#37 Keeping the Faith

I mentioned this a few times (here, herehere, and here) but game design is rough. Heartbreaking, even.

For a little over a year, now, (basically, the entire time I’ve been working to bring Hot Pursuit to life) I have struggled with doubt. Sure, there are a lot of things which can go wrong after funding on Kickstarter, but that’s not really what I’m talking about. I am having to learn-as-I-go how to ship internationally, manage business bills/taxes, etc. That’s not it, either.

You see, I am happy member of The Game Crafter’s designer community and I spend a lot of time in “help” groups on Facebook. Twitter and Kickstarter also eat up a fair amount of my time. Sometimes a game/designer comes through I immediately think, “Wow. That just looks like no fun at all.” Either the illustration or graphic design are awful (different from non-existent) or the game looks/reads as garbage (on a fundamental level). Now, this does not include complete rip-offs (like Cards Against Humanity clones) or situations where the creator is just bad at sales). True, it functions much like a snap judgment, but I honestly take the time to at least read up on the game. Simply put, based on my years of experience reading, analyzing, and teaching games, that thing looks like a pile of dog-doo.

Some people come in knowing that they have some problems that need fixing. Cool. What’s fascinating is the number of designers who just don’t see it. They can’t tell that they are toting around steaming feces. And THAT is the scary part. Is my game crap? Am I just as clueless as the rest? Did my Kickstarter campaign fail because my product sucks or was it only my poor marketing?

Well, let’s look at the typical filter:

  1. Do your friends like it? They say it’s a fun / neat idea / cool game.
  2. Do they ever ask to play it? One, yes; the rest no.
  3. Have you shown it to people you don’t know? Yes, at my FLGS, an Unpub mini, and multiple conventions.
  4. What did they say? Same thing: fun / neat idea / cool game.
  5. Has anyone asked to play it again? After the first game, many people ask for more because they feel they can do better with a clearer understanding of the game. But no, no one has asked to play it after the first session.

That looks pretty darn bleak, right? Disheartening, even. This metric burned in the back of my mind for a few months – breaking my hope and causing me to dig around for ANY other games.  Honestly, I began doubting all feedback – it felt too polite. Clearly, something had to be wrong even if no one would tell me. Then, I had some unexpected opportunities for demos, and they were GREAT! Since most things in my life rarely function at face-value, I started trying to look past these initial, damning answers for actual causes. Let’s look at that list again:

1 & 2: The vast majority of my friends don’t care for tabletop games. Those that do, only play light games – they can’t quite grasp thinky, brain-burning games.
5: I have rarely seen any of the people I demoed to a 2nd time. It’s pretty tough to be asked to “bring it back out” when you don’t play together.

The vast majority of online advice for game design revolves around that question (who actually requests it). So, it was obviously the source of many doubts and concerns for me. As this cloud followed me around, I was also hitting some real frustrations from an inability to play any new games (which were finally showing up) and older favorites. And I about fell over when I realized NOBODY asks me to bring out ANY game. Statistically, my games are just as popular with my friends as 7 Wonders,  Machi Koro, and Hocus.

What a freaking relief that was. True, I should probably find something more mainstream before going back to Kickstarter, but at least my games don’t ALL suck. One question I never see asked is “Does your game have any fans?”. This little gem was what started my confusion and frustration with Hot Pursuit. Although the Kickstarter campaign failed and none of my friends request it – I discovered at my last convention that I have FANS! One guy I hadn’t seen for a year came out of the crowd to say hi. He still carried around the copy I gave him last time and plays it with friends. Another guy we demoed to came back and asked if he could buy a demo copy. A distributor played with me and took a copy downstairs to the “free-play” room and played with his friends and family!

I guess the lesson here is this: critical feedback is vitally important for gauging the readiness of your game. However, cling to positive feedback (however slight) and allow it to temper the negativity, doubt, and constant competition that surrounds us every day.

What about you? How do you weather the storms? Got any fans?

Let me know what you think