Category: Question of the Month

Question of the Month – How do we grow gaming?


Ok, this is a big one.  How do we, as gamers, grow gaming? How do we infuse our passion for games into those around us? Can we bring gaming into the public spotlight somehow? What can we do to get others to love games? These questions have been out there for forever. So I thought I would take a stab at getting some answers for this eternal question. Let’s see what some of gamers, designers, and industry moguls think we should do.

Daniel Solis, designer of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple and Belle of The Ball

Daniel Solis's upcoming Belle of the Ball
Daniel Solis’s upcoming Belle of the Ball

The central question remains. How do games live? Play. How do games die?When they are not played. How do we let games survive? Play.
Jodi Black of Beautiful Brains Books and Games
I think growing the game industry depends on a few things, but it all comes down to improving our people skills. First of all, we have to get more children involved and be more welcoming to families with children (most cons are doing a great job of this). Secondly, we need to be more welcoming of new players. Thirdly, we need to simply talk about gaming outside of our “gamer” friends, so that perhaps our non-gamer friends become gamer friends. And then there’s creating games people want to play. That’s the real hard part.

FamerLenny of I Slay The Dragon
I think the best way to grow gaming is to enjoy the hobby ourselves. If we’re always sour in talking about how Monopoly is a terrible game, that’s not very winsome (nor, if we focus on what we’re against, does it sound like we enjoy what we’re doing very much).
Beyond that, I think the best advice I have is to know your audience. Introducing Twilight Imperium into the family context (or perhaps just MY family context) will guarantee the fastest flight away from board games. My friends who love fantasy and sci-fi are probably less interested in a game about trading in the Mediterranean. A bad game choice–especially when someone else is not used to the idea of hobby board games–can severely hamstring any future efforts at trying to introduce new games. I think knowing the audience and choosing games well-suited to the audience are crucial.

Ken Coble, Commander of The Lead Cotillion
Hmm, that’s a good one. I had a couple of things I was going to mention here, but I realized that most of them actually fell more under the aegis of gamers reaching out to other gamers, like trying to get cardgamers to try boardgames, or boardgamers to try minis gaming, etc – basically, the classic game-store passer-by. The issue, of course, is that when you reach out to the person walking by you in the game store, or offer to teach a spectator a new game, you’re already preaching to the converted – after all, they’re already in the game venue watching you, right? Still, I think the basic concepts apply in a broader sense. Mainly: be approachable, or outgoing, but in a relaxed manner. Being too pushy or overzealous can be as bad as not engaging the prospective new player at all.

Chris James of Stratus Games
I believe it comes down to catering to casual gamers more effectively. Almost everyone enjoys games, but the general perception of board games is that they are either for kids or for hardcore gamer geeks. People who grew up playing video games are sticgi_issue1_smallll playing video games, yet most people who grew up playing board games gave them up long ago. I believe the video game industry has successfully changed the perception of who plays games, providing a comfortable atmosphere for adults to feel like gaming is for them. The board game industry would do well to take notice. We have a detailed analysis of this topic coming up in the next issue of Casual Game Insider.

In the hobby industry, people who do or would enjoy gaming on a casual level find it difficult to gain belonging in a community that caters primarily to hardcore gamers. We have to change the perception of gaming as something that anyone can enjoy – no experience or previous geekdom required.

Jamey Stegmaier, designer of Viticulture
We (i.e. gamers) can grow gaming by consistently inviting and including non-gamers to play games with us that aren’t mechanically or thematically intimidating. There’s nothing wrong with a gateway game—I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone play Catan for the first time after having no experience with Euro games, and they simply light up. The world has just gotten a little bigger for them. At this point I very rarely want to play Catan, but if a few games with a newbie might lead to other games, it’s totally worth it. And honestly, I’m hoping that Viticulture will be a gateway game—thematically I know it is, but mechanically it may have turned out a little too complex. We’ll see. (Jamey Stegmaier, Stonemaier Games)

Dan Yarrington of GameSalute
Create as many positive incentives for all members of the gaming community to spread the word.

Sen-Foong Lim, co-designer of Belfort
The best way is to just play games with people and, especially, by teaching people how to play games well.  Starting game groups, clubs at college, offering to teach at conventions, etc.  as games get more wide and varied, it will require better instruction to ease belfort1people’s into gaming.  Picking games for people based on their likes vs. what’s hot… There’s a lot we alpha gamers can do…we just have to want to do it more thn we want to play the games that we personally like.

