games

Followers at Games Day

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A worldwide celebration of board games called International Table Top day took place on April 11th, 2015. As part of the big event, a number of communities and stores within my hometown of Winnipeg put on events. As I was promoting my Kickstarter campaign for a card game in May, I was determined to attend as many events as possible on this day. What followed was a 15 hour odyssey that took me to five separate events.

One of these events was held at a bookstore called McNally Robinson. By this point in the day, it was 6:00 P.M. and I had been going hard for nine hours. After demonstrating the game at a table the store had graciously provided me, I got up and doggedly began to shuffle towards the exit.

As I walked, I pulled out my smart phone and observed my social media activity. I am still new to social media and have yet to fully appreciate the finer nuances of followers. General crowd funding theories state that engaged followers are fundamentally good and generally nobody argues that gaining followers is a bad thing as long as they are a human and not a software algorithm. The more people following you, the bigger the audience that will view your content.

When it comes to Twitter, follower numbers are the most straightforward (if somewhat crude) metric for monitoring your effectiveness. Looking at my phone I was disheartened that I lost several followers since earlier that day despite posting multiple times about audience-relevant board game materials.

Darn, losing followers sucks.

As I was dwelling in my little emotional pit of social media ineptitude, I was surprised when a woman that had played my game a few minutes ago approached me. She asked me where I was going to now. I replied that I was attending another gaming event to show off my game. Then she dropped a more unusual question on me.

“I know this is awkward, but do you mind if I come with you”, she asked?

“Sure”, I replied. “As long as you can help me find my car.”

It is worth noting that I have incredibly poor navigational skills and what she initially took as a joke led to a fifteen minute ordeal as I wandered around a large parking, searching for my generic silver Corolla.

We eventually found my car and were off to the next board game event. I had been to event earlier that day and one of the organizers raised an amused eyebrow when I returned with a follower in tow. When the question came up, I simply replied that while I struggled to gain and keep digital followers, I was much better at gaining physical ones.

On reflection, I realize that face-to-face conversation is my preferred means of communication. The immediate reasons are that I like to be outside, my day job looking at a monitor and my weak wrists don’t lend to extended typing sessions on a smart phone.

Beyond that, with social media I find it difficult to share in the same type of communication. The nuances of body language and vocal variety are obscured in the text. While readers can imagine the tone of the text, this can quickly lead to misunderstandings. With the internet being the internet, these misunderstandings quickly lead to thermonuclear emotional meltdowns and ensuing flame wars.

It is much rarer for such incidents to happen during conversation. Take the rest of Table Top Day for example. I ended the day playing board games with my new found friend and exposed her to a hobby that she was relatively new to.

We went for coffee after and discussed everything from Chinese-Canadian culture, pursuing a degree in the performing arts to communal living and the roles of our political parties. I learned that she lived in Ontario where she taught performing arts at a local university. To celebrate turning thirty, she was on a journey across Canada via railcar, stopping at the major cities (and yes, I will defend to the death that Winnipeg is a major city). Most of all though, we discussed the question that we all wonder about, what to do with the limited time we have on this Earth.

Each of the aforementioned topics was a conversational minefield that if posted online, would recreate Chernobyl within the residents of my little corner of cyberspace. In person and within a relaxed setting, I was much more comfortable to glide between these topics, knowing that a misstep will result in an immediate que (hopefully not a slap) as opposed to being vented as a vitriolic text wall.

With all that being said, I shouldn’t discount social media followers. After all, I owe very real connections with board game designers and publishers to the likes of Facebook and Twitter, but to me social media has always been a jumping off points to more significant forms of communication. Twitter is great for Q&A, Facebook feed can provide helpful news and updates; but discussing the meaning of life is something I have always struggled to fit into 140 characters.

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Rediscovering Childhood at PAX West

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The hotel ballroom is dimly lit and filled with row upon row of standardized chairs, the kind that were cheap to make but meant to look expensive with deep blue cushions surrounded by metal frames. I manage to grab a free chair during the ensuing game of musical chairs as all the attendees scramble for the limited resource. Though thankful for having a seat, I am now forcibly pressed against the man next to me. He is middle-aged and heavy set, dressed like in he came straight from a job in an accounting firm to the convention, his tie and dress pants contrasting with the majority of attendees, dressed in video game themed clothing showcased heavily-armed robots and shirtless barbarians.

