2006-08-27 : Kerflufflizing

Over here, Ben says:

I'm not going to talk about specific games because that involves, well, talking bad about another game, which I do not do in public as a matter of professional ethics.

Unless we can discuss one another's games frankly and critically, we are not a real artistic community. Our value is limited. Your participation in the community will be hit or miss fruitful.

However, it's super clear than Ben's right about the ethics of internet discussion. That means that we're designing in cells, now; the Forge long ago crossed the size threshold to "in public."

Is the necessary private criticism happening? Critical playtesting, critical design workshopping, holding your game up to other human beings' brutal critical standards? It is for me and mine. If it isn't for you and yours, find a way. Find a way, I'm dead serious. Why do you think that Western Mass was responsible for 4 of the Forge booth's 7 top sellers this year? It's not magic, it's not just running demos, it's not just name recognition, and if you'll forgive me saying so in public like this, it's not luck.

1. On 2006-08-27, Ben Lehman said:

You can safely read "in public" as "on the internet."



2. On 2006-08-27, Avram said:

However, it's super clear than Ben's right about the ethics of internet discussion.

It's not at all clear to me.


3. On 2006-08-27, Guy Shalev said:

How about the "Find a way" meets the "For me and mine", where we do an outreach?

I don't want the "Way" to be for each person to insert himself or herself into a cell, or if he can't do that, to fall back on creating a new cell.

I'm all for the Public eye method. That is what Forge Midwest and other such activities are, the public eye.


4. On 2006-08-27, Jasper Polane said:

Why do you think that Western Mass was responsible for 4 of the Forge booth's 7 top sellers this year?

Honestly, Vincent? I think it's your name coming up in playtest or actual play threads of these games, and you or Ron posting about them and saying how good they are.


5. On 2006-08-27, Meguey said:

I think that's a dodge. Here's the thing. If you've ever had people tear your game apart and help you build it anew (I'm thinking Cold City here, for one, and will try to find the thread & link it), you know what kind of work is needed and helpful in gaming criticism and critical playtesting. It's not the magic of having Ron or Vincent or Clinton or, heck, Robin Laws, talk about your game.


6. On 2006-08-27, Guy Shalev said:

I agree with Meguey.

But then again, you need to have someone treat your game that way.

Please note the vast distance between "My and Mine" and "Community". That is, aside from having the "Me and Mine" be the "Community", which is not what's intended.


7. On 2006-08-27, Rob MacD said:

To be fair to Ben, he wasn't refusing to engage in playtesting a game in that comment; he was choosing not to answer my question where I asked him to explain a kind of cryptic blog post. Though I think the question about "designing in public" still stands.

On the other question, Vincent + Meg on the one hand and Jasper on the other are probably both right about why Western Mass games are so hot; I think it would be disingenuous to pretend otherwise.


8. On 2006-08-27, Jasper Polane said:

Meg: Of course critisism and critical playtesting makes for better games. And I didn't mean to imply anything about the quality of 1001 nights or the lack thereof.

However, just because your game is a good game doesn't necessarily make it a top selling game. Being in Vincent's circle does.


9. On 2006-08-27, Guy Shalev said:

I want to direct the Kerfluffle elsewhere, if I may.
Most of the current deal is about sales, mutualism, expectations and community at GenCon.

I think what we're discussing here is much more important. I also do it without pointing fingers, the only way pointing fingers work is if you point it at yourself.

This is about mutualism, expectations and community, before you even have your game published.

This is the issue of the Forge as a community rather than as a "Brand" or a "Social Circle".


10. On 2006-08-27, Clinton R. Nixon said:

I'm going to say somethng I've wanted to say since I first heard the smallest rumor of someone playing the name card:

Vincent's known because he wrote a really damn good game. Period. It's not magic. He wrote a game that was playtested and well-designed.

Being in Vincent's circle does not sell your game. Making a really good game, well-playtested and designed does. Now, what people get confused is this: Vincent (or whoever else) will notice your game if it's good, just like everyone else. The Internet, as always, has cause and effect mixed up.

Like Ben, I will not make negative comments towards people's games on the Internet, but I will make positive comments. Here's one: Contenders. I believe it sold well at GenCon. Why? Holy crap, it's amazing. That's why. Cold City - again, it's jaw-droppingly good. Heck, look back some, too. Tim Kleinert is now all buddy-buddy with Ron, but he wasn't when he wrote The Mountain Witch. It sold like hotcakes because it's really, really good, and then of course Ron and he became friends: they live in the same city and he wrote a fantastic game.

To be really clear:

Cause: Well-designed, thoroughly-playtested game
Effect 1: Other people known for writing good games give your props
Effect 2: Your game sells well

Effect 1 is not a cause.


11. On 2006-08-27, Meguey said:

"[J]ust because your game is a good game doesn't necessarily make it a top selling game. Being in Vincent's circle does."

