One of the greatest things about demoing a game in development can also be a cause of frustration. Every time we introduce new people to Grisleigh End, we get new perspectives on aspects of the game. Some players focus on the mechanics and suggest small tweaks (‘More player-on-player attacks, please!’), minor revisions (‘If you would just move this activity to another point in the action sequence, it would speed things up.’), or major restructuring (‘Cut this quarter of the playing board off and release it as an expansion later.’). Others identify visual or presentation matters as key to making it better (‘There should be doors between these rooms.’ or ‘The print is hard to read in these colors.’) Gamers of all sorts have their opinions, of course, for they tend to know what they like and that’s what they want to have when they play.
Thank goodness that they do! We ask and ask for their input, large or small, and are grateful that they not only take their precious playing time to test our games but spend time they could be playing filling out our surveys or talking design matters over with us. And we specifically ask for what they would change because compliments, however nice and useful insomuch as they suggest what design elements we should retain, it’s criticism that informs us what isn’t working as well as it should. We try to make this clear to everyone, that we seek their recommendations on how to make our games better, not just confirmation of how awesome they already are (although compliments are always welcome, of course.), in order to continually push us as designers to make better games. By and large, we have had success in this, getting a steady stream of feedback from our playtesters.
So what do we do with all of this input? Ah, there’s the rub. As designers, we strive to make the best games we can. Our definition of success is shaped by our study of the science and art underlying game design as well as our own preferences for the games we like to play. We realize that our own experiences and preferences are just that, our own, and therefore limited. When our testers suggest changes to improve our games, we consider all of them to make sure we’re making the best game not just for ourselves and our own play styles, but for everyone.
Setting aside for another blog entry the discussion of whether there is such a thing as the best game for everyone, the processing of lots of suggestions, often contradictory ones, is work, and it’s time-consuming. The thrill of seeing people play and enjoy what we’ve made (our faire game) is balanced by the stress of trying to figure out how best to please the largest number of people the most. Ah, the simpler days when we were just a bunch of gaming nerds laughing around a table covered with bits of paper, plastic, and our ideas. We made new rules as we went along, inventing new mechanics and modifying scoring mid-turn at times. We were crazy, back in the times before we decided to share this new thing with other people. Now we spend most of our game time working to make it better, tightening the wording here and resizing an image there, all while watching the whole structure to ensure we’re not breaking anything.
Thus goes maturity, I suppose. If all anyone had to do to produce a great and successful game was to play a lot, everyone would do it, right? This analogy puts us right in the depths of puberty, cautiously and often awkwardly stepping out into a wider world, figuring out how and where we fit in, and how to make our way. A stage of growth that many find challenging, but most of us survive and come out the other side stronger and more capable. So too shall Grisleigh End.
Here’s to seeing our little game growing up!