: it is, just as you say, Ben, a matter of self-assessment rather than accusation. What should a person do here at the Forge? He or she should say, "No one cares if I've published a game or not," and most importantly, "I do not care whether I've published a game or not." Feel the urge? Do it! That would be cool. But it's ultimately and constantly cool to post in Actual Play, whether it's last night's session or a remembered situation from eight years ago, and game design and publishing are a subset of that coolness.

Can I make anyone do that? Of course not. All I can do is think about it as the content moderator. See, on the one hand, I'd hope to moderate anyone who belittles someone for not having published. I don't think I've ever seen that, actually, but hey, the hope is that I'd step on it. On the other hand, there's a flip-side behavior of someone sounding off when they don't have the actual weight of experience about this or that, whether from someone who's published nothing or someone who's published for years in the non-independent context. That sort of sounding-off gets moderated too, in the same way that a fan of the UFC who goes into a martial arts gym and starts honking off about the "best style" is going to be ignored, if he's lucky, and to get thrashed, if he's not. There is a kind of input which bespeaks not only ignorance, a fine thing, but determined ignorance, which is not, and which brings consequences down upon its head.

3. So what to do, more concretely? I know what I'd like to see, which cannot be a requirement or a vetting or anything else of that kind. I'd like to see more games made available in a "well, here it is, enjoy it, who knows what I'll do with it" way, and to see a whole lot of those games get played and discussed here. That's it.

I mean, that's pretty simple, right? And it doesn't really say a thing about "don't publish" or "you're not ready to publish" or even setting any kind of ladder or procedure that one must go through to publish. (See, I actually dislike a lot of the advice on this thread so far about how you have to have an editor or have to have so-many playtests or whatever. Individual processes vary, and no one's in charge of the development of the game but you. For fuck's sake, that's the whole point of the site.) All it is, is, lots of games available in non-book form and no particular commitment one way or the other to get into that form; and lots of play, and lots of dialogue and positive community stuff about the play-experiences.

Best, Ron
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Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #48 on: April 29, 2007, 08:19:04 PM »

Well, Ben, I kinda outlined my own stance on your premise ("what we can do to bad games as a community") up there near the beginning, but I think I'll repeat it here, being that it hasn't been addressed...

The art of being independent

I think that it is not up to us as a community to save a designer from his foolishness. I really like the tack Ron is taking about this, despite him derailing your thread slightly: instead of suggesting a course of action for the community, Ron wrote a rather nice piece (really, it's good; I hadn't noticed the importance of the design phase he explains there before) about what a designer can do to make his own games better. Not the community saving a foolish designer, but the designer himself being proactive, reading the Forge and perhaps picking out a bit of wise advice from this thread, like he's done before in other threads. The purpose of the Forge, you know. I like this much better than social engineering, which I don't even believe really works (although I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise). And if it doesn't work and isn't even any kind of a moral imperative, I'd rather just stay away from it.

Now, that's not to say that it's not a good idea to review our individual attitudes publicly, like we're doing here. Certainly everybody who's read this thread has had to think about how he or she has acted and perhaps influenced the phenomenon - and how we could, perhaps, act differently as individuals to encourage better design practice and less premature publishing from our peers. But that's a far cry from your premise: you started the thread with the assumption that we would need to take community action, so it's pretty natural that everybody is drifting left and right - only the folks who agree with your half-hidden premise are content to stay the course, others would much rather discuss the attentand side issues, like what causes the perceived bad game phenomenon or whether we want to be doing anything about it in the first place.

Doing nothing about bad games is not about being dead in the water or blaming others (where ever did that even come from, I wonder) either, by the by; rather, it's the stance you take when you recognize that something is not for you to change. And as long as Forge is not a school of art but an open forum, it seems to me that planning community action to discipline designers is very much not for us. I can see instruction (like Ron seems to be doing), discussion of individual action (like the folks who are promising to do better in instructing their peers in the future) or even formation of new communities (like the folks who suggest starting special writing workshops to improve the level of their design). What I can't see is wholesale reapportioning of community status which is what your first post calls for. (Might be that I'm just not visionary enough Wink I imagine that community status will change only via individual value choices, not by vote.

