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Home of RPGs by Matt Snyder, including Dust Devils, Nine Worlds, 44: A Game of Automatic Fear, and The Ladykillers

Archive for the month “May, 2010”

Open game design project, Part 2

[ Read Part 1 ]

So, make your case! Why should a designer get involved with this open system idea?

The most important thing is that this can expand the reach of your designs, with less effort on your part. You will have a target audience who turn to this game system to meet their needs. You’re a part of that, and it improves as more designers participate. If it works, it’s a virtuous cycle for stuff you create, which also means you get more time to design new stuff and need to do less in marketing to reach a larger audience.

Obviously, there is a trade off. You have less freedom in design if you’re going from an existing frame work like this open design would be. I think the trade off is worth the benefit of a wider audience.

But, I want to know more about what kind of game system this will be.

Without a finished game system, it’s hard to completely answer. And, the explanations below could easily evolve or change.

I see two options for this game system.

First, it may be possible to begin with an already existing game system. I’m open to that possibility, but I want the system to meet goals I have in mind (I’ll get to those below). I’d prefer an existing game by a published designer. And, I suspect it would be modified for this. That would be up to the designer, of course.

Second — and this option seems more likely — we have a team of designers create the game system following agreed upon guidelines. I have guidelines in mind, as well as a target audience in mind.

Interesting. Let’s hear about the guidelines.

Fair enough. Let me start with a few quick examples that I think are in the ballpark, so to speak.

Keep in mind, these are just shorthand for the kind and scope of game I have in mind. I’m sure there are many other relevant examples.

Now, on to more specific guidelines. My assessment is that the game needs:

  • Modular design — designers (and players) can add and subtract components.
  • Easy session preparation.
  • Quick, but compelling and rich, character creation.
  • Versatility – suitable for one-shot and campaign play (say, 12-20 sessions).
  • Simple learning curve – easily explained in minutes, including a dice/resolution mechanic.
  • Enough complexity (e.g., exceptions-based rules) to keep game compelling.

These guidelines will develop and shift through initial phases, then again in design and playtesting. But, it’s a start.

What if those guidelines aren’t my thing?

I guess that leaves three options.

  1. Don’t participate. Do your own thing. And, you can always use the open system later if you change your mind.
  2. Just modify the game system (once it’s ready) to do what you want. Of course, the more you stray from the core concepts, the less benefit you get from the audience. But, the idea here is to allow for variations upon the core game.
  3. Get involved right away, and help design or advise the actual game system core.

What about that target audience thing? Do you think a target audience is really worth considering in this small niche?

I do. If I’m wrong, I doubt the downside is any disaster.

The idea I have in mind for this audience will shift as this develops, no doubt. But, it’s still worth examining. Here’s a “persona” I have in mind (who is male here, but could be female, of course):

  • He’s as an existing gamer. He’s around 30+ years old, and has been playing different RPGs for a while. He’s not a hard core, D&D only person.
  • He works full time, and maybe has a family or active social life with a significant other. He’s busy! He needs a game that fits those constraints in his life.
  • His game group is also busy, and they have similar needs!
  • He’s either the frequent game master, or an early adopter of new games — the guy who has a ton of games on his shelf.
  • His group isn’t as interested in early adoption and new games. He has to convince them to try new games, sometimes unsuccessfully. They may even voice reluctance for “those indie games.”
  • He’s interested in character driven play. But, he still wants enough “fiddly bits” to make play interesting, too.
  • He’s creative! He’s has lots of cool ideas, and needs a good solution for those ideas.
  • He has a fondness, even nostalgia, for a few particular RPGs. And, he’s a bit disappointed that he now realizes so many of those games have disappointing rules, but exceptionally cool ideas. Or, maybe someone in his groups hates the game he loves. These games he loves have great settings or back stories or other components. He wants to run the settings “in another system,” but he can’t find the right one.
  • He’s not interested in distinctions between “indie” games and “traditional” games. They are just RPGs. He just wants to enjoy games.

Ok, that’s a lot of information. What now?

I want to assemble a small design team. I’m particularly looking for 2-3 comrades who’ve designed and published, and who are willing to help design the core. It’s no small feat, and will require serious effort.

Following that, we’ll need more design work from other designers following that. And, the project requires plenty of playtesting as well.

Consider this the announcement the project is underway. Contact me via replies here or by email if you wish to be involved.

I’ll add more blog posts here with additional next steps, including how the open license will work, who’s participating, and more guidelines and frameworks for the game system.

Open game design project, Part 1

Last winter, I posted about my ideas surrounding marketing co-operatives by teams of creator-owned RPG publishers. This new post is the evolution of that idea — my solution to the puzzle of shared resources vs. creator ownership. Indulge my self-interview:

Hi, Matt. What’s up with you lately?

Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about how successful some indie RPG publishers have been because they have an identifiable audience. I just heard that Brad Murray, co-creator of Diaspora, sold 1,200 copies in about 1 year. He was quick to point out the boost he got from the FATE community. So, he had an identifiable market that really helped. (Congrats, Brad & crew!)

Let me guess, you want to make FATE games now so you can sell 1,000 copies of your next game?

No. I don’t prefer FATE as the way to go. But, the model is compelling. What I’d like to do is a get a bunch of designers together to create something FATE-like, and then turn it loose so anyone can design on that framework, while simultaneously building a market. Oh, and I mean FATE-like in the sense that it’s an open game, not that it uses Fudge dice and uses Aspects and all that.

Wait, back up. So, this is just like D20/OGL then? That’s so last decade!

To some degree, it’s similar. But, no, I’m not advocating D20 games here. I suppose it could use the OGL itself, just like FATE does. But, again, D20 isn’t what I’m after.

