Skip to Content

Finding a Reason To Keep Designing

19 replies [Last post]
Jerry
Jerry's picture
Offline
Joined: 11/01/2010

Apologies if this is posted in the wrong section.

As boardgame designers, I'm sure we all go through phases where the inspiration and drive to keep designing is at an all time low. I am currently experiencing this.

In general, I usually have a dozen or so boardgame ideas floating around in my head. I get excited about starting work on them. In the past, that hasn't been an issue. My issue in having the drive to continue lately, I think stem from the following:

- I lose interest in designing a particular game at some point in the concept/early prototyping phase.

- I don't feel like prototyping all the required pieces, as it would take a long time. Learning programs to make my life easier, such as NanDeck, and Inkscape can seem like a huge task.

- When I do prototype a game, it's pulling teeth in my game group to get it tested. I constantly have to bring it up, and it just feels like I'm inconveniencing everyone. They play my game once half heartedly, and it never gets brought up again. The game gets shelved and I get discouraged because the 10-20 hours I put into the concept/prototyping/writing rules seems wasted.

The last one is probably the biggest, and I think the first two stem from the last one.

I don't want to stop designing, in fact I still love it and have a big passion for it. (If I could make a career out of it, I'd do it in a heartbeat). For me, the joy in designing comes from seeing others being immersed in a world you've created.

I just don't see how it's worth it right now, and from there, the negative feelings snowball.

Anyone experienced what I'm going through? How did you deal with it?

X3M
X3M's picture
Offline
Joined: 10/28/2013
Jerry wrote: Anyone

Jerry wrote:

Anyone experienced what I'm going through? How did you deal with it?

Yes.

Twice already.

Don't give up.
But don't force yourself.
And don't force others if they don't want to.

A pause from time to time helps a lot!

If your game design is not fun for others (because the feedback is mèèèèh!) Perhaps they can tell you, why?

Jerry
Jerry's picture
Offline
Joined: 11/01/2010
The strange part to me is, in

The strange part to me is, in general the feedback I have gotten on my games has been positive.

Based on my experiences, people have also been brutally honest with me about the games, telling me the parts they didn't like about it.

One of the biggest complaints I have heard is that they don't find the prototype interesting to look at. I don't think much can be done about that. One wants to make sure the game is fun and compelling before you invest countless more hours into designing art, etc...

I do tend to design more hardcore strategy games, so it may be they aren't fans of that type of games, but even then that doesn't make sense as we play heavy games such as:
- Dominant Species
- Terra Mystica
- Lords of Waterdeep
- Castles of Burgundy

chris_mancini
chris_mancini's picture
Offline
Joined: 05/01/2015
The biggest thing to

The biggest thing to remember, which can an times be the hardest to stick to, is that this is a creative expression of your passion for the hobby of gaming. You love the genre enough to want to contribute to it, and that's a special thing! As for your specific concerns...

1. Everyone, even the "big guys" like Lang, Launius, Borg, etc. lose interest in some of their designs and shelve them for the future, or sometimes indefinitely. It's part of any creative endeavor; if you have lots of ideas, some crystallize faster than others, be it due to your personal excitement for the game, the scope of what you're trying to achieve, how the industry is moving, or any number of other factors. The important thing is to recognize those ideas that really excite you enough to push you through the considerable time and effort to make the idea a reality. Not every idea needs to get past that initial spark; indeed several maybe shouldn't...that's entirely up to you!

Prototyping is a big part of design, and you've got to learn to love it if you ever hope to bring your ideas into the world. It's the part that most excites me personally, as it means the game has come far enough from my scribbles and notes to try and play those ideas through. I also love making things in general and have been building toy prototypes in my career as a professional toy designer for that past 15 years, so I'm predisposed to this phase of game design, among others. It all goes back to choosing the right idea to pursue, as I can see the prototyping process becoming a real slog if the idea of getting to play through your ideas doesn't absolutely thrill you.

Lastly if your game group isn't into testing your prototypes, it may be because you yourself isn't selling the experience enough? You're overall tone here is a bit defeated, like you're not sure you really want to be doing this. No one will ever be as excited about your games as you should be, so you really need to sell it, even if you're dealing with people you've known for years. That familiarity may also make it easier for your group to say "naw, let's just play a "real" game." You've got to press them with your enthusiasm, selling them on why they'll like your game, prove to them you've put the time into making sure the game is at least mostly playable (playing the game yourself for hours on end to test), how being part of the testing process let's the exercise their creativity as well, how awesome of friends they'll be for helping you pursue your dream! If none of that works, try your FLGS and set up a session, maybe talk to them about creating a "Designer Day" where you and other designers can test prototypes. Set up a Meetup group for others like you who have designs and can mutually benefit from getting together...simply put there are many options beyond your group to keep the fire of creativity alive within you!

