YTN Episode 017

The 17th Episode of Your Turn Next is now available!

This episode, Ryan and I are joined by Seppy from Fight in a Box games. We kick things off as usual with a brief discussion of the games we’ve been playing, miniatures we’ve been painting, and the games we can’t wait to play next.

The second segment covers our featured games, and this episode we feature:

Our topic segment for the episode looks at coming up with ideas for games versus executing those ideas. We talk about how important (and difficult) a successful execution can be and close the episode with a brilliant new game idea from each of our podcasters.

YTN_AvatarWe’d love to hear from you! 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 is: contact@clockworkphoenixgames.com

Developing Resources

In one of the earliest blogs on this site, I wrote about how print-on-demand services and crowdfunding sites have made it easier to get game ideas into players’ hands. Even the best game idea in the world is still a long, LONG way from being a great game, however. Once you’ve hashed out your game design and played through a quick proof-of-concept version of your game, you’ve still got quite a bit of game development, illustration, graphic design, financing, production, and fulfillment to consider.

Just as print-on-demand services and crowdfunding make the financing, production, and fulfillment more attainable, the resources available to aspiring game developers are increasing as well. Since game development is a behind-the-scenes sort of activity, you’re unlikely to find dev groups in banner ads on Facebook or Board Game Geek, but a little bit of searching is sure to produce results, and once you start joining such groups, it’s easier and easier to find others.

  1. Facebook has multiple groups for folks who create Kickstarter projects, are involved specifically in game projects, or are involved in the game industry in a variety of capacities. Because these groups are online-only, they have the same strengths and weaknesses of other online-only groups. They have large communities where you can make some great contacts, but they also represent a very impersonal method of communication. If you find one particular group less receptive to new members, just look elsewhere.

2. There are also numerous groups for local game developer meetups. Their Facebook groups, forums, or email lists can be a bit tougher to find, but it’s well worth the effort. These groups can be an excellent resource, because they allow you to actually sit down together and test games! Different developers approach games in very different ways, so getting a broader perspective on your design can be a huge benefit to your game development process. As a bonus, local meetups also get around the impersonal nature of the online-only groups.

3. The last resource I want to mention is organized online communities for game developers. Unpub is great example. They run playtest events at stores, conventions, and other venues all over the place. It’s a bit of a quiet season right now as I write this due to the holidays, but in the summer months, you can find multiple events weekend after weekend. You might also be able to find a more regional game development group in your area like Playtest Northwest in my backyard.

The right resource (or resources) for you will vary from person to person. Look at the folks involved, the type of community they have, and the sort of feedback you’ll be able to get on your development. For anyone in the Pacific Northwest, it’s hard for me not to recommend Playtest Northwest. Forgive me for the upcoming tangent, but these guys have a “core belief” message that’s tough to beat:

TEAM – Working as a team makes us all stronger. Designers, artists, playtesters, developers, and customers are all members of our project teams.

TRUTH – Always start from the truth, and the story never changes. Being open and honest shows respect for others and respect for yourself.

TRUST – Earn a person’s trust, and they’ll be with you always. We’re all human, and we all make mistakes – own them, fix them, and build stronger bonds.

Anyway, if you plan on making games or were just curious about how the proverbial sausage is made, I hope you enjoyed today’s blog. If you know of other resources for game developers or wanted to share some positive experiences you have had with a particular dev resource, we’d love to hear about it. Share in the comments below or over on Facebook with your thoughts!

Three Element Alchemy

Most games can be broken down into three elements – Skill, Luck, and Social. These three elements are mixed together in vastly different ratios and with vastly different results, but the basic building blocks are always the same.

Skill game mechanics take innumerable forms, but the essence of such mechanics is always player choice. The choices you make building an army or constructing a deck, the choices you make when positioning your pieces or tiles, the choices you make when determining the right card or spell to use at a given time – any player choice that can impact the outcome of the game falls under the umbrella of skill-based game mechanics.

Luck game mechanics are the simplest of the three elements to identify. Their core essence is randomization. Rolling dice and shuffling cards are extremely common luck elements, but spinning a spinner, mixing face-down items on the table, blindly pulling an item from a bag, and various other means of randomization are all luck-based game mechanics.