I still don't buy that, Jasper.

That sounds a lot like the excuse someone gave for not giving feedback or comment to the Playtesting 1001 thread at the Forge - "Oh, it's Vincent's wife's baby game - better not say anything bad about it..."

If, on the other hand, you mean that being in the circle that Vincent, Emily, Joshua, Carrie, and Julia are part of helped make my newbie game sell well, then yes, because they gave me the critical development lab needed to make it so.


12. On 2006-08-27, Ben Lehman said:

PEOPLE!  You are missing the point.

Read the original linked post and the post that comes before it.

A good game can sell no copies because the designer failed to think about how the game fits into society as a whole.  This is a failure of the game and a failure of the game's designer, but it doesn't mean the game is gee-whiz or fun or satisfying to play, but it means it fails as a social thing.

The missing ingredient for the games that are awesome but don't sell well is social context, which has crap all to do with your social connections.

I guess it's easier to blame your doubt and insecurity on connections, though.


P.S.  I will not comment negatively on other published games in public, similarly how I will not "call people out" or other such juvenile behavior (I remember there was a long call for me to "name names" at some point about some other kerfluffle—won't happen).  I will freely and joyfully tear apart non-published games either here or in the first thoughts forum as my time allows.  This has to do with the culture of creativity that I was raised in (novelists) and it's not changing any time soon.

P.P.S.  Getting a social group that will treat your game properly and roughly is not hard.  I'll post a guide in a couple of days.


13. On 2006-08-27, Matt Wilson said:

Why do you think that Western Mass was responsible for 4 of the Forge booth's 7 top sellers this year?

Because there's fuck else to do in Western Mass. People out there live in barns and have dial-up internet access. I have seen it with my own eyes.

Seriously, though, I totally agree with you, V-man. I've been trying hard to make personal contact with people, and finding and giving feedback that's both honest and thoughtful makes such a difference. Sometimes it's really hard, but it's good hard.

Also, I wish I could live in Western Mass. Barns are cool.


14. On 2006-08-27, Jasper Polane said:

Hey, I'm not pointing fingers here. If it seems that way, it's because my english isn't as good as it should be. But allow me to explain my points:

Actual play or playtest threads by Ron or Vincent (or Judd) sell games. Don't tell me that's not true, it is. The Moose in the City thread sold a lot of copies of Primetime Adventures. Clinton, Ron did write about his playtest of The Mountain Witch before the game came out.

Are these good games? Yes. Would they have sold a lot of copies without them posting? Probably. Would they have sold as many copies as they did? Well, sorry, I just don't think so.

Vincent writing about the games he plays, here or on the Forge, gets people interested in those games and makes them buy them, is all I'm saying.


15. On 2006-08-27, Ben Lehman said:

Ron's posts in the AP forum

I want you to count how many fun-to-play games in that list aren't massive commercial successes.  This isn't because Ron doesn't like them.

A high profile AP report or review will get you attention.  Attention is worthless without decent thought to the social context of your game.

It just isn't optional.


16. On 2006-08-27, Clinton R. Nixon said:


Cause and effect.

Good, well-playtested game = lots of people (including Ron and Vincent) interested in playing it. Ron and Vincent are just better than most people about posting about their experiences.

A thread about your game by Ron or Vincent gets people to buy it because they know that someone who has good taste in games has enjoyed it.

I'm not accusing you of this, Jasper, but there's been a little bit of cry-baby "my game doesn't sell because it's not something so-and-so posts about" going around. And what I'm trying to say is that that's not magic. People post about good games.

There was a time when no one knew Vincent's name. Dogs in the Vineyard is, and excuse me, Vincent, the world's least likely good idea. I saw the concept once (I have to set up playtest forums on the Forge) and thought, "A game about Mormons or something? What?" and ignored it until I later read the rules and then read a playtest and thought, "Wow - this is good!" Vincent's word about games carries weight because he understands good game construction and, to use Ben's term, games' social context.

But I'm explaining a lot without completely understand. Jasper - what are you trying to get at? That influential people have a responsibility as to what they post about?


17. On 2006-08-27, Vincent said:

Guy, what you're asking for, it's not possible. You have to watch people play your game, and you have to know them well enough to see when they aren't having fun, no matter what they tell you afterward. You have to be able to see what they're bringing to the table to make the game fun for everyone, that's absent from your rules.

I know you're frustrated about not getting outside playtesting, but I'm really talking about you watching critical people play with your own eyes.

Yes, the people at the Forge Midwest can provide it for you. I helped provide it for Matt Wilson and for Gordon Landis at GenCon. Camp Nerdly is going to be just exactly what someone needs. I'm all for that - with the recognition that if your cell gets together only once or twice or three times a year, your effective design schedule will have to adapt to the fact.

