Wednesday, February 18

Feeling Low

When choosing a game to publish you're hoping that enough people like it to buy all the copies you've manufactured. If you sell out, you can then decide whether or not to re-print, but selling out has to be your first goal.

With any game there will be people who like it, people who are ambivalent towards it and people who don't like it. If you've chosen well there will be people who love it and there may well be people who hate it. You're hoping that enough people like it enough to play it again with new players, and that some of those will like it enough to play it again with new players and so on. So you're hoping that despite the 'cult of the new' the game will attract enough 'let's play X again' players and not too many 'God no,not X - that's terrible/dull' players.

The playtest copies of Sumeria are now out in the world and the feedback is starting to trickle in. I'm convinced it's a great game - I personally love it and in my first rounds of playtesting several of my playtesters really liked it too though a few were only slightly positive/ambivalent. So I was hoping that the blind playtesters would on average be positive towards it - convincing me I'm made a good choice that would prove largely popular.

So far, the feedback has been decidedly 'meh'. Don't get me wrong, this is great and what I needed to hear, but it's got me in low spirits. Admittedly some of the playtesters ended up playing the game wrong (due to a lack of clarity in my rules) and some others found some weaknesses in the 2-player game that either need to be fixed somehow or require the 2-player version to be stripped out (which would co-incidently remove the need for some of the components and hence reduce the cost both for me manufacturing and for the customer). I've also had several ideas for changes which could improve things significantly (or not!).

Personally, I found that the game improved the more you played it as you found out how to improve your strategy, and most of the feedback so far is from people who've only played it once or twice. But this is important feedback. If you play a game once and think it's 'alright' you're more likely to move on to something different rather than play it again. I was hoping the simple rules (very Euro-esque: clean, simple, no exceptions and short enough to fit on 4 sides of A4 with lots of diagrams) would be popular with the Euro crowd and the wafer-thin theme not too much of a problem.

I don't think the problem with the early feedback was close friends being too positive - I've had plenty of negative feedback from them in the past for other games. I think it was just their kind of game, and as I get a bigger sample of the game playing public I'm getting a more accurate judge of what proportion of gamers will really like it. My initial sample was biased (not in a personal way, but just by being a really small sample that just happened to be made up of a high proportion of people who really like the game).

This, combined with the decidedly mediocre ratings it's started to pick up on BoardGameGeek and the drop in the scores of It's Alive! and Carpe Astra (both of which are really popular with some people) over the last couple of months have got me down. Just to prove it never rains but it pours, I also heard the returns I was hoping for from Alliance this week won't start until next month, so my figures for this month will be quite poor. Next month should be great and I'm still on target for the year, but disappointing nonetheless.

I was in two minds about posting this, in case this post was read by my blind playtesters and then influenced them to be more positive in their feedback, but I figure I should trust them to be honest - they don't know me and have no reason to want to please me. In the end I figured this blog should be about the ups and downs of running your own games company so it can stand as encouragement/warning to those who are considering a similar move. I can't just keep posting about how great everything is, especially when I'm feeling quite down about things.


Mal said...

Even with some meh comments, is it not still the case that Sumeria could contribute to you find your 1000 true fans?

Mal said...

Errr... findING. I really should re-read before I post.

Jack said...

Yeay! 1,000 True Fans. I've not read (or linked to) that in ages.

The true fans (according to the definition) are someone who will always by all your products. With each game I put out there are two things that might happen:

A current true fan might play it and decide it's not their type of thing. Maybe Reiver Games aren't doing the sort of games I like any more - I'll research their products more thoroughly before I buy another one - true fan lost.

A non-true fan may play it and think it's the best thing ever. That Reiver Games company are the coolest - I'm going to be buying the stuff they put out in future - true fan gained.

So yes... and no!



Jack said...

Damn. I need to proof-read my comments better too!

... always *buy* all ...


SteveK said...

It's no more comforting from perspective of a potential buyer / player.

