YTN Episode 003

The 3rd episode of Your Turn Next has just gone live!

Join the YTN team and a special guest as we discuss The Science of Playtest blog post from June 1st.

Let us know in the comments or via email if you have any topics, questions, or ideas you’d like us to discuss in a future podcast. The email address is: contact@clockworkphoenixgames.com

And if you’re looking for links to some of the games we discussed this episode, well… it was mostly just Werewolf:

The Science of Playtest

I’m pretty passionate about playtesting. More specifically, I’m passionate about establishing and maintaining good playtest practices. I’ve had the opportunity to playtest many different products over the years for a number of different game companies. I’ve participated in playtest sessions as a playtester, as a playtesting coordinator, and as a game developer, giving me a broad perspective on playtesting and plenty of opportunities to see what works most effectively.

When I sat down to write this article, one of the article names that appealed to me for a moment was “The Art of Playtest.” The other side of my brain, however, immediately rebelled at the thought. I’ve mentioned in blogs and podcasts in the past that I love how game development merges analytical and creative pursuits. That’s true of playtesting just as it’s true of game development, but playtesting requires far more objectivity and critical thinking than people might realize.

It’s easy to think of a playtest session like a normal gaming session – you hang out with friends, and you play a game. Then, because it’s a playtest session, you talk a bit about how you felt the game went and what aspects of it you feel could be a bit different. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of playtesting, but that’s not enough.

Playtest games are essentially experiments. I’ve often said that “playtesting is light on play and heaving on testing.” The goal of players is to compete for victory in a game. The goal of testers, however, is to help create a better finished product. It doesn’t matter who wins or loses. You’re not testing player skill. It doesn’t even matter if you finish the game. What matters is what you learn and how effectively you communicate that information to the game developer. Shifting your mindset from working against other players as competitors to working with other players as fellow scientists performing an experiment will go a long, long way toward increasing the value and impact of your playtest feedback.

Thinking about your playtest session as an experiment will help in all sorts of ways beyond that first step of working with your opponents rather than against them. Taken to heart, it helps alleviate some of the following playtest pitfalls in a way that comes as second nature.

1. Don’t play favorites. When performing experiments, you need to test a variety of outcomes. Even after you find your favorite character, faction, play style, etc. in a playtest game, don’t get hung up there. There’s a ton more variables to consider, and you should take this opportunity to experiment. Your goal should be the balance and fun of the game as a whole, not one specific element of the game.

2. Expect change. It’s very easy to form opinions about a game mechanic or a character or a rule and then stick to that opinion. As gamers, we do it all the time. As playtesters, however, it’s a trap! Playtest games are constantly changing, and it’s absolutely critical to look at the current version of the game rather than relying on outdated impressions.

3. Consider the big picture. It’s easy to get hung up in the current revision of the game and your own playtest group’s experiences. After all, your feedback is the piece of the picture you see. In the big picture, however, lots of other folks are submitting playtest feedback, and the current revision of the game is changing all the time. Your feedback will be heard and considered, but it won’t always result in immediate and visible change.

So those are some of my thoughts on the science of playtest. In the next blog, I’ll be continuing the topic of playtesting to talk about how to maximize your playtest feedback. Being an effective playtester not only helps to make great games, but working smoothly with game developers can frequently lead to additional opportunities in the gaming industry.

YTN Episode 002

The 2nd Episode of Your Turn Next is now live!

The team really hits its stride this episode as we discuss the Cooperation is Key blog post from May 21st.

Let us know in the comments or via email if you have any topics, questions, or ideas you’d like us to discuss in a future podcast. The email address is: contact@clockworkphoenixgames.com

And if you’re looking for links to some of the things we discussed this episode, here’s where to find more about:

Cooperation is Key (Co-op Gaming)

Though games where all involved players play on a single team have been a popular part of electronic gaming nearly since its inception, their popularity has only recently ramped up when it comes to traditional gaming. Board games and card games have been around for orders of magnitude longer than electronic games, but the earliest known board games are almost invariably tests of skill between two players. They frequently simulated war or politics and required one player to outthink his opponent to achieve victory. More recent games have placed players on opposing teams or have even set a single player against all other involved players, but it’s only been in very recent years that truly cooperative games have emerged and subsequently become one of the fastest-growing segments of the traditional gaming market.

The electronic roots of the cooperative game shine through even in the jargon. The systems that govern the obstacles for the players to overcome are usually called the game’s AI. Such systems can be as simple as flipping over a card to see the next challenge or can involve a complex “program” of conditions and results not unlike rudimentary computer programming. No matter the complexity of the resolution, however, the complexities of co-op game design considerations are high. Without a human intelligence behind the game’s challenges, there is a delicate balance between a cooperative board game that is too difficult for players to find enjoyable and one that is too simple to provide an engaging challenge. This is why cooperative game reviews on sites like Board Game Geek often focus on critiquing a cooperative game’s difficulty level.

