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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 58 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Half-Baked Games and Design Culture  (Read 20185 times)
Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #60 on: April 30, 2007, 08:00:35 AM »

Hey Ben,

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.

I spent $306.04 on roleplaying games last year. Not counting demos at Gen Con, I've actually played $16 worth of those purchases. And I've read, or aggressively skimmed, only $100 worth of them. If I might savage myself a bit cruelly without clearing the hall, my purchasing so far in excess of actual use is me simply trying to stay aware and ahead in the scrum for creative relevance. I can't say for sure that other designers are purchasing for similar reasons, but I bet I'm not entirely alone. It's not good for me creatively. And it's not good for the community, as you describe, because it gives status not for a designer's game's inherent qualities, but as a product of the purchaser's anxieties. I'm committed to not doing this again in 2007.

I think it's pretty interesting to compare your "the quality of your game is not nearly as important as the status of being a designer" statement with Ron's later questioning of whether that status actually exists, and his own "lots of play, and lots of dialogue and positive community stuff about the play-experiences" prescription, which I parse as advocating a culture based on actual fun. Communities are defined by their values, and both status and fun are values around which communities might organize themselves. Is it possible the UvT thing is just a subconscious recognition that folks are organizing themselves around different values?

Paul
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My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #61 on: April 30, 2007, 08:09:34 AM »

Yeah, Frank said my piece far more succintly than I could. Good game, Frank.

As for community vs. individual, Ben, that's a tight line to balance - if what you really want is everybody reflecting on their own actions, then this thread is already pretty much the best that can be done, being that such reflection is a necessity for understanding the discussion in the first place. (Perhaps the blog-keeping folks could do a piece about it as well, if you wanted to make sure that everybody pertinent gets the news.) As I suggested earlier - the design knowledge and useful attitudes will spread from here, and six months later everybody will be taking it for granted that "Duh, of course I don't want to publish this yet, it's obviously at the ashcan stage". Knowledge brings freedom.

On the other hand, your list of community changes, while laudable per se, is somewhat off in terms of striking at the original problem of half-baked games (whether you subscribe to Ron's analysis of the reasons of the half-bakedness or not). As we've discussed already thoroughly, not nearly everybody even believes that social pressure to publish is the primary reason for the phenomenon, or a reason that should be addressed first - as can be seen from my posts, I'm much more interested in addressing the knowledge base of the designers and their awareness of the quality they're competing against, so as to give them tools to recognize the dangers of half-bakedness themselves. Addressing the problem at the social level smells like behaviorism to me, with the belief that people will just blindly go where the social pressure leads them. What's worse, it seems like unrealistic behaviorism in this case, because I can't begin to imagine how a non-hierarchical community could change it's apportioning of status in any other way than pure education. Or how do you "open up online designer privileges to more people"? That would be easier if there were any privileges in the first place.
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Troy_Costisick
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« Reply #62 on: April 30, 2007, 08:17:44 AM »

Heya,

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

Yeah, I agree.  We do need to do that.  I know that this thread has made me consider very carefully my actions as a publisher and as a community member.  Without a doubt, you and Ron have definately provoked me both to thought and action.

Peace,

-Troy
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Thunder_God
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Still Here.


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« Reply #63 on: April 30, 2007, 08:31:43 AM »

As a personal point, though I'd like to "publish" (as in, make available in print for sale), I've never felt pressure to do so.

I also am aware that there are cliques, but let me be frank, there are always cliques. There are those you are friends with, and there are those you're not friends with, it happens.

I think, or like to think, I can tell if my game is ready to be published, if it'd take a dozen years, it'd take a dozen years. If it'd take two months, it'd take two months.

But the thing is, don't we always believe we know? And who says we're right?
Look at Perfect and AGON. What if they would have been mistaken?

I don't have answers, but truly, either everyone goes through ashcan or no one would.

Or more likely, it'll be as it is now. Those that feel like it, go through ashcan phase, and those who don't feel like it, don't. As Ron said, it's a personal feeling for one's game, and yes, you can be wrong.
Let us also see what can be done after the book is published and found to be half-baked, because I believe there is little else to talk about that is not wishful thinking and projected hopes.
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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
Valamir
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« Reply #64 on: April 30, 2007, 10:39:57 AM »

Well, Ben, while we are in complete agreement that there is an issue with half baked games, I think you've largely misdiagnosed the problem.

