Sunday, April 02, 2006

On 13 October of last year I wrote:

"I begin to think that the only way to get a lot of games published is to design but not develop them."

After my conversations at PrezCon, I am even more inclined to that opinion.

I talked with some developers and manufacturers about games, of course. The conversation turned at one point to prolific wargame designers. There is one (call him "X") whose games I have never played, but I have read several sets of the rules. They always give me the feeling that the "game" is actually a simulation first, game second; and from various readings, plus my own impressions from these rules, I felt that the games probably weren't well-playtested, and probably weren't much fun as games.

Opinions ran even more strongly at the con. One person was of the opinion that only good developers could save games designed by X. He thought X does hardly any actual playtesting. Another called X a "one book wonder", that is, he'd read one book, design a simulation, maybe play it a little, then pass it on to the developer who might or might not make a good GAME of it. As this all jived with my impressions (and they can be no more than that), I wasn't surprised. Someone talked about another designer (call him Y) who delivered his "design" as "a box of notes". Yet, this person felt, better games came from Y than from X. And Y could be paid a small lump sum rather than a designer's royalty.

Jim Dunnigan of SPI fame--SPI appears to have created the concept of "developer"--compared the developer to an editor (or in computer games, a producer); the expectation at SPI was that the guy doing the research would only come up with some sort of decent prototype, perhaps 80% complete, not publishable as is. The developer would do the work to make the game playable.

There is no doubt that the last 20% of refinement of a game takes 80% of the time. Playtesting is time-consuming, tweaking rules is time-consuming. Even when you don't intend to change the rules, rewriting them introduces unintended consequences (as evidenced by the Britannia Second Edition rules rewrite by FFG--and then having no testing of the new version of the rules compounded the problem). When you rewrite to change a rule, the repercussions are often larger. So a remarkable amount of testing is needed.

At some point recently I've also realized that, while delivering the "80% finished" game is far more practical than delivering 100%, to some manufacturers it doesn't matter. They are going to change it, and possibly not playtest the changes, whether the designer likes it or not.

I remember talking to Andy Lewis of GMT two years ago at PrezCon, and being put off by the assumption that a developer would likely need to change the game. Now that I've heard more about some of the well-known current designers, I'm not so surprised by the notion.

In effect, "designers" who don't deliver complete games make it harder for those of us who do. At any rate, I have realized that I am pretty much afraid of letting some "developer" take on one of my games with a license to change it. I have had very mixed experiences in that regard, some good, some bad (see I suppose I need to figure out which games I need not get ego-involved with, and which I do. I may also be able to arrange that my final version can be made available on the Web so that, if the published version is eviscerated mangled, people can see what it was intended to be. (You might say, "who are you to know what's best"? Well folks, if the person who created the game cannot use the playtesting to make the best version possible, who can? Some designers are not writers, I know; some are not editors; I've been both.)

This reminds me of my experience as a freelance writer long ago. I actually had "editors" change my correct spelling to incorrect! Some editors are more interested in fitting an article in a space than the meaning of the article. Some, on the other hand, make useful suggestions, and I am open to suggestions. What I'm not open to is someone changing something in a way I disagree with: it is MY GAME.

At this point some people might say, "get a grip, as long as it's published you'll get paid". However, I'm not in this to make money (very few do, and as one person said, you could spend the time scavenging bottles for deposit and aluminum cans for recycling and make as much money). I'm in this because I saw how much people enjoyed Britannia many many years after it was released, and I wanted to do more of the same. That means it is indeed MY GAME and I want it to be right (Britannia as originally published isn't quite right--changes by publishers).

Some publishers routinely minimize the importance of the contributions of designers, and assume that they know better. Perhaps the trick is to find the publishers who, if they don't like what you submit, won't try to change it to their way of thinking, they'll just say "no thanks".

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