That being said...

In the interest of being constructive, even if I don't believe in community action, let's see if I can come up with anything better than "Ron Edwards ridicules the bad games and bans them from the Forge booth, so as to strike the fear of Ron into newbie designers". (That being the sardonic suggestion I gave near the beginning of the thread.)

If Ron's analysis for the reasons of the quality slump is correct, I'd like to suggest that the solution is very simple: we need to believe the analysis and start repeating it as advice in the form of a specific design technique (preferably with a snappy name). In other words, now that the problem is identified, solving it is as simple as making everybody aware of it. This has worked before: the whole Forge-centred community pretty much is aware of such principles of design as, say, Lumpley principle -based economy of system design, or writing imaginary play scripts to pinpoint IIEE. By the way of analogue I suggest that this issue of having a cooling-off period is a similar bit of design wisdom that simply needs to be internalized and accepted by the significant majority. If it's true it'll stick, and the problem will pretty much go away. As to why this is a problem now, specifically: our attention has mostly been focused on the early stage of design in terms of useful tools, so this just happens to be the first time that the pre-publication step has been given attention in terms of advicing others on how to do it.

Hmm... after taking a stance for doing-nothing that seems perilously similar to "this thread already solved the problem". But I fear that's the best I can do, anything else seems to go besides the point, even if there's never too many critique groups and whatnot.

--
Hmm... crossposted with Ron. Seems to be more or less in support of his point, I'd say.
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Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.
pells
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« Reply #49 on: April 30, 2007, 01:31:28 AM »

I'd like to adress the issue at hand, by presenting my feelings, my experience within this specific community, the forge, as a first time designer, who has not yet published, who hasn't yet the status of game designer. Note that this mostly my perception, and that I may be wrong in my analysis. Here, I will be talking for myself. But, first two things :
- I'm not complaining
- There is no hand waving from my part (how come I need to justify that Huh)

Since my presence on the forge, my own project has changed a lot. It has better itself. I still remember the "kick off" part of my presence here : presentation of the project, or the first thoughts/design phase. There had been a lot of interest, a lot of feedbacks, a lot of comments. But, at some points, one has to stop talking about the design : the subject needs to come to an end. But, what lies between this initial kick off and actual publishing ? A lot of playtest (AP posts), some posts in publishing, in my case.

Now, I'd like to say I consider myself lucky. Lucky, because I feel I found some people that had a continuing interest in my project, beside the initial kick off (in which, everybody likes to take part in). There are not so many, but they are there and they gave me great feedbacks. Those comments certaintly helped me better my product, but forced to add a lot of work, thus delaying the initial publishing step. And, I must admit, I feel encourage to come up with the best product possible (maybe the best example is the building of my teaser). Why do I feel encouraged ? Because I clearly see the benefit of spending more times, of adding things. It is better, it is worth it !!!

Now, for someone who is less lucky, who doesn't have those people, experienced ones, to give them feedbacks, how does it work ? How would they feel encouraged to better their product ? Strange as it is, someone could come here, have "good" comments on design with no followup. For an experienced designer, I believe things are different : they have their circle of playtesters, they know what they are doing (and in fact, as I see it, they rarely post AP about playtest, as they already have their feedbacks). When I read Ben's comments about making friends with Mikes and Vincent, I'm not surprised he doesn't especially need feedback from the forge about playtest. I mean, guys, you are lucky. It's not the case of everyone.

Speaking of initial design, I'd like to say one thing and Valamir's comment strikes me :

Quote
Over lunch on Sunday we actually compared the indie game design culture to indie cookbook culture.  Both are books designed to be used as "how to" manuals, and both get alot of buzz generation from the internet.  On one of the cook book forums its become common practice for people to respond to almost anything with "hearts, hearts, heart, cupcakes, cupcakes, cupcakes".  We looked at each other and said..."yeah, there's lots of 'hearts and cupcakes' that go on on indie RPG forums".