Despite his formal dress, I am assured that the man pressed against me along with everyone else in this room is a game enthusiast. The room and presentation we are preparing for is part of the Penny Arcade Expo, a massive games convention that takes place in Seattle every August. The presentation in question is for a game called X-Com: Enemy Unknown, an unreleased game the presentation promised to showcase a previews of.

To say X-Com is a misnomer, the original game had come out in 1994. The trouble was that since that game came out, no remake had been developed that matched the critical impact and success the original made. The new game promised to remedy this and hence the crowded ballroom.

Looking to break the awkwardness of our forced contact, I attempted conversation with the man next to me that I was now partially sitting on.

“So…are you excited about X-Com” I asked?

Receiving no response and wishing to fill in the dead space, I answered my own question: “I can’t wait; I have been waiting for this game for a couple of years!”

The man’s head turned slowly towards me at a pace roughly equivalent to the head turning scene in the Exorcist. His face was calm and reserved as he responded with a single sentence.

“I have been waiting seventeen years for this game!”

His response synched with the dimming of the lights and the beginning of the presentation and I was left reflecting on the man’s response as he clasped his hands on his lap and returned to his reserved posture (as reserved as one could be with another man practically on your lap).

As the room went dark and the massive project screen lit up with the beginning of the trailer. As the screen was filled with firefights between human marines and aliens to a soundtrack of deep bass notes, the man next to me sprang from his seat, nearly knocking me from my chair in the process.

The formerly meek accountant now climbed his chair and began jumping up and down on top of it, his fist pumping the air as he let out an unending shouts of “yyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh” at the top of his lungs!

As I stood their stunned and scrambling to avoid his tie as it whipped around him, I surveyed the room and noticed that my neighbor was not alone in his enthusiasm. All around the room, men and women were jumping up and down screaming their support for the game.

One factor was shared by all the vocal enthusiasts however, they were not of my generation. The group that jumped up and down as the youth around them sat stunned was middle-aged. These were the parents, the professionals and the gamers from when the PC market was still on Dos.

After a few minutes of unrestrained fervor, the older members of the crowd quieted their shouting, sat back down on their seats, some fixing their hair while others simply looked around calmly as if the whole incident never happened.

Incidents such as this remind me of how games transcend age and generate such enthusiasm and unbridled joy regardless of age. This is why I and many others play games and why we will continue to do so, regardless of age.

Maintaining the Creative Edge

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If you are like me, designing games is an enjoyable activity, or at least preferable to doing your taxes (somewhere on Accounting subreddit, a user is cursing my name). I started a game company to design games.

The whole initiative to publish came out of a desire to control all elements of game design. Like most designers looking to self-publish, you will find that you spend a lot less time designing games and a lot more time pouring on all the factors that go into turning an idea into a physical product. Some of these factors include but are not limited to: marketing, manufacturing, collaboration with artists, taxes and banging my head against a wall trying to learn Excel.

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Me + Excel

 

From a personal development standpoint, deciding to self-publish is the right decision. From an enjoyment at creating games standpoint, I find myself going obscene lengths of time without working on game designs.

The trouble is that while going through all the trouble of launching a game, you find yourself having become disconnected from the game design community because…well you haven’t designed games in a while. Your creative edge when it comes to game design has become blunt.

I eventually stumbled across a solution that effectively maintains my abilities as a game designer while still respecting the time limitations I am under.

The solution is the 24 hour game design challenge. The challenge is simple: create a game in 24 hours. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it has to be playable and the first draft of the rules need to be complete.

There are numerous game design sites hosting challenges with real prizes if you are inclined to share your ideas. Sites such as Board Game Geek post monthly 24 hour contests and The Game Crafter has a variety of design contests as well. You even stand to win a prize to boot, so why not give it a shot?

The 24 hour contest is important not only because it forces you to work quickly and avoid the humming and hawing of game design, but through thematic restrictions that are frequently incorporated into the challenges as well. Stipulating that must design a game with a Gothic theme for example can push you out of your farming (in my case) comfort zone and require that I design in a totally new way.

You can add an additional level of challenge through an idea generator like Boardgamizer. The device is great and throws a theme, mechanic, and victory condition at you along with an option constraint that forces you to design in all sorts of crazy ways.

Try out one of the above 24 hour challenges, dedicate a few hours (or a sleepless night) to pounding out a game. Whether the game is terrific or terrible is irrelevant, the point is that we are flexing our game design muscles, which is why we got into this industry in the first place.