Abstract Strategy Games

Anything and everything about abstract strategy games

In the past four days at Gen Con I’ve attended twelve game development discussions.  I took careful notes of what was discussed by experts in the business, including game designers, publishers, distributors, retailers, and gamers.  Below I’ve listed their advice for designing, publishing and marketing games.

Overall Concepts:
1.  Do not design from habit or imitation.
2.  Look to other communities for new ideas.
3.  Realize game design is an art form.
4.  Decide if you’re designing your game for fun or profit.
5.  Choose to design for yourself or other people.
6.  Write down your definition of success.
7.  Know the marketplace, and create something breakthrough and unique.
8.  Define your target audience.
9.  Know the types of games your target audience plays and understands.
10.  Abstract strategy games appear too difficult for the general public, and tend not to be mass market products.
11.  Not every game is for everyone.
12.  Be persistant - don’t give up.
13.  Design lots of games.  You will improve with experience.
14.  Design by committee is difficult - everyone wants to add a rule of their own.
15.  You learn more through failures than successes.
16.  Don’t get too attached to any part of your game.
17.  The ultimate goal is to design a game people will play twice.

Game Design:
18.  Shorter games are better.
19.  Make the game interactive
20.  No move should be insignificant.
21.  Add positive reinforcements.
22.  Hook a player quickly.  Give them immediate positive reinforcement.
23.  Drive the game forward - move the player towards their goal.
24.  Include a built-in comeback mechanism (non-abstract strategy games often use chance as a comeback mechanism).
25.  Keep the game simple at first and allow it to slowly become more complicated.
26.  If the player isn’t having fun in five minutes, your game won’t work.
27.  Don’t have negative playing experiences (bad things outside the player’s control).
28.  Solve the symptom.  Don’t create a rule to get around a problem.  Go back and find the original problem and fix it.
29.  Fewer rules the better.
30.  Don’t add a rule to be creative.
31.  Consider making a quick version of the rules and more advanced versions.

Writing Rules:
32.  Write great rules.
33.  Registering a copyright for your rules doesn’t offer much protection from copycats.
34.  Fewer the rules, the better.
35.  The words ‘may’ and ‘can’ should be avoided when writing directions
36.  Don’t front load your rules.
37.  Always put the objective first in the directions.
38.  Rules need to be clear, complete, and logically presented.
39.  Rules are also a reference, not just the first step.
40.  Get your point across in the rules as quickly as possible.
41.  Game design is communications between the designer and the people who will play it, so make sure the rules represent this.
42.  A sample turn makes things more clear.
43.  If you need a sample turn, your game may be too complicated.

Playtesting:
44.  Playtesting is vital in game design.
45.  In house playtesting is first (friends, family, etc.).
46.  In house playtesting is great for watching and asking questions, but terrible because the playtesters are like you.
47.  After local playtesting, have strangers (independent playtesters) playtest your game using the rules without you there.  You will get more honest feedback from strangers.
48.  Be open to everyone’s ideas.  Be a good listener.  Even if you don’t initially agree, keep what they said in mind for later.
49.  If your game is multiplayer playtest three players.  Multiplayer games often work well with two and four players - three player games are more difficult.
50.  Don’t change rules right away because of one feedback.  Give it time.
51.  Have playtesters play stupid.  Have them play backward-strategies.
52.  Triple space your rules when giving it to someone to playtest.  It will give them room to make notes.
53.  Try to distinguish between real criticism and someone who doesn’t like your style of game.
54.  Connect with your community.  Don’t disconnect from the people who will be playing your games.

Pitching your Game in Person:
55.  Know your game’s rules inside and out.
56.  Learn everything you can about the person listening to your pitch.  Use the information to direct your presentation.
57.  Practice your presentation.
58.  Make the best prototype possible, including a finished set of rules.
59.  What is your game about?  Answer in one sentence.
60.  What is the object of the game?  Answer this efficiently.
61.  If you do sell the game be sure to tell everyone you pitched it to.  It will hurt your reputation if you don’t.  And, it will show them you have value.
62.  Never say “Everyone will enjoy this game”.

Sell Game Idea:
63.  Don’t send a game to a company without permission.
64.  Reputable game companies are important to work with - check around.
65.  Large game companies typically only talk to designers they already have relationships with.
66.  If you have a publisher you will make about 5-15%, plus they will get back their initial investment.
67.  Be sure to always own the IP of your game.  If the game has a sequel you will control it.
68.  A company might keep your submitted game up to a year.  Don’t pester them, but drop them emails every once in awhile to check the status.
69.  Read the publisher’s guidelines on their websites very carefully, it could be a test to see if you can follow instructions.
70.  If there is anything wrong with your submission, they won’t read it.
71.  Try submitting a game to a publisher who has the same types of games as yours.
72.  It is very uncommon for a company to steal a game, and is standard practice to sign a release form.  This is for their protection incase of parallel development.
73.  It is unlikely a game company will sign anything to protect you.
74.  If you plan on showing your game to a publisher at a show contact them ahead of time.  They might not have time for you if you just stop by their booth.

Self-Publishing:
75.  When calling a distributor ask to talk to the game buyer - not the owner.
76.  Many distributors will only talk to you if you have four printed games.
77.  Go through a broker.  Those are the dues you pay when starting out.
78.  You can’t sell to everyone.
79.  August is a bad month for game sales.
80.  Venture Capitalists are unlikely to invest in a game.  If they do invest they will likely expect 50% of profits.
81.  Don’t start your own company unless you have the money to lose, you are ready to be a business person or hire a business person, and have more than one game.
82.  You most likely won’t be designing games if you start a business. You will be concentrating on running the business.
83.  Work with people you respect, not necessarily people you like.
84.  If you are not a strong business person you need to find someone who is.
85.  When talking to a distributor tell them about any advertising you have set up.  They will be more likely to buy from you.

Marketing:
86.  Demo games as much as possible.
87.  Create a media kit to make it easier for others to review your game.
88.  Send game review sites a version of your game.
89.  Send copies of your game to military bases.
90.  Network, network, network
91.  Word of mouth is very important in the gaming industry.
92.  Advertising is a tactic.  It is never good alone.
93.  It’s better not to advertise than to advertise badly.
94.  Be specific when advertising.
95.  Any ad without a call to action is worthless.
96.  Advertising headlines should be 10 words or less.
97.  Create interest.  Be social.
98.  Present your game well using a website.
99.  Add a newsletter or blog to your website adding new content.
100.  Join a forum with subscribers who fit your target audience and promote your game.
101.  Promote your game at gaming conventions and shows.

Feel free to add advice to this game development list by commenting below.