My project is different from what is done normally on the forge, and because I really believe in it (I may be wrong), I added things to it, but didn't change its original objective. That said, how many times have I seen new posters here at the forge, coming with a setting idea (I must admit I follow those threads with attention since this is what I'm doing) and receiving comments about making narrative mechanics instead (I see it as our cupcake), and leaving the original thread with "I'll leave the setting beside and work on some rules". Are we helping them (especially if we don't assure any follow up behind) ? Will they produce good games ? Everyone is willing to put their nose into initial design, but less are there for the "real work".

That said, I feel lucky, very lucky. Others are not. And, from my point of view, the only possible way to encourage slow release is for the designer is to see the benefit of investing more time, even at the cost of delay ...
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Troy_Costisick
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« Reply #50 on: April 30, 2007, 02:02:25 AM »

Heya,

Quote
I mean, that's pretty simple, right? And it doesn't really say a thing about "don't publish" or "you're not ready to publish" or even setting any kind of ladder or procedure that one must go through to publish. (See, I actually dislike a lot of the advice on this thread so far about how you have to have an editor or have to have so-many playtests or whatever. Individual processes vary, and no one's in charge of the development of the game but you. For fuck's sake, that's the whole point of the site.) All it is, is, lots of games available in non-book form and no particular commitment one way or the other to get into that form; and lots of play, and lots of dialogue and positive community stuff about the play-experiences.

So Ron, what you are saying is, "A designer ought to consider ways to publish that avoid Heartbreaker syndrome and avoid customer deception about the quality and completeness of his work."  Is that about right?  Using things like Ashcans and free PDFs followed by Actual Play reports on the Forge is a very beneficial growth process for RPG designers and are examples of what you are promoting.  This seems a very reasonable and non-controversial thing to me.

Ben, unless I have misread you, you are asking what the community as a whole can do, right?  Well, in my mind actions are way more powerful than words.  If people in the community are interested in changing the design culture, they need to participate in the purchacing (or downloading for free) ashcan/beta level designs, playing them, and then posting Actual Play reports about them.  The way I see it, leading by example will be much more powerful than just telling people what to do or posting a thumbs up when someone says they're publishing an ashcan.  Have I misread you?

Peace,

-Troy
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Ben Lehman
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Blissed


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« Reply #51 on: April 30, 2007, 04:09:01 AM »

Hey, Ron --

Let's talk about privileges.

I'm not talking about "social benefit" as an abstract "I'm cooler than you" sort of thing.  This isn't about *fame*.  I'm talking about actual honest-to-goodness social benefit, based on being proven a skilled designer, and having made serious face-to-face social connections at GenCon.  I don't think that the existence of this privilege is bad or anything.  It makes sense that it exists, and I think it's a positive thing -- people like to deal with people who they know to be talented and have follow-through.

The fact that Ralph can find playtesters from our community for Robots and Rapiers after diddling with it for four years is absolutely a function of the fact that he's already written Universalis.  To say otherwise seems to me to be flat-out denial.  That I can still find playtesters for Bliss Stage is a privilege given to me by virtue of Polaris, and that I could get serious help with Polaris is a function of my presence at GenCon 04.  (See my previous post on that subject.)

Until we agree that this is a thing that exists, the conversation can't go any farther.  If we don't agree, that's fine, this just isn't the conversation we should be having: let's start over in a new thread.

--

Let's talk about Us vs. Them:

I'm a little flabbergasted to get hit with the "new kid" thing.  That's not what I'm talking about at all, and I'm having trouble even understand where you read it into what I posted. 

Let me be clear: I'm talking about "us" (the Forge community, in which I include myself) versus "them" (those molly-coddlers on the blogs and at Story Games).  I'm talking about Ralph, on this thread, blaming "the blogosphere" for this problem.  I'm talking about Matt Snyder on Story Games bitching about people swapping game design ideas because "that's just dick-waving and not serious design."  I'm talking about Paul complaining that knife-fight isn't sufficiently devoted to role-playing game design.

