Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Writing a book derived from an online audiovisual course

The surprisingly large attendance at my talk about “How to Write Clear Rules” at GenCon made me focus on the fact that there is nothing in print about writing game rules, other than the occasional blog post, and a chapter in the “Kobold Guide to Boardgame Design” by Mike Selinker that is primarily an exhortation to use simple, clear language in your rules.  (Mike also recapitulated that chapter in a well-attended talk at GenCon.)

I have less than 20 participants so far in my online audiovisual class “How to Write Clear Rules (and game design documents)” on and  Like everything else in the digital age the course suffers from anonymity, more commonly called in games “discoverability” - if people don’t know it exists they can’t “consume” it.  Of course it also suffers from being very specific, appealing primarily to aspiring tabletop game designers.

I’ve heard of other instructors at Udemy turning their courses into short electronic books.  Because I’ve recorded more than 50 fairly short “lectures” for this class I actually have a large body of words that I could turn into a short book. I can run each screencast through CyberLink PowerDirector a second time and save it as a WAV file that can then be transcribed by the Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium software that I write with. 

The voice recognition is definitely not perfect, a time-consuming obstacle to the project. Perhaps a greater one is that I speak my screencasts on-the-fly, that is I don’t work from a full script but only from notes that are the slides in the screen cast. Consequently I speak in a fairly casual rather than formal manner, the same manner I would use in my 17,000 hours of experience in the classroom where I tried to talk with the students rather than at them (small classes thank heaven).  That style, when transformed to the written word, is wordy and informal. Consequently a great deal of editing is required to turn a transcription into satisfactory writing, both because of Dragon’s errors and because of the difference in style and delivery.

Nonetheless I have begun to do this, and of course all writers and game designers know that it’s easy to start a project but difficult to finish it. At this point I don’t really know how long it’s going to be - it will include some long rulesets of published games as examples - but I estimate somewhere around 50,000 words. The typical novel is 100,000 words and 50,000 is generally regarded as the minimum size, so this will be shorter than a normal book. (My McFarland book “Game Design” is just over 100,000 words, intentionally - I didn’t want to write a massive book that might put people off.) So this will be a thin paper book if it’s ever available in paper. My primary goal is to sell it as an e-book whether through Amazon or through a place like RPG now I don’t yet know.

The course:
$4 off "How to Write Clear Rules (and game design documents)" ($23)
You can see some sample screencasts without registering, and there's a 30 day money back guarantee.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Some GenCon (and WBC) Observations

I’ve spent much of this month either preparing for or attending the World Wargaming Championships (WB C) and GenCon. These are very different conventions. WBC, currently in Lancaster Pennsylvania, is a boardgame and card game tournament convention. At 1,700 unique attendees is an intimate and family oriented convention that fits in a single hotel in a “country” tourist spot.

GenCon overflows from a huge Indiana Convention Center into quite a few large hotels.
GenCon announced a turnstile attendance in 2014 of 184,699 and unique attendance of 56,614 (which means that each attendee was there more than three (3.26) of the four days). The turnstile attendance is larger than the attendance at Essen Spiel (I’ve not seen a unique attendance announced for that convention).  “Since 2009, Gen Con’s annual attendance has more than doubled.”

Does this mean GenCon is now a bigger board and card game convention than Essen Spiel?  No. GenCon has become one of those now fairly typical “Amalgamated” conventions including board and card games, role-playing games, costuming, film, fiction writing, comic books, video games and more. (DragonCon in Atlanta is another example.)  Of course, it has been a role-playing game convention first and foremost.

GenCon was certainly teeming with people.  Unfortunately, my first experience was standing in the “will call” line - the line for people who pre-registered, to pick up their tickets - for half an hour.  The lines for walk-ins were much less.  Not good planning, I’d say.  Maybe they want to encourage everyone to have their packets delivered at significant expense so that they won’t have to wait in line so long . . .

I gave four talks, well-attended even though they were in the far corner of one of the hotels.  One was at 9AM Sunday. One guy said "I didn't know there was an AM!" But it was before exhibits opened, and 40-odd came.  I was surprised that the most well-attended was “How to Write Clear Rules” (also the title of one of my online audiovisual classes).

The exhibition hall at GenCon was Vast, something like 370 exhibitors.  Many of the largest companies rent separate rooms as well.  Lots of card games with fine artwork were laid out on tables for demo or sale.  How do any of them differentiate from all the others?  Same for RPGs.  Artwork is no longer a differentiator, in most cases.  There was a huge number of less-than-30-minute games as well. All must be more-or-less shallow (opposite of deep) when for more than two players, because there simply isn't enough time per person for deep gameplay.  Little enough when only two play . . .

Staying at a hotel distant from the convention center, and giving talks in the Crowne, I walked much more than I cared to, but I survived GenCon (need a T-shirt that says that).

WBC being so small in comparison with GenCon, even if you don’t stay at the hotel it’s 200 yards to the building from parking, and no more than 150 yards to anywhere within the building.

Seeing the Brit games being played in the tournament at WBC, the things I want to snuff out (such as “the deal” between Welsh and Romans), what players asked me to change (I could usually say, “done that”), gives me new interest in getting Epic Britannia done.