Our friends at Streamlined Gaming are at it again, this time with a new challenge for our Lead Designer, Chris Amburn: Add a new rule to Chess. Watch the minds of several game developers go to work in this article, and see how New Experience Workshop's gears turn when presented with an intriguing query.
New month, new contribution! This time. New Experience Workshop's Marketing and Administration Specialist, Rachel Gravenmier, gives feedback to Streamlined Gaming's Calvin Keeney when he asks, "How Can Guys Make Girls Feel More Welcomed at Gaming Conventions?" Learn where the N.E.W. team stands on matters of inclusion and gender issues in the world of tabletop gaming.
Receiving Criticism is an aspect of game design I believe to be one of my strong suits, but it's a well-known stereotype that amateur game designers are short-tempered and sensitive when it comes to pointing out the flaws of their baby. I'm not going to argue that this stereotype is undeserved; I've seen enough developers who are the very embodiment of this: online and in-person. We've all seen enough under-developed, ugly, and broken games on the back shelves of the Goodwills and Half Price Books of the world. It is because accidentally creating one of these games is my biggest fear in designing board games that I try to take all criticism sincerely and fairly. I spend a lot of time wondering how these unloved games get made, and what kind of support structure their designers have in their lives to take an unfinished game all the way from a mere idea to a final product without the foresight or introspection needed for it to reach its potential. Criticism is a vital part of any artistic craft that is intended to be produced for sale, and I'd like to share some of my ideas on how to receive criticism gracefully and effectively.
The most important step when accepting criticism is to take it seriously. If someone has a suggestion or a complaint about your game that you haven't already considered and resolved, write it down. This has the benefit of letting you come back to it when you're not trying to run demos, schmooze with the public, or worry about any of the other things that might be going on at that exact moment. In addition, some ideas that may not work at all for the current iteration of your game might be perfect once you've changed other things later in your development process. Even if a suggestion seems great right off the bat it's worthwhile to take some time and consider it from all angles. It's just as bad to give in to all feedback as it is to ignore all of it. At the end of the day you have to be able to make an educated call as the designer of the game- if you aren't able to separate bad ideas from good most of the time then you've probably got a long road ahead of you before your game is ready for publication.
Being able to separate the message from the medium is another important step in taking and using criticism effectively.For example, during a playtest for one game I had prototyped, we had a jerk playtester. He was obnoxious and rude not only to me but to the other players, and didn't get invited back to play again. When I brought up his feedback later people would say, "ignore that guy, he was a jerk!" And yet he was totally right about many of his observations. A great way to differentiate between the messenger (and their attitude) and the message is to take the criticism you received, turn it into a question, and ask someone who you trust and who is familiar with your project ("Hey, what if we made the cards square?"). By posing it to a third party as your own idea the bias against outside criticism is removed, giving you the opportunity to talk out the pros and cons of the suggestion.
When getting feedback on your game you have to consider why you are making it in the first place. If your goal is to make your game the best it can possibly be you can't just ignore criticism. Remember that criticism doesn't just mean that someone doesn't like your game; it means they are invested in you and your projects, and they want to see you succeed. It's much easier for a person who is uninterested in a game to simply ignore it and move on. Appreciate the critic, because their investment in your project is something you should not take for granted. Your game will be better for it, and you will be much more successful when the voice of your audience is heard.
I'm proud to say that the Friendly Farming game mentioned in the last post did indeed get fleshed out last night after much graphic design fiddling with the card layouts for Palette Swap (not quite done yet, but I'll be showing that soon enough.) This will be the first prototype I'll be making with Vassal, an open-source tabletop game simulator, as I've been inspired by the Plaid Hat Podcast which I've been binging on at work at the pace of about ten episodes per night. There's a lot of good info sprinkled throughout the episodes and I might share a recap of what I've learned so far.
It probably sounds strange that I would decide to throw myself into a new project so whole-heartedly with so many other projects that I have started that have so much more work left on them (Any of the games mentioned on the Home Page, for example.) Doubly so considering Chupacabracon and BGG.CON Spring are right around the corner and the plan is to have Palette Swap available there as a cornerstone of New Experience Workshop's booth. To me this is business as usual though. This is what works for me. I am a game designer with ADD.
It's difficult to describe the feeling of Attention Deficit Disorder, but without proper management it can be a serious problem. The best way I think I've described ADD without the medication compared to with it is having a stove full of boiling pots. Without the medication all the pots boil over and your attention just evaporates until before you know it they're all empty. On the drugs it's like having the lids to the pots. You can just take one lid off at a time and cover the rest of them until you're ready to switch, meaning you don't run out of broth in any of the pots before you're finished cooking. Unsurprisingly the main issue with ADD is a lack of attention, but most people don't fully grasp the extent of this. It's not a matter of just being unable to cope with boredom. The most sinister side of ADD is being unable to focus on things you actually enjoy. Way past the concept of the student acting out in class is the adult sitting in their room thinking about how much they want to draw, or write, or just do something and thinking about it for so long that nothing happens. Or the less pitiable but no less problematic case of sitting down to do something important and having it slip out of your mind, only to remember after you've wasted hours on other trivial distractions. There's also the 'anti-social' tendency not to speak up due to playing responses over and over in your head examining it from every angle until it's too late to say anything without it being incredibly awkward. It can be hard to come to grips with the idea of constant self-medication, especially if you see it as a sign of weakness or failure. I have been fortunate enough to get over that idea and so far I've had a reasonable amount of success managing my condition.