PS 10-20 hours to go from idea to prototype is really not much time at all, unless the game is very simple or derivative of another game. Most games take hundreds of hours to reach a final stage...don't let the time I rated put you off, rather just try and focus those hours towards ideas you're most passionate about...then the hours slip by like minutes!

Squinshee
Squinshee's picture
Offline
Joined: 10/17/2012
I feel ya. I'm not sure where

I feel ya. I'm not sure where you're located, but there are clusters of groups that meet up once a while to playtest games. These are really helpful and you should look into it.

Your biggest mistake is improperly incentivizing your friends to playtest the game. Selling the idea better won't help. For example, my brother hates playtesting my game with me. I mean loathes it. He instinctually fills a glass of wine as we setup to help him cope through it. Not because my design sucks, but because he's not a creative person. I ask him to help because he's SMART - he knows how to break games, has strong valuation skills, and asks the right questions that burst open the design, forcing me to put the pieces back together to create a stronger whole. He's invaluable to my process, but selling him that the latest prototype will finally be the one he enjoys just won't happen.

So I bribe my 27-year-old brother with candy. I have a stash of Life Savers Gummies (his favorite) so when I'm ready to test, he knows he gets something out of it too.

Buy your friends a large pizza or a 12-pack of Corona and they'll be far more willing to help.

Jerry
Jerry's picture
Offline
Joined: 11/01/2010
Hits Home

chris_mancini wrote:
PS 10-20 hours to go from idea to prototype is really not much time at all, unless the game is very simple or derivative of another game. Most games take hundreds of hours to reach a final stage...don't let the time I rated put you off, rather just try and focus those hours towards ideas you're most passionate about...then the hours slip by like minutes!

I mean, the 10-20 hours is usually what it takes after the concept has been put together, to a playable prototype. (Not fancy, just bits of paper, etc... There are some board games I have probably put hundreds of hours into. I get everything else you're saying though.

I love prototyping, it gets my creative juices flowing. I think the problem at this point is what you mentioned here:

chris_mancini wrote:
Lastly if your game group isn't into testing your prototypes, it may be because you yourself isn't selling the experience enough? You're overall tone here is a bit defeated, like you're not sure you really want to be doing this. No one will ever be as excited about your games as you should be, so you really need to sell it, even if you're dealing with people you've known for years. That familiarity may also make it easier for your group to say "naw, let's just play a "real" game." You've got to press them with your enthusiasm, selling them on why they'll like your game, prove to them you've put the time into making sure the game is at least mostly playable (playing the game yourself for hours on end to test), how being part of the testing process let's the exercise their creativity as well, how awesome of friends they'll be for helping you pursue your dream!

This hits home, probably for a reason. Appreciate the input. I've lost the enthusiasm of presenting a new game to my friends because I'm anxious about their reaction to it.

Jerry
Jerry's picture
Offline
Joined: 11/01/2010
Thank you

Squinshee wrote:
I feel ya. I'm not sure where you're located, but there are clusters of groups that meet up once a while to playtest games. These are really helpful and you should look into it.

Your biggest mistake is improperly incentivizing your friends to playtest the game. Selling the idea better won't help. For example, my brother hates playtesting my game with me. I mean loathes it. He instinctually fills a glass of wine as we setup to help him cope through it. Not because my design sucks, but because he's not a creative person. I ask him to help because he's SMART - he knows how to break games, has strong valuation skills, and asks the right questions that burst open the design, forcing me to put the pieces back together to create a stronger whole. He's invaluable to my process, but selling him that the latest prototype will finally be the one he enjoys just won't happen.

So I bribe my 27-year-old brother with candy. I have a stash of Life Savers Gummies (his favorite) so when I'm ready to test, he knows he gets something out of it too.

Buy your friends a large pizza or a 12-pack of Corona and they'll be far more willing to help.

Thank you for your perspective! You've helped me realize a couple of things...

- I don't incentivize my friends enough to play my games. Pizza/beer is a good idea... perhaps a guarantee of inclusion in the game credits should it ever reach published stage... I could probably think of a few more things.

- Finding/creating a testing group in my area. I think this is a big one. I'll have to see what there is around, and if there isn't anything, maybe create a group for designers to meet and test each others games.

