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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Panels at Gamestorm

This year at Gamestorm (March 24-26, 2006) Sunriver Games has been invited to sit on a few panel discussions about the game business and game development. I haven't done many panels, so this will be an interesting experience. First off, I know that panels at game cons aren't always well attended, so I don't have hopes of reaching thousands, but the panelists themselves will be worth meeting and hearing.

Here's the guest list for the panels I'm on:

Richard Garfield, best known as the creator of Magic: the Gathering and Roborally. Since I was re-inspired to get into gaming after learning Magic back when Fallen Empires first came out, I owe a lot to this gentleman. OK, true, it also cost me thousands (!) but that's not Richard's fault! I was also an early fan of Roborally, and even though it's long when played by inexperienced players, it's still a classic.

James Ernest, founder of Cheapass Games, those famous black-and-white games under $10. My favorites are US Patent Number 1 and Light Speed. Many of his games have a sense of humor. I met him at previous Gamestorms, and he's a genuine boon to the whole game industry.

Dave Howell, one of the original staff workers at Wizards of the Coast Wizards and often a frontman for Cheapass Games at conference. Dave taught me Ben Hurt for money a few Gamestorms ago. He's also a principal in the Seattle Book Company these days.

The Panels:

Game Design 102 Playtesting Sat 13:00 1 hr
For this panel, I think I want to cover some of what I've written about lately, my sense of best practices for playtesting, the kinds of questions that playtesting should answer, and some small history of Sunriver's successes and failures with playtesting.

Key issues here are being ready for real playtesting, good prototypes and player aids, treating platesters and their input with respect, and knowing what your goal(s) for the playtest are.

Game Design 103 Prototyping Sat 17:00 1 hr
I'll plan to take a bunch of my prototypes along as visual aids. My belief is that peple will much more likely try a new game and give better feedback if it looks good and if has been tested for basic playability before you ask friends or strangers to play. While playtesting may be different in a bigger company like Wizards, our usual playfields are game conventions, game nights and friends' living rooms.

I'll also include the concepts of playing prototypes on computer, such as using simple Excel spreadsheets as a testing ground, and creating functional player aids, sometimes in lieu of needing to create full rules sets. If the author or the company os presenting a prototype, I think it's less important to have full rules sets unless the idea of the playtest is to specifically test the written rules for completeness, clarity, flow, etc.

Game Design 201 Getting Published Sun 13:00 1 hr
This panel I clearly know less about, since my experience so far is really just limited to one company-published game. And to get that we created the company! But maybe that perspective is helpful since we are so new to the gaming scene compared to Cheapass Games and Wizards of the Coast.

I can talk about the history of Havoc: the Hundred Years War from where the ideas first started, through working toward a publishable set of rules, mechanics and artwork. And I can fill in with our "marketing plan" that took us to Essen, our contact with distributors and making our first bulk deal with Funagain Games. Essen included meeting some industry "giants" like Queen Games, Abacus Spiele, Bruno Faidutti, Friedemann Friese and others who may be our next step in publishing partnerships with Sunriver Games.

If you're planning to be at Gamestorm, feel free to drop in on any of these panels. I think the other folks on the panel are definitely worth hearing, and I'm happy to have friends or hecklers just show up!


  • At 6:20 AM, Blogger Marina said…

    I'm really looking forward to reading what you and your team's experience is like at the convention. So often, players of these various games don't get to hear about how much work is actually involved in creating, marketing, and distributing the game they love and cherish. This is an interesting perspective which I will definitely be adding to my Favorites list.


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