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Prototyping Fun

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Jerry's picture
Joined: 11/01/2010

Hi all,
Tons of usefull information here, and lots of veteran game designers and from the looks of it a few small game publishing companies come nosing around these forums, so if possible I'd like to get some tips from them, as well as anyone who can help, really.

I've been creating board games since I was 12 (now 26) and it's always been just for fun, but for the last year or so been thinking of trying my hand at finally trying to take it from merely a hobby to hopefully maybe publish something. I know the odds are slim, but you'll never know without trying, right? Anyways, I'm rambling now so down to the point.

All the games I make are hand built and hand drawn from various things like card-board, construction paper, bristol board, counters, etc. I've never used computer programs like paint shop pro, gimp, vassal (to name a few I know theres more) which I hear a lot of around here. My question is, is that good enough for a prototype if I manage to get a publisher interested? Or must I get a board semi-professional looking, by using a service such as thegamecrafter for example to get a product acceptable enough to send it in.

I'm just wondering if my chances would be ruined if the publisher opens the box and finds out my prototype gameboard is a hand drawn map on bristol board and all the counters, cards, etc are all hand drawn on bits of paper or whatnot. While a trememdous amount of work is done in doing this, I'm not convinced a publisher would be appreciative of that fact.

If I can pick some of the vets' thoughts and get tips from them on prototype making/getting it pitch ready to a publisher, that would be great!



Dralius's picture
Joined: 07/26/2008
No need to get fancy

Back when they had open submissions I’ve did allot of play testing for companies like Mayfair, ElfinWerks and a few others. I’ve seen game boards on paper written in colored marker and they don’t even blink an eye at it. Instead they get the rules out and see what the game has to offer. On the other hand I have seen prototypes with professional art and constructed as full mock ups and heard them say “I wonder if they spent all their time making it look pretty”.

In other words if your time is limited it’s better to develop the game engine than to develop the game art. And make sure your refine the rules set as best you can. If the rules are not clear they may play it wrong and that’s going to decrease the chance of it playing well.

Personal i just use clipart and MS word for most my prototyping. Dose it work?

Yes. Snag coming out on the 28th and Nitro Dice in about 8 weeks. There are also three others schedules to come out later this year but i suspect at least one will get pushed into 2012.

bluepantherllc's picture
Joined: 07/29/2008

Disclaimer: We offer a prototyping service for game designers.

Now, putting on the publisher hat, we ran a contest last year called "Small Box Games Contest". The criteria were very specific - must have two dice, must have a certain number of cards, play in a short time, must fit into a fairly small space. Dralius's design, SNAG, won the contest. All the entries were PDF, no physical prototypes. We made prototypes of the finalists ourselves. So, prototype quality had no influence on the outcome in this case. Were there other designs that were as good as the one we picked? Absolutely. Were there more interesting themes? Yes. Were there other clearly written, well explained entries with PDFs of sample cards, boards, artwork, etc. ? Yup.

If so, why did we pick Snag? Well, it was the best fit for the criteria we specified for the contest - and it did it with the a low component count that would allow us to offer it at a good price point. The graphics in the entry were not spectacular, but serviceable. I don't know if he had the design ready beforehand, or if he designed the game specfiically with our contest in mind, but compared to every other entry in the contest, Snag stood out as if it had been designed to meet the criteria we set out. Will it have the best potential sales of all the entries? Don't know, but we certainly hope so. Are we going to do another "focused" design contest again - absolutely.

What does all this have to do with prototype quality? Well, the games submitted that made it to the second round had a few distinguishing features. 1) They fit the criteria for the contest 2) They were well written and easy to see the gameplay on the first read-through 3) The rules appeared logical (not all good games have good rulebooks, but the best rulebook ever written will not save a bad game). Prototype quality is also a function of rulebook quality and how easily you can convey the gameplay when you're not there in person to explain it. So, if we didn't get it on the first or second read, it did not rise to the top. One person even sent us a picture of how their components actually would fit into our box size, since they happened to have the card tower, which is the same size. I was impressed by the passion this and other designers show for their designs.

There are a few ways to view prototypes - as eye candy to draw in the potential publisher to want to try it out - to show you are serious and professional about your design. Or simply as a set of components (of variable quality) that will help a publisher play your game and decide if they want to publish it.

In my experience as a game designer trying to submit to the big publishers, serviceable prototypes were good enough - they did not need to be perfect, but they do need to be good enough so they don't distract from their task of helping the publisher decide if they want to publish it. Fancy prototypes with art you commissioned just for the prototype are probably overkill - publishers may like the game but want to change the theme - that happens often. If you are serious and willing to invest the money to get artwork for a prototype, consider publishing it yourself, you will have full control over your design that way. One time I was asked if I would take a few features out of a game design so we could introduce them over a series of titles. I didn't like the idea, but I certainly understand why a publisher would want to do it that way.

So, if I had to be succinct (as I recommend you be when you write and submit your design to any publisher), I'd say - concentrate on the design, then make the prototype "good enough". A good theme doesn't hurt, but don't get too attached to it.

Also, consider what the publisher already makes. You won't sell a wargame to Out of the Box Publishing, Fantasy Flight publishes most of their stuff with a strong license tie-in (Lord of the Rings, Call of Cthulhu, etc). Your chances of getting published go up when you research the company and make your design a stronger fit for what they do.

Jerry's picture
Joined: 11/01/2010

Thanks for the replies, both Dralius and blupantherllc. Very helpfull information here. :)

bluepanther, will you be posting future design contests on your site or on these forums?
I've never been a part of a design contest so I think it would be a good challenge as well as something to gain experience from just participating in!

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