2014-04-14 : Getting Your Game Played and Talked About

Asks Tim Ralphs, here:

It seems to me that the way you engage the public in your game design is fundamental to their propagation, in that you generate a visible enthusiastic discussion and a pool of geographically disparate people with positive experiences of play.

Let's imagine I had a game that was the easy 90% of the way to feeling finished with the hard 10% still to be done. What advice would you give me specific to getting the game played and talked about? I'm probably going to give it away for free ultimately, but it would be really nice to give it away to more people and have them actually play it.

Great question! I have no earthly idea!

So, your game makes promises, and then it delivers on them.

If you say "hey, check out my game!" and nobody does, that means that either (a) it's not making interesting promises, so nobody legitimately cares, or else (b) you haven't managed to communicate what it's promising yet, so you should keep trying. You'll have to figure out which.

If you say "hey, check out my game!" and people do, but they don't go on to play or talk about it, that means that it's not delivering on its promises. People were interested enough to check it out, but then the game left them cold.

From this point of view, getting your game played and talked about is a design problem. It's not enough to design a game that's technically playable, you have to design a game that provokes people into playing it, and gives them things to talk about afterward. Not just a good experience, but a good experience with a highlight they can't wait to share, or a good experience with a troublesome spot they want help figuring out.

Now, the above is all just my stock answer, and it's not very good advice. As advice, it amounts to "make a game people can't ignore," which, I mean, that was probably your goal all along, wasn't it?

I probably have better advice in me, maybe some practical suggestions and stuff. If anybody has any pointed questions to get it out of me, Tim or anybody else, I'd love to hear them.

1. On 2014-04-14, PaulCzege said:

Designers do things that help people see the interesting promises of their games, and things that hinder people in seeing them. I, for instance, refuse to talk about what I think one of my games is about until well after I've published it, and I never write explicitly what the game is about in the text. This makes it harder for me to find playtesters for any given new game. Some designers write ginormous playtest texts. And I think this makes it harder to find playtesters. What things do you do Vincent that help people see the interesting promises of your games, and what things do you do that hinder them from seeing them?


2. On 2014-04-14, ndp said:

The only practical advice I have, based on my lived experience:

- Interest is a funnel. More people will be interested in your game than will read it; will read it than will play it; will play it than will talk about it.

- Nobody will play your first game unless you're running it for them, or you have a personal relationship prior. There are exceptions, but as far as I can tell from having participated in the self-publishing community for 8 years now, it's generally true (tho getting a little less true now as the community has grown, which is pretty great).

- Success breeds success. Without trying to deconstruct why, once you've successfully published your game (for whatever value of publish you're going for), it's easier to successfully interest folks in it, and to successfully broaden your audience for your next game (or project, or whatever).

- Every success you accomplish broadens your audience.

- Eventually, enough successes means that people outside of your personal monkeysphere start hearing about, seeing, and/or playing your game.

So what does this all mean? Think about what you can succeed at doing. Maybe it's a playable draft, maybe it's a complete game, maybe it's going to a convention and running the hell out of your game, maybe it's blog posts about the theory behind your choices. Success breeds success. The only thing that broadens your audience is putting material out there. What material can you generate that is honest, strong and worthwhile? (Hyperbole and marketing-ese gets you nowhere)

I really, truly think that there's a trap of "finishing" your first game that will stymie you. You only build an audience by putting stuff out, no matter how flawed. Once you put it out you'll have something to build on. You can always come back, or (more often in my experience) take the seeds of that first project and turn it into something new and better later.

Success breeds success. Move the goalposts if you need to, define success as something achievable, and go from there.


3. On 2014-04-14, Vincent said:

Paul: I like to make oblique, contrary, and sometimes bizarre claims about my games, like "Poison'd is my best-designed game," "the idea that Apocalypse World is a conservative game is a pitch for the rubes," or "my guess is that at most 15% of you will actually like this game."

I guess my hope is that it'll bug someone enough that they'll take a closer look? I'd be surprised if it works all that often, maybe ever, but I sure do like to do it.


direct link

This makes...
VB go "But true!"*
JC go "Like how Murderous Ghosts is supposedly powered by the Apocalypse?"*
VB go "That's a bizarre thing to not buy!"*
JC go "I think it's because"*

*click in for more

4. On 2014-04-14, Vincent said:

NDP: Yes!


5. On 2014-04-14, Tim Ralphs said:

Thank you Vincent and ndp. Much to muse on.


6. On 2014-04-14, Vincent said:

Sure thing!

I'm interested in what other people have to say. This stuff has always been pretty contentious in the indie rpg world.


7. On 2014-04-14, Tim said:

Another factor that comes into this is the high buy in i think. You need to trust that your testing of this unfinished thing will actually "be worth" something and be enjoyable. I think testing something and learning 1 month later that the product is dead now could be highly frustrating. Or even worse, never hearing back from the designer and having the game sink into the void.

It definitely happens but a "promise" that your work will actually lead to something more will be helpful.

Depending on your game there might also just be the general time problem. It is way easier to test something that only takes 15-30 minutes to try instead of 3-4 hours.
Those are however all not new points i fear.


8. On 2014-04-14, Vincent said:

Tim: Agreed!

One of the things I did with this first look at AW:Dark Age is, I didn't ask anyone to playtest at all. All I asked for was feedback on the text. I was keeping the commitment small on purpose.

I also hoped to find out whether people would go ahead and play it anyway. If no one had, I'd be reevaluating now whether to even make the game. But they did, and I take it as confirmation that it's worth it to go ahead with the project.


9. On 2014-04-14, Tim said:

Another reason why people maybe jumped at playtesting Dark Age.
It looked like a game. It had character sheets with actual graphic design.
This looked playable. Not just a document with text that is badly put together and disorganized.

Presentation plays a huge role i think.
The less work i have to put into getting the playtest to work the better.


direct link

This makes...
TM go "caveats apply"*

*click in for more

10. On 2014-04-14, Vincent said:

Tim: Oh I agree. The less work you have to put in, for certain!


11. On 2014-04-28, JDCorley said:

It's not just time footprint of your game that matters - if a game organizer has already organized a totally different game and it's taking up available time for the available players, they may absolutely love your game - it may even deliver all that it promises - and it still won't get played. Because many games have footprints measured in years, this might be a long-term problem.

For the last 12 months I've been doing an anthology World of Darkness game set in various 20th century periods in a fictional city - the slow burns and payoffs of multiple overlapping groups is part of the campaign design I've already done and which various groups that I'm organizing invest in when they agree to play. If I get a cool game I wanna play tomorrow, the best game imaginable, my enthusiastic response will be "we're DEFINITELY playing this in 2015".  Well, maybe 2016. I have a Smallville game that's been brewing and that game is reaaaally phenomenal in long term play.


12. On 2014-04-29, Vincent said:



RSS feed: new comments to this thread