Tag Archives: me

God damn it, make something new!

In Which I contradict my previous post, and start a Contest.

My last post apparently SET FIRE TO THE TWITTERS, resulting in pile of comments. I replied to several of them; apologies if I missed yours. Once finals week is over, I may go back and see what I can say. For now, I want to focus on moving forward.  Our topic for today?

We need to move out of any and all model train territory.

What do I mean by this? I mean that a defining characteristic of tabletop games is that they are inherently social, in a way that a lot of hobbies aren’t. Yet, some people seem to want to relegate us to the sort of things that hobby trains are dying of: people sitting in their basements alone, making tired and boring iterations of the same old shit, and trying to foist it on others.

Now, I’m not saying that one in ten thousand, or a hundred thousand, of these gamers isn’t on to something. However, for every Old School Hack or Brikwars in this group, there are a dozen nascent heartbreakers, games that are the equivalent of someone putting a cardboard spoiler on their car and calling themselves a tuner.

I’m also not saying that games shouldn’t have a single-player component. Army-building, figurine painting and construction, character building, all of that is good in a game. It gives you something to do when you can’t play. However, building armies or characters in a vacuum is a pretty useless and obsessive thing; what are you doing it for?

Let’s use Magic as an example. Magic has single-player aspects (deckbuilding, learning new cards) and multiplayer aspects (actually playing the game, metagaming). In order to shine at the game, ideally, you need to be good at both. When you’re sitting at home, building a deck, the first decision you make is which format. If you’re really good, you’re going to build a deck and sideboard not just for Standard, but for Friday Night Magic at Merlyn’s (considering the metagame and that one asshole who netdecks all the fucking time).

Any good game should encourage this. A good RPG should make your character not only important, but make your character choices important in the context of your play group. What’s more, games need to work on making there be more valid choices at reasonable levels of competition. Most games are completely, utterly awful at this. There are more than 5,000 feats in Fourth Edition D&D, and I would bet money that less than 500 see play with any regularity. Tomes have been written on the awful parts of system mastery that are inherent to previous editions of D&D, other RPGs, almost all wargames, and especially card games.

The goal of all of this is to emphasize the social parts of this hobby. How do you get people to play with you? Well, you ask them to play, of course! You don’t sell them on the myriad character options or dozens of splatbooks, you don’t talk about how awesome it is that this game uses these dice or how amazing a unified task resolution mechanic is. You just sit down and play.

Games need to be built for this kind of accessibility. I’m not cutting out the idea of depth in games, I am saying that along with that depth needs to be an easy of initial play that equals or eclipses what’s already on the market. You know what? Let’s generalize that a lot:

Anything you design, any game you even want to think about making or releasing, needs to beat the hell out of everything else out there. I mean it. No more clones. No more RPGs on this or that subject. No more generic systems, no more rehashed miniature wargames, no more d100 systems (dear God, please no more d100 systems). No more bizarrely specific storygames.


Don’t do it. Lie down until you feel better. It’s been done, it’s been done a thousand times, and you can’t do better. Get over yourself, and move on.

“Well, that’s just not nice, Mr. Gau,” you might say. “I am a creative person, I want to create! Who are you to tell me not to?”

Okay. You’re a creative person? That’s where we’re going with this? Let’s put that to the test:

Make something new.

I don’t mean a new Abandoned Kingdoms setting, or some new houserules for Fields of Warhammer. I mean blow me away with something so new, so creative, so out there, that I just do this

for ten minutes until I realize what a fucking genius you are. I’m not being sarcastic. This is a fucking challenge. It’s such a fucking challenge that I’m willing to put (a small amount of) cold hard cash on the line for it. I’m willing to bet you that you’re not as creative as you say you are. Are you gonna just sit there and take that?

Gau’s “Fill My Brain Full of Fuck” Game Idea Contest

Let’s do this. I’ve got ten bucks on the line for you. Here are the rules:

1. Each submission should be the basic outline of a coherent tabletop game idea. I reserve the right to rule things out because they involve paintball guns or cooking, but I might just not if it’s really that awesome.

2. The three keys you will be graded on are: bodacity, originalness, and sensemaking. Something that is all of these three things will do very well.

3. The limit for submissions is two hundred fifty (250) words, not counting a short title, your name, and your contact info. 251 words and I won’t read it. Deal. Get small!

4. Email me submissions at brainfullofgames@gmail.com. Anything you send me becomes Creative Commons Share-Alike licensed. That means I can publish it and say what I like about it, but you still are the originator of the idea. Also, sending me a submission means you agree to these terms.

