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Author Topic: Game Design Groups, a proposal  (Read 6584 times)
Anders Larsen
Member

Posts: 270


« on: May 28, 2007, 03:40:02 PM »

Introduction

This is an idea that comes from Game Chef 2007, where all the participants were assigned to feedback groups of about ten people per group. This made it much easier to give feedback because you could mainly focus on the participants in your own group, and did not have to keep track of them all.

Recently there was a discussion here on the Forge about how hard it is to give proper feedback in the First Thoughts forum, and I immediately thought of feedback groups and how they could probably solve some of the problems that were raised in that thread.

The idea is to have a site whereon people can organize themselves into groups, similar to the feedback groups from Game Chef. The people in a group will then be more familiar with each other's games, and will be to some degree committed to give feedback. The site is only to organize the groups; the discussions about the games will happen elsewhere, like here on the Forge.

We (I and Lee-Anne O'Reilly) are thinking about making such a site, but before we go to far we really want some feedback on the idea.


Purposes<
  • You do not understand the silent assumptions that the person makes for his game.
  • You can't relate to the type of game the person wants to design.
  • <
  • You have limited time and resources to devote to feedback, and can't tell from subject lines where best to lend your efforts and interest.

Design groups should solve these problems in the following ways:

  • A game should be presented from the first concepts, so the other members in the group have followed the game from the start, and therefore have a better understanding of the game.
  • People should form groups with like-minded people; people that can relate to the same type of games.
  • As a member in a group, you have more commitment to actually finish a game, so the other members know that the time they spend in giving feedback will not be completely lost.
  • By referencing the design group descriptions, even non-members can better guess which designs might benefit from their input.

The other purpose of the Design Groups is to get people more serious about finishing a game. This is not only a commitment to getting something published, but also a commitment to make a complete, playable-as-written game (another topic that has recently been discussed). Exactly how to achieve this last part is not really well established yet.


The site features

This is an overview of how we imagine the Game Design Group site will work. These are just ideas. Everything here can be questioned and discussed.

The main function of the site is to arrange the members into groups. Each group will have a presentation page where they can have a short description of the games each group member is working on, and maybe some description about what type of game the members in this group are interested in. The basic function is sort of a "mailing-list". When a member wants to present something new about one of the games she is working on, she can notify the others in the group. The actual presentation and discussion will happen other places, like on the Forge (or on Story Game or on a blog - whatever seems more fitting).

If you want to become a member of a design group, you have to go through the following procedure: First you have to browse around the site to find groups that you feel you can relate to (in term of which type of games they are working on), and which have room for more members. Then you will write a form of application that you will post on a forum on the site, and the group that you are interesting in joining will get a notice. There can then be some open dialogue between you and the members of the groups you are interested in, so you can find the right group to join.

In the application you should answer some question about what game(s) you are working on, and what your plans are for this/these game(s). Your answers to these questions should show that you are serious about putting in the work necessary to designing a game.

We have no clear idea yet of how to form new groups, but it will probably also happen through the forum.

Part of the commitment when joining a group, is the commitment to make a thoroughly developed game. To guard against prematurely published games we are thinking about having a way of tagging the games, to show what state they are in, but also to show what still needs to be done. Following are some ideas for tags:

* "First Ideas": You just have some loose ideas about your game.
* "Concept Stage":
   * "Concept development": The ideas are structured in rules, and a system begin to emerges
   * "Concept playtest": The first playtests to see if the concepts are sound.
* "Alpha Stage":
   * "Alpha development": More serious development where you flesh out the concepts and adjust the rules so they fit properly together.
   * "Alpha playtest": This is what is called "ashcan version" by some people. You think you have most of the rules nailed down, and the game should be able to deliver a somewhat complete gaming experience.
* "Beta Stage":
   * "Beta Development": The rules go through final adjustments.
   * "Beta playtest": A last round of playtests just to be sure.
* "Final stage": You more or less have the complete text; you just want some last minute feedback before it goes to editing.


The "Development" and "Playtest" stages are iterative to put emphasis on playtest as a part of the development cycle. The members of a design group are encouraged to playtest each others' games when they are in alpha stage, and to playtest games from other groups which are in the beta stage. To do playtests is not a requirement, but we are thinking about a system where people get marks for doing playtests, so there will be some social encouragement.

