22 Sep

When your assumptions intrude on your designs

Image: Grochim/Wikimedia Commons (CC)-(BY)-(SA)Some time ago my eldest talked about writing and stated that she already knew how to write.

“Great,” I said, “then you don’t need to go to school.”

At which point she started crying and saying that she wanted to go to school. I quickly changed my mind to:

“I meant, since you can write you’re now ready to go to school.”

That could be just a trivial tale, something cute to tell my grandchildren some day. Except that it’s more than that. It’s me doing a cardinal error: assuming that her expectations are the same as mine.

I am, like most of you, I’d imagine, steeped in the essence of “school is boring”. For me it was quite boring and I skipped quite a lot of it from grade 7 and onwards. But for my daughter school is something wonderful where she’ll get to go if she’s old, and skilled, and patient, enough.

I made an assumption, based upon myself, that she wouldn’t like school. I was wrong.

Since then (this was some six months ago) I’ve come to look for assumptions in everything I do and I’ve found that I assume things about pretty much everything from how the sandwich will taste to who will like, or not like, my games.

Pre-tasting sandwiches isn’t so bad. Thinking that someone will like my game is quite bad.

If I’m wrong about the sandwich I don’t have to eat it. If I’m wrong about the game I run the risk of throwing it away based on what my gaming group thinks. And I’ve found that I don’t design games for them.

For quite some time I used my gaming group to test my games. Then they started to object, they wanted to play better games, gamier games, games that were fun. I came to the conclusion that my games weren’t fun. There was something wrong with my games, they weren’t good enough. It sapped my determination, my drive, my energy and hurt my will to design. Except that I didn’t know that my games were no good. I just assumed, based on my gaming group’s reactions.

And I was wrong. Because my gaming group wasn’t the target audience for my games. I wasn’t designing games that I liked to play, I was designing games that I liked to design. My flaw was in not finding out who would like to play them, which I started to do over the summer. And my assumptions proved quite wrong.

For example, I had a game that I didn’t think would be fun based on what my gaming group said. But I tested it on non-gamers and they loved it! The game was just simple enough for them to enjoy while being enough of a challenge for them to feel that they were learning and developing.

Another example: I had a game that I was about to give up on. I had shown it to my gaming group (one of the games that burnt them out on my playtesting I might add – too much testing with the same group is bad) and the said it might be OK some day, but it wasn’t long enough, engaging enough and way too random. Then I showed it to a publisher who though the idea neat but that there wasn’t a market for it. Then I just happened to show it to a different publisher and they asked for the prototype. The first publisher was making games for the wrong target market. I made an assumption as to where my game belonged and it was wrong. And it nearly cost me the time I had taken to develop the game because I was ready to throw it in the great archive in the attic.

I’m not saying that I’m going to get it published. But now I have the chance because I challenged my assumption of what a good game is.

More, I challenged my assumption that I knew the market. Turns out I know diddly/squat about the market, no matter how much I’ve been reading on BGG (BTW, Amazon is a much better tool for market research, use their categories and suggested products to find publishers).

Now, I’m not advocating sending stuff out to people who are clearly the wrong target. WotC won’t accept your ASL clone no matter what. But GMT might.

And you should give them the chance to try.

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