Jason Morningstar, designer of Durance and Fiasco
We grow gaming by making new gamers. We make new gamers by playing with non-gamers

Michael Harrison, famous GeekDad
It seems to me that there are two main ways to grow gaming: getting existing hobbyists to game more and bringing games to people who don’t game in the first place. I feel like the latter segment probably has more growth potential, and the best way to approach them is via casual games. I’m reminded of Nintendo’s strategy with the Wii. They lowered the barrier of entry and people flocked to their systems. I think it remains to be seen whether that was a good long-term strategy (how many Wiis started gathering dust a few months after purchase?), but it certainly grew Nintendo’s market share in the meantime. So, to answer the question: Introducing fun, easy-to-learn board games to non-gamers and then following up consistently with new options seems the best bet for growing games.

Britt Davis, gaming teacher
By simply being friendly and enthusiastic. Holding a demo or playing a game on a scheduled night at a local game store won’t inspire the passerby to want to spend time and money to engage in a new hobby.  Engage passers-by with an enthusiastic verbal invitation to learn more and to actually play the game….and SMILE. DON’T use the newbie as a punching bag in the game; DON’T play the game for the newbie; DON’T use jerk game behaviors, such as counting cards or oafish and belligerent behavior. I have recently begun to travel to Durham to game at Atomic Empire.  The store and its gamers have been very inviting.  Likewise, I have started playing a new game, Infinity, because of the enthusiasm and friendliness of the Infinity gamers at AE.  They have helped Kenny and me to learn the rules, run demos for us, show us the new Infinity products on the store shelves and have generally been very friendly.  Bottom line, I like gaming with these guys, and they have made an Infinity gamer and AE customer out of me.

Patrick Nickell of Crash Gamessigimg1
I think the best way to grow gaming is to do so in a natural, organic way. As we forge new relationships people will see that gaming is an important aspect of our lives. When people ask me about my marriage or they comment on how much my wife and I are in love I always let them know that gaming is a big and important part of my marriage. I have many more thoughts on this topic but this should at least scratch the surface.

Grant Rodiek of Farmaggedon fame
To start we must focus on accessibility. This means simpler mechanics, shorter playtimes, and broader themes that appeal to all genders, ages, and gradients of nerd. And publishers must take pains to bring down prices and be available in as many distribution channels as possible. $75, 4 hour games only in an FLGS only caters to current players.

Bellwether Games
Board gaming in particular builds community. Some of our best and most long lasting friends have been a result of board games. As a community of gamers, we need to continually emphasize this unique benefit of games when we play, in the way we play, and in the types of games we design.

Corey Young, gaming enthusiast
Get TableTop on cable television. Conduct structured regional, national, and international competitions for established board games. Isolated contests yield no press. How do we do this? Get the publishers and FLGSs involved. Publishers will sponsor and FLGSs will host. Reward FLGSs with promotion at upstream events. (tom)What games do you mean? Good question. Need a critical mass. Start w/games currently warranting tourneys played at Essen and GenCon

Michael Mindes of Tasty Minstrel Gameslogo
Person upon person with better and better games.

Flash Forward Games
More exposure through common places ex. libraries, community clubs, coffee shops where people can openly play w/ others.

Results: 31 total answers

Most mentioned – Play more, bring in new people = 6 each

Next – increase the number of casual games being made = 5

Use/have decent people skills (don’t be a jerk) = 4

Get gaming more exposure, talk about games outside of our ‘closed’ community = 3 each

Start gaming groups = 2

Increase incentives to game, decrease the price of games, know audience, get kids involved = 1 each

So what do I think? The thing that stuck out to me the most was said best by Grant – ‘To start we must focus on accessibility. This means simpler mechanics, shorter playtimes, and broader themes that appeal to all genders, ages, and gradients of nerd.’ and reenforced by Chris ‘it comes down to catering to casual gamers more effectively’. Accessibility is key. The typical Euro game is going to turn a new or casual game off in most cases. Too many rules, rules too difficult to understand, too long, trading in the Mediterranean. All these things will  likely turn a casual gamer off. This also touches on the fact that we should know our audience. Several guests mentioned this point. We can’t expect a new or casual gamer to completely fall in love with Twilight Struggle or Through The Ages the first time we introduce it. We need more games like Survive, Eruption, No Thanks!, Cloud 9, and Guildhall.