Jasper, I think Ben and Clinton's answers to you are very good. I like both "Vincent's endorsement draws attention, it's the goodness of the game that does the rest" and "Vincent's endorsement is good because Vincent endorses good games - the good games come first."

Ben, I didn't mean to steal wind out of talking about designing for a social context on your blog; I just meant to talk about critical artistic communities. Of course the two are related, though.

Avram, the ethical reason that I see is this: the internet is marketing, not just development. If I talk bad about a game here on my blog, I might both at once be stupidly wrong and cost the other designer money. If I'm going to risk being stupidly wrong, I'm going to do it somewhere where the consequences are on me, not on the other designer.

"I'm sorry, you're right, that was stupid and wrong of me. I've caught up now I think, go on?" vs "I'm sorry, you're right, that was stupid and wrong of me. I've caught up now I think, go on? Oh and sorry about messing up those 15 sales for you."


18. On 2006-08-27, Guy Shalev said:

I'm in agreement.

My point really isn't about my game. I agree that nothing beats watching people. I think this is also part of the answer with "The game was meh" answer people give after a game while during the game they say it rocks.

I'm not even talking about Playtesting, the issue is much more basic, that of support-networks.

I am also about that "cell", why have it "Your cell" instead of having a pool to pull from, to create and dismantle cells on a real-time basis.

I think we may also need to reconsider, for ourselves, what it means that this is a Community. Because this isn't obvious.

Hm, I feel I'm agreeing with people too much in this discussion :P Or that I feel that I'm agreeing.


19. On 2006-08-27, Tris said:

I'm on both sides of the fence here.

Ignore that this is games for a second.  It's product.  And I think the rules are pretty much the same for selling any product:

It has to be good.
It has to be well marketed.

Being around people who know how to design good stuff, and taking on board their commentary will help you design good stuff.

Also, having famous people (in your target market) talk about your stuff, will help raise awareness of your stuff.

If you have both, you'll sell a lot of stuff.

Knowing Vincent gives you help in development - he knows his stuff, and a help in marketing - he is a celebrity.

But here's the thing - if I write a brilliant game, I am completely confident Vincent would talk about it.  I can get the marketing help because he will up and say "Hey, look what Tris has done - it's really neat"

And even if I wrote something terrible, and paid Vincent 3 squillion dollars (the exchange rate is pretty good for me right now) to lie about it being good, then Ben, Matt, Clinton, Ron and loads of others would all be saying "uh...this sucks"

So anyone thinking "my game failed because I'm not close to Vincent", stop thinking that.  It's mean and inaccurate.


20. On 2006-08-27, Ron Edwards said:

Data that should not be ignored:

I did not play nor post about Dogs in the Vineyard, Polaris, Under the Bed, Breaking the Ice, 1001 Nights, Shooting the Moon, or 1001 Nights before any of these games appeared at their respective GenCons.

Best, Ron


21. On 2006-08-27, Matt S said:

So anyone thinking "my game failed because I'm not close to Vincent", stop thinking that. It's mean and inaccurate.

This is indeed inaccurate. Clearly, one does not need Vincent's commendation to succeed. Nor Ron's, etc. There are other ways to succeed, probably thousands of them.

But that's not really the question. It's the inverse of the real question, which is actually this:

Does being close to Vincent (Or Ron's, Robin's, etc.) help your game succeed?

I believe it does. I certainly have benefitted from Ron Edwards commendations on both my published games. I can point directly to sales made after he posted actual play, for example.

If I could get anyone to say good things about Nine Worlds, for example, Vincent and Clinton would be in the top 5 of my list. Why? Because they 1) have influence among a much larger audience than they probably care to admit and 2) becaue they have demonstrated, repeatedly, that they understand games, and can peg a good game at 100 yards. They save people time and stress by saying "this game's good" rather than forcing the people to dig around for a while to find out whether or not it's good. They trust Vincent; he saves them time and helps make a reliable buying decision.

I really don't see anything wrong with this, nothing mean or petty or whatever. I know Vincent and Clinton reasonably well. I belive them to be the kind of guys for whom this opinion of mine about their propped up status is ... unsettling. They'd rather be just one of the guys. They are not, whether they like it or not.

Still, it's not as though anyone owes anyone else a damn thing. And, it's not as though someone in the position to benefit from Vincent's praise can do a damn thing about it "Shh! Vincent shuddap already!" No.

Here's what I believe to be the real answer: Let's look at that crew in Massachusetts. Vincent and Co. seem to me to realize too little how extremely beneficial their circumstances are (or rather, how wonderful their life choices to date have led to a wonderful circle of friends and family). They are a circle of friends who eagerly discuss games, devote time to games, are on the same page regarding games, and have what appears to be an ideal community for creating games (in part because they also have an outlet to other groups who can help test).

