Stories You Play

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

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.

Single Post Navigation

11 thoughts on “Open game design project, Part 1

  1. misuba on said:

    This is cool. It is very much not a statement against System Matters – not to my reading, anyway. After all, its final result will still be one system among many, with distinct strengths and goals.

    The concept does seem to go nicely with the BW/Fate model of “generic core plus subgames.” It’d be interesting to keep the fundamentals of this model but radically change the sort of core it runs on. But maybe that’s not what you have in mind.

    Also, it will need a cool name.

  2. Wow that was a fast reply, Mike!

    I THINK it’s what I have in mind, but I’m not sure what you mean by “core.” What I have in mind is that the pieces of the system are very familiar to players, but that various iterations of games would have, say, very different reward systems for different types of play.

    And, I totally agree it needs a kick ass name.

  3. misuba on said:

    …I admit that thinking of a name is the first thing I did. I’m always doing that. It’s embarrassing.

    You know how Dresden Files messes with stress tracks and Fate-point refresh to obtain a massively different feel from SotC? I’m thinking like that. The “core” of Fate is still there, but none of the core is inviolable. (Maybe it’s just a matter of slicing the modules finely enough that things like reward systems are understood as being swappable and hackable… or maybe it’s got to be a core tenet of this thing that modules are never as cleanly separated and snap-together as they might say they are.)

  4. nemomeme on said:

    I feel like Vincent Baker has just created this game. Apocalypse World looks traditional and potentially has huge cross-appeal there. But it’s a story machine for fast, furious drama. Maybe he’s willing to open it up; it’s super adaptable if he and others with him are willing to do the work. It already has the attention and enthusiasm of several designers.

    Recall that Fate itself had the platform of the FUDGE army. I myself am a proud member of both of those armies.

    But it’s been a ten year campaign.

    I suspect that absent that kind of platform, what you propose needs a designer of the reputation/exposure of someone like Vincent or Luke and a skeleton like AW or Mouse Guard to see much traction in the next few years.

  5. Ah! Yes, Mike, we’re on the same wavelength then. That’s the kind of thing I had in mind, yes.

  6. I’m late to the party on Apocalypse World. I haven’t had a chance to see anything about it yet. But, I am very eager to get my hands on it. I would not rule out using an existing game as the kernel of this framework. That said, obviously it’s up to Vincent in that case.

    And, yes, I’m aware of the Fudge background.

    As for the reputation of the designers for whatever this becomes, I largely agree with you. I don’t think that people who are unknown will get sufficient traction. I certainly hope to enlist folks with established design credibility, if not Vincent and Luke. Fortunately, my contacts in that area are good.

  7. Pingback: Open game design project, Part 2 | Stories You Play

  8. gravity on said:

    Great idea. I just recently opened my eyes to the indie scene, but I’m a convert who now finds it hard to look back. Anyway, if you need “playtesting, community support, and ultimately creator-owned publishing”, consider me an Apostle for the cause.

  9. jenskot on said:

    Check out the Plugins at Amagi Games:
    http://www.amagi-games.org/

  10. I had not seen those Plugins before. Very interesting. That’s the kind of thing I’d love to see, yes. Thanks for posting the link.

  11. Pingback: gameplaywright.net // story, games, together

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>