The Tools & The Will
Posted by Nathan P. on August 22, 2006
This is large part response to Clinton’s comment on this Forge thread. That thread is Important, by the way, but I’m not ready to talk about that yet. But this post, though stemming from Clinton’s words, is also something that I’ve been rolling around in my head, and that I’ve talked to a number of people about over the last month or so, I think. Anyway, Clinton said:
d) That (a) about playtesting? Do it more, and make a complete, well written, edited game that you’re excited about. Note I didn’t say “professionally laid out,” or “full of art,” or anything else about presentation. Make “untitled,” or “kill puppies for satan,” or “Burning Empires,” or “Death’s Door.” Make whatever you like presentationally. But don’t make a broken, incomplete game. It is sticking a poisoned dagger into the sides of the people who helped you get there.
We have the tools. The future is now, what with lulu.com, the array of small-run digital printers, the acessability of the community, Indie Press Revolution, and the culture of progress, mentorship, contents and feedback that is extremely easy to tap in to, if thats your bag. Anyone with half a brain and a little time on their hands can bring their game to market.
I’m going to be talking a lot about will here, so here’s a note on what I mean by will – will is both the wish or desire to do, and the capability to do. You can want to do something and never do it. That’s not will. The will to do something means that you want it, and you do it as a fullfillment of that want. (This definition is a statement, not something I want to argue about, by the way).
So. We have a number of levels of self-selection kicking in, right. Here’s what I think they are, from most basic to most advanced.
- Do you have the will to design a game? Designing is different from writing, or authoring, or the production process. You can play a complete game with a designer from the notes in their head, even if they never make it on paper. So, the first step, is people that have the will to design a game. This is the foundation.
- Do you have the will to author the game? This is the first cut, and it’s pretty much internal. Plenty of people have notes (including established designers – not everything I make notes about turns into something written, let alone published). Can you turn them into something written for others to consume? This is necessary.
- Do you have the will to get feedback on your game? This is the first public cut. This is much more than just posting a PDF and going “hey, what do you think?” It involves developing pointed queston, doing some self-analysis, and soliciting and engendering useful feedback. This is a hard, hard step. This can be and is skipped.
- Do you have the will to playtest? This is the second private cut. It’s either really easy or really hard. Some people don’t have the capability to do their own playtests (though, with IRC and forum play, you can approximate it, I think). This has the potential to be skipped, but I think rarely is.
- Do you have the will to get outside playtests? This is the second public cut, and it is a savage, savage beast, with fangs and dripping poison and fear and swarming flies of death. Unfortunately, it is absolutely critical to the craft of design. Double unfortunately, this is skipped incredibly often.
- Do you have the will to produce the game as an artifact and get it into peoples hands? Again, this step is incredibly easy these days, and it’s not really what I want to talk about in this post. This is becoming more and more necessary (in the sense that you need to have something else happening for your free PDF from your website to be played out in the wild).
Now, the issue that I’m seeing (again, as hilighted by Clinton’s post) is that it is really easy to go from public feedback, or from sheer authorship, directly to production without going through the other steps. Even private playtesting is losing value as the bar is raised by those with the will, time and status to get outside playtests of their games. When it was hard or expensive to get your game in print, I think the process selected against those without the will and drive to go all the way through the levels.
Yes, even traditional RPGs have been hamstrung by lack of playtesting before production over the history of the hobby. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about how, when you couldn’t easily produce, you could write all you want, but going through the playtest process indicated that you had the will to go all the way. Now, you only need the will to write and produce, because those are the easy things. You can do those yourself. You don’t need anyone else to do those. The path of least resistance now follows the “design->write->produce” track, not the “design->write->get playtests->get people excited->create a market->produce” track.
Not that I’m saying that games these days are crap, or any such nonsense. What I am saying is that, maybe we (and I use we consciously and meaningfully – this applies to me, personally, in a huge way) need to concentrate on playtesting as the BIG THING. Pushing the edge of game design was the BIG THING. Right now, physical production is the BIG THING (and I’m totally on board with that, as well). But getting critical feedback and a community of playtest needs to become a BIG THING, or we will continue coming home from Gen Con with broken games.