I sit on another side of that spectrum. I have no similar circle of friends in my geographic community. My (gaming) friends are rather obviously not interested in talking about them, not on the same page I am on in terms of games, and do not regularly, willingly devote time to their games. They aren't interested in playtesting, and they exhibit no interest in indie RPGs despite having a best pal who writes them.

Obviously, the solution for me is finding another network of support, which I have tried. And tried. And tried again. Not all communities are created equal, you know!?!Success is scant to date. I keep trying, sometimes more often than others. I have not given up, and keep trying to find new ways to succeed.

Here's the real difference. Every minute I spend trying to find a community to actually create a game is a minute that some folks in western Massachusetts (or elsewhere, etc.) spend actually creating one or more games. Every minute I spend trying to find an outlet—usually online—for playtesting is a minute they actually spend playtesting. Every minute I spend trying to get people—usually online pals—to help me market is a minute they spend actually getting pals to market their games (this isn't coercion, obviously).

In short, making games without an immediate, face-to-face network of active support is very difficult. In fact, it's a ridiculous pain in the ass. It's lonely (I'm not exaggerating) and frustrating. I believe it requires significantly more work, effort and stress than those who create games with such support (which is already, by those creators' admissions, very, very hard to do). Not much evidence for that beyond me thinking I'd kill to have such a group around me!

I have voiced this before. Constantly, I hear "Just find another group! It works!" I shrug, say, "You're right" and then stew because they don't live in my town, don't work at my job, don't take care of my kids, don't spend time with my friends and family, do other people's game layouts, and so on. Which to give up? How much harder to work to find this support? Things are not as easy as they seem, are they?

This is a matter of circumstances. It is not, as Vincent has said, chance; it is the consequence of choices made years in the past through today. One is responsible for the position in which one finds himself. I certainly am. And, neither do I have any regrets. You should see my new paycheck for example! YES!

I am extremely uneasy raising criticisms of the Forge booth, for example, for exactly this reason. I'm all about owning up to personal responsibility.

However, I am also frustrated to recognize small communities of people who help one another succeed in publishing, but do relatively little to help other likeminded small communities of people trying to do the same, all while selling in the same physical space (as well as virtual space, too). This is happening among all groupings of pals, not just the Mass. Crew ignoring everyone. It's everyone ignoring everyone, largely because there's too little time to work it out.

I find Ben's comments about social context extremely interesting. I am uncertain what he means, and I indend to ask him. I propose putting Nine Worlds on his metaphorical chopping block because 1) I know it's a well-designed game 2) it's not getting played 3) Ron's praise helped it achieve success 4) Ben sings its praises and loves the game but 5) he may have valid criticisms about its slight failure to connect with people that I do not yet understand or recognize.

Phew! Ok, I'm going to spend time with my gaming buddies now for the first time in two months. Seems I'm upping my irony intake today. Life's strange. I love it that way, honestly.


22. On 2006-08-28, Vincent said:

Matt, okay! That's a great post, I'm happy.

Here's my very serious, open-hearted suggestion: we take our community's working criticism out of the public eye. After all, the Beats (hi J!) got to discuss poetry without shouting every conversation from the streetcorners. We could give ourselves the same luxury.

Right now it's all informal, and it's working great insofar as it's working at all. I know what Ben thinks about Nine Worlds, for instance - much good that does you! Maybe we could come up with something a little more formal, an infrastructure, to include you in conversations like the ones I've had with Ben, without including everybody in the whole wide web. I imagine that Tim K would be interested in what I've said to Meg about Hero's Banner, too, but like you, he wasn't around when I said it.

I'm talking post-diaspora!


23. On 2006-08-28, Matt Wilson said:

Here's my very serious, open-hearted suggestion: we take our community's working criticism out of the public eye.

Snyder, I think it was, actually suggested at one time a sort of group Skype chat or something.

But a mailing list or private forumy kind of setup might make it easier for everyone to get their thoughts in. Turn-taking is hard on multi-user phone calls.


24. On 2006-08-28, Guy Shalev said:

Taking Matt S. into your design group doesn't fit what he said.
It's a solution to him, but the whole point is, he's standing in for a group.

Also, much happens behind closed doors, it's not the talk of group's games that is the problem, but lack of talk about non-group's games.

Snyder, correct me if I'm wrong.


25. On 2006-08-28, Ben Lehman said:

Matt, let's talk in e-mail.



26. On 2006-08-28, Matt S said:

Vincent, thanks. I'm interested, but I don't have any idea how that happens. It seems to me that we're saying we want the "good ol' days" of the Forge back. You know, getting the band back together like before the big sellout. Ah, hell, I'm joking around too much, and I know how far that's gotten me this past week. ... Yes, that sounds great. How does that happen? 'Cause at the moment I'm blank.

Guy, I think that's a pretty fair summation. No quibbles here. Yes, I'm very uncomfortable with sounding like a whining victim. Very. Yes, I'm attempting to do this less for my own sake alone than for people in comparable circumstances.

