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Mentoring ~ Benefits to Designers (Sharing)

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The Professor
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The other night, I met with Rob, my mentee for this year's Tabletop Mentorship Program and we discussed several of the things he worked on since our last meeting, two weeks prior. At this point, we're more than halfway through the program and it's been a tremendous experience for me and by all accounts, he's benefitted from the exchange, as well.

I plan on taking time over the next several weeks and highlighting specific benefits garnered by the mentee during (or between) these sessions. For this week, I'll focus on Sharing.

When I talk to new designers, they have shared their board game ideas primarily with friends and family, which is certainly reasonable, but not a particularly effective one. friends and family often have limited interest, and generally lack any ability to truly evaluate the merits of a given game, based on design precepts, including mechanics, depth of play, and accessibility.

The folks out here on BGDF have at least taken those first, tentative steps to get their ideas out into the world, and moreover in a community of like-minded individuals who may be able to provide some level of assistance and if not, at least encouragement. I have met a number of designers who have shown only me their designs and I question the secrecy...believe me, no one is going to steal your idea. Ideas are cheap. The real work hasn't even begun.

To that end, I ask you...with whom have you shared your idea beyond penning blogs and threads out here on BGDF (which is good, but not the same as sharing with someone with whom you can have a real dialogue) Was it helpful? If so, how? I often receive PMs, but I ask you to please share out here for the benefit of everyone.

Next time: Deadlines!

gamesomuch
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An opportunity coming up soon

I've miraculously had my game Laser Bounce selected for a playtesting event at PAX Australia (and scored a free pass along with it) so I will find out in October how it is perceived (or ignored) by the general gaming public. Up until now it's just been part of the BGG "one-card contest", from which I received some excellent and very constructive feedback from fellow contestants and also got some great ideas here on BGDF. I have a small gaming group who I'll be testing it with leading up to PAX AUS. I'll report on how that goes in coming weeks.

I think there is some merit to keeping the initial sharing of designs within a small circle, not for reasons of protecting the idea, but for getting that crucial early feedback and getting the game to a point where it's good enough for people to take an interest and to follow its progress. First impressions count for a lot. I wonder how many people revisit a game in development if it didn't interest them the first time?

The Professor
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Wonderful news!

That's outstanding, Gamesomuch! It's obviously great to get positive feedback and I look forward to hearing about your excursion to PAX AUS!

I agree that the initial introduction should be small...there's significant merit in that approach.

You pose a good question. I can tell you that as a professional developer, I've never had a designer come back to me if I turned down the original offer. Now, I certainly don't know if some designs got better, but one would hope so.

Cheers,
Joe

let-off studios
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Design Groups, Game Jams

Good topic, Professor. I have a few different items to share here.

Designer Groups
In the past several years when living near a big city, I'd been fortunate to cross paths with game designer groups. Their membership was comprised of both hobby designers like myself, as well as a number of professional designers. We would meet monthly, or sometimes several times a month (typically on weekends), for several hours at a time.

The amount of insight gained during these monthly/bi-weekly meetings was tremendous. Not only would you receive some critique and insight about your own designs, but you would also be invited to critically think and provide input on someone else's design. When you have the opportunity to be both a designer and a playtester in the same occasion, a tremendous amount of learning and progress can occur.

Over time, we'd also broadened our network and set up "designer's retreats," where we'd all chip in to rent a big house for a three-day-weekend or something like that, chip in for the food bill, and simply play and tinker with game designs throughout the day, evening, and morning. For the right kind of person, these kinds of events (and they were most definitely highlights in my calendar) proved tremendously useful and entertaining. You forward your own designs, and simultaneously build community.

Free Schools
Some larger cities have "free schools," public libraries, or community centers. This is a place where pretty much anyone can set up a one-time event or long-standing series of sessions, in order to facilitate whatever they might want. A big advantage of this would be that they had a classroom-sized space I could use, so I wouldn't worry about bringing people into my own home. Another advantage is that these kinds of places typically have their own website and/or promotional team that will help spread the word and increase participation.

In my case, I used the local Free School to consolidate the local "board game design scene," and in turn connect with other local designers to build a network of like-minded folks. In another instance, I reserved meeting rooms at a public library for the same purpose. I even had a long-running design event held in the game room of a local games/comics store. Of course, building community can provide you with more opportunities to hold events, so the more you do it, chances are the easier it will become.

An aspect of teaching and facilitating is that you also - even as a "teacher" - reinforce your own understanding of game design concepts and techniques. Setting up a recurring "game design workshop" may be an excellent way to hone your own skills and build the local scene.

