Perspective Is Everything
Sam “King of the Hilltop”
I used to be a T.A. years ago for a marketing class at my local university. One of the segments I used to teach was about branding, consumer vs business perspectives, and target marketing. So, here is a short, fun exercise that I encourage you to do. It takes less than 10 min. and all you have to do is watch 2 short videos. Alright, have fun and I’ll see you after the videos.
Watch this video first, the Wii Fit Trailer from 2007.
Now, watch this video below of the same trailer.
What did you think? Very different perspectives of the same trailer. The reactions to this can be quite varied and people are going to have strong opinions that may even be counter to your opinions. You may have experiences that make one video more relevant to you than others. That’s true. That’s people.
What does this have to do with board game design, marketing, and manufacturing as a whole? Everything. Perspective is everything. Or better yet, understanding different perspectives is everything.
For Game Design
You have created a game and you start to test it. You find issues, you solve them, and then you keep repeating that cycle. Then you start playing the game with other people and they break the game or they misinterpret a rule which is “obvious” to understand. This will come up time and time again as long as games will be around. It’s a fundamental problem of communication; however, don’t let that stop you. In that challenge, there is an opportunity.
Playtesting is an amazing gift that we need to take advantage of because it allows for precisely that problem, communication. Embrace the difficulty and if you can make great strides in overcoming it, your game will be much better. How do we do that? By asking a very simple question, listening to people and trying to understand their perspective.
I like to ask any number of questions in a playtest ranging from a generic, “Would you play this game again?” to “What were you thinking when Bob here activated this ability?” If it is appropriate and they are freely discussing their thoughts, I like to ask why. They will then start to try and reason and talk through the answer with you. It lets you see things from their perspective. Sometimes their problem is not with a certain attribute at all but all the attributes as a system. Or maybe it’s a single interaction and it would be better to only make a small tweak. They may simply not like a type of game and that mechanic annoys them. So when they say they don’t like something, they are not wrong about it, but know that their perspective is different from the players who would potentially buy or play your game.
Now does that give you carte blanche to do whatever you want to do with your design? Yes. Does that mitigate the consequences of your game design choices? No. Those will ever be present and you need to be aware of those consequences. This is a good thing. The mechanics of a board game will both bring in new potential players as well as alienate others. This will help you position your game to the people who would want to play it. There is no one game for everyone.
When doing game design, it can be an amazing boon to have different perspectives. However, know what your end goal is. You need to have a vision for your game and what experience you want people to have. Seek out others who are familiar with your kind of work. However, I strongly encourage you to also seek out others with different experiences and perspectives. You can learn a great deal from a diverse array of people.
The difficulty level of your board game, the art, your website, the actual weight of your game, size of box, your online presence, are all part of people’s perception of you and your company. That perception is your brand. So how do you brand a board game, a board game company, or a board game reviewer to be what you want? It’s all about what your audience sees.
Now, this is not condoning lying or deceitful practices. That is wrong. If you lie or steal in order to sell a game, get backers, or whatever you need to benefit yourself, that is the wrong choice in my book.
What I am talking about is what kind of standards do you have for the visual presentation of your game. Do you run events for your community? Do you answer personal questions or do you keep it strictly business? How do you interact with the online community? Do you interact with the online community at all? I don’t necessarily think there is an exclusive right or wrong answer (for exceptions see the paragraph above this) but it all has an impact on your business. You will attract or repel customers based on this perception of your company.
This idea of perspective is also crucial for target marketing. If I have a large board game that is $120 retail and weighs about 7 lbs. because of all the miniatures and meeples in it, I am not going to advertise to a social deduction group and try to sell the game. That is the wrong target for that game. You need to think about who would buy your game and where are those people? Are they on Board Game Geek? Maybe somewhere else? Understand your customers’ perspective.
When dealing with manufacturers, you need to learn their business as much as you need to learn your own. If you want to make good game design decisions that a publisher will appreciate and potentially help you get your game signed, understand at least the basics of what is involved in the production of a board game. This will help you in the long run as you continue to design more and more games and avoid mistakes that will lead to sinking your time into potentially problematic game design elements.
Now, if you are choosing to publish your own game you need to learn that not all manufacturers are the same. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Not all manufacturers produce the games completely in-house. The smaller the manufacturer the less options you are going to have in what elements of your game can be produced in-house. If they have to go to a 3rd party, it will likely increase the prices.