The problem is not in granting "privilege to publishers".  "Privilege", where it has been granted, has been granted to contributors.  People who have made a serious impact in our understanding of, appreciation of, and enjoyment of game design and PLAY. 

Paul is not an indie-game guru because he published My Life and Bacchanal.  He's an indie-game guru cause he knows his shit and is very very good at providing advice and guidance.  Mike Miller is not "part of the 'club'" because of With Great Power, he's part of the "club" (such as it is) because he and Kat have worked their tails off contributing to the design community and organizing tons of stuff.  Judd has not suddenly been elevated in stature because he published Dictionary of Mu...he earned his stature by being an Actual Play machine and his podcasts.  Mike Holmes is not living off of "co-author of Universalis" fame.  He gets his well deserved recognition because he was one of the leading contributors to the Forge during its peak formative days and has personally provided more feedback to aspiring game designers than nearly any one else I know.

You are correctly recognizing that there are some folks who do have some heavy "cred" in the larger indie-publishing community.  I submit to you that you have made the incorrect connection that this cred is due to having published.  This cred is due to having made substantial contributions to the community.  The fact that many of those folks have also published (before, after, or during) is an independent variable. 

So no.  I do not accept that I can find play testers for Robots & Rapiers because I published Uni; and I don't accept that you find play testers for Bliss Stage because you published Polaris.

I accept that both of those happen because Ralph Mazza and Ben Lehman have been positively contributing members to the community for an extended period of time. 

If there is any celebrity status or additional privilege being granted to published game designers (particularly the "old guard" of designers) simply because they've/we've published than I further submit to you that that is an artifact of the social interactions among folks out in the blogosphere. 

And if you view that as me passing the buck cause its easier to "blame" someone else, so be it.  When designers get hard core, critical, squinty eyed, constructive feedback, the game benefits.  When the designers are getting accolades, and compliments, and hype, and feel good feedback the game suffers.  IMO its as simple and as directly attributable as that.

As for how do we change that?  I've already given my views:

Less auto-praise, more constructive criticism from others to designers.  Welcoming that criticism sans hurt feelings, on the part of the designers. 

Less auto-purchase of every great new thing by fellow designers (many new publishers have their GenCon experience paid for from sales to other GenCon publishers), more distribution of complete / near complete but unfinalized "betas / ashcans" for pay or free (but properly identified) to a broad audience or narrow.

Less "keeping quiet" when a game is published as finished when it clearly wasn't.  More holding designers accountable for games that really needed another 6-8 months of testing and didn't get it. 

Less emphasis on "idea generating" / "first pass" game design contests.  More emphasis on "continued development" / "next stage" design contests.

As an example of this last...how about a contest where all entries had to have previously submitted as a Game Chef / Ronnies / 24 hour Game / etc. and the judging criteria is based on progress towards a finished product where the winner is the game closest to being ready for prime time, and honorable mentions are given to games that made the most progress or those that reinvented themselves entirely because the initial idea just didn't work.

But it all comes down to communication...who we praise, when, why, and how much.  Its not entirely the designer's fault for going to press with a half baked game if they've been consistantly led to believe that the game is ready by an overabundance of feel-good feedback.
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Frank Tarcikowski
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Hamburg, Germany


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« Reply #65 on: April 30, 2007, 12:09:48 PM »

Quote
As an example of this last...how about a contest where all entries had to have previously submitted as a Game Chef / Ronnies / 24 hour Game / etc. and the judging criteria is based on progress towards a finished product where the winner is the game closest to being ready for prime time, and honorable mentions are given to games that made the most progress or those that reinvented themselves entirely because the initial idea just didn't work.

Yes.
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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.
Judd
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« Reply #66 on: May 01, 2007, 02:47:40 AM »

I think what is being uncovered is we need to not point fingers and find blame and instead do the following:

Kill any sighting of elevation of status for publishing.  The whole point of this site is a hobby of equals.  People who post in Actual Play are Rock Stars and should be treated as such. 

