Patreon Fee Changes

By now you have probably heard of the changes Patreon is making to its fee structure this month. Patreon says they are changing the structure so patrons pay the fees and creators get a larger percentage of the pledge. The more accurate version is that they are having patrons pay the fees and adding a 35 cent fee to each pledge. So with this change, at lower pledge levels, if you include the fees in the math, creators are getting a lower percentage of the price a patron pays.

This is an especially big change for people that support a lot of creators for 1 or 2 dollars a month. If you make 20 $1 pledges each month your price will jump from $20 to $27.60. If this is a financial burden for you, you would need to stop supporting 6 creators to lower your pledges to the previous level. That’s 6 creators that are losing a piece of their community.

Here is a useful comparison chart posted by Ben Wolfe.

 

Because the changes are not as drastic for larger pledges I think this may be a bigger hit to creators’ communities than their finances, though that really depends on the distribution of their patrons.

Right now it looks like creators and patrons are upset about the change and many are looking for alternative ways to financially support creators. Hopefully everyone can find a way to continue supporting and creating. And if you do find yourself dropping support for a creator that you still enjoy, reach out and let them know that you still enjoy their content. For many creators, myself included, a kind word about their hard work is worth much more than a dollar.

Your Game is Harder Than You Think

If you’ve been reading the blog or following me on social media you are familiar with my game Plutocracy. I’ve been working on it for about a year now and it has been a difficult problem to solve, but one that is so intriguing I can’t let it go. I’ve written about the trouble of making player incentives and my attempts at streamlining the rules. My dead ends and my redirections. This post isn’t about Plutocracy, though my play test of it last night is the inspiration and will serve as an example. This post is about how difficult it is for a designer to understand how complex their game is because they understand the complexity of their game.

I wrote previously about my idea to give players a better stake in the game by adding pawns that represent the player and limit their area of influence. I implemented this change for last night’s test. This was the major change of this version. It also had a different board structure and modified scoring, but the majority of mechanics were almost identical to previous versions.

The group play testing was one of my regular groups. They have all played Plutocracy many times before. They are all game designers and experienced players. I had high hopes for this version. I felt it would solve the incentive problem and allow me to move forward to adjusting numbers to fine tune the game. So I was surprised when the game mechanics gave them so much trouble.

As I said, the majority of mechanics hadn’t changed. They just had a pawn on the board that meant they couldn’t affect planets too far away. But this one change made the game different to them. So they kept questioning how things worked and my answer was usually, “The same as it did in the last version.”

In the end, the game went alright. It did a lot of what I wanted, but there were some big issues with the initial setup that caused some problems for the whole game. The concept I was reminded of during our discussion was that when you design a game, it makes sense to you in a way that no other person can quite grasp. This can lead to the issue I had.

The changes I made were minor to me, the game still had the same mechanics, but a game is much more complicated to anyone who is not the creator of it. So if you make a design and it is simple and clear in your head, everything fits together, is intuitive, and flows well. It’s probably more complicated for players than you realize.

It’s hard to notice because it’s a matter of perspective that you, as the designer, can’t have. Perhaps putting a design away for a year or two so you completely forget about it could help. But I think the best thing to do is realize it will happen, and play test until it works for your audience, not just you.

Board Game Sales

It’s Black Friday and pretty much every retailer is having some kind of sale. This includes game stores and game websites. When I first entered the hobby a few years ago I was a sucker for board games on sale. I would buy anything that seemed vaguely interesting and had a big discount. For the most part these ended up being OK games from big publishers. I’m sure most of you are familiar with the Queen Games’ sales on Amazon.

I never had time to play all of these games. So now I have more games than I can store and I’m not particularly interested in playing the OK ones when I’ve also been paying full price for some great games. Now I have a few piles of games I’ll be trading, selling, and giving away.

Besides cluttering my house with unplayed games, what is the result of board game sales? The MSRP of a game is usually as low as it can be to cover the production, transport, marketing, and sale of a game, and allow for some profit at each stage. So there isn’t a very large margin to lower for a sale. The discount is also usually at the retailers step.

The games that go on sale are therefore games that the retailer wants to get rid of at a lower profit or even at a loss to recoup some money and free up retail or storage space. So the majority of games on sale are not that good. This is why I bought so many OK games on sale. The good games didn’t need to be discounted to sell.

But there is another reason games go on sale besides not being good enough to sell. Sometimes more are produced than the market cares to buy. So you have very good games end up with steep discounts so stores can free up space.