Working with ADD
There are some upsides to this condition though, provided you can manage yourself effectively. According to 'The Personal MBA' by Josh Kaufman, people diagnosed with ADD are significantly more likely to run their own business. I immediately understood that concept when I heard it. When your mind is bouncing from idea to idea its easier to think in multiple directions and handle a wide variety of things. It also tends to facilitate imagination, creativity, and a joy of learning as well. I couldn't imagine living without the strong desire for wanting to learn about the absolutely random things that pop into my mind. Just the other day I spent the walk home from work googling the worlds largest freshwater fish from my phone. Maybe it will come up in a board gaming project (Dungeoneering) and maybe it won't, but I'd never rule out learning something new because you just never know where it might take you. I keep a notebook in my pocket almost all the time for jotting down any ideas that hit me for games, promotions, web site changes, future projects and anything else. I've even started carrying around a four-color pen so I can color code my notes by subject making them easier to reference when I look back over them. This is indispensable when it comes to self-publishing board games because it takes knowledge and skills you never thought you needed. Just to run a successful Kickstarter requires you to know not just game design but also about artwork, manufacturing, shipping, web design, social media, advertising, graphic design, copy writing, video production, audio production, editing, and probably some more things I can't think of at the moment. Even if you don't intend to do these things on your own (Don't do all these things on your own, by the way) you still have to know enough to be able to evaluate if the person you have commissioned is doing quality work or not.
The main piece of advice I have to being productive with ADD is making productivity something to remember. I have removed all non-work-related programs from my quick launch bar. My web browser link takes me to my web site login page rather than a blank tab. I put a couple cork boards over my computer so I can put short-term and long-term project goals on note cards and pin them up. I've even taped a note to the corner of my computer monitor that reads:
It's amazing that this small reminder can make me more productive than any number of systems, programs, or reorganizations ever could. By just having the idea reinforced that these are things I can do it becomes so much easier to do one of these productive and positive things instead of just absent-mindedly opening a Steam game, substituting something productive I can look back on and be proud about instead of a morning I resent later on for being lazy and wasted. I've also noticed that for me it is easier to work harder and achieve better results when I have a known deadline approaching, even if it's just one I've set for myself. This only works if there is someone to hold me to it, so it's not as simple and convenient as just making a bunch of arbitrary deadlines, but when I know that my actions will affect at least one other person positively or negatively then I find that extra energy. I do my best to fill my schedule with as many events and commitments related to designing my games as I possibly can, because nothing motivates me more than having the chance to interact with great people, make friends, and better their day with something I can create for their enjoyment. I work very hard not to let anyone down and it is motivational to know that I am doing something that matters enough to anybody that that might be a chance. Acknowledging my limitations has also been instrumental. While it's an important personal goal of mine to be productive and operate at a certain standard I've learned to let things go and focus on the future. My mantra for staying on the right path is 'one thing per day'. As long as I have done one productive thing every single day, not matter how big or small, it can never be said I have not taken one more step down the path I want to be traveling on that day. Taking that to heart can help you be happy with your life when you're working all day to make the money to live while you work all night for free.
Concluding (with ADD)
This is the reason that I indulge in multiple projects, and the reason why I keep track of and share the status and steps of all of them. If I feel like working on the site the worst thing I can do is sit down and force myself to try and do graphic design; if I feel like designing something new the worst thing I can do is try and force myself to get things done on the site; etc. It's much better to accomplish something at all than it is to languish and drag your feet and end up with two projects that still need doing and hurt feelings over not doing them. Coming to terms with this is the biggest reason that you can play Shootout! today, and more games will be made little by little, day by day.
Tonight we'll be working on a Harvest Moon-inspired board game idea. (Should I say that? Will somebody's lawyer care if they notice?) Rachel and I are big fans of different entries to the series and the idea of how a board game for Harvest Moon might go has been bouncing around in my head for a while now. In the interests of education and entertainment I'll be sharing the design process as it progresses from idea to workable prototype. As a game with this subject matter, I feel these concepts are core to the experience:
Merry April 1st! We were planning to do another joke Kickstarter like last year but decided not to this time around. It would have been for print-and-play copies of Palette Swap: Dog Edition, a grayscale version of our color mix'n'match puzzler coming out May 30th. Instead, we decided it would be better to focus all of our time and energy into making the actual game as great as possible. Sorry, you'll have to buy your dog the full, physical copy of the game!