There will probably be a number of other "minor" features. Possibility of uploading documents to make them publicly available. A chat function to have random chit-chat within a group. And probably a resource library with links to game design resources on the internet.


Some last points

This service is for independent roleplaying games as defined here on the Forge. That is: creator owned and self published. There are no restrictions on what type of game can be developed there as long as it fall inside a loose definition of a roleplaying game.

The commitments that have been talked about will not be strongly enforced. If a person wants to drop a game idea to work on another game he is more exited about, it is only the social pressure from the group that may stop him, not something that is hard-coded into the site. The intention is to have the commitment be of a social nature, to, hopefully, keep some flexibility.

We have no intentions of competing with other places (like the Forge or Story-Games); this is a complementary effort to create a better environment for game design.

The service will of course be free.


Questions

  • Most important: Is this a service that anyone would be interested in?
  • Game Chef participants: What about the groups worked well? Where did they fail for you?
  • How might we go about setting up the groups initially?
  • Will open dialogue to help incomers find a group that fits be any more/less useful than the Forge's First Thoughts forum?
  • How can we minimise handling time without sacrificing utility?
  • Are the tagging stages a realistic description of the stages a game design might go through?

Any other comment/ideas/questions are of course welcome.

Anders Larsen and Lee-Anne O'Reilly
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Filip Luszczyk
Member

Posts: 746

roll-player


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« Reply #1 on: May 28, 2007, 06:16:14 PM »

First, I like the idea.

I like the idea of organizing people into focused feedback groups, on the basis of design similarities. However, I'm not sure if it would actually work well outside of a limited time contest. Well, probably trying it is the only thing to be sure, anyway. I'm all for this.

The thing is, Game Chef feedback groups existed for only two weeks, and basically they focused exclusively on the concept stage. It was a short commitment, in comparison with potential two, three or more years of complete game development.

Feedback groups worked almost only during the first week. In the second week, activity was minimal - people were simply too busy actually writing down their games. Obviously, it would be different without the imposed time limit. But still, I wonder how much the designers would benefit from the group in later stages - after the concept work, most of the feedback usually comes from playtests, I think.

Also, feedback groups discouraged most people from examining games outside their own group. Again, it was also the result of the time limit, and the enormous amount of games developed in the event. But I think there could still be a danger that design groups create some temptation to close oneself inside the group, or discourage people from the outside from peeking in.

There was a problem of people winding up in a group with games they couldn't really say much about. This wouldn't be the case here, but instead I can see another issue arising - grouping designers working on more or less similar games is grouping together projects that might be competing. A lot depends on people's attitudes towards game design in general and their long-term plans, I suppose.

There was a problem of high attrition rate, although it varied from group to group. In my feedback group, half or so of the assigned people didn't really go past the initial concept (some didn't even start working on their games at all), and in the second week somebody was calling it quits almost every day. Those who gave up didn't stay to give feedback to those who carried on. In the end, only four people from fifteen or so finished their games in my feedback group. I think there might be a serious risk of people forming groups that quickly fall apart.

Somewhere on Game Chef forums I proposed the idea of "feedback webs" instead of feedback groups. You loose the link, you form a new one. Something like this would be more difficult to manage, but it would ascertain that everyone has a decent number of feedbackers all the time.

Like-mindedness might be a big problem when it comes to forming groups. For example, I don't dig "traditional" games, I like tactically engaging stuff, I like tight mechanics and I'm always interested in Anime-inspired projects. See the potential contradictions? I could give some partial feedback to a tactical game, but unless it's in my preferred genre I'd have a hard time fully relating to it or playtesting it. Or, I could give some partial feedback to a "traditional" Anime game, only I'd have a hard time helping with the system and I wouldn't playtest it despite the genre. What are the chances that there's enough people interested in creating a design group in which most of the games fits a majority of such criteria?

Also, I don't really imagine groups with e.g. five mecha games or seven fantasy games functioning well, due to potential competition issues. At the same time, I suppose it's very probable that there would be people that no group would adopt, due to the incompatibility of projects.

What about people working on more than one project? E.g. there are currently two games I'd like to eventually bring to the final stage, but they're too different to put them in the same basket. So, if I wanted a decent feedback for both, I'd have to divide my attention and feedback effort between two groups.