One common way to address some of these difficulty level concerns is to include rules that allow the players to adjust the difficulty level before start of the game. There is a host of ways that different game developers have provided this “dial” to their players, ranging from very simple and elegant tweaks to substantially reworking game rules to alter the experience. When done well, though, such rules allow a game to provide a challenge to veteran gamers while keeping the game accessible to a more casual crowd.

Cooperative games have proven so popular because of their inclusivity. Whether the players win or lose, no one player is defeated by his fellow gamers. If they win, everyone gets to enjoy the victory, and even if they lose, they can focus on what they can do next time rather than focusing on the defeat itself. No matter your own gaming group’s preferences, I’d strongly encourage you to check out a cooperative game or two sometime. These games are a fascinating and rapidly-growing segment of the traditional games market, and they provide a change of pace from competitive gaming options.

YTN Episode 001

The 1st episode of Your Turn Next is now live!

The audio balance should be better this time around, and we got some good discussion going about the Age of Creative Freedom blog post from May 4th.

Let us know in the comments or via email if you have any topics, questions, or ideas you’d like us to discuss in a future podcast. The email address is: contact@clockworkphoenixgames.com

And if you’re looking for links to some of the things we discussed this episode, here’s where to find more about:

Age of Creative Freedom

Modern technological advances have made it easier than ever to share not just our thoughts but our creative works. Even just a few decades ago, it was a real challenge to get a book published for mass consumption. A writer needed to submit their work to major publishers, wait to have that work reviewed, and likely have it rejected. Even if we ignore digital publishing entirely, print-on-demand services allow people to print copies of their books at a reasonable cost. Beyond that, crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo give authors a means to produce an entire print run of a book if they can establish an audience for their work.

The same principles easily translate to card games and role-playing games and can even apply to big box board games (though at higher print-on-demand costs than purely print media products). In order to crowdfund a new card game or board game, a crowdfunding user need only generate an idea, develop that idea, test it, write and edit the rulebook, commission all required art, perform all required graphic design for the game’s components, create a compelling campaign video, and get the game produced, packed, and shipped.

Yes, that’s a whole lot of work, but it’s doable. It’s a far cry from doing most of those steps anyway, then submitting it to one of a tiny handful of game manufacturers, and then hoping for the best. The ease of creating games in the modern age has allowed the number of game manufacturers to explode over the past 50 years.

Even consumer goods products are quickly heading toward an anyone-can-do-it state. 3d printing, which is becoming more and more accessible, is a great way to prototype a product idea to gauge interest. Once the idea is proven, it can be crowdfunded just like a book or game. An idea that would have required a six-figure investment years ago can now be brought to customers for a much lower initial investment (or at least one that’s spread out across far more people).

At this point, I’ll resist the growing urge to launch into a First Church of the Transistor sermon and wrap up the article. What do you think? Are there ideas you wish someone would create in this age of creative freedom? Are there things you would like to create?

Tune into the upcoming episode of Your Turn Next! (Episode 001) to hear Reese, Tony, and I discuss this article as well as a variety of gaming topics.

YTN Episode 000

The introductory episode of Your Turn Next is now available!

We’re calling this one the 0th episode since this was our trial run, but we had a lot of fun and are already looking forward to recording again soon. We hope you enjoy it.

Let us know in the comments or via email if you have any topics, questions, or ideas you’d like us to discuss in a future podcast. The email address is: contact@clockworkphoenixgames.com

And if you’re looking for links to some of the things we discussed this episode, here’s where to find more about:

Origin Story

Game development has always been one of my passions. I can remember all sorts of game designs I kept in notebooks or folders even in early childhood. The aspect of game development that drew me in so thoroughly is its combination of analytical and creative thinking. I’m very mathematically-minded, and I take genuine joy from solving complex equations or unraveling the secrets of a mathematical proof. On the creative side of things, I love envisioning unique characters and weaving tales of crazy adventures.

Though there are other ways the analytical and creative can join together in delightful synergy, game development is a prime example. I like to find ways to draw players into a game’s setting and characters, and I have numerous massive spreadsheets of the mathematics behind a game’s balance and combinations.

For many years, I pursued this passion as a freelancer for a number of game companies. Eventually, that led to full-time employment at Privateer Press Studios where I worked on miniatures games, board games, and card games for years. And now, I’ve taken a new step. Clockwork Phoenix Games is the tiny new company under which I’ll be publishing some of my own game ideas.

At the moment, I’m running a Kickstarter project to learn a bit more about the ins and outs of the crowdfunding platform and am working on the first Clockwork Phoenix Games release. I’ve also created a Facebook page for Clockwork Phoenix, and before long, I’ll be hosting a podcast, Your Turn Next!, that you’ll be able to find on the Your Turn Go! podcast page.

Thank you for following along. I hope this will be a long and exciting journey.