Support game designers who are in that middle-stuck place, where they have a playtestable draft, have played it and haven't quite gotten it right and they feel Gen Con approaching.  I have seen Michael Miller and Luke Crane in this middle place.  Luke got out of it through his posse and prodigious playtesting.  Michael got out of it through Kat.

These people who are stuck have to know that there is no pressure other than the pressure to create an awesome game.  Gen Con is not a final destination.  Games released in September will do just fine and your game will be on the floor NEXT year after nearly a fully year of AP, podcast coverage and buzz.

Sometimes these people just need a phone coversation or an IM or an e-mail.  Sometimes they will need a playtest group armed with an idea of what the game designer wants and the twin weapons of brutal honesty and an open mind.

When games come out that aren't good, and we play them, we need to not mince any fucking words.  Look at Alexander's Shock: AP thread.  That post is going to help Joshua get a better draft of Shock: out into the world.  Posts like that are fucking gold.

Talking about only good games makes no damned sense and there is a bit of a code of silence when it comes to games with flaws that sucks.  I include myself very much in this.  I'm guilty of this too.  I've talked up good AP sessions and just brushed bad ones right under the carpet.  This isn't doing anything for the craft of play or game design.

There are absolutely games that got personal and I have no interest in discussing online.  I hear that.  I really do.

But there are lessons to be learned from games that go poorly too.

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Joshua A.C. Newman
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the glyphpress


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« Reply #67 on: May 01, 2007, 09:38:48 AM »

(Phew. Finally got the time to read this thread.)

Ron,

I accept responsibility for the difficulties people have in play with Shock: given the state of the text. It's not even a reluctant acceptance. It's a problem, and it's a problem that I'm addressing by using at least one really serious community contact. I couldn't have gotten his help to this degree were the issue not pushed with it being already in publication. Which brings up the community aspect.

When originally working on Shock: I recognized a few things. I had 800 downloads of the playtest documents (there were, I think, 3 releases), but very few actual questions about it. The game changed radically (and for the better) between drafts as sacred cows became burgers to feed better ideas. But this feedback came from very little<
  • An actual base of people who are enthusiastic about the game, play it, and turn in bounty on errors in the form of a copy of the next edition. I don't think an ashcan would have garnered a level of acceptance that would give me a sufficient base of players.
  • Other folks in the community who see what it does, how it works, and want to see it fly farther, higher, faster. They probably own the game, have played it, been frustrated by the lack of direction on some part(s) that were based on assumptions I had when I wrote it, and want to really know how to play.

I have some serious concerns that I would not have those assets were the game not on a shelf in war paint, getting talked about by Ron because it's underdone.

I think, really, this is a challenge: Paul and Matt, make Ashcan Front work. Provide community, be welcoming, and make the model make sense. Make it obvious and reproducible. Make it so that when Bob shows up and wants to write a game on his own and doesn't know what to do, the answer is, "The Ashcan model is lucrative and gains you the community you need to make it fly."

Yelling at people for talking about ideas about games isn't going to gain you the respect that you'll require to make it work. Going to Knife Fight (which is not a game design community) and Story Games (which is a dedicated "shoot the shit" community) and telling people that they're doing it wrong certainly doesn't garner any respect from me. And you guys deserve it. You're doing something that is of potentially very great value to the community. We'll know how you did in September.[/list]
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Matt Snyder
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« Reply #68 on: May 01, 2007, 10:51:10 AM »

Joshua, the Ashcan Front will only work if people step up and participate by buying into the booth and releasing their ashcan design.

That's it.

In no form, does it require your respect, or Ben's or any number of individuals who feel wounded and offended that Paul and I rained on the parade of online communities. It certainly could hurt the chances, but it is absolutley not necessary that we repent to succeed in August. Of course, you or any number of those individuals may not participate because, basically, you think I'm too mean and Paul's too presumptious or something. Ok.