5. The deadline for submissions is Wednesday, 14 December at Midnight GMT. That gives you just under a week to wow me.

I’ll pick my top FIVE favorite ideas and review them on the blog. The best idea (once again, graded on bodacity, originalness, and sensemaking) will earn you a paypal reward of TEN AMERICAN DOLLARS. What have you got to lose? Service guarantees citizenship!

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Toxic Geeks: The Outspoken Customer is Always Wrong

Or Fallacy #5: You should listen to the naysayers.

I want to go back in time and fucking murder Harry Gordon Selfridge. Not only was he a pioneer of holiday deadline shopping (Only 40 days until Christmas!), he invented the worst phrase to grace any customer service counter in the last century. Fuck “The Customer is Always Right.”

Let me clarify here: I’ve spent a lot of time in customer service. I’m not that jaded guy who posts in the retail thread in GBS. I fucking love customers; they are amazing, and all 99% of them want is to be treated like people and have someone help them get what they desire at this moment. Most of the greatest moments in my past employment have involved helping really “difficult” people get what they need done. With a lot of motivation, a great attitude, and a dash of competence, you can make almost anyone happy that they stopped by your business today.

I further believe that customer service should absolutely be the center of any business that wants to be successful. If you can identify what your customers want, and give it to them, you will make it happen. What someone calls a “problem customer” is just an opportunity to create a loyal patron; that may sound corny, but I have found it to be universally true.

No, you can’t make everyone happy, but you shouldn’t want to. I’ve discovered this blog, which really echoes a lot of the points I’ve been making in this thread. Allow me to quote from a particularly fantastic article:

One of the first things you learn in any marketing program is that you not only don’t have to cater to everybody, but that you shouldn’t. There are customers out there who can faithfully buy from you and still run your company into the ground. Effective marketing includes making these people go away with a minimum of fuss. Smart folks avoid the temptation to poach from toxic segments.

Yes, that’s right: smart business practices involve saying no to customer segments. You’re going to hear a lot of shit about your business if it gets to any reasonable size; just look at the Paizochat above. Should you listen to these people? I mean, they’re your customers, right? You should be responsive to customers, right?

Wrong. Absolutely, completely wrong. Especially in the gaming business, you are going to find a direct correlation between how much a person protests things and how disconnected they are from your primary customer base. That’s right: you shouldn’t listen to the people who rant and rave. It seems contradictory to a customer service mindset, yes; but it’s good business sense. Here’s why:

Toxic customers drive away business.

This happens most visibly in game stores, where a single arduous “customer” can drive away dozens of potential paying patrons. They can do this in a lot of ways: cheating at tournaments, running abusive or arduous ‘events,’ shit-talking and edition warring, or just plain being creepy. It spreads across the hobby (and across all customer bases, really). That guy who trolls the newbie who asks a question on your message boards is literally ruining new business.

Toxic customers are not interested in buying what you’re selling.

Let’s laugh at Gau’s experience as he tells an anecdote from fast food management! I worked for Carl’s Jr. for some time, and if you’ve ever been in a Carl’s Jr., you know that they don’t have much for a dollar menu. This seems stupid at first; every damned fast food place has a dollar menu, why don’t they? Why am I paying $1.40 for a basic hamburger? That’s bad business! I’ll just go to McDonald’s!

You know what? I hate to say it, but we didn’t (and they don’t) want you. Carl’s Jr. has made an intelligent decision by not having a dollar menu. They’ve designed their business model around the image of everything on the menu being huge, delicious, and satisfying. Having a tiny burger for a buck would undermine that. On the other hand, you can get a quarter-pound charbroiled hamburger for $1.40, and it’s fucking delicious. If that’s too much for you, you are welcome to go to McDonald’s and get a 10:1 patty on a piece of cardboard.

There are ancillary benefits, as well. By not having a lot of super-cheap items on the menu, you are saying no to the stoners (mostly), but saying yes to people who will pay a decent price for something that tastes a cut above Burger King. Sure, we didn’t get as many of the dudes who are counting change to pay for their tacos, but we get a lot more of the soccer moms who don’t even listen to the total and just hand you their credit card. (It was pretty routine to get forty or fifty dollar cars during dinner rush.)