Ben, already on it.


27. On 2006-08-28, Matt S said:

Doh! Forgot one, sorry.

Matt: Yes, that was me. I was all hip to Skype round tables. Just didn't happen for no particular reason.

That actually gets me out of my blank step (barely). What we may need are functional workshops. Writer's workshops scare me, because they are often futile. But, maybe some kind of give-and-take workshop methods could help. You contribute to X games, get Y feedback? I dunno. Thinking aloud and consuming V's space to do it. I'll cool it now!


28. On 2006-08-28, Ben Lehman said:


Your blog, totally in bounds to change the discussion topic.  I just think that the responses to your new topic are also overlooking the content of my (linked) posts.



29. On 2006-08-28, NinJ said:

Hey! I find out anyone's pulling their punches in criticism on one of my games in process and I will kill you right in the teeth!


30. On 2006-08-28, Jasper Polane said:

Matt S is saying what I've been trying to say. I don't have much to add to that. I just want to answer Clinton's question:

But I'm explaining a lot without completely understand. Jasper - what are you trying to get at? That influential people have a responsibility as to what they post about?

Up to now, this fact's been missing from the discussion about sales: Who is talking about your game is a big part of what sells in this community. A very big part.

I did buy PtA because of the Moose in the City thread, and I did buy 9 Worlds because of Ron posting about it. I'm not the only one.

I do think Vincent's comments about 1001 Nights and Shock both here and on the Forge sold at least 15-20 copies before GenCon started or the games were even out. I don't believe that's an unfair number.

In the indie RPG "market", where 40 copies sold on GenCon is good sales, it does make a big difference. It does make a game one of the top selling games.

(Oh, and just to be clear: I don't have a game for sale.)


31. On 2006-08-28, Kaare berg said:

If we are talking sales here you got to include the customers, or the sosial group you are aiming for.

Sorry, and this is not correct Tris.

Ignore that this is games for a second. It's product. And I think the rules are pretty much the same for selling any product:

It has to be good.
It has to be well marketed.

it helps, but it isn't a cosmic truth.

Many good products don't sell.
Many bad products sell.

You have to make a game that people want to play. A product that your customers want.

You can make "The great American game," but you'd be hard pressed to sell it to a buch of World of Warcraft players unless you had HP and DPS in it.

I take it this is what Ben is talking about.


32. On 2006-08-28, Vincent said:

I think I've said what I have to say. For now, no other replies here: does anyone still have something they want me to answer?


33. On 2006-08-28, Neel said:

I dunno if you need to answer this, but this has pretty much convinced me that I have no interest in making a game for sale, if (the possibility of?) money creates enough strife that people want to start wanting to keep critical analysis secret. Looks like it's going to be public domain and copyleft for me....


34. On 2006-08-28, Vincent said:

Neel, if you're convinced you're convinced. But "keeping critical analysis secret" is a terrible characterization of what's happening and what I'm proposing. It misses the point bad.

Here's what I'd say instead: being an artistic community, there are issues of criticism that we simply have to deal with. That there's money involved, multiplies them. That we're trying to deal with them in public, also multiplies them. Do away with the money, do away with the public eye, the underlying issues remain.

Also to consider: the Forge's years doing this have shown, over and over again, that people play games they paid money for over games they didn't. If you want people to really play your game, sell it to them for money. So, even if money were the root of bad feelings, instead of just an enhancer of bad feelings, it's nevertheless essential to what we're trying to do.


35. On 2006-08-29, wundergeek said:

It is just as easy for someone who lives in total obscurity to sell a game as it is for a ???famous game designer???. I live in Canada, not Western Massachusetts. I didn???t meet Vincent until this year, and even then we talked for maybe half an hour all told. I am someone completely unconnected to any of the ???cool kids??? at the Forge.

None the less, I have been responsible for around 10-15 sales of Dogs (last time I counted responses in the threads) after writing up an Actual Play post of the end of our Dogs campaign more than two years ago. We had an awesome game that inspired me to write a fitting tribute. People got excited about what we did with our game, and bought copies of their own. Simple. People pay attention to the content of Actual Play threads, not the authors.


36. On 2006-08-29, Vincent said:

Anna: yes!


37. On 2006-08-29, NinJ said:

Anna, thank you.


38. On 2006-08-29, Marhault said:

"People pay attention to the content of Actual Play threads, not the authors."

I think people pay attention to both.  I know I do.

I don't read every single post that goes up in the Forge's Actual Play forum.  I am more likely to read one from somebody whom I recognize and who has shown that they write interesting AP posts in the past.

Name recognition is a factor.  Does anyone seriously doubt that?


39. On 2006-08-29, Vincent said:

I don't think anyone doubts it. I don't even think that Jasper, say, is overstating it.