A problem that arises from these two different reasons for a sale is that the perceived value of a game can be lowered. If a $60 MSRP game is regularly available for $30 it isn’t a $60 game anymore even if it’s a great game. In the ongoing struggle of online stores vs brick and mortar stores this is the biggest divide. Online stores have much lower overhead to pay for, so they can manage a larger discount and still make a profit. Brick and mortar stores usually can’t afford to match that discount even on games they want to get rid of. And no one wants to pay $50 for a now $30 game. This can also be applied to other, similar games. Game X and game Y are of similar weight and quality. Game X is on sale at 50% of MSRP. So game Y is also worth only 50% of MSRP. So an over production of game X can lower the perceived value of game Y. This can be quite frustrating to the producers of game Y.

These steep discounts can also lead to buyer’s remorse. For example, I preordered Seafall.

I’m still looking forward to playing it, but my copy is still in shrink and it’s now selling for half price. Some companies like Fantasy Flight Games have introduced minimum sale prices for their games to protect the games’ perceived value and help brick and mortar stores. Does this actually help? I’m not sure.

In short getting things you want cheaper is great. But be careful of buying things only because they are cheap and be aware of how discounts can warp the perceived value of designer’s and publisher’s hard work in creating a game.

Who are you?

I’ve been thinking a lot about player incentives in Plutocracy lately. At Metatopia I got similar feedback to what I have been getting from my local play tests. The core of the game, players not controlling a single empire, grabs people’s attention. This part of the description was the reason some people chose to try it out. The mechanisms work well, at this point they are pretty streamlined. But players continue not to care about any of their actions. It becomes a repetitive slog of “what is the most beneficial move on this turn?”

I’ve written about player incentives a few times before and specifically in Plutocracy where it has always been a problem. I believe this is the secret to getting Plutocracy to the next level.

Unique hook that goes against traditional game systems + Actually making it work when people play = Success. The question is, how can I get people to care?

A question I have heard asked about many games is “who are you?” Who are the players in the game? This is an integral part of building immersion and key to having players care about their actions. If they have an avatar in the game that could succeed or fail, they are more likely to care about the consequences of their actions than if they are just a decision making entity removed from the narrative.

In Plutocracy I’ve always known who the players are. They are powerful influencers working from the shadows to sway the fate of empires to their own benefit. It sounded great in my head, but when people sit down to play, they are just a decision making entity removed from the narrative. They have no representation of themselves in the game, and as a result don’t have an emotional connection to the events. The strongest attachment I saw was a player that liked blue, so they worked to improve the blue empire. This was not ideal.

So my next step is to put the players in the game. They will lose their current godlike powers of manipulating the galaxy. Instead, they will have much more restricted influence over a smaller area of the game based on the location of their character. They will need to make more personal decisions for their character in order to influence the galaxy.

Hopefully this can start to make the connection with players that the game is missing.

When it comes to player incentives, it seems that winning the game is too abstract of a concept to build engagement. The way you win the game needs to be thematically linked to who the players are and what they want as characters. So, define who your players are then define what those characters want. Only then will you know what incentives you need to use.

What if you don’t?

Game design is an iterative process. You have an idea, you build a prototype, you test it, and repeat. Usually many times. Through this process it’s easy to forget to remove pieces that no longer belong. A rule that was a fix for a mechanism that is no longer there or a clever idea of how to distribute resources when you no longer need resources. It becomes an artifact of the game design. You forget why the piece is there. It’s become part of the design and that’s just how it is. 
Several times with my designs I have gotten feedback from testers that starts with some variation of “What if you don’t…”. It’s usually in reference to one of these artifacts of game design. You had become so accustomed to it being there, but a new perspective can easily see that it doesn’t fit.

This has been some of the most revolutionary feedback I have received. It’s a moment of clarity when a player says “What if you don’t have credits? They just add a step to exchanges.” Credits made sense before. But the thing that made them matter had already been removed. The game had always had credits though, I couldn’t fathom a world in which it didn’t have credits. But as soon as someone mentioned it, it all made sense. 

Make sure you look critically at every aspect of your game, and have new players look at your game with fresh eyes. They may notice something you’ve missed. 

Metatopia

Just a short post this week because I’m at Metatopia. 

I’ll be presenting Plutocracy, Pod People, and Vanilla. The show has a lot of interesting talks lined up and I’m booked pretty much constantly every day. It’s going to be an exhausting weekend but so far it’s lots of fun. 

If you ever get the chance I definitely recommend attending. 

If you’re at Metatopia, be sure to say hi if you see me. 

What Makes Your Game the Best?