Having played Sumeria last July, and thinking it was really good, in a simple-rules lightly-themed abstract euro way, I fretted about enthusing too much for fear of leading you astray. Finally I decided that (a) you were sensible enough to make your own decisions without being overly influence by individual opinions, and (b) you'd presumably also be trying the game with other people who would hopefully give you their honest views, and you would have a wide variety of opinions.

There have been times in the past 9 months where fear of leading you astray has held me back from enthusing too strongly – pushing for you to go for it, or go for it faster, etc.

To what extent is the initial feedback a matter of the game not matching pre-conceived expectations? I sometimes get the impression that some people would like to add on a whole gamut of bells & whistles and turn it into some kind of civ-lite game. If that's what they're looking for, then Sumeria will clearly disappoint. On the other hand, if I were looking for a sub 1-hour abstract area influence / set-collecting type game with an ancient Mesopotamian theme, then Sumeria does a much better job than something like Advanced Civilization.

Jack said...

Hiya Steve,

In this later round of playtesting I tried to set reasonable expectations - I told people it was a lightly-themed Euro with simple rules but depth in the gameplay - so hopefully the game was more or less what they were expecting.



Custancia said...

I think the 'depth in gameplay' is something that creeps up on you with Sumeria, over a few plays. I also wonder whether - if your blind playtesters test with other people (ie when they are more experienced and other are not) -the feedback will change. I think games that are very simple, when played by everyone playing simply, seem less attractive(are you lost yet?). It's realising that someone is using more strategy and beating you that makes you up your game, and ultimately enjoy this game more (for me... but then I'm one of those who like it!)
Sorry you're having a low time. You can borrow my current mantra - good times don't last but nor do bad ones - if you want!

Jon said...

Jack, do you think the negative comments are due to the game being a fight against a downward spiral? That even if you win, you are really just the least worst? That may be a factor in people's feelings.

We've discussed this before, but I'm not in favour of the idea that people will come to discover depth if they are not grabbed in their first game. I don't like games where you have to learn the value of components, or special card actions or whatever, before you can play the game properly. That sort of thing is okay in the forst round or two, but if you have to experience the game all the way through to *learn* how to *actually* play it, that's inherently bad.

That's not the same as gamers going into a heavy game as a learning experience, or playing a trial round, and being prepared to suffer a bad result just to learn the game. I have played Die Macher.

But a regular family game, or a regular gamer's game should not (in my opinion), require a learning game before a proper game.

I had three donkeys, Jack, three donkeys!!!

Incidentally, cheer up. I just spent 1 hour 45 minutes trying to get the 6 miles from MX to Acomb.

Jack said...

Hiya Lisa,

Thanks for your support :-)


You're thinking of a different game - you've not played Sumeria!



Pinebars said...

I think you need new play testers (ie. Pick me! Pick me!)

Jack said...

Hiya Pinebars,

Sadly, all the playtest copies have gone! Plus, signing up after I'm disappointed with the reaction to a game encourages you to be more positive - but it's honest feedback I need.

Maybe next time...



Tao - Starlt Citadel said...

Ouch, that sucks. I know bad customer reviews, especially when they are right (or mostly right) always make me upset. I want to sit them down and talk to them, argue my point, convince them we're not that bad...

Persistence. Seems to be the major play really....

Jack said...

Hiya Tao,

The last couple of days feedback has been more positive, so things are looking up, plus I'm getting the art from the artist now, and it's great!



w. eric martin said...

Jack, keep in mind that "meh" reviews might reflect more on the playtesters than the game. I've published reviews in which I dump all over a game, and had some readers say in response, "Yeah, that's the game for me!"

The nature of Sumeria – that is, it being a low-impact experience due to your nebulous grasp of strategy in the initial play – will make it tougher for some to review well or even get it back on the table. In the end, of course, you will decide which games best reflect the Reiver Games DNA. Good luck!

Jack said...

Hey Eric,

Yeah, I think to some degree you're right. I'm getting good ideas from my playtesters, and the game seems to be growing on some of them too.