Good suggestions!

adversitygames
adversitygames's picture
Offline
Joined: 09/02/2014
Jerry wrote:- When I do

Jerry wrote:
- When I do prototype a game, it's pulling teeth in my game group to get it tested. I constantly have to bring it up, and it just feels like I'm inconveniencing everyone. They play my game once half heartedly, and it never gets brought up again.

Ok so I can think of three possibilities why this would be the case:

1 your games aren't that good

2 you're bad at explaining why your games are good

3 they're not interested in doing playtesting

Now, assuming #1 and #2 are false (I can't judge that without knowing your game or your pitch better), let's look at #3 some more.

Playtesting is work. It's not just playing a game, it's playing an incomplete game that has errors in and is not feature-complete. It involves the extra work of giving feedback, identifying problems, trying to make suggestion. This makes the experience of playtesting lower-fun and higher-stress than playing.

If players aren't into doing this favour for you then yes you can offers incentives to give the experience added value for the players. But some players really just don't want to playtest, they don't enjoy it and no amount of beer and pizza is going to convince them to do it - they wont have fun, whether they have that or not. They want to play a game and have fun, not do work for you.

Try to find extra playtesters, or get on tabletopia so you can do remote playtesting.

Jerry wrote:
One of the biggest complaints I have heard is that they don't find the prototype interesting to look at. I don't think much can be done about that. One wants to make sure the game is fun and compelling before you invest countless more hours into designing art, etc...

This could also mean that they don't find the appearance engaging. Presentation has a big impact on how easy a game is to understand and play so games needs to be very clear in appearance. If your design isn't intuitive and clear it can make it more tiresome to try to play. So I wouldn't dismiss this problem as something you can't improve on.

Even if it is just that they don't like the look of it, you don't need to invest in commissions or do a ton of work on design to make it look a bit nicer. There are loads of sources for free images or icons online that can be used just to make a nicer prototype. If making it look better helps get players to playtest your game, and you're not making progress because you haven't done that, then the way of making progress is to do it.

Jerry wrote:
I do tend to design more hardcore strategy games, so it may be they aren't fans of that type of games, but even then that doesn't make sense as we play heavy games such as: - Dominant Species - Terra Mystica - Lords of Waterdeep - Castles of Burgundy

This all goes more for hard games. I think there's a bit of exponential growth in how much work goes into playtesting compared to how complex the game is.

It's also possible that you underestimate the complexity level because you're the designer. It's hard to know how complex a game is from a new player perspective when you know everything back to front.

Jerry wrote:
perhaps a guarantee of inclusion in the game credits should it ever reach published stage

Yeah that should be a given.

jonathanflike
jonathanflike's picture
Offline
Joined: 03/09/2016
The blues are real.

Jerry wrote:

In general, I usually have a dozen or so boardgame ideas floating around in my head. I get excited about starting work on them. In the past, that hasn't been an issue.

This might be problem number one. Though it may be exciting to jump from one project to another, some focus on one or two projects is important to make any true progress on them. I think by avoiding the temptation to start something new, you'll force yourself to stay committed to a single project. The reason you may start to burn out with your projects is because none of them really get off the ground since they are stopped a portion of the way through the process.

Jerry wrote:

- I lose interest in designing a particular game at some point in the concept/early prototyping phase.

- I don't feel like prototyping all the required pieces, as it would take a long time. Learning programs to make my life easier, such as NanDeck, and Inkscape can seem like a huge task.

You have to be committed to a project if you really believe in it. If a single project isn't worth your time investment or you aren't passionate about it, how are you going to get others to want to invest time in it play testing or getting excited about a project that will never see the light of day. commitment is hard, but I think it's worth it.

Jerry wrote:

- When I do prototype a game, it's pulling teeth in my game group to get it tested. I constantly have to bring it up, and it just feels like I'm inconveniencing everyone. They play my game once half heartedly, and it never gets brought up again. The game gets shelved and I get discouraged because the 10-20 hours I put into the concept/prototyping/writing rules seems wasted.

The more an idea is developed, the more I think your play testing group will want to invest some time in it. If they have been bouncing around play testing all your projects that are never completed, I can understand the hesitation to become emotionally invested in them from a play testing perspective.

Jerry wrote:

I just don't see how it's worth it right now, and from there, the negative feelings snowball.

The negativity you are feeling probably is stemming from the sense of failure, and that sense of failure is coming from the lack of anything really meaningful coming out of the time you are investing making these projects. The truth is you do have some progress across all these different projects, but none of them are far along to give you that satisfaction of progress and that dopamine release. Try focusing on one or two projects and make them the best you can.

Jerry wrote:

Anyone experienced what I'm going through? How did you deal with it?