The Jones’ Theory is a system used to cull a board game collection. The basic idea is that you only need one of each type of game in your collection. So you choose the best of that type and get rid of the rest. This could be interpreted in different ways depending on how granular you want to be with your types. You could use deck builders as a single type or differentiate deck builders that start with stacks of cards like Dominion from deck builders that shuffle and have a buy row like Ascension. So the theory can be quite flexible.

When designing games a question that comes up is, “does anyone want another ______ game?” This question ties in perfectly with the Jones’ Theory. Except instead of asking if a game is good enough in its type to keep or buy, you are asking if it is good enough to make.

I think this is an important question to ask yourself at the beginning of a design. What about the design justifies the time, effort, and money you will need to invest to create the game?

Just like with culling a collection with the Jones’ Theory you can have a lot of flexibility on how you define a type. Are you designing a worker placement game that you are comparing to every worker placement game, or are you designing a family weight worker placement game which would only be compared to other lighter worker placement games? So it’s important to define your audience to make this decision.

You could compare on genre, theme, price, anything really. But once you decide on your criteria you have to prove why your idea will be the absolute best thing in that type. If it isn’t going to be the best, then it isn’t worth making.

You can certainly get specific enough with your criteria that any game is the best, and that’s fine. But if your goal is to publish the game and sell it, your criteria should be something that a large enough group of people agree with.

What makes your design the best?

Brevity

I like to keep things brief. Only use as much time as you need. Don’t over explain or repeat things unnecessarily.

I try to use this in my game design. I want the game to play as quickly as possible without feeling that the experience was rushed or cut short.

I try to use it in my rules writing. Because of this, I often avoid stating things that happen as a result of following the rules I did write. This can cause confusion though.

When you are writing rules you are trying to explain a system that is very obvious to you, because you invented it, to a person that likely has none of the assumptions that you take for granted. You may even disagree on the definition of the words you are using. This makes it necessary to state what you think is obvious, because it almost always isn’t obvious to the reader.

This leads me to another trick I’ve started to use when writing my rules. If I find myself using a lot of words to describe a mechanism, I cut it from the game or drastically simplify it. If I don’t have the patience to write it out, I can’t expect a player to have the patience to learn it.

Be clear, but be brief.

Deadlines

I don’t like deadlines. They stress me out. But they are also the only way I get anything done.

When I started designing games I would follow an idea for as long as I was interested, and then get distracted by a new idea. I didn’t get very far with most designs because of this. My computer is full of half finished ideas and unprinted prototypes. I never had a clear goal while working on those designs. I didn’t have a deadline. They would never be late, so they never had to be finished.

Then I started entering design contests. Design contests have deadlines. So I had to finish the design or it would be late. And if a design I made specifically for a contest was late for the contest, that was a lot of wasted effort.

Contests were a great help in getting me to stick with a design, focus, and get it to a finished enough state to submit. I wouldn’t say that these where complete to the point of publishing, but they were usually a solid 80% of a game.

But I went too far with the contests. I kept having ideas for every design contest I saw. So as soon as I submitted my game to one, I would move on to another, and another, and another.

So, while this was better than my collection of unrealized ideas, a collection of 80% finished games wasn’t really what I wanted either. So I decided to stop entering contests and start finishing games.

Without the external deadlines of a contest I needed something else to keep me focused. I’m part of two board game design groups. Between them, I have 3 design meet ups a month. That’s three deadlines every month. Three targets that keep me focused.

For a while I was working solely on Plutocracy, which itself originated from a contest. But I’ve since been trying to work on a few different games so I don’t get burned out. It’s been going well. Just this week I finished rules for two games because I’ll have a chance to play them soon.

Board game design is an iterative process so I work best with smaller goals. With three meet ups and three games that means each game has a monthly deadline. So every month I finish three games. But since it isn’t a contest, the next month I finish those same games again.

So far none of them are done. But neither are they abandoned. And that constant, steady progress is reassuring. A more measured success than sudden bursts of creativity followed by months of inactivity.

As you may know, in addition to game design I also produce a podcast and write this blog you are currently reading. For these endeavors deadlines are even more important. While a game design can get to it’s final product in many ways, a podcast and blog must build an audience. And to do that they must be consistent.

I published the first episode of my podcast in January. I committed myself to produce one episode a month and, importantly, always on the 15th. With a deadline of the 15th I could be consistent. I might have stayed up very late on the 14th of each of those months, but I met my deadline.  After a few episodes I started to record episodes much faster than I was releasing them so I adjusted my deadline and started publishing an episode every other week and then weekly.

Since then I changed the podcast to a longer format and went back to biweekly releases. While I changed my deadlines, I always did it intentionally and never allowed myself to miss a deadline.