As for the tagging, I wonder. The categories seem generally right - but I wouldn't expect every project to fit them painlessly. For example, my Illumination is currently after five playtests and one complete rules rewrite in between, but I still don't have the playtest document - only piles of notes and rules in my head - and not even a good idea of how to write it so that it doesn't look like an unintelligible esoteric gibberish. Is that Concept or Alpha stage?

But all in all, I'm curious what would come out of this design groups idea.
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David Artman
Member

Posts: 570

Designer & Producer


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« Reply #2 on: May 29, 2007, 08:30:49 AM »

Quote
Most important: Is this a service that anyone would be interested in?
I suppose I would be, depending upon the group divisions (of course). Filip points out a lot of potential grouping issues with which I generally agree. Worse for me: I am working almost exclusively on two projects: a live action system (LARP) and a highly abstracted system using Looney Labs pyramids. For the former, I am almost at design freeze, and so I'd really need playtesters and character makers (to "stress test" min-maxing). For the latter, I am still a bit hazy on what I want the game to be about, to do... and so do I get in with the high tactics folks or with the narrative folks (it could still go either way: the "goal" is "use pyramids for everything," not "get at Play Style FOO").

Quote
How might we go about setting up the groups initially?
Actually, when I first read your post, I thought, "Why a new site?" unless as an aggregator (i.e. to get folks from as many sites as possible). So, at first, I just figured you could start a thread for forming groups, then each group could tag their threads with a double-tag (e.g. "[Group A - Game X] New Ideas for Rule FOO"). Then, all the formation and joining/leaving could just be in per-group threads (e.g. "[Group A] Membership Thread").

In short, you could start it all here or at SG or wherever.

Quote
Will open dialogue to help incomers find a group that fits be any more/less useful than the Forge's First Thoughts forum?
I think you only get a form of regress from this. A newcomer will still have to prove him or herself to a group he or she joins; and no amount of grouping will ensure that folks are (a) in the right group or (b) don't flake out.

So, rather than it being a form of "guilds for newcomers and specialists" instead I'd favor more of a grouping based on (perhaps) degrees of completion? I, for instance, am happier working with a designer still in the early days: there's more room for one's ideas to have significant impact, and one is less likely to go hog-wild with a massive post that, in the end, is almost completely disposed of by a "I'm already doing it a different way, thanks" reply.

Likewise, now that I am at the stage I am with GLASS, I *really* don't want or have time to redirect advice that flies in the face of core design goals or existing (extensive) rule interrelationships. I need folks to "break" certain power combos or find "bad" synergies, not tell me "Weapon use damage should be scalable" or "GLASS doesn't do mind reading? Oh, gawd, it's so limited, then...."

Quote
Are the tagging stages a realistic description of the stages a game design might go through?
As Filip says, they might be OK generally, but there will never be a one-size-fits-all breakdown of production stages; independent game design is FAR from standardized, in terms of processes and best practices.

But, again, I almost feel that those process stage breakdowns make for a better group organization schema than "game type" which is very nebulous. In essence, the Forge forums are very close to these "groups" you want (or, rather, that I recommend):

* Concept presentation and tuning
-> Initial setting
-> Initial system

* Playable version
-> Playtest
-> Fine tuning

* Production version
-> Corrections and editorial issues
-> Delivery and publication
-> Promotion

Thus, rather than a person always being "stuck" in a particular genre- or technique-oriented group, folks would migrate from group to group (often, in pace together, if folks generally finish stages close together). As long as it's understood that an adviser can't "back up" the flow, it should work out fairly well (i.e. if you show up to provide feedback at the Playable Version stage, you should not post about changes to the basic setting or system, unless that's the ONLY solution you can see for the issue about which you are posting)?

Note also that I see the above as "tags" of their own, including the "sub-stages."

In summary, you seem to be hoping to enforce a form of continuity where responders to a designer tend to stay involved in every stage of the process, the better to provide "appropriate" feedback from folks who share the grouping characteristic/interest. I suggest that folks' interests might more often align with the stage of development and NOT with a particular spectrum of game types.

I am a theorist and a professional desktop publisher who has trouble forming up a steady play group. Thus, I am most interested with helping at the initial thoughts stage or at the polishing the product stage, and have very little ability to help in the middle grounds where iterative testing is key. Another guy might be the GM of a regular group that loves to playtest and, as such, he can give solid AP reports for a TON of games before I could get a single session to go off.