What I want to get through to whoever doesn't get it already is that name recognition doesn't come first. "How do you make a game sell well?" "Well first you get some name recognition, either your own or you borrow Vincent's..." No. First you publish a game that's well-designed to deliver on its social agenda, its creative agenda, and its technical agenda. THEN it gives you name recognition, plus it attracts me and MY name recognition, plus Ron's, plus Judd's, plus Anna's, plus Paul Tevis', plus Kenneth Hite's, plus a zillion other excellent people's.

You bring your strengths to bear on your threefold well-designed game, is what you do. Maybe your strengths include name recognition, maybe they don't. Whatever your strengths are, they're wasted without that game.

RIGHT NOW, Anna is building name recognition for herself. Eventually she'll bring that strength to bear on whatever it is she decides to do (probably, negotiate for me and others like me to pay her well for her work). Am I helping her? Sure. But will I be responsible for her success? I can help her all I want, but if her work isn't self-sustaining, I can help her INSANE but I can't help her enough. Her work will have to live and die on its own. If it lives, I can help it thrive and prosper; if it dies, my name recognition does it no good whatsoever.

Same with games.


40. On 2006-08-29, Marhault said:

Cool.  Total agreement.


41. On 2006-08-29, Ian Burton-Oakes said:

And there is a inverse corollary people often overlook—if a big name makes a habit of recommending all kinds of games that really aren't cool, people stop listening to them.  Sure, everyone gets a few duds, but if you make a habit of picking them, people start to notice—all the more quickly when you have all the more eyes on you.

People with big names *put it on the line* when they voice support.  That is part of why they get more attention.



42. On 2006-08-30, Curly said:

Personality IS related to how well games sell.

Vincent's got a certain Warren Zevon charisma that people like.
You meet him, or read him online—and you want him to do well.
Dogs is written in his voice, and the appeal carries over.

Polaris = Ben's poetic nature.  BW = Luke's drive.

Likewise, Ron's Forge essays are inseperable from his personality.

If you like the guy, you're gonna like the game, the theory, the blog, the opinion... the endorsement of somebody else's game.

So is it fair to complain if those guys (or other 'names') don't throw enough of their affinity behind another Forgite's game?

I think the answer depends on how each successful/well-liked personality approaches the Forge.

Anyone who believes-in or promotes the Forge community as an inviting, un-clique-ish place; has an obligation to support all compatriots with a requisite minimum degree of enthusiasm.  Or else risk being a hypocrite.

Anybody who describes the Forge in less idealistic terms—"it is what it is/ it doesn't owe anybody any more than the members feel like giving"—is free to extend their coat-tails as they see fit... no further obligation.  Except the obligation to not hype the Forge as more open-armed than it really is.


43. On 2006-08-31, Emily said:

Anyone who believes-in or promotes the Forge community as an inviting, un-clique-ish place; has an obligation to support all compatriots with a requisite minimum degree of enthusiasm. Or else risk being a hypocrite.

Interesting statement. I think there is a logical flaw here. Based on the above, it would then follow that if you lie about how much you like a game, or support a game you don't know anything about you are not being a hypocrite because you are giving the requisite minimum amount of support. This also takes a very narrow view of what support is.

Support does not necessarily mean talking good about a game. It can also be letting someone know, directly and perhaps privately, what you think they might benefit from changing about their design, or marketing, or layout etc.

Support can mean playing a game and writing up one's actual play, but there are only so many hours in the day that anyone has in order to play all these amazing games.

Basically, support means contributing to some one else's efforts and we're all limited on what we can give.

In fact, the reason why we are as successful as we are is because there are so many of us connected to eachother.  Everyone can find the (finite) set of games that appeal to them that they can fully get behind and support—in whatever form that takes.  No one person could ever support all the games. We have to find allies and collaborators amongst all the great mass of us. We can't expect everyone to devote all their time to our game, and we can't expect anyone to devote any time to our games unless they are doing it out of sheer love and joy of doing so.

Really, that's our strength.  The giving of joy-ness of it all.  That's why any of us do this (that, and we're borken and thus can't not do it : ).  That's the glue that keeps the reciprocity going.  You are giving to me by making this amazing game that I love, and so I want to give to you by sharing with others what it was like to play it. You gave to me by helping me figure out how my mechanics were wonky, so I give to you by taking part in a playtest of your game that looks fun to me.

But it's all volunteer. All from the heart. And if it isn't then there is a problem.

At least, that's how it seems to me.


44. On 2006-08-31, Emily said:

But it's all volunteer...
Except for those collaborators who get paid—and that is part of the joy of it too. We get to help eachother earn income from doing what we love together.

etc, etc.


45. On 2006-08-31, Curly said:

" Based on the above, it would then follow that if you lie about how much you like a game, or support a game you don't know anything about you are not being a hypocrite because you are giving the requisite minimum amount of support. This also takes a very narrow view of what support is."