With the blog, I set myself weekly Friday deadlines. This has been the toughest to keep up with. Probably because writing is something that I can do at the last minute. With the podcast I need to setup guests, record for an hour and spend a few hours editing and publishing so I’m forced to do things ahead of time. But with the blog I can sit down at 10pm Friday night and probably get something posted in time. I took a bit longer posting my Plutocracy look back and missed the deadline by half an hour, but other than that I’ve managed to stick with it.

There are two steps to succeeding at something. First you must start, then you must continue. Deadlines help me with the second step. So if you want or need to do something, set a deadline and meet it. No matter how rushed, problematic, buggy, or broken, meet the deadline. Then set a new deadline to improve it.

BFIG 2017 Recap

So back in September I attended the Boston Festival of Indie Games. BFIG is a unique event. It is a showcase for independent digital and tabletop games. I focused on the tabletop section. As the showcase description implies the event is primarily about showing off indie games.

The games being shown range from prototypes looking for feedback to already published games that you can buy at the show. Regardless of the polish of the game BFIG is about playing. Depending on the game, you might play the whole thing or just a small section.

I’ve been going to BFIG for the past 4 years and the show draws a decent crowd. This year was no exception. Every table was almost constantly filled with players. Which is great  if your goal is to show your game to as many people as possible. It’s a bit inconvenient if, like me, you are a podcaster trying to get interviews with designers. I was able to catch people when they had a free minute or two and managed to get 39 interviews during the event.

It was so many interviews that it will be two episodes. You can listen to episode 22 and 23 at www.theboardgameworkshop.com. Episode 22 should have gone up on October 4th but due to some ongoing server issues it has been delayed. Hopefully everything is working by the time you read this. Episode 23 will be out October 18th.

While my day was mostly spent walking around and getting interviews I did have the chance to play 3 games. Shiki, VISITOR in Blackwood Grove, and You’ve Been Poisoned.

Shiki is a card drafting game where you make haikus. Each round you have a standard pick and pass draft then you use your drafted cards to make a line of your haiku. Each card has a single word on it and one of the four seasons or no season. At the end of the game you will score points for having the most cards in your haiku of a certain season and also for how closely you matched the 5/7/5 syllable style of a haiku. This is where the game gets tough. For  the first and second round you don’t have to use all of the cards you drafted, but they stay in your supply and you must use them all by round 3. So getting 5 syllables in the third line takes some planning. Focusing on a season to get the bonus is pretty simple though.

The one downside to this game is that your actual haiku doesn’t matter. No points for style. But, for me, making a haiku was the best part. You could maximize points by drafting the right sized and seasoned words with no regard for the poem’s content. But I’d rather lose the game and make a lovely haiku like the one I made in the demo game.

the summer tadpole glisten firefly valley its this shade so frog death
the summer tadpole
glisten firefly valley
its this shade so frog death

VISITOR in Blackwood Grove is a rule making game for a minimum of 3 players. One player is the alien, one is the kid, and the rest are different government agencies. The alien and the kid are on a team against the government agencies. The game has a deck of cards with pictures of every day items like a car, a whale, a pie, a smart phone, etc.

At the start of the game the alien player makes up a rule. During the game the kid and the agencies will attempt to get cards through the alien’s forcefield. If the item on the card follows the alien’s rule, the card gets through. If not, it doesn’t. Some of these cards will be public knowledge for all players and some will only be visible to the player that tried them.  The goal of the kid and the agencies is to figure out the rule. They then have to prove it by drawing 4 cards and correctly determining which ones will make it through the forcefield. If the agencies win the alien and kid lose but if the kid wins the alien also wins. So the alien must make a rule that the agencies will not figure out but the kid can.

It’s very light on rules and allows for a lot of creativity and trying to read other players which is what I enjoy in a rule making game. The designer wrote an interesting article about it on their website. http://resonym.com/the-unique-mechanics-of-visitor/

I really enjoy rule making games like Mastermind, and VISITOR in Blackwood Grove offers more freedom in rule creation and more players. I’m not surprised it won the audience choice award at the show. Definitely worth checking out.

You’ve Been Poisoned is an escape room style series of puzzles shrunk down to fit on a table and last only 10 minutes. This was an interesting thing. It occupies a space between a full on escape room and the various escape room at home games. Though it’s quicker than both. The quality of the setup is more like a traditional escape room and with it’s relatively small footprint I could see this being popular at conventions.

Overall BFIG was a lot of fun and very exhausting. If you are a designer it’s a great place to show off your game to a lot of people. If you’re in the area it’s definitely worth checking out.

https://www.bostonfig.com