At ConCentric 2015 we ran our first Game Design session. This was a great opportunity for local game designers to bring their prototype games to playtest with other like-minded gamers, and to get useful feedback for future iterations. Now it's a regular feature.
What is a Game Design Session about?
A game design session can go by many names: Protospiel, GameDev, UnPub, Game Jam… and so on. What it basically boils down to is a collaborative design and problem solving workshop with like-minded people. You will be able to get helpful, insightful feedback from other designers. It's about analysing problems with prototypes and helping other designers work out those kinks.
Your game designs should be well past the concept stage, and into the realm of playable prototype. It doesn't have to look like a finished game, although you might see some very polished prototypes on the tables. While this is a good way to tempt non-designers into playing your creations, remember that you're among friends here. Texta on index cards works just fine as long as it's clear enough to play the game. On the other hand, if your game is pretty much completed and your just looking to get some publicity for your upcoming Kickstarter project, then it would be best to leave it out of the playtesting event. We're happy to give you a shout out for your campaign, but our focus will be on unpublished and unfinished game designs.
Feel free to bring as many prototypes with you as you like. However, you should just select one as the flagship to test within the session due to time constraints. Of course, you can feel free to press gang some players into testing your games at other times throughout the convention. If there is enough interest, we can set up a dedicated table or two for games in development or looking for blind playtesting.
Don't have a game ready to test, yet? Not a problem – it's always good to have a few more playtesters on hand.
Show your love for game design and grab yourself a Vitruvian Meeple T-Shirt!
Tips for Designers
- Hone your "elevator pitch" – the short verbal introduction that you will use to introduce the players to your game. Think of it as the blurb on the back of the box. If you had any design goals when coming up with the game concept, you can outline these here as well.
- Make a sell sheet for your game. This should include the pitch, the main mechanisms, number of players, age range, expected play time, and (most importantly) your contact details. If a playtester wants to get in touch with you after the event, they'll be able to associate you with the game they played.
- Know your own rules and be able to explain them. This might sound obvious, but it's one thing to know your rules, and another to be able to explain them to other people. Summary cards are helpful here. Make sure you have a complete written rules document with you.
- It might be useful if you can have a pre-defined script of a game turn to help explain to your players. Run through this, then reset and start the game again.
- Be consistent with your ruleset. Rather than change a rule midway through a game, play it through to a point where you feel comforable stopping play. If there's time, describe the rule change, and reset the game. If you need to make up an on-the-fly rule, take note of it and keep it in place for that session.
- Your game will probably be designed with a target audience in mind. Let your players know what this is before playing. It's also important to let them know what kind of feedback you're looking for at this stage of the design process. Example: "I'm seeing a lot of downtime between turns, and I need to fix that."
- Have your components packaged and ready to setup quickly. The faster you get into your game, the more time you'll have for play and feedback after.
- If (or perhaps when) the game completely breaks due to something unforseen, don't be afraid to stop play and discuss the possiblities then. If there's time, you can always get back into it again.
- Bring pen and paper. Take plenty of notes. Discuss more things after gameplay than during it.
Tips for Playtesters
Eric Jome wrote a list of 10 Playtest Principles over on BoardGameGeek. It's well worth a read. Here are some more things to add to that list:
- Bring pen and paper. Take plenty of notes. Discuss more things after gameplay than during it. Sound familiar?
- Take a look at any provided feedback form, and keep the questions in mind while playing.
- The graphic design of a game is one of the last things to be added in to the mix, and often isn't done by the game designer. If you're playing an early prototype, try to keep your feedback limited to the mechanisms of play.
- If the designer has asked for help to fix a particular problem, keep that issue in mind when playing.
- If you are able to give your notes to the designer at the end of the session, they might find them useful.
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