Friday, March 10, 2006

What's Your Problem?

In other words, what are your gaming needs? If you're a designer, what are your players' gaming needs? What should games provide that they don't already? I think most people would answer "Nothing, I love the games I play now."

That answer is why so many new games fail, particularly high investement trading games. If a new game doesn't solve customers' problems, they have no reason to be interested. In fact, new trading games introduce the potential for new problems, which really raise the barrier to entry. Will I have opponents, will the game be supported, will it still be fun in six months after I've spent all this money, will it be worth anything when I want to sell it? The list goes on. It's no wonder so many gamers are wary of new trading games.

Magic originally solved the problem of quick portable game play with hobby game depth. Now that there's hundreds of trading games, that's not a problem anymore.

At this point, publishers need to solve problems that gamers don't even know they have, or don't know can be solved by a new product. Example: Allowing players to directly contribute to the creation of new expansions. That solves the problem of having no input into the success of your game.

What's your problem?


Thursday, March 09, 2006


Every now and then a game comes along that so amazing and obviously cool (sticky is the word Seth Godin uses) that everyone has to play it. No gimmicks, no programs, no TV ads, just see it, buy it, hooked.

Then there's the 99.99% of games. They need a little help. Ideas spread like viruses, and a game's popularity is no different. When people "catch" the a particular game's bug, they get into that game. Our game, Clout: Fantasy, is pretty sticky. When people play it, an above average number of people like it and buy it. Not everyone, like one of those .01% freak games, but enough.

Right now there are several Cloutbreaks. (Clout+Outbreak. Yes, I'm too clever for cable TV) Arizona, New Hampshire, perhaps NY after NY Comicon, and others. Thusfar, as Hidden City Game's organized play manager, I've been focusing on tournaments and our forum. These tools are great at what they do, which is keep the bug alive. They aren't as good at spreading it. I see the virus staying strong with those that have caught it, but I want to see those red dots on the map multiply, not just stay bright (and eventually fade!)

It was obvious from Gencon Indy 2005 that demoing the game is the only way to go for Clout. Ads don't work, descriptions don't work. Demos.

I've only recently understood the power of the demoing volunteer. They are the people that spread the virus. They are the ones who put more dots on the map. When you want an idea to spread, the most important thing to have is people spreading that idea.

Make it easy to spread the idea.
Make it rewarding to spread the idea (not just stuff, but recognition and appreciation!)
Make sure you have an idea worth spreading.

The idea I'm working on is a collectable throwing game. What's your idea? Are people spreading it for you? If not, why not?

Lastly, ads don't spread ideas. They just get in our way so we ignore them. Only people spread ideas.


Monday, March 06, 2006

Mixing Oil and Water

Cardboard games need to be turbocharged by the internet. It's clear to me that the massive success of Eurogames in the last couple of years is based on two factors. One, they are awesome games. Two, people are telling lots of other people about them on boards like gamegeek, game blogs, and other online forums.

I think the "Next Big Thing" in traditional gaming will be a seamlessly integrated internet & traditional game. Maybe a TCG, maybe a wargame, maybe something else. That doesn't matter. What does matter is the internet allows remote players to be part of a global community. If joining that community also provided additional gaming resourses that specifically enhanced a particular game, that game would have a leg up on all the other 'unplugged' games. I actually submitted this example to Wizards of the Coast when I worked there. I got a lot of smiles and nods.

Imagine a wargame, a cross between Axis & Allies and Warhammer. The base sets contains a healthy supply of game pieces and a small supply of maps designed to be laid out in an assortment of configurations. The game comes with one scenario, complete with pre-built army lists for all sides. Sounds like every wargame ever made, right?

Now, what if registration on the website provided you access to both an army builder, allowing you to easily create different armies based on personal tastes AND build scenarios based on how you liked to play. Your new army lists would print out with the touch of a button and the scenarios could be shared, rated, and the best ones made OFFICIAL by the publisher.

Take it a step farther. Game balance is always an issue with wargame army lists. What if you imposed an economy where the more a specific unit was used, the more points it cost. Units that weren't used would reduce in cost. The game would balance itself. New units could be introduced regularly with minimal playtesting because their correct value would take care of themselves by the system.

The game itself would still be played on a table between friends, just like any other wargame, but each game would impact an entire worldwide community.

I would play that game.


Sunday, March 05, 2006

Books that could save the Game Industry

Okay, that's probably an overstatement. I have read some fabulous books that have helped craft my views about the gaming industry. Business books. Marketing books. Great books. Books that give me ideas about how I could be doing things better.

Go to the business section of any bookstore and buy The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. You can't miss it. When there's 1-2 copies of every other book on the shelf, there never less than six copies of TTP. I wish everyone I work with would read it. I would buy them copies if I thought they'd read it. Here's the cool part, it's not about business. It's about IDEAS, and how they spread. It's about how they stopped crime on NY subways and why non-smoking ads don't stop kids from smoking. It's about why small groups of people work better than large groups of people. It's about a lot more than that. Ultimately, it's entertaining as hell.

From the Tipping Point I moved on to Seth Godin, who I've mentioned before. His books most decidedly are about business. So far I've read Permission Marketing, Unleashing the Ideavirus, Free Prize Inside, and all the mini e-books he's published on his website. It's easy to take Godin's ideas and apply them to creating and selling games, and I do. I've set up lenses on Godin's Squidoo and I read his blog daily.

The last two books I've read I discovered through the various blogs I follow. Creating Customer Evangelists is pretty straightforward. Help your customers help you. Be worthy of their loyalty, and provide them tools to spread the word. This is not a new idea in gaming. Volunteer programs are old hat in our business, but I was looking for and found new ideas. The fact that I can't think of any just now makes me think I need to give the book another read!

Currently I'm reading a book called Naked Conversations. It's about how businesses can use blogs to connect to customers better. The basic theme of the book is to be human, honest, transparent, listen, and use blogs to do it. Good stuff. It mirrors and reinforces what I already believe to be the best way to conduct myself. I'm a fairly lousy writer, and a novice to blog tech, so books like this help in some basic nuts and bolts ways. I also wanted to make sure I wasn't making some terrible mistake with my blogs! I think I'm okay.

More on gaming next time, I promise!