All of these people seem to me to be concretely and totally blaming someone else for the problem.  "If only you *other people* would do things my way, we wouldn't have any problem."  I think that this is simply a mechanism against having to doubt our own way of doing things, and it needs to be disposed of violently for this thread to work.

yrs--
--Ben
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #52 on: April 30, 2007, 04:24:35 AM »

Eero --

Hrm...  I'm thinking that this is you exaggerating what I'm saying to make a rhetorical point.  You're not actually thinking that I'm calling for a vote, right?

If we view the problem simply as individual actors, I feel that that's insufficient.  Look at my metaphor with the briefcase full of cash, above.  I don't think that this problem can be solved by simply telling people "police yourselves, okay, done."  So I talk about the problem in terms of community.  That doesn't mean I think we need to set up a governing body.  What that does mean is that I think that all of us (even those of us who haven't published half-baked games) have some culpability in creating a culture where it is decidedly beneficial to release a game which isn't totally or even largely done.  We all need to look at what we can change about our own actions that will make that less beneficial.

I'm having a bit of trouble understanding why this is so controversial.  It seems trivially obvious to me.

Troy-- Actions are more powerful than words, yes.  But sometimes it does help to think critically about what actions to take, right?

Pells-- Thank you for sharing that.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #53 on: April 30, 2007, 05:06:00 AM »

Hi Ben,

1. Privileges. You wrote,

Quote
I'm talking about actual honest-to-goodness social benefit, based on being proven a skilled designer, and having made serious face-to-face social connections at GenCon. ...

The fact that Ralph can find playtesters from our community for Robots and Rapiers after diddling with it for four years is absolutely a function of the fact that he's already written Universalis. To say otherwise seems to me to be flat-out denial. That I can still find playtesters for Bliss Stage is a privilege given to me by virtue of Polaris, and that I could get serious help with Polaris is a function of my presence at GenCon 04.

We disagree that this is the case. Or perhaps it is happening, but if so, it is a new thing (i.e. past three years) and not a good thing. It is even vile.

Let's take me as counter-example. I display none of what you're talking about. I seek out new and offbeat stuff from people I do not know. I don't privilege anyone; I play games which strike my fancy. I actually prefer the spontaneous, inspired, wacky little ideas that crop up here & everywhere, which is why I ran the Ronnies in the first place. That was a roots thing, because the internet's supply of fun little ideas seemed to have dried up in favor of grandiose, status-driven projects. It's always been about finding the fun games with the good ideas, and most of the time, it's better to find them when they're still half-baked, because the general trend in RPG publishing is to fuck it up in the final stages.

And yes, more people should do this like I do it. I don't mind saying that at all. If Bob won't playtest a game unless it's validated by the author's fame, then Bob's pretty fucked-up himself and I'll tell him so. That's not how that author got famous in the first place, after all, hanging around and finding the cool kid to stand next to. He got famous because I or someone like me played his game and had a lot of fun doing it, and said so publicly. Bob ought to do like that.

What should our community be like? It should be like that from me to you to Bob to a bunch of Bobs. I think it is more like that than it's not, considering the power and fun of so many new games every year - of which this halfbaked phenomenon is only a subset. I think it should be like that all the time, though, and that we as a community need to consider that carefully.

2. Us vs. Them

I'm a little flabbergasted to get hit with the "new kid" thing. That's not what I'm talking about at all, and I'm having trouble even understand where you read it into what I posted.

That's not surprising, because I wasn't referring to anything in your post. I was referring to my own attitudes and any "us/them" going on in my head when I wrote my post, which is what you asked about. I'm telling you where I'm coming from and what any such verbiage is doing there, rightly or wrongly.

Quote
I'm talking about "us" (the Forge community, in which I include myself) versus "them" (those molly-coddlers on the blogs and at Story Games). I'm talking about Ralph, on this thread, blaming "the blogosphere" for this problem. I'm talking about Matt Snyder on Story Games bitching about people swapping game design ideas because "that's just dick-waving and not serious design." I'm talking about Paul complaining that knife-fight isn't sufficiently devoted to role-playing game design.