From the very top, this thread has been about whether community members ought to abstain from making negative-sounding criticisms in public.  At no point did anyone advocate telling outright lies.  That's an absurd extrapolation.  Nor did anyone advocate a "narrow view" that a show of solidarity in public should be the only form of support given.

For what it's worth, I disagree with Ben & Vincent.  I think it would be healthier if kerfluffles did run their course in public view, rather than a closet.

Transparency is healthy.


46. On 2006-08-31, Vincent said:

Here are two things we don't, currently, get to choose between:
1. Essential post-publication criticism happens in public; or
2. Essential post-publication criticism happens in private.

That's, to say again, not the choice we get to make right now.

Here's what's happening right now:
1. Essential post-publication criticism isn't happening.

Curly, do you have any proposal for how to make it happen?

I think that being out here in public is one of the factors contributing to it not happening. Do you disagree?


47. On 2006-08-31, Curly said:

The word 'publication' literally derives from 'to make public'.

So, contrary to Ben invoking 'professional ethics', there's nothing unethical about criticising a published game in public.  The designer already agreed to public scrutiny when he moved the game from 'private' to 'public'.

My only proposal to make essential criticism happen, is to tell those currently biting their tongues that they need not do so.  Good faith dissent isn't disloyalty.


48. On 2006-08-31, Valamir said:

I'm a firm believer that post-publication criticism should happen in public and not in private...for many reasons:

1) Public criticism is targeted at all artistic endeavors Movies, books, music all undergo public criticism...much of it completely valueless but they're forced to face the fire.  Why should RPGs be different?  Its your art...its out there...just like an actor facing those opening night critics on the theatre page the next morning, you have to face the music.  To not do so seems me to lessen it as a legitimate art form.

2) INTELLIGENT public criticism is much more of a rarity in all things.  If we can uphold critical standards of intelligent constructive criticism for our art form, how much better will we be for it.  Intelligent criticism of the sort people on this blog are capable of is exactly the sort of criticism that SHOULD be going on in public.  To show all those morons with flame throwers what a real critique looks like.

3) Part of the purpose of the community we've built, Forge based or post-diaspora, is to help aspiring designers.  What better way to help aspiring designers than to critically analyse design in public.  And not just playtest drafts where "oh, yeah, I still have time to fix that" is an option...but final drafts where "oh, rats, how'd that get through" is often the hard cold truth.  Learning lessons from what could have been done better is a valuable experience.  Those of us with finished products shouldn't shirk our "obligation" (obligation if we believe in what the community is doing) to subject ourselves or our peers to tough public criticism with no other reason needed than to serve as a data point for those who'll follow.

4) It keeps us honest.  A never ending love-fest of mutual admiration is no more healthy an environment than one of hostile abuse.  If we can't handle the criticism of the people we love and respect and admire...we really shouldn't be artists.  And "the money thing" is exactly where the rubber hits the road.  If good intelligent criticism causes me to lose sales, its not "shame on you" for costing me money.  Its "shame on me" for not doing a better job.  And as far as the worry about the criticism being wrong...well of course that's a risk...but really who better to get it right more reliably...than us.  All false humility aside...who better...really?  Who is more qualified to honestly and accurately judge a new novel RPG than the Forge and Post-Diaspora community of designers?  We have an obligation to do it, and to do it in public.

5) It maintains our credibility.  If none of us are ever heard to harshly criticize one of our fellows' designs in much credibility does our praise have? A "thumbs up" carries alot more weight when people know it doesn't come easily and automatically.  They know it doesn't when they've seen us give a number of "thumbs down" too.

Over on the Forge there are a number of threads about Agon—talking about potential flaws in the game, potential fixes, etc (many of them involving me).  It's all public and John is handling it like a champ.  Where he disagrees with the criticism he lays out why.  Where he agrees he hasn't been afraid to say "you know that could have been done better, what about this...".

Sure there are some who will be pissed off that they paid money for Agon and hey, it might need some alterations.  Sure there are those who will continue to suggest that Forge designers charge money for games that are really betas.  Fuck those people.  That's just ignorance and nonsense and I'm certainly not going to live in fear of them or give them any credence at all.  I bought Agon...I love it.  There are parts I don't love (or don't love yet).  So what.  IMO the kind of critical analysis of Agon taking place on the Forge is exactly the kind of critical analysis that SHOULD be taking place in public...for all the above reasons.

Maybe that costs a few sales in the short run.  But in the long run between helping us design better games, and solidifying our credibility as a community I bet it enhances sales.

Curly wrote above "My only proposal to make essential criticism happen, is to tell those currently biting their tongues that they need not do so. Good faith dissent isn't disloyalty."



49. On 2006-09-01, Vincent said:

Okay! Cool, I will accordingly not create a non-public publishers' criticism forum.