Game Jams
Finally, in the past five years or so, there's been an explosion of interest in creating "analog" games in an arena typically-reserved for video games: the Game Jam. For those who don't know, these are typically online events where the goal is to create the first-draft of a game design. There's a theme or concept typically introduced, along with a specific time limit: usually a weekend, or two weeks, or something along those lines. Though some are longer, the usual tactic for these is to capitalize on the "inspiration of the moment," so a short time frame and set of various design restrictions (such as: only cards and dice, or a specific genre like "cooperative games" or "one-page RPGs") are introduced.

For many years I'd participated in the Global Game Jam (a worldwide, annual event), and in the past few I'd personally seen more and more analog/tabletop games presented. I'd also created a couple tabletop games for game jams hosted over at itch.io . I'm sure there are plenty more, but those are two places I'd start were I to be involved again.

Hopefully these are useful suggestions...! Game design is a great thing, and surrounding oneself with fellow game designers and enthusiasts can help you stay involved, make friends and build a designer network, and become better at the process.

questccg
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Just doing it...

I think that most designers have a bunch of game ideas they have in their queue. What is important is if one design doesn't "go-the-distance" that the designer doesn't lose hope and continues moving forwards with one or more of his/her other ideas & game concepts. It's like anything, you are subjective, family may not understand the implications of a design, playtesters (other designers) may provide good feedback but take everything with a grain of salt and eventually you'll find an avenue for the design.

Look at TradeWorlds. It started on The Game Crafter in a Crowd Sale for about $30 USD each unit... And now it's being published. I worked so DAMN HARD to try to ensure that the product was PERFECT. But the manufacturer screwed up and made a serious production error. They're trying to rectify the error ... But it's not obvious.

So I learnt a lot from the venture. I've also since tried a NEW Kicktstarter which failed miserably (only 20 Backers) for Custom Dice (Dual Dice). That too taught me something about "Kickstarter"... Expect to have a SEXY page with a VIDEO with MUSIC and ANIMATION to be successful. I had no video with only a few images of the dice and still nobody wanted to buy. They are damn cool dice and will re-surface at some point in time. But now is not the time for that venture.

I'm still more of an "Indie" Game Designer ... I like to see my ideas reach a final product. Like Crystal Heroes (CH) the first pack of cards is ready... But I still don't know what to do with that DESIGN... Because ATM I have OTHER priorities. We'll have to wait and see what happens but CH is another design that I can sell...

I'm not interested in quitting ... I've got a bunch of good ideas that could be transformed into finished products... But am busy ATM. So CH is probably the next design that needs to be SOLD!

Where was I going with all this... OH YEAH! Keep doing it!

Cheers.

Note #1: My failed KS shows that IF you TRY it ALONE... The odds are you will NOT succeed. Put together a SMALL Team of 3 to 4 people and have them help you market and get the word out about your game. Like with TradeWorlds, we have a 4-person partnership and the only reason we are down to 3-persons is because Mike passed away (RIP).

That's another one of my BIG advices to give NEW designers... You're going to NEED a TEAM if you are going to make any game a success. People to look for are a Developer, a Salesperson and a Graphic Artist. The Graphic Artist is important for all the EYE-CANDY of a Kickstarter Page, LOGOs, Packaging, Rulebook, Card Templates, and other designed assets like punch-outs and such. The Salesperson is someone good with people for SELLING to stores, distributors and general marketing of your Brand. Lastly not to be overlooked is the Developer... I mean you're going to need to have the game BLINDLY playtested and a Developer and his network of playtesters will go a long way to get the final tests on a design.

Of course, IF you can assume any of these roles YOURSELF, well it's one less person to share the profits with.

Generally speaking I wish the BEST to all of our designers and the anonymous people reading what is going on over on BGDF.com. If you are into gaming and want to try designing... BGDF.com is a good place to share ideas and get some "conceptual" feedback also.

The Professor
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Great stuff, let off studio and Kris

I really appreciate the responses, guys!

As to the Designer Groups, Free Schools, and Game Jams, I'm fascinated by all of these as I've engaged in only a few of them over the years and obliquely at best.

For the Designer Groups, I remember with fondness meeting with the likes of Jason Matthews, one of the Twilight Struggle designers and Vohko Ruenke, a member of my former organization in the D.C. area who discussed game design elements across multiple panels.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of assisting the designer of Freedom, The Underground Railroad with the Librarians' Convention in D.C. a few years ago. The discussion centered in using libraries and by extension schools due to the general availability of well-lit, comfortable rooms.

Finally, the Game Jams is interesting to me but not one I would use as it's not my personal style. I've worked with quite a few designers via TTS; collaborated with a few folks on the same call; and have had the sessions recorded. While a great idea I prefer to work almost exclusively 1-on-1 with a designer.

I agree, Kris, that any good designer has a number of games in various degrees of completion. This is why, I turned to game development as I tended, as a designer, to preseverate on one design...far too long.

It's a long road to publishing a game, but for me it's the journey that's exciting, not just the destination.

Cheers,
Joe

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