Friday, October 20

Gamer History And Game Design

In the comments of yesterday's post Andy asked me if I consider a gamer's history when designing games. What a great question. Hence today's post. Firstly, in true politician style, I'd like to answer a related question: What is my gamer history?

I've always loved games. Some of my few memories from childhood are playing Mouse Trap and Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs at friends' houses when I was fairly young. In my early teens I got into roleplaying (mainly Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay), and Games Workshop miniature games: Space Hulk, Blood Bowl, Warhammer Fantasy Battle and epic-scale Space Marine. I also got into computer games on my PC, mainly roleplaying and strategy games, with a heathly (or unhealthy, depending upon your viewpoint) dose of first-person shooters. In my late teens I played quite a lot of Magic: The Gathering the seminal CCG, and more computer games. Through university it was mainly computer games, and then in America it was mostly Magic again. In Newcastle, I played quite a lot of Poker, and I was back to board games, mostly Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne. Since moving to York I've been trying to expand my knowledge of board games, trying to play as many new ones as possible. I've also played games on the computer a bit again. My gamer history has definitely had an effect on the games I'm interested in, I'm not adverse to dice, but I like a strategic game, where the choices I make can win (or lose) the game for me. I'm very busy (and always have been), so I don't like my games to take too long, but I'll make allowances for a really good game. I like gateway games, but party games not-so-much.

My designer history is almost entirely rooted in computer games. I've been designing bits (and very occasionally complete) computer games since I was about twelve. Recently (as in the last couple of years), I've been put off computer games design due to the increase complexity of computer games. It used to be that a competent computer programmer could write a production quality computer game by themselves. Now it requires a team almost as large as for making a film, and the costs are converging too. A board game is still a one (or two or small collective) effort, so that's where I've been concentrating my efforts.

Having answered two totally different questions in a politician-like manner, I'll now actually answer the question: No. Well, maybe a bit :-). When designing Border Reivers, I was trying to design a game I would like, that was similar to Mighty Empires and Risk, while being much shorter, and a bit more strategic. With my subsequent efforts (Codenames: Jorvik, Sennon and Dollyo), I've been trying to design a game for certain target markets, which does involve some consideration of whether your customers have played games before, and if so what sort they like. But I don't spend hours thinking that Game A will appeal to Magic players who have a roleplaying background, or anything like that.

In other news, I've been approach by another designer to see if I'd like to publish one of their games, and a mate at work has offered to do an online version of Jorvik in the hope it will get him some web-programming practice, and help me sell it. I'll be demoing it to him during our lunch break today, so he's got an idea of how it works.


hmocc said...
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hmocc said...

I think it will be really difficult for someone designing a game not to be influenced by the games they played before. Probably, only someone who didn't play could achieve such "purity" in their design, although I would be very suspicious of such a person.

Anyway, I think designers probably tend to go towards the best feelings about games they've played, as well as getting away from the worst.

* off-topic:
Just checked Reivers Games website and it feels very efficient. Good work!

Jack said...

Yeah, while I don't aim games towards gamers with specific histories, I do tailor them towards a subset of gamers, for example, Jorvik is intended to be a good gateway game, and hence is designed with people who don't play modern board games in mind.

Plus, by definition, any game I design I like, so people with similar history/tastes to me will hopefully like it too.

Thanks for the comments about the website, too.

andyb said...

very interesting.

It sounds like we travelled very similar gaming paths... I played games very early on with my dad (monopoly risk etc).. was fortunate enough to be gaming when Games Workshop released good games as well as miniatures (Talisman, Block Mania, Railway Rivals and Bloodbowl)... got in to roleplaying as a teen and through uni. Started collecting Magic:TG at uni (which was released in my 1st year!) then a long hiatus where I played only computer and online games until I discovered Settlers of Catan!!

The topic of design "purity" is an interesting one too. Some designers do claim not to play other peoples games so that their ideas are always pure (I think Reiner Knizia is one such designer actually).. however unless you've played some sort of game in the past (no matter how longer ago, or how trivial) you aren't going to ken what it is you are designing.. if you've never gamed how can you understand what it is you're creating?? But then if you have gamed before, it's inevitable that you're going to draw on that knowledge even if it's only subconsciously.

In sales and marketing there is a great deal of analysis of target markets etc. and products are aimed at people who think in a certain way... and if not, there is heavy advertising in order to 'convince' people to think that way... But I'm not surprised it's not possible to do that as a games designer.. perhaps the more corporate publishers (I'm thinking Hasbro here) can do that, but as you say Independant_Johnny has to go with designing a good game that he likes, knowing that there will be other gamers similar to himself that will appreciate it.

Great post Jack.. sorry to hit you with such a tough question tho.

Jack said...

It was one I enjoyed answering :-)