All of these people seem to me to be concretely and totally blaming someone else for the problem. "If only you *other people* would do things my way, we wouldn't have any problem." I think that this is simply a mechanism against having to doubt our own way of doing things, and it needs to be disposed of violently for this thread to work.

And you wanted some opinion of mine about that? Or you wanted to make some suggestion about what to do about it? Or you want me to bring up a big hammer and smash it (which I can't do on those sites and venues)? I don't know what you want. You don't like X, OK. You also don't like Y, but you don't like how X deals with or complains about Y. You've expressed yourself and made your point. People posted in a way which got up your nose, and you've said so. Great.

I mean, I do have an opinion about your opinion about their opinions. It's chock-full of disagreement and potential debate and all manner of what-I-meant clarifications, post after post. But I hate all such talk at such levels and would rather say, what do you want to do? What if Matt, Ralph, Paul, et al., had not done any such thing? What if every single person out there had said [fill in the blank, whatever you want to see]? What then would you say we need to
do - here, at the Forge, today?

Fortuitously, your next post answers:

Quote
I think that all of us (even those of us who haven't published half-baked games) have some culpability in creating a culture where it is decidedly beneficial to release a game which isn't totally or even largely done. We all need to look at what we can change about our own actions that will make that less beneficial.

Well good. I agree. And no, it's not controversial. You've actually garnered vast agreement from my and others' posts, above, some of which you've acknowledged and others not. "Yes." You're not receiving any defensive disagreement, just agreement and the occasional bit of confusion we always see in a new or difficult topic.

Best, Ron
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Marco
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« Reply #54 on: April 30, 2007, 05:46:26 AM »

We disagree that this is the case. Or perhaps it is happening, but if so, it is a new thing (i.e. past three years) and not a good thing. It is even vile.

Let's take me as counter-example. I display none of what you're talking about. I seek out new and offbeat stuff from people I do not know. I don't privilege anyone; I play games which strike my fancy. I actually prefer the spontaneous, inspired, wacky little ideas that crop up here & everywhere, which is why I ran the Ronnies in the first place. That was a roots thing, because the internet's supply of fun little ideas seemed to have dried up in favor of grandiose, status-driven projects. It's always been about finding the fun games with the good ideas, and most of the time, it's better to find them when they're still half-baked, because the general trend in RPG publishing is to fuck it up in the final stages.

I can't point to a specific post where someone is too-cool-for-thou (although, yeah, I think I've seen some) because "thou" isn't a famous game designer--but I think it's a no-brainer that, yes, this is happening. "This" in this case is:

1. The personal value of approval from successful indie publishers (and the relatively small scene) is, by itself a reason (and a bad one) to publish (or, more specifically, to rush publication). Once again, I can't get in anyone's head--but from following threads here, on blogs, Story Games, RPG.net, etc. I fail to see how it's reasonable to think otherwise.

There's a clique (or, at least, the perception of one--which is the same thing, IMO)--if you want in there's a real clear way to get in: publish your game.

2. I posit a "circle the wagons" mentality concerning indie games--games like Shock: and Agone (and I know neither of them from first hand experience) have gotten such accolades on RPG.net that I'm literally flabbergasted to see anyone here saying anything negative about them (even insofar as "ashcan release" can be said to be negative--it isn't exactly--but then, neither was 'heartbreaker').

If these two assertions are even modestly true then it creates a powerful positive feedback cycle wherein, if I publish my game, regardless of its shortcomings or published state, then I have a reasonable expectation of entry into the "indie publishing club." I might get published on one of the game compilations. I get to work the booth (selling my product) at Gen Con. It's moderately likely that in the more mainstream venues a certain segment of people (enthusiastic indie-gamers) will say great things about it--even if it's the utterly honest "I haven't read it yet--but boy do I want it--it sounds awesome").

In other words, it isn't "Take this 10K, but we'll glare at you" it's more like "Take this 10K and HEY! WELCOME TO THE CLUB ... oh, and, um, game may have some problems but most people will be kinda quiet about that."