I think the design blues are a real thing, and I have had the same feeling at times as well. What I do when I start to feel this way is I move on to another project within the project. So maybe that's working on a power curve, or some art, or some fancy tokens, something that reignites my excitement for the project, while creating a little achievable goal that when reached, gives you that little emotional boost you need to move on to the next hurdle. If your play testers for example are given a little treat i.e. new art or a more tangible prototype, they will feel a part of the progress as well and will get excited about each improved iteration you come up with. So stick with a single project, make it into something you can be proud of, and diversify what you do for it to keep you interested. If you're not bored, your friends won't be.

Stormyknight1976
Offline
Joined: 04/08/2012
Focus

Focus on what got you into game designing in the first play. For the love of competition? For the love of bluffing or bartering? For the love of building with minimum resources or maximum resources but have strategy to figure out how much you need to build by starting with little income at the beginning of the game or however the story is told for the players.

For the love of a face to face communication across the table to see the reaction of your movement of a card, token, chit, battalion on the attack or defense.

We all get over whelmed of the information we try to put into our game projects to stream line the rules, movements , the strategy, the playtesting, artwork, the box designs and so forth and so forth.

Then we get to the point where during the game production, playtesting etc we feel depressed or blah because we think as game designers or game producers the thought, " What have I got myself into? Its taken so long to create and develope. Will it be good to show off my potential as a creator? Will I or the game be enjoyable in the long run even if it does well in playtesting or being bought from store shelves or from online retail?"

That was an example of situations.
Well. Some are true statements.

What I do. I call friends or are into the same hobbies I am. Explaining to them the same situations.

They tell me,"Dude, look at all of the progress you have accomplished. It shows. Keep on going."

So find support from friends and family other than your playtesters or in such groups like bgdf.

Don't give up. Do what you love. Find the source of your moment that gave you the bite into creating what you have created.

If your overwhelmed or exhausted. Take a day or two off from game designing. Refresh your creativity. Come back to the project. When you take time off , you re-energize your thought process of your project from a different perspective.

Hope this helps you all out.

Stormy.

Jerry
Jerry's picture
Offline
Joined: 11/01/2010
Appreciate it

Appreciate all the suggestions everyone. I feel encouraged, and I've received a good dosage of perspective.

I can see there are things I need to change about my approach in general. I'll be trying a lot of your suggestions. Hopefully I can one day post here about one of my games getting to the final prototype phase!

Arcuate
Offline
Joined: 02/05/2016
Explore online playtesting?

If one of the issues is the difficulty of getting face-to-face playtesters, perhaps you should explore some of the online options?

Jerry
Jerry's picture
Offline
Joined: 11/01/2010
Thought about it but not much more

Arcuate wrote:
If one of the issues is the difficulty of getting face-to-face playtesters, perhaps you should explore some of the online options?

I have thought about it, but not really looked into it yet.

Are you referring to Pnp? Or finding a group that tests games, and mail the game to them?

If you've used them, how did you find it was to communicate with testers, receive feedback, and get your prototype back from them, etc?

Arcuate
Offline
Joined: 02/05/2016
I have had mixed success, but

I have had mixed success, but so far I have achieved more online than offline. I am running two "play-by-email" games of my own game at the moment - one of them uses Slack rather than traditional email, and the other uses a mix of Google Groups and email. It has required a lot of work on my part, but it has been very valuable overall, leading to significant rule changes. If anyone wanted to go via this route, I would recommend Slack over email.

I also have a mod in Tabletop Simulator (TTS) and have taught the game to a few people that way, getting useful feedback. I now have a pool of people who know how to play. There are always people online looking for TTS games - check out The Red Dice, which is a TTS gaming club that mostly gets together on Discord to play TTS. ( http://thereddice.enjin.com/forum ) We are about to put aside time for a full online game on Tabletop Simulator, but that has been difficult to get going - mostly because of my own busy schedule rather than lack of willing players. If my weekends were truly free, I think I could get in one or two games per week.

My game is way too complex for PnP, so that's not an option I am afraid.

I started with some fairly crappy physical prototypes, but the opportunities to actually playtest with them seemed limited. Now that I have played it a bit online, I am ready to get a couple of decent-looking physical prototypes made and take one to my local gaming groups. I'll probably wait to see how the current "email" games turn out before doing that though.