So, more like a universal system? That sounds even more lame.

I agree that so-called universal systems are not very good ideas.

So, rather than universal, let’s call it modular. What I envision is an open, modular game system. Designers can take the core bits, but then tack on parts as needed to create their game systems really have some cool, tailored components.

Overall, my vision for this thing would be a system for indie folks in the way that Savage Worlds is for traditional RPG lovers. That is, a lean, mean machine for running a variety of character-driven games. So, think of it as Savage Worlds for people who like lots of character development and story in their games. Fast, furious drama, so to speak.

So, what are you after, exactly? This doesn’t sound very new or worthwhile.

The open design concept is not new. That’s true.

But, if it goes anything like I envision, it would be worthwhile. It would do two things

First, it would give gamers a great go-to game that they can customize for their play style.

Second, it would give publishers who use it an identifiable market, rather than having to create a market for each game, every time. This saves them time and effort. Players see the “core” of the system, and can easily pick up published variations. They play without a learning curve, and discuss it, expanding the community and word of mouth.

Hey, whatever happened to System Does Matter. I thought that was you guys’ mantra?

That’s fair. This idea does fly in the face of System Does Matter some.

The System Does Matter philosophy informed a lot of innovation and great games, including my own designs. I think it has considerable merit. What I’m talking about here isn’t meant as a direct challenge of that philosophy.

That said, there are many things that System Does Matter just does not address for obvious reasons. It doesn’t speak on distribution, creator ownership, marketing and so on, despite all these things being part of the conversation surrounding System Does Matter over the years.

Think of this as a new philosophy: Marketing Matters, Too. I’m not trying to polarize stances between design and marketing. They are not opposites, as some people in indie RPG publishing seem to suggest. In fact, what I’m suggesting is that the two merge as much as possible.

That means making design considerations based on what the market wants rather than on what the designer wants in some cases. I suspect there are at least a few designers – people who are friends of mine — who view that as blasphemy. That’s ok. I still think they’re great designers and great friends. And, of course, they need not participate.

So, what now?

Good question. I see this happening in phases. The first is making the case to fellow designers in particular. I’ll do that in a follow-up blog entry.

Then, assuming I can get a crew of designers together, we begin setting goals and expectations for the project, then on to design, playtesting, community support, and ultimately creator-owned publishing takes care of the rest.

[ Read Part 2 ]

Hi, Matt. What’s up with you lately?

Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about how successful some indie RPG publishers have been because they have an identifiable audience. I just heard that Brad Murray, creator of Diaspora, sold 1,200 copies in about 1 year. He was quick to point out the boost he got from the FATE community. So, he had an identifiable market that really helped. (Congrats, Brad!)

Let me guess, you want to make FATE games now so you can sell 1,000 copies of your next game?

No. I don’t prefer FATE as the way to go. But, the model is compelling. What I’d like to do is a get a bunch of designers together to create something FATE-like, and then turn it loose so anyone can design on that framework, while simultaneously building a market. Oh, and I mean FATE-like in the sense that it’s an open game, not that it uses Fudge dice and uses Aspects and all that.

Wait, back up. So, this is just like D20/OGL then? That’s so last decade!

To some degree, it’s similar. But, no, I’m not advocating D20 games here. I suppose it could use the OGL itself, just like FATE does. But, again, D20 isn’t what I’m after.

So, more like a universal system? That sounds even more lame.

I agree that so-called universal systems are not very good ideas.

So, rather than universal, let’s call it modular. What I envision is an open, modular game system. Designers can take the core bits, but then tack on parts as needed to create their game systems really have some cool, tailored components.

Overall, my vision for this thing would be a system for indie folks in the way that Savage Worlds is for traditional RPG lovers. That is, a lean, mean machine for running a variety of character-driven games. So, think of it as Savage Worlds for people who like lots of character development and story in their games. Fast, furious drama, so to speak.

So, what are you after, exactly? This doesn’t sound very new or worthwhile.

The open design concept is not new. That’s true.

But, if it goes anything like I envision, it would be worthwhile. It would do two things

First, it would give gamers a great go-to game that they can customize for their play style.

Second, it would give publishers who use it an identifiable market, rather than having to create a market for each game, every time. This saves them time and effort. Players see the “core” of the system, and can easily pick up published variations. They play without a learning curve, and discuss it, expanding the community and word of mouth.

Hey, whatever happened to System Does Matter. I thought that was you guys’ mantra?

That’s fair. This idea does fly in the face of System Does Matter some.

The System Does Matter philosophy informed a lot of innovation and great games, including my own designs. I think it has considerable merit. What I’m talking about here isn’t meant as a direct challenge of that philosophy.

That said, there are many things that System Does Matter just does not address for obvious reasons. It doesn’t speak on distribution, creator ownership, marketing and so on, despite all these things being part of the conversation surrounding System Does Matter over the years.

Think of this as a new philosophy: Marketing Matters, Too. I’m not trying to polarize stances between design and marketing. They are not opposites, as some people in indie RPG publishing seem to suggest. In fact, what I’m suggesting is that the two merge as much as possible.

That means making design considerations based on what the market wants rather than on what the designer wants in some cases. I suspect there are at least a few designers – people who are friends of mine — who view that as blasphemy. That’s ok. I still think they’re great designers and great friends. And, of course, they need not participate.

So, what now?

Good question. I see this happening in phases. The first is making the case to fellow designers in particular. I’ll do that in a follow-up blog entry.

Then, assuming I can get a crew of designers together, we begin setting goals and expectations for the project, then on to design, playtesting, community support, and ultimately creator-owned publishing takes care of the rest.

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