Some folks' specialties might, therefore, be at particular process stages, NOT with particular game types or techniques or what-not. Thus, a truly useful grouping scheme might be unattainable, or might at best only serve very specific product types and designers.

Hmmmm.... or perhaps the "real" answer is hiding under that possible disconnect: What if, with or without groups, we create, adopt, and encourage the use of a more extensive subject tagging system, sort of like additional meta-data about a thread, right there before you even click? Thus, between the forum divisions (which could be changed to more closely align with the various "do not back up" milestones) and a short string of "what I care about in this post" tags, we might help folks sift threads a lot more.

SO... we got forum divisions. That's the "major stage".
THEN... we use a tag for the title, as now, perhaps with further general meta-tags for new-comers who haven't followed earlier stages.
PLUS... there are a few new meta-tags (TBD) which guide readers to subject they like.

TEMPLATE) (Forum) "[game_name - general_meta_tags - thread_meta_tags] summary_of_specific_request_in_thread"
EXAMPLE) (In Playtesting Forum) "[GLASS - generic LARP - balance, characters] Need Testers to Make "Broken" Characters"
EXAMPLE) (In Initial Thoughts Forum) "[Stacktors! - specific handling device - system] Want to use Pyramids; not sure what's best"

Thoughts (or thread jack)?
David
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Designer - GLASS, Icehouse Games
Editor - Perfect, Passages
Anders Larsen
Member

Posts: 270


« Reply #3 on: May 29, 2007, 12:59:19 PM »

Hi Filip and David


I will try to answer some of your concerns. This is not to dismiss anything you say; I actually think that you have some very good points.


* More than one game

I am beginning to think that a person should be able to join more than one group if he have two or more games that does not fit into the same group.


* Competition

This is something I have not thought about at all. I just don't see the indie-rpg community as being competitive, but I may be wrong there.

Actually, I think that some friendly competition is a good thing, but too much competition is, of course, too much.


* Couldn't it just be done on an existent forum?

You could probably make some posts (here or on story-games) that suggest that people can form feedback group. This will probably work for the people that initially form groups, but people that come to the community later will not really know how to form groups or join existent groups. And it is important to me that this service is easy approachable for newcomers.


* Group based on completeness

This is very interesting. Right now I am not sure how to get the right social structure out of this (small groups of people who have follow each others game for some time), but it is probably something that is possible to do.


* Subject tagging system

I do not think that this will help the problem. I don't think that just because you tag the subject line that you will get much more feedback. But this has really more to do with what can be done here at the Forge. If Ron and Clinton want to implement something that have the same effect as Design Groups, I will of course not try to compete with them.


 - Anders
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Lee-Anne O'Reilly
Member

Posts: 10

Going the long way round


« Reply #4 on: May 30, 2007, 07:24:19 AM »

Filip, thanks for the breakdown of your experience with Game Chef groups. I'm imagining that incoming new members will take care of some of the flaking out and first-flush-feedback issues you mention. As you say, trying it may be the only way to find out.

I've thought about a sort of cellular network of designers, like these feedback webs you mention, but I have no idea how to implement such a thing. Do you? I suppose at its largest scale, the entire design community is such a web, at least for those already hooked in.

David, I think your scheme will likely work well for you and for other like-minded designers. You might get what you need right here at The Forge, with minimal tweaking. And I think a group or several could choose to organise themselves around completeness or a stage of design. This might work best for people who are already familiar with their own design process.

Increased subject line tagging would be tremendously helpful to me, design groups or no design groups. It looks long-ish; would that turn people off? If enough people start using it, it may become fashionable.

Anders, that this service be easily approachable for newcomers is I think one of our most important and (previously) unstated presuppositions. Thank you.

Personally, I believe that groups work best when there is a great variety of interests and strategies among members who share key, core values in the context of the endeavour. So my preference would be to organise around principles or parameters of design, values and ideals to be expressed or explored in the games, etc.
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Lee
Filip Luszczyk
Member

Posts: 746

roll-player


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« Reply #5 on: June 04, 2007, 07:59:30 AM »

Some more thoughts.