(This is a largely hollow pronouncement, as I hadn't really made any concrete plans to create one in the first place, just some brainstorming.)

We carry on, then.


50. On 2006-09-01, Paul said:

Hey Ralph,

Personally, I have absolutely no problem publicly posting criticism about a "for sale" game if I've played it. (Am I wrong to think that most of us are the same on this?)

I have somewhat greater difficulty publicly criticizing a "for sale" game I've read all the way through, but haven't played. But I can do it, and I do.

But that's about my threshold. I can't say I've ever publicly criticized a "for sale" game that I've only read part way through, no matter how strong my convictions about the game's weaknesses. I guess I lack the motivation to plow all the way through a game when I achieve a certain level of confidence that it won't be overcoming the doubts I've developed in the reading I've already done. I guess I doubt my own partially informed convictions. I guess I give the designer the benefit of the doubt that they've done thorough playtesting. And I guess I give the designer lattitude for having design objectives that don't accord with my own.

So I'm curious where you think we should be drawing the line. Currently, you're playing and posting productive criticism about Agon. But that's the public criticism I think we all mostly agree on. Do you agree with me that a culture of public criticism should extend to "read all the way through, but haven't played"? Do you think it should extend all the way to "partially read, but strong convictions"?



51. On 2006-09-05, Alex Fradera said:

My experience as a eager indie games customer: The absence of public criticism does have a chilling effect on sales.

When I go to the movies, or buy a book, I can rely on formal reviews, my faith in the artists involved, or word of mouth. Because these are big industries, I can always find multiple objective reviews, will be familiar with some of the creators involved, and probably find a disinterested someone who knows more about it than me.

In the indie rpg area, my information is much more limited. Absent one of the rare social groups discussed above, I don't have a way to get personal recommendations. Many creators are first-timers, or still cutting their teeth, so it's hard to assess on that basis. So as the market expands, objective reviews are absolutely crucial. For someone like me, these will need to come from the indie games community, to ensure that they are reasonably informed and address the strengths of the game relative to the alternatives I already own/could be looking into.

I was excited by the buzz around the games coming out at Gen-Con, but I haven't got round to purchasing any yet. I wanted to really shop around for some different and varied stuff, but it's clear that some creators think that some of the products that made it onto the booth don't work as a game should. As a customer this worries me and makes me think again about splurging - how am I to know what to avoid? This is always an issue with investing in stuff, but I think it's greater due to the greater committment that rpgs demand, relative to the alternatives. Nothing worse than pulling a bunch of busy people over to engage in an activity that doesn't work and requires effort to not work. Obviously, indie games are ameliorating this by being quicker to pick up and to play, but I still want to be sure that I'm not engaged in something broken.

Obviously one alternative is to continue to plug the positives, rather than hate on the negatives, but this lumps unloved/unknown games games in the same pile as played-and-hated. This would sadden me, as it consigns games to plunge into oblivion - "if no-one's talking about it, it must be bad" - which seems wrong-headed.

In my ideal world (again, as a consumer rather than producer) this community would encourage gambles upon the unknown and the little games. But to do this, it has to identify the weaker games, rather than simply tout the stronger ones.


52. On 2006-09-05, Marhault said:

Paul asked Ralph:
—Do you agree with me that a culture of public criticism should extend to "read all the way through, but haven't played"? Do you think it should extend all the way to "partially read, but strong convictions"?—

I know I do.  Criticism from any stage of involvement with a game is valid and can be useful.  You just need to identify what your experience is with the game in question.  This helps the creator identify some of the reasons behind your statements.

For instance, writing me and saying "I downloaded the playtest version of your game and stopped reading after page 6 to tell you that your mechanics for X are broken, here's why. . ." tells me something completely different than saying "I downleaded and played your game with my group.  We ran into trouble with X in play, here's what happened. . ."  Both are useful.


53. On 2006-09-05, Valamir said:

I think intelligent criticism requires outlining however far it extends as part of the critique.  If these are "first reactions to an initial read" say so.  If they are "on the basis of a quick playtest session that abbreviated certain mechanics in the interest of time" say so.  If they include "several house rules we implemented following our initial read" say so.

I don't think one can put down a standard as to "capsule review" vs. "actual play", that debate has been raging for years...and frankly there are certain individuals I find can give a more reliable capsule review than certain other individuals can give actual play reviews.

But I think its its fair to expect full disclosure.


54. On 2006-09-06, Guy Shalev said:

I agree with Alex. When I look to buy a new book on Amazon I actively look for a 1-2 star review that is well-thought out to see what is wrong with the book.

If I can still like it, great.

Likewise, on RPG.Net there are two groups whose reviews I pay special attention to. People I nearly always agree with, and people I nearly always disagree with. Both tell me what I'm going to like, just one does so by a negative.


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