EDITED TO ADD: And, frankly, I do not think Paul's and my comments will hurt. We've gone from having nobody actually committed after Forge Midwest to having 1 person completely on board, and 3 all-but signing up, and a handful of others knocking at the door. Us being nice on Story Games, for example, got us very little response for two months or more. Now people are talking about it, passionately, and are starting to line up. Good.
« Last Edit: May 01, 2007, 10:53:42 AM by Matt Snyder » Logged

Matt Snyder
www.chimera.info

"The future ain't what it used to be."
--Yogi Berra
Joshua A.C. Newman
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the glyphpress


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« Reply #69 on: May 01, 2007, 12:48:00 PM »

Joshua, the Ashcan Front will only work if people step up and participate by buying into the booth and releasing their ashcan design.

Matt, your primary interest is in new publishers, right? That means that you have to come to them.


In no form, does it require your respect, or Ben's or any number of individuals who feel wounded and offended that Paul and I rained on the parade of online communities. It certainly could hurt the chances, but it is absolutley not necessary that we repent to succeed in August. Of course, you or any number of those individuals may not participate because, basically, you think I'm too mean and Paul's too presumptious or something. Ok.

Ashcan Front isn't for me! I don't mean that in a dismissive way; I mean that it's not something that I will benefit from directly this year.

The greatest benefit to all of us, as a community, will come from the evolution of culture that happens when you start with the people who are new to publishing. In a year, they might have something finished and be inspiring other people.

Now, I'll agree: being polite is not a reliable way to get publicity. I'm really glad that things are working out with the Front. What I perceived is not raining on a parade at all, though; it feels much more like two guys who are being crabby.

I watch you guys with interest. I want you to succeed. Just like you don't need my respect, I don't need you to be nice to everyone, even me. But what I want to happen is to have a culture of experimentation where designers, at a minimum, get respect for taking unusual challenges. I want it to be a practical thing to publish an ashcan. If the best way to make that happen is to act crabby, then awesome. My worry is very simply that the people who need you the most are the ones who can weather it the least; the people who have the weakest connections to the community, the fewest books in print, the weakest understanding of how to make and sell a project, and that they'll decide to sell a product and get the respect that comes with that instead of [/i]pay their dues[/i], which is what I hear you guys saying.

If you can make that social respect aspect work with the Ashcan Front, then we're firing on all cylinders: products are being designed as well as can be, designers are getting the benefits of respect, their works are getting respect that will help them sell better, and they'll feel confident selling them for respectable amounts of money.

If you don't lose the new folks to dickishness, then awesome. If you take a "let's show you what worked when we did it" tack and built a mutually supportive community, or you build a gruff, "we put in our time" community with hazing or whatever, I don't care. Whatever works. There will be other experiments that will try other things. I just don't want this experiment to fail.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Matt Snyder
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Posts: 1380


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« Reply #70 on: May 01, 2007, 01:53:14 PM »

So, we're crabby. Or we're not. Whichever. How is either relevant, or how has it been for the last two weeks (or months or whatever)?

Because what I'm seeing is a lot of comments very much like this "Wow, you two are crabby! I'm totally behind this effort -- hope it works. I guess I don't have any actual objection at all for ashcans. In fact, I can't recognize any really specific criticisms of how you and Paul are doing this, but I do have a couple suggestions to add. Did I mention you're crabby?"

The criticism I'm seeing to date boils down to "I perceive you guys as being too mean. THINK OF THE CHILDREN!"

As for "hazing" or intiation or any such nonsense, I'm really baffled where that's coming from, even taking our so-called crabbiness into account.

I do not think this is stuff worth worrying about to any degree for the Ashcan Front.
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Matt Snyder
www.chimera.info

"The future ain't what it used to be."
--Yogi Berra
Joshua A.C. Newman
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the glyphpress


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« Reply #71 on: May 01, 2007, 01:57:32 PM »

Matt, man, your fight is a little one-sided here.

Do what you want. You have my support as an endeavor. Make it good.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
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« Reply #72 on: May 01, 2007, 01:58:07 PM »

Hey Matt and Joshua and Ben and everyone! I think we get it.

As moderator, I think the whole "what was said on other sites" business can be let drop for good here at the Forge.

Putting any detritus and flotsam from those discussions aside, this thread turns out to have some thoughtful stuff in it.

I think it might be time to call it closed, as a basis for rumination, with extreme encouragement to start new threads with specific spawn-off topics.

So if anyone really really wants this one to continue, send me a PM, and I'll be open for advocacy, but for now, let's start new threads, please.

Best, Ron
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