I think the phenomena Ben is citing is extant and powerful.

And I think part of it, especially a significant piece of #2, is fueled by the UvT meme that is part of this whole endeavor. Reduce that--somehow--and you'll take away some of the reinforcement cycle that, I think, is part of the main drive-shaft for this.

-Marco
[ Note: I also think it's easier for Ben to find playtesters for the same reason it's easier for, say, Steve Jackson to find playtesters: because people who know Polaris are legitimately interested in what he'll do next. This is neither degenerate nor a problem--I'm eager to play Bliss Stage and it's certainly not a "clique worship factor"--I gotta think anyone reading this will believe me on that--but I'm not hunting out of my way for any IPR release that someone wants to playtest it ... unless I happen to be in the IRC channel when someone brings it up--then, you know, barrier-to-entry is so low it's "what the hell, I'll give anything a shot.

Also: IMO, people who want Story Games to be 'meaner' are barking up the wrong tree--it's its own place. They're sure not demanding that The Forge be 'nicer'--which, IMO, it could've stood be too.]
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #55 on: April 30, 2007, 05:55:27 AM »

Ron --

What do I want, today?

I posted this on the first page of this thread, where it got very little attention or response.

Quote
I can think of a few things:
1) Recruit booth monkeys again.  I have no idea if this is feasible or not, but it would help this problem enormously.
2) Open up our social scene at GenCon more than a little bit.
3) Continue to expand and participate in events like the Double Exposure cons, the Nerdlies, the Go Play Directionals, JiffyCon, and Forge Midwest, while working hard to make these cons opportunities for neophyte game designers to make professional and social connections with experienced designers who can help them through playtesting and publication.
4) Consider the privileges that being a "designer" gives online (and, let's face it, that often means "person who sells at GenCon"), and open those up to more people.

I think that the posts before it explained and justified why I thought that these were good ideas.  I don't think of these as final, ultimate, or perfect solutions.  I was hoping that other people would talk about their own experiences and try to look into what we're doing to cause the problem and their own ideas about what might be done.

And people have been doing that!  Which is good!  But there's also been a lot of people being defensive and huffy and talking about *them* rather than *us*, which is making carrying on the conversation difficult.  That's why I was done with the thread (I'd said what I wanted to say, and it seemed to be headed south) and when you asked me to come back and set it right it was mostly "stop talking about these things, go somewhere else."

If you want to talk about other sites and other communities and their role, I'll do it on another thread.  If people want to talk about their negative customer experiences, I'll do it on another thread.  I don't think either is open and shut or obvious at all.  They just don't belong right here.

yrs--
--Ben
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #56 on: April 30, 2007, 06:20:37 AM »

Hi there,

I think part of what you are struggling with is an aspect of the American culture to which many of you belong. As a foreigner, it appears to me that in America back-slapping and social acknowledgement are pretty natural to any kind of group activity, whether you play football, sing in a choir, or design indie role-playing games. My German way of getting straight down to what did not<are<reward
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If you come across a post by a guest called Frank T, that was me. My former Forge account was destroyed in the Spam Wars. Collateral damage.
Thunder_God
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« Reply #57 on: April 30, 2007, 06:21:23 AM »

I see your solutions as problematic and incomplete Ben, they suggest face to face meetings of people.

This is still an online forum, and most of the designers on it (by a vast majority IMO), do not get to meet everyone else at these conventions. How do you let <I>them</I> "break in"?

And no, expecting them to go to GenCon and hubnub with you is not an option, especially considering that many posters don't even live on the same tectonic plate.
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Guy Shalev.

Cranium Rats Central, looking for playtesters for my various games.
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #58 on: April 30, 2007, 06:30:41 AM »

Ron --

Quote
What should our community be like? It should be like that from me to you to Bob to a bunch of Bobs. I think it is more like that than it's not, considering the power and fun of so many new games every year - of which this halfbaked phenomenon is only a subset. I think it should be like that all the time, though, and that we as a community need to consider that carefully.