Toxic Customers are, often, not even customers

Let’s get back to gaming, now. For Magic 2010, Wizards announced a sweeping list of rules changes, most commonly remembered as “the day damage stopped going on the stack.” If you read the article, they make the goal of this clear:

As we set out to create the forthcoming Magic 2010 core set—which is a completely new approach to the core set ideal, as announced earlier this year—we opened up everything about how we make Magic cards to scrutiny in an attempt to make that set, and the game as a whole, more accessible.

Wizards is the king of customer feedback in this industry. They spend a metric fuckton of money to determine what their customers, the average, normal customers at the core of their base, are saying about them. In 2008-2009, a choir of players, new and old, sang a simple message: “This game has become too complex.”

This couldn’t have been easy for R&D to handle. Complexity is a double-edged sword: too much, and you can’t teach it to new people, and some people stop having fun (and hence stop playing). Too little, and the game can seem simplistic, boring, and unappealing. They did a brilliant job of balancing this in the 2010 changes.

What happened, though, of course? Thousand of voices rose from the hellish parts of the internet, decrying the changes as “ruining Magic.” The backlash was, to be honest, impressive in its scale. A smaller publisher, or one with less direction, might have gone back on their announcement. Wizards didn’t, because they knew what I could have told them, too: most of these “players” aren’t customers. They aren’t the ones shredding packs of new sets. They aren’t showing up to FNM or Pro Tour qualifiers. They’re embittered, old-school players who wouldn’t buy new sets anyways (since “new cards suck”).

Magic 2010 made Magic an objectively better game. More new players are picking up the game than ever before, and these changes are directly related to that fact.

So, what do you do about a toxic customer?

Spokane is really blessed to have an awesome and successful local bookstore. They root out a lot of their “bad” customers through simple marketing. They don’t do the big events with the huge, doorbusting authors that Barnes & Noble might; instead, their authors and events cater pretty specifically to their target demographic. It is really shitty to be a locally-owned bookstore in the twenty-first century, and they have only survived by literally building an identity around it.

In the case of a game store, I once had a conversation with the owner of Merlyn’s. John is an awesome guy, and he has a simple strategy: they run positive, inclusive events, like D&D Encounters, FNM, open Warhammer, and Clix. Sometimes the grognards come in droves, but the easiest way to keep a bad player out is (in his words) “to fill the store with dozens of good players.”

All of the good publishers are moving in this direction, too: actively pushing products out the door that “good” customers want and “bad” customers will hate. The previously discussed Beginner Box, the Dungeon Fantasy and Action modulesOpen Fire!, all of these are made to bring new, good customers in. The different companies have various strategies for how to “support” (read: ghetto-ize) the negative, toxic customers, but this is certain:

If you’re not interested in moving forward, you are going to be left behind.

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Fallacy #4: I should start a game business (Part 2)

Part 1 is here. Read it first. Let’s continue with reasons you shouldn’t start a game business!

2. Making a game is pretty damned difficult, actually.

I have a relevant blog post from ADB about this, and then I’ll yell about how much he is wrong:

Most manuscripts do not arrive without our having previously worked with the author, providing him guidance, formats, and things to fix or avoid.

Upon arrival, a supposedly finished manuscript is assigned to somebody to review, usually Steve Cole (F&E, Fed Commander), or Steven Petrick (SFB), or Jean Sexton (Prime Directive).

In such a case, the reviewer conducts a review that may take an entire day or more. The point is to determine how much work it is going to take to finish the project. This partly depends on whether the decision is made to do this as a playtest pack, an e23 product, or a “real” product (which would take more work as it has to be done to a higher standard). The reviewer often comes up with more than one option.

The reviewer will then present a plan to the Board of Directors (the Steves and Leanna). The Board reviews the product to see if it is marketable (and in what format), fits into our plans for universe development, and whether the amount of time it will take to do is justified by the potential sales.

Oftentimes, this step is badly made, and we end up deciding to publish a product with nowhere near the amount of information we should have had to make a proper decision. This has resulted in some vaporware products that have never been finished (because they proved to be far more work than they appeared to take, or were thought to have a far greater market than we thought, or because we thought that the outside designer was going to do things that he did not, in fact, actually do). In the bad old days, we announced the product at this stage (often with a price that proved mistaken based on a project size that was miscalculated). In really bad cases, we actually print parts of the unfinished product (in batches with other products) and that proves to be a mistake (as we really wish the printed elements could be changed). These days, we try very hard to force ourselves not to schedule products until we know a lot more about the work it takes to finish them.

At this point, the board reviews just how many man-hours it is thought that the project will take. If that seems reasonable (compared to the sales potential) we will review the overall work schedule and determine when those hours can be found. Fewer required hours means an earlier production date. Too many hours and we may re-evaluate the project and decide not to do it at all.