One thing I found very useful was making a 2D Java implementation. In some ways I prefer it to TTS (which is a 3D physics engine), but the 2D version lacks multiplayer support. I have used the 2D Java version to playtest face-to-face while travelling on a train, and used it extensively to self-playtest. I am now using it to provide visuals for my "email" games. Obviously, that requires some coding skills, so it is not an option for everyone. If your game is simple enough, though, a quick 2D digital prototype would be easy to put together. A TTS mod would be easier to create, but would not enforce any game logic. You don't need any coding skills to get a TTS mod up and running, so I think it is a good option for game designers with limited access to enthusiastic testers in the physical domain.

ruy343
Offline
Joined: 07/03/2013
You're not alone

I'm just gonna pitch in here, after taking a 2-month hiatus from designing, that the designer blues are a real thing, and it's OK to take breaks. When you come back to game design, if you leave behind one of your previous prototypes, that's OK - you've designed something, learned from it, and moved on.

My first 7-8 games reached an initial prototype, and had a handful of playtests, but I never got much farther than that because I knew that the game had inherent problems that I couldn't figure out how to solve. My answer has been to consult the whiteboard, sketch up a new game, and start over, building on a framework of what I've seen work in previous games. Every time I start over, I'm able to see problems before they hit the table, and I'm able to design around them and save myself valuable playtest time.

If anything, my advice here is to keep trying, and to keep notes of what you did and didn't like from games you've played and designed. As long as you do that, no effort is wasted.

Another thing that's helped me in the past is to take the time to ensure that I'm designing a game that I actually enjoy. sit down one day and ask yourself what it is that you really like in a game - if you're honest with yourself, you might be surprised to discover that you truly like different games from the ones that you thought you liked. I used to think that I liked hard euros and more complex games, but then I realized that the games I truly enjoy are games that offer a sense of progress, of building, and games that don't have absurdly long turns. Once I realized this, I was able to refocus my efforts on games that I enjoyed playtesting, and I designed better games.

gilamonster
Offline
Joined: 08/21/2015
I often reach a point of

I often reach a point of near-despair in most creative projects of reasonable size that I tackle. When this happens, my wife usually reminds me that every half-finished project looks bad, and it will be fine when I finish. She's usually right. And as others have said, if it isn't fun, put it to one side until you feel like working on it again.

What I have found as my hobby time has become more limited is that it is worth deliberately tackling smaller projects because I am more likely to be able to get them done in a reasonable time period, so they are less intimidating. With games this works particularly well, because not only does prototyping it take less time, but people are usually much more willing to spend 10-15 minutes testing a microgame than 1-2 hours testing a full-size game. And smallness and simplicity do not necessarily mean a lack of depth; I think they offer a way to learn to design depth into a game in an economical fashion. It's like writing a short story rather than a novel.

Jerry
Jerry's picture
Offline
Joined: 11/01/2010
It had crossed my mind to try

It had crossed my mind to try designing different types of games, but I've never done it.

A lot of my ideas center around a war theme, so it will take a bit of re-wiring of brain circuits.

Not saying totally put aside my usual goto boardgame type... but expand a bit.

Squinshee
Squinshee's picture
Offline
Joined: 10/17/2012
I find that my ideas always

I find that my ideas always start complicated, filled with the types of mechanics I like in games. From there, the best thing to do is find the one thing the design does really well, and shave off everything else that doesn't promote that thing. Subtraction is your best friend, as it allows your game's mechanics to breathe. If you find yourself adding to your designs to make them better, this usually muddles the waters and hides the essence. This means hacking off bits you conceptually like in order for the real game to reveal itself, which can make your game end up in a place far different from where you started from. But that's okay and way preferable to forcing something into the design that has no place being there.

anthiasgames
Offline
Joined: 11/07/2014
I feel the most important

I feel the most important thing is to remember a pause is sometimes a vital part of the process. Never say you are stopping for good, just take a break. I haven't done anything for months now, but I have other enormous projects taking my time. After the big day, and a few other things, I will likely get back to it, but sometimes one of your regular activities must take a back seat for other things, and sometimes that activity is the one that has priority. This is nothing to be ashamed about.

As for getting the testers, yes, this can be like pulling teeth. I can't give you an easy solution to that one.

lewpuls
lewpuls's picture
Offline
Joined: 04/04/2009
I'd guess that for many

I'd guess that for many designers, it's more fun to come up with new stuff than to refine older stuff. And the farther into the refinement you go (say, late playtesting) the more it's drudgery.

Playtesting should NOT be like work, because the designer ought to get the game into decent shape before inflicting it on anyone else. How often do you play your games solo before persuading your group to play? Several times at a minimum, I hope. If not, if you haven't soloed it at all, then no wonder they don't want to play it again, it's just a broken game when first played.

And if you don't want to play it solo, why would you think anyone else would want to play it?

Syndicate content


forum | by Dr. Radut