In his article about vanity, Alex mentioned the importance of playtesting and acquiring useful information from playtests. In this article, I’ll give some examples from the recent open playtest of the next edition of Dungeons and Dragons and how the principles applied there carry over to strategy game design. While the goals in designing a roleplaying game aren’t the same as for making a board or card game, some of the lessons learned in the D&D Next playtest are valuable ones for all sorts of game design.
First, well designed games can (nearly) be played right out of the box. One of the key lessons that the design team learned was that players have certain pre-conceived notions about how a game ought to operate. In a strategy game, these ideas might be based on the game’s theme, its genre, or even its designer. Players might expect a game about empire building to reward controlling a large amount of territory on the board, or a game with colorful cards to contain a set collection mechanic, or a game by Stefan Feld to involve a menu of available actions based on rolling dice.
Analog game design has grown steadily, or at least has appeared to grow steadily in recent years. Emergent paths to publication via crowdfunding and print-on-demand sources have given rise to a growing interest in boardgame design. Still, we face some recurring questions from new game designers which may indicate a concern I’d like to address.
What if someone steals my game idea?
How long does it take to get my game published?
How can I get more people to support my game on Kickstarter?
All of these questions are common and entirely reasonable from a newcomer to game design and inspire generally positive and helpful responses in game design forums but seeing a flurry of these questions that included “I”, “My” or “Me” recently sparked an idea for this article which I hope you’ll find useful in your worthwhile pursuit of publication.
Avoid the greatest downfall of an aspiring game designer: the Ego.
Our third article in the Approachability series focuses on the learning curve. Once you’ve gotten your players in the door and interested, how do you set them loose on the game? Can someone learn the rules and strategy over the course of the game, or does it take three games, or ten? And what’s the best design strategy to make the replay as approachable as the initial play?
To answer those questions, we’ll revisit the clarity and navigation axioms of approachability. Clarity, as we established at the beginning of our approachability series has two forms. The first type, as we covered in an earlier article, dealt with turn-scale clarity and how players were able to understand how their actions lead to results. The second type which we will cover in this article is game-scale clarity which is how a game can ensure a player comes away from a game with an understanding of their performance and how to improve in future sessions.
When we left off last week we were looking at Clarity which helps players by providing context to their available actions. We finished by looking at Navigation which provides short-term goals to new players to mitigate a lack of experience. We’ll pick up where previously left it by covering Parsimony and Assurance followed by a conclusion which brings all these concepts together.
If you missed Part I, read it here.
Many of our Approachability axioms assist new players by providing additional resources or mechanics at their disposal. Our axiom of Parsimony deviates from the others by subscribing to simplification which can decrease the overall burden on players. Parsimony is more than just an arbitrary statement like “get rid of the excess stuff” and actually an advocate for addition by subtraction.
This month we are exploring Approachability, the process of removing barriers to entry for new players. Last week we wrote about the invitation phase of approachability and how games can ease the daunting aspects of a new game. This week we’ll look at how to build on this foundation using theme, mechanics and structure. The result is a series of ideas that can help acclimate a beginner to the game and encourage them to achieve the intended game experience.
In a two-part article we will dive in to four more of our axioms of approachability:
Clarity: What can I do and why should I do it?
Navigation: Give players a push in the right direction.
Parsimony: Ease the cognitive burden on players and remove distractions.
Assurance: Reward the player for participating through positive reinforcement.
This month we’re looking at approachability in game design. How do we remove the initial barriers to entry that new players face in games? This week we look at several methods that help to encourage a player to try a new game. To follow up on our six axioms of Approachability, this week we’ll be looking at Familiarity and Purpose.
Bridging the Uncertainty Gap
As we introduced last week, gamers and non-gamers alike often have a bit of rules aversion. We don’t wish to learn new rules as it can lead to confusion while learning, errors in judgment and even anxiety over the possibility of making mistakes. In order to help dissipate this initial response game designers have some tools to generate leverage on the situation.
Familiarity: Ease concerns by establishing connections with the audience.
Purpose: What is my objective and how do I get there?
Let’s begin with an example that illustrates why some games need familiarity and purpose:
Although this clip is comedic in nature, it is a wonderful illustration to set-up our first phase of approachability. The Cones of Dunshire may or may sound like a game for you but convincing others to play would undoubtedly be a significant obstacle. The game may have some innovative mechanics, interesting decisions and intense player interaction but most people would never know for themselves. The Cones of Dunshire lacks familiarity: nothing we see or hear during Ben’s pitch will trigger memories or ideas that resonate with a prospective group of players. Furthermore, The greatest mystery in this clip is the purpose or overall objective of the game and how players might achieve it.