Under the new “find out what this is really going to take” plan the Board will define some part of the project and some portion of the estimated time. The designer will then do that part (usually 10-20 percent of the project) and compare it to the time estimate. If the project is taking less time-per-page than expected, it moves ahead. If it’s taking more time, it may be re-evaluated and either delayed or dropped.

One we have a supposedly complete draft, there is the outside playtest and review phase. The reports of the playtesters, proofreaders, or reviewers may mean that the project requires a few hours of editing, or has to be done over or scrapped.

Then we can talk about Jean, who seems to think that the world will end if any project goes to press with a mis-conjugated verb or an unfortunately capitalized noun. (Worse, Jean has a full-time non-game job, plus she handles marketing, manages the BBS and Facebook, and runs the Prime Directive product line, so getting something proofread takes some tricky scheduling. Proofreading a 120-page Captain’s Log can easily take her three weeks, and given the chance, she’d do that twice.

Only when it is a finished document will it go onto the schedule. This is a fairly new rule designed to prevent vaporware from sneaking into the schedule. A playtest book or an e23 pack gets released pretty quickly after that point. In the case of a “real product” (say, Module R19) it goes onto the release schedule for 90 or more days down the road. (This may be even further away if it requires countersheets that have to be batched with other products.)

– from the Federation Commander Blog.

Okay, so this is a game company, that has been in business for thirty fucking years, with a workable manuscript, who can’t seem to handle actually producing the product. Let’s review their process:

1. Get manuscript, spend a day or three reading it. ($150-450)
2. Present to Board of Directors, without doing a job cost review first. ($150)
3. Subjectively review product potential. ($150-300)
4. Work on part of the job, since we can’t actually apply any industry experience and prefer to do it by trial and error. ($1000+)
5. Decide, based on this arbitrary sample, that we’ve already spent too much money and it’s not worth it. ($150).
6. Wonder where all of our money and time goes. ($0)

Those amounts in parentheses? That’s how much they are paying (based on a conservative estimate of the “Steves” and Leanne’s payroll) to review and NOT PRODUCE a product. They have spent as much as two thousand dollars in this process! This doesn’t count any other costs, just payroll. I am done wondering why nothing gets done there.

(I also like the sarcastic commentary about product quality. That’s right, typos are totally okay. Our products are high-quality and professional! See my last big post.)

What I’m saying here is that there is, in fact, a lot that goes into a game that has nothing to do with writing it. Rules are easy, really; effective playtesting and an open and honest design process will iron out most of the issues. I have personally known someone who wanted to produce a board game, and worked on it for months and months before he realized that there was no printer that would be able to produce a board the size and shape he needed. It’s a tragedy, too; the game was a hell of a lot of fun.

3. Even if you’re good at making games, starting and running ANY business is fucking difficult.

I can tell you this from personal experience. I have started two businesses: an espresso stand and a weekly newspaper. There are lessons to be learned here, too, so read and know that anyone can make these mistakes.

The espresso stand was fantastic. We paid way too much to get it going, but it was honestly some of the best experience of my life. I had three employees, worked sixty hours and week, and enjoyed every minute of it (even the early morning alarm company calls because meth-heads wanted to break into our stand). It was by no means easy, though. It is very difficult to increase your patronage at a business like that, so you have to use other methods (primarily increasing ticket averages). It wasn’t lucrative, but I was okay with that at the time.

Unfortunately, I had to sell, and still managed to come out with a little bit of cash. I was riding high on that experience, I had several grand burning a hole in my pocket, and I had always wanted to run a weekly rag. Mistake number one: human beings are experts at raising confirmation bias to an art form. I believe it would work, even though my numbers told me otherwise. People would love this. I could get the word out.

It was a miserable, very public failure, and something I am embarrassed of to this day. What I’m not embarrassed of are the lessons I learned. I needed to get burned; success ruins a person. I’m happy I’m out of the coffee business (my old friends in it are not doing very well), and I should have know that a newspaper was an awful fucking idea. Oh well. So it goes.

The point I am making here is that about half of the things I’ve learned here are not lessons I learned in school. I’ve had them beat into me, many of them while losing big. People talk about business acumen like it’s something you’re born with, like some people are just good at it. Sure, lots of things make you good with business. A great intuitive sense for money, numbers, efficiency, and marketing helps. However, when it comes down to it, you have to actually go out there and manage a business.

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