Certain games will be cheaper with some manufacturers then it will be for others, but that is not a constant. An example is that one manufacturer may have cheaper printing for boards, tokens, boxes, etc. but their dice end up being more expensive. Depending on the component price difference and the number of those components in your game, your game could be more more or less expensive with different manufacturers.
I think it will be best to sum this all up with a quote paraphrasing Sun Tzu and the Art of War:
“If you know the customer and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred games. If you know yourself but not the customer, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the customer nor yourself, you will succumb for every game.”
So, what did you think? Was there anything you learned here? Is there anything you think I should learn here? It’s a constant process and I am happy to hear your perspective.
Ed “Duke of BAzlandia”
Recently I have come across a British comedy show called “Task Master” and have watched several clips. This show was created by Alex Horne (Little Alex Horne, who happens to be 6’2″) and Greg Davies. In this show 5 contestants compete across Tasks that are given to them by Greg Davies. The task usually involves ridiculous actions, timed events, and things that are just silly or stupid. Having watched several clips and a few episodes I found it quite funny and interestingly enough it made me think of game design when it comes to rules and rules writing. Below I am putting a link to the channel and an episode and if you got the time, enjoy. (Warning: there are clips in the channel that contain language)
Task Master Episode – A Pea in a Haystack
If you don’t have the time to watch (make some time, it’s pretty good) I will explain some things and draw a few parallels to game design, rules writing, and playtesting.
Needless to say this show is all about completing tasks and those tasks are sometimes judged subjectively and at other times objectively. In other words, sometimes it’s purely based on the judges opinion and at other times it is based on an objective such as complete the task the fastest. In creating and designing board games objectivity and subjectivity have their place.
The first task of the show is a usually a subjective task. It is usually something like bring in the item you are most proud of or bring in the coolest jacket you won and etc. In this episode bring in the most flamboyant clock. The Task Master Greg Davies then awards points based on what he thinks of the items. In the end you try to impress the judge to get the most points. The Task Master is not bound by anything but his own, very subjective opinion. Subjective games tend to rely on this same theme of having a judge or judges. This is why they tend to be party games or group/social games. The goal of the game is to have fun, be social, and figure out how people think. In my own experience in this genre of game, I think these games are about moments. Moments in the game that are most memorable and enjoyable are specific moments that are usually funny or clever.
The next task in the episode is they have to go a larger distance and turn off a microwave in under five minutes and the person who does it in the fewest steps as possible wins. All five contestants do different things. In the end the person who wins did it taking only four steps. It’s interesting as you watch this part of the episodes what different people do and some of the arguments as to what a step is or isn’t. It would be easy to talk about rules lawyers and such but the main point here is the task seems rather objective. Fewest steps wins. Now in the gameshow there is still a judge and there will be subjectivity to something that you would think is very objective. When writing rules for a board game that doesn’t involve judging this can be a problem. Players don’t like ambiguity. Players want to have defined and specific definitions and want everyone to be on the same page and understanding. This is where rules writing becomes so important. You need for players to all have a common understanding of what is allowed and what is not allowed
The third task involves propelling a pea the furthest and the pea must land on the carpet. Now reading that task people assume you have to throw or propel the pea as far as possible onto the carpet. Three of the contestants do this and they have varying success. The next contestant puts the pea into a wheel barrow and walks around for several hundred feet and then drops the pea on the carpet. So he has met the requirements of the task by propelling his pea several hundred feet and at the end it lands on the carpet. The contestant after that goes even further by dropping the pea on the carpet, rolling up the carpet, hopping in a car and traveling quite a few miles down the road. Once again, thinking outside of the box and according to the task met all of the requirements and wins the task. I relate this to blind playtesting: giving a group your game, your written rulebook, and letting them interpret and play the game. This is likely to lead to interpretations of rules that you would never think of or would never think that would be the way to play. This highlights the importance of blind playtesting. Alex Horne in the show actually shows how to moderate a blind playtest. Throughout the show he records, and acts as a bouncing board but doesn’t provide directions on how to accomplish the task. If you have the opportunity to moderate your own game for blind playtesting be Alex and not the Task Master, by being helpful, but not giving direction.
If you are a Game Designer, your finished product should provide a base understanding of what the game is about, how to play, and everyone should share the same understanding of what that actually entails. In the end, you are the Task Master.