This is just a little quote from a line of reasoning across two or three threads.  I'm going to say it back to you so I can make sure that I'm getting it right: People should be providing playtesting and feedback to whomever, based on interest with a specific attempt to be on the lookout for new guys, and from as close to a position of social equality as possible.

Further, that this is largely already going on.

Awesome!  I think that this is a great thing to say.  Thank you.

I have a specific thing that I'd like you to talk about.  You talk earlier in the the thread about presentation of the text as a key point in "doneness" or not.  So, uh, I really don't like publishing PDFs for aesthetic reasons.  Given this, if I had a half-finished game, do you recommend that I:
1) Use the easiest possible publication method (Lulu) even though it looks kinda professional.
2) Intentionally "dress the book down" so that it looks "less done" in some way.  If so, how?
3) Put disclaimers and warnings on the text about how it's "not totally finished yet."
4) "Dress down" with less attention to layout detail and such.
5) Some combination and admixture.

I'm not looking for hard and fast laws, I'm looking for your insight into how to make such things clear.

Marco --

Quote
[ Note: I also think it's easier for Ben to find playtesters for the same reason it's easier for, say, Steve Jackson to find playtesters: because people who know Polaris are legitimately interested in what he'll do next. This is neither degenerate nor a problem--I'm eager to play Bliss Stage and it's certainly not a "clique worship factor"--I gotta think anyone reading this will believe me on that--but I'm not hunting out of my way for any IPR release that someone wants to playtest it ... unless I happen to be in the IRC channel when someone brings it up--then, you know, barrier-to-entry is so low it's "what the hell, I'll give anything a shot.

Yes, this is what I'm getting at.  Maybe the word "privilege" is throwing people.  I'm talking about this sort of advantage.

Guy --

Yes, problematic and incomplete.
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Thor Olavsrud
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« Reply #59 on: April 30, 2007, 07:35:57 AM »

The fact that Ralph can find playtesters from our community for Robots and Rapiers after diddling with it for four years is absolutely a function of the fact that he's already written Universalis.  To say otherwise seems to me to be flat-out denial.  That I can still find playtesters for Bliss Stage is a privilege given to me by virtue of Polaris, and that I could get serious help with Polaris is a function of my presence at GenCon 04.  (See my previous post on that subject.)

Hi Ben,

This thread has moved on quite a bit since you posted this, but to address this point for a moment: Our decision to playtest Robots & Rapiers actually had nothing to do with Universalis or Ralph's status as its publisher. The only reason we even considered R&R is that Ralph asked us. And largely, I believe the reason Ralph asked us is that he saw certain similarities between Burning Empires, which this group originally formed to playtest, and his own game.

Furthermore, once asked, we agreed to playtest only because Ralph assured us that he had done considerable in-house playtesting and was reasonably satisfied with the game as is.

The same is true of Jeff Lower, who has a game about giants that he wishes us to playtest. Jeff has never designed a game before. We recently elected as a group to delay the playtest, as Jeff has decided there are a few areas he wishes to bake a little more. But when it's ready we will playtest it.

We haven't sought out games to playtest. The designers have come to us. But we won't touch their games unless they've been playtested in-house thoroughly first.

So, in my view, it's not a question of whether someone is an established designer or not. On the other hand, I think I do privilege people that I have met face to face or feel I know. I won't go the extra mile for someone just because they're a game designer. But I will go the extra mile for someone I know and like. That's human nature.

The best way to establish yourself in this community is to cultivate your play and post about it. Judd is a shining example of this. He created his place in this community with a dedication to play and talking about it. We need more of that, not because it sells games (although it does), but because it creates a virtuous cycle of play, feedback and more play.

I think a lot of folks could get much better response around here if they made an effort to participate and contribute their own threads in places like Actual Play so that others can get to know them. I also think that folks are likely to get a better response with regard to playtesting if they approach individuals whose Actual Play they appreciate and ask them to playtest. 

I'm going to put my money where my mouth is and commit to posting more about my actual play.
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