I also think that we need to open our community up to new people. We can do this by inviting our friends and acquaintances to game with us. And when we do we need to be polite, welcoming, and explain the games well. And while we are playing, don’t be a jerk. Offer advice if applicable and welcomed. The question of whether to play as hard as normal or whether to throw the game comes up at this point. I’ll save that for another Question of The Month. One way of opening the community is exposure. Corey mentioned TableTop. It would be cool to see TableTop get some TV time. I understand that one of the major networks is developing a similar program. We are seeing more mention of games in the popular press. So exposure is increasing.

I’ll just mention price briefly. I’ll just say that price is a barrier, even for us gamers. GamerChris addresses this in a recent post here.

Lastly I’ll mention gaming with kids. This falls under the ‘make new gamers’ category but I’m going to talk about it. I have three kids between 18 and 10. The younger two are my gamers. They both share my love of games. And through them I have been able to introduce games to cousins and friends. Kids are very open to playing games. Outside of school play is kind of their job.  So they are open to playing games. Catch them early and you will have a gamer for life. Isn’t that how many of us started.

So there you have it. Some thoughts on how we can grow gaming.

What do you think? What are you doing to increase our numbers? Please leave a comment below and let us know.

Question of the Month – Where are the new game mechanisms?


The Question of The Month for October was “Where are the new game mechanisms?”.

I asked the question of a bunch of game designers, game publishers, and gamers.  Here’s what they said.

Keith Carter, former game designer and member of The Hypermind Board Gamers:

There are no truly new, innovative games/mechanisms being made.

It is largely true and it is just morning mist. When mechanism is defined at a broad level like worker placement, cooperative, or auction then new mechanisms will be introduced infrequently; they could even run years apart.  That tracks with my experience across  pinball, war games, role playing games, family card games with a standard deck, and two person perfect information games. In each of these areas I have enjoyed gaming for a decade or two without the need for a constant stream of innovations to keep them interesting. Unless  modern board games (or gamers) are critically different the pace of innovations being a problem is just morning mist.

Sen-Foong Lim, co-designer of Belfort and Train of Thought

There are definitely a lot of old games being remade (OGRE, Tammany Hall, Lost Valley, Moongha Invaders) via Kickstarter with more chrome upgrades than anything else.  Some new games are just old games rethemed like Android: Netrunner.

Personally, I think many designers fall into the trap of playing catch up to whatever is hot right now.  I can’t say that I’m not guilty of that either – trying to add deckbuilding or drafting to everything, for example!  Deckbuilding:  so hot  right now!

But here’s the rub:  When you shoehorn mechanics like that, it just feels forced.  The best game designs, I find, develop organically and emerge from something to become what they end up being as opposed to being so constrained with some pre-conceived notion.  Belfort could be accused of being a bunch of mechanics mix together in a way that just happened to work, but I think that’s a kind of reductionist view of it.  A good game is also synergistic in that the sum of its parts – mechanics and components – is less than the sum of the game experience as a whole.  Seasons is another current game that seems to be a mish-mash of several tried and true mechanics tied together with a novel timer, but again, in a way that is synergistic.  The mechanics just work together.

As to your question about the feeling that there are no truly new, innovative games / mechanisms being made, I would suggest that instead of real revolutions, currently we’re seeing evolutions – refinement and mastery of the mechanics that have become staples.  So games like Troyes taking worker placement and adding the random element of dice, or even our game Train of Thought adding a cerebral twist to the classic Password-type guessing game.

But rest assured that there are new and innovative mechanics in recent games.  They just may be small ones such as the splaying mechanic in Innovation or Nightfall’s chaining system – Not world changers, yet, but significant in some ways.

Jay and I are always trying to create that elusive “new mechanic” and who knows?  One day, we just might succeed – and you guys will be the first to hear about it!

Michael Mindes, founder/publisher – Tasty Minstrel Games

New is an interesting question.  New mechanisms and uses occur all of the time, which are mainly new tweaks or methods to utilize current major mechanics.  New major mechanics rarely come about.  The most notable recent example is deck building.

Daniel Solis, designer of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple and Belle of The Ball

Thing is, new game mechanics aren’t hard to make, making *good* mechanics is hard regardless of originality. New and good? *phew*.