Social game mechanics have a core essence of player interaction. Any time you need something you can only get from another player, it’s a social game mechanic. Voluntarily trading cards, resources, or information is a very common and easily-recognized social game mechanic, but any game mechanic that requires players to read one another or bluff is also a socially-based game mechanic.

Let’s look at a few examples that focus on just a single element.

Chess is a great example of a pure skill game. There are no cards or dice providing luck elements. You can play a whole game without ever communicating with your opponent, so there is no intrinsic social element. Chess, Go, Mancala, Checkers, and the like are games of pure skill.

War, the traditional card game, is a pure luck game. There are no decisions the players can make or social interactions the players can have that will impact the results of the game. War, Bingo, and Chutes & Ladders are games of pure luck.

Some Diceless RPGs fall into the category of pure social games. Some include player decisions that impact the outcome of encounters but others are a purely social experience. And naturally, the big draw of diceless RPGs is the lack of randomization that typically comes from dice. Diceless RPGs and various story-telling games are some of the rare games that are purely social.

Chances are, your favorite games are some alchemical admixture of at least two (if not all three) of these elements.

Most Hobby Miniatures Games lean heavily on skill-based game mechanics when it comes to constructing an army, positioning your figures, and engineering favorable trades. There are typically luck-based elements, though, and even occasional social components requiring player interaction in order to resolve the game.

Most Dice Games lean heavily on luck-based game mechanics since the entire genre is based around a randomization mechanic – rolling dice. The popular dice game King of Tokyo, however, incorporates some critical player decisions as well as lots of player interaction if you’re playing with three or more players.

Most Co-op Games lean heavily on socially-based game mechanics. There is typically no chance of success without working together toward the common goal. But randomized cards and/or dice are common, and individual player choices (skill-based game mechanics) greatly influence the outcome of the game.

The three core elements – skill, luck, and social game mechanics – come together in some ratio to form the greater whole. The biggest piece of the pie varies greatly from game to game, but (nearly) every game out there boils down to a mix of these three elements.

The game mechanic of card drafting is particularly noteworthy, here. This increasingly popular game mechanic is one of the few that is intrinsically skill-based (card choice), luck-based (card draw), and socially-based (card passing).

Do you favor one element above the others? What games do you think have the best balance of skill, luck, and social elements? What mixture of the skill, luck, and social elements leads to the best games? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments or via email at Contact@ClockworkPhoenixGames.com.

Stay On Target

The target audience is a critical consideration for any product. During my engineering days, such considerations were very clear. The customer would provide specifications, and I would create the control panel or wiring diagram or program to meet those specifications.

As a game developer and sometimes-writer, the target audience’s wants and needs are far less cut and dried. When it comes to creative pursuits, it’s very easy to fall into creating the game you would want to play or the story you would want to read, but this can be a trap. It can lead to an audience that’s much narrower than the target audience you truly want. In the worst cases, it can lead to restricting yourself to an audience of one! Obviously, this is less than ideal for any sort of product.

And so it becomes very important to define the target audience at the start and to keep that target audience firmly in mind, even if you are not a member of that target audience, make that especially if you are not a member of that target audience. Target audience will impact art choices, game mechanics, and even aspects of your game as seemingly innocuous as packaging.

It’s also highly beneficial to consider ways to expand your target audience. Movies frequently tone down certain elements in order to achieve a PG-13 rating instead of an R rating. Whether you personally like it or loathe it, the fact remains – PG-13 movies gross two to three times more than R rated movies on average.

Cutting down on over-the-top gore or sensuality can have the same impact for games. In some cases, it can broaden your audience by entire nations that have censorship laws against certain themes or imagery. Always be mindful, however, that aiming for too broad an audience can dilute the appeal. Just because a game doesn’t offend anyone out there doesn’t mean it appeals to anyone out there, either.

YTN Episode 004

The 4th episode of Your Turn Next has just gone live!

Join the YTN team and a special guest as we wrap up the playtest discussion using the Forming First-Rate Feedback blog post from June 19th and then discuss world building in games, books, and movies.

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:

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.