I see a potential problem with organizing groups around the state of completeness - different people work at different pace. Moving from group to group too often can be counterproductive, too, as you wind up with people who weren't observing your project from the very beginning.

Compatible parameters of designs are a good factor to organize people around, I'd say. The problematic part here is actually identifying such parameters. Also, this is were an issue of competing projects might surface - if you have three people working on a tactical dungeon crawling fantasy game in the same group, there is a pretty limited pool of ideas, and the risk of three games that have way too much in common being developed. On the other hand, if the criteria are too specific, there is the risk of winding up in a group that is like "whatever" about the game in general, save one core aspect of it.

So, what parameters could be good criteria for organizing the groups around? Genre? Tone? Intended playstyle? General mechanical similarities?

I think it could be good if there was a searchable database of ongoing projects on the site, so that newcomers could immediately search for compatible projects, and then look for the group that shares those key values that are most important for the given person.

Ten people per group might be too much. Most of the projects in Game Chef were rather compact, but it might not be the case with long term projects. If there are ten people in the group, and their games have 100-150 pages on the average, that's 1000-1500 pages of projects that a member would be expected to keep track of (and there are rewrites and stuff). The sheer volume would make it difficult to give others feedback that would be more substantial than what the existing design communities can already provide (i.e. mostly feedback for the specific ideas, most often disconnected from the project at large).

Also, let's face it, the whole thing needs experienced designers, and at least one per group, too. Otherwise, newcomers-only groups won't really help to improve the quality of the projects. Unfortunately, experienced game designers don't really need such feedback groups, I suppose, as they already have enough feedback in their own circles.

Playtesting. Assuming one plays RPGs weekly, that's roughly 50 sessions per year. A decent round of playtesting is probably around 5-10 sessions on the average (less with more compact games, more with games oriented towards long-term campaign play). Obviously, the designer needs as much playtesting as he or she can get. Let's say everyone is doing 3-4 rounds of inside playtesting per year - this leaves, say, 20 or so sessions for playtesting other people's games. However, I suppose most people would like to play some finished products as well. So much for TONS of playtesting. 10-15 sessions of outside playtesting per year for people in the group seems like a whole lot to me.

Obviously, nobody is going to do outside playtesting if the game is not promising and appealing to one and one's players in the first place. Again, inside compatibility of the groups is critical.

Quote
I've thought about a sort of cellular network of designers, like these feedback webs you mention, but I have no idea how to implement such a thing. Do you? I suppose at its largest scale, the entire design community is such a web, at least for those already hooked in.

The entire community is such a web, but it's not organized, and there is no incentive for people to take a really in-depth look at the projects - mostly you get surface feedback, and the in-depth feedback comes from playtesters and friends. As I see it, the whole thing is about creating a social expectation and a kind of pressure for giving a more in-depth feedback to others.

First of all, I think the site needs someone - more than one person preferably - who'd be willing to do some administrative work and actively help people to organize. It doesn't matter if you have boxes or webs or whatever - it wouldn't work if there was simply a site with a greate label "Welcome, and now, umm... organize yourself!", obviously. You need someone to point a newcomer to the right group, or ask the right group to adopt the newcomer, and to keep track of currently existing groups in the first place.

Then, the only way I can see the "webs" idea implemented (probably neither the only nor the best one) is to have a thread were newcomers would signal their need for being "adopted", and a thread were people who lost their links would signal a need for new ones. Then, unless nobody steps forward and forms the link in a week or so, the administrator would examine the existing web and prompt people who currently have free "feedback" slots to form the links. Obviously, forming such links would be connected with a requirement of familiarizing oneself with the other person's project, for both sides, and this would have to be taken into account (so, some way of signaling whether one actually has time for another link would be needed).

Now, with a web, it would be possible to have links based on different key design values - e.g. one person could give you feedback on the mechanics (due to working on something similar), another on the setting (due to general interest in the genre), another about writing non-mechanical instructions for the players (due to having experience with the playstyle) and so on.
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Anders Larsen
Member

Posts: 270


« Reply #6 on: June 08, 2007, 03:34:53 AM »

Hi Filip

I wanted to give a more thoroughly response, but it is hard for me to find the time right now, so I will just let you know that I have read your post. Many of the points you bring up are things that I also have thought about lately - especially what criteria to use when forming the groups - so it is nice to hear you thoughts on that.

 - Anders
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