Stephen Avery, co-designer of Nothing Personal

Redundant mechanisms and themes have always occurred in the game market. It is very common to adopt a similar mechanism and refine, tweak or put a new spin on it. Only once in a great while does a new ‘discovery’ occur and even then it is often derivative of something related. For instance the card drafting and deck building mechanism in Dominion was first found in MTG sideboards for tournament play.  I do think there has been less impetus to really push the envelope in game design. I am not calling games art (a completely separate conversation) but much like art, the most innovative designs are ones that have a very narrow focus and have imposed limitations on themselves. Also much like art, games need a critical eye to really reach a new level of design. In the past, publishers put both the limitations and evaluated games critically before green-lighting them for publication.  In general publishers would be reluctant to publish a game that was too similar or did not offer something new and fresh to the market.  Zev Shalsinger of Zman games compared games to movies in that there will always be a constant demand for new movies but you don’t want to see the same film over and over. Each new game needs to bring a new twist to make it unique.

I am not knocking Kickstarter though. There have been many positive benefits as well. The biggest benefit is that there are many more ‘new’ games on the market and that anyone with enough persistence can make publish a game. The majority of these could use another level of refinement to be fully realized.The veil has been dropped on the publishing process and people are more informed than ever before. The lines have been blurred between consumer/ reviewer/ publisher which contributes to greater involvement in the game industry. Established publishers are now using KS for advertising, to estimate print run sizes and to mitigate out of pocket expenses which enable them to advance more project. Because of their involvement and the massive number of projects that are fielded, I expect to see the critical eye of public opinion begin to help weed the chafe from the straw.

Jamey Stegmaier, co-designer of Viticulture and co-founder of Stonemaier Games

Are there no new game mechanics? I think the answer is twofold: No and yes. “No” because I think there are generally a few new minor mechanisms in every game. I could mention a few examples, but there are too many—I really think that almost every game offers a few new minor mechanisms and twists. For example, in Village, there’s a unique minor mechanism of death under the greater umbrella of worker placement.

 But in terms of the major mechanisms—tile laying, worker placement, drafting, deckbuilding—sure, I think it’s been a while since a new paradigm was formed. The last major one I can think of is deckbuilding. I would love to see an entirely new construct taking the gaming world by storm…and, honestly, I just as much look forward to all the variations on that new mechanism that will inevitably follow.

Bellwether Games

As long as there is a market for new mechanics we will see new mechanics appear. I think right now we are seeing the natural result of more games coming to publication (many outside the bounds of brand guidelines or market analyses), which is, games that closely mirror one another or that don’t deviate much from the standard.

Paul Owen of Paul Owen Games

I really don’t think a new game mechanism can be just conjured up because somebody decides to invent one. No designer says, “Let’s see, I could create something new, or I could make a cross between Dominion and Settlers. I guess I’ll be unoriginal today.”

I believe that truly new, innovative, original mechanisms are like supernovae. The conditions that spawn them take a long time to develop, but you don’t see it coming until it happens. You can’t predict it. You can only enjoy it when it explodes onto the scene.

It’s probably true that today’s web technology and Kickstarter culture make it easier for more designers to get more exposure to more people, so we see many more game designs in a year than we did, say, five years ago. And everyone is building on their own game experience, so most game design is evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. That’s okay, but it means we see a lot of variations on a few themes, and only the occasional, rare, truly original works.

 

So now for my opinion.  I agree that new game mechanisms are few and far between.  I like how Paul Owen put it.  “I believe that truly new, innovative, original mechanisms are like supernovae. The conditions that spawn them take a long time to develop, but you don’t see it coming until it happens. You can’t predict it. You can only enjoy it when it explodes onto the scene.”  And I’ll add that you can create other things from their remains or their memory. Any new mechanism that makes waves will be copied and evolved (as Sen-Foong said).  We see this all the time.

I also agree with the Bellwether guys and Paul.  We are seeing a LOT more games entering the market and many are very similar or contain similar mechanisms.  Is this good or bad?  I think some of both.  I will not get into whether Kickstarter is good or bad for the industry.  That arguement has been fought and will probably not be solved.  But the increase in the number of games produced increases our chances of something revolutionary appearing.  They will spawn copies and iterations which in turn will inspire.  We see this in everything.  Take movies.  How many movies did Star Wars inspire?  If you were around at that time you can remember that there were dozens for years. 

And this will continue.  It is a good thing.  Creators drawing inspiration from those who went before them.  It’s the nature of things. 

So the idea that there are no new mechanisms being created is morning mist.

What do you think? I’m interested to hear what my readers have to say. Please leave a comment below or send me an email at goforthandgameATgmail.com.

Join me soon for another question of the month. 

I also have a couple of interesting interviews in the que – John Moller of Unpub and Darrell Louder, the designer of Compounded coming soon from Dice Hate Me Game.  So stop back by in a few days.