You prepped and polished your prototype. You made the trip to a Protospiel event, an Unpub event, or some other awesome playtesting event. You put it your design in front of a bunch of total strangers. They gave you tons of feedback. Now the convention is ending and your next steps lie before you. Where should you go next?
Successful design has three parts. You had good preparation. You had good execution. Now you need good resolution. What will you do AFTER the convention is over?
- A publisher expressed an interest in my game. When should I contact her?
Your first step when a publisher expresses an interest should be to establish a timeline. If you haven’t, there are a few general rules you can follow.
It is most likely that the publisher either took your prototype with her for in-house testing or asked you to send a prototype. Send this within a week of the request and follow 3-4 business days with an email to confirm that they’re received it. After that, my experience is that it takes publishers about a month to have a reply. If you haven’t heard anything by then, send a short, polite message asking if they need any adjustments or have any questions.
- “They said it was awesome! How do I get it published? Should I publish it myself?”
Me? no. You? Maybe.
I personally self-published one game–The Great Migration–for the experience. I’m glad I did it. Going through the whole process taught me a great many things about that end of the industry. But I wouldn’t personally do it again.
Kickstarter and other similar crowdfunding platforms are opening new avenues for distribution and advertising however. If you’re considering the self-publishing route, I would urge you to contact some of the folks who have already gone that route. Folks in this industry are sincerely supportive and will give you solid advice.
- The playtesters wanted to completely overhaul my game. If I take their advice, is this still my design?
This is a question I struggled with for quite some time myself.
The short answer is “yes.”
The long answer is that playtesters will give you every manner of idea. It is your job as the game designer to analyze each suggestion, to carefully pick which ones to incorporate and which ones to set aside. It takes a great deal of work to do that kind of fine-tuning. It is that work which entitles you to put your name on the box.
- I got contradictory feedback from two different groups. Now what do I do?
Congratulations! Having too many ideas is one of the best problems a designer can have.
In this case, I often try to temporarily pursue both approaches. This may go so far as to assemble two distinct prototypes. I then alternate tests of each approach. Eventually, one of these designs will reveal itself as superior. When that occurs, you can drop the weaker design and focus on the superior one.
- But I have limited time and other responsibilities. I can’t be working on two (or more) different versions at the same time. Should I quit my day job?
In a perfect world, we have all the time and opportunity needed to pursue every avenue. That nasty devil reality does tend to assert itself from time to time however. Do not quit your day job. Instead, pick the one(s) about which you feel most strongly and focus there.
- Was this playtest a “bad” playtest?
Gil Hova contributed this question. Rather than trying to answer it myself, consider the response he offers. I think it’s better than anything I could possibly say.
There are playtests where the game breaks down and everyone tears it apart, but I don’t think those are bad playtests, just difficult ones.
To me, there are three kinds of bad playtests…
First: The playtesters only say “Yeah, I liked it, it was okay,” and you can’t read any more feedback.
Second: The playtesters all LOVE the game. Then you play another, less polished game and they LOVE that one. Then you play a totally broken game and they LOVE that one too. And you realize that they’re cheerleaders, and they like pretty much anything they play.
Third: One playtester spoils the test somehow. Perhaps he is a high-maintenance special-needs kid who isn’t adjusted enough to social situations to play a game, or he is actually, literally insane and only offers lunatic ravings. These have both happened to me. They throw so much noise and static into the test that it makes the session tough to parse.
- This game just isn’t working. I’m afraid it’s a dead end. Now what do I do?
Mistakes and dead ends are all a part of the design process. Take a step back. Let the game rest for a little while.
This question of what to do with a dead end design hits one of the reasons keeping a journal in some form is so very important.
Your design journal is a repository for all those other game theme and mechanism ideas you may wish to return to. It is also a place to look for inspiration if a project stalls or if you wish to go back and look at options you set aside earlier.
Take a look at your options. Have you tried each approach you considered? Perhaps there is an idea you had, an idea which didn’t seem useful at the time but now fits your situation perfectly?
- I set this game aside for months, then returned to it, polished it up and brought it to Protospiel. It still isn’t working. Now what do I do?
It might be time to retire this design. Perhaps this one simply doesn’t work. That’s okay. You will have plenty of failures along the way. Keep working and keep trying new things. Your successes will far outdistance your failures. I promise it.
- “How can I keep in contact with all the wonderful people I met?”
Apart from trading email addresses with everyone you met, become an active part of the design community. Facebook has a Protospiel group. Boardgamegeek has its game design forums. Board Game Designer’s Forum is another great place to commiserate and to exchange ideas.
If you’re an experienced designer, what do you like to do after a playtest event? Do you have a question about playtesting that’s still searching of an answer? Share with your fellow designers in the comments below. And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create and account with wordpress and follow this blog. It makes this old designer’s heart young again.
Next week, you folks get a look into the creation of Dragon Tides, the martial arts action movie game featuring Bruce Lee, Brandon Lee and a host of other familiar faces. See you then!