I’ve known Todd for quite some time via the Internet, but more recently we’ve become closer friends and design peers because we both live in San Francisco and made it a priority to meet and work together. Todd approached me with a great idea about our process and how he’s used it elsewhere and I knew it would make a great Guest Column.
Guest Column by: Todd Edwards
A while back, Grant asked for designers to write in with their big accomplishments for the year. I realized that mine were not sales, but rather exciting things that have helped propel my designs to the next level. What’s more, both things are direct results of Networking. I know there are a bunch of other networking articles out there, so I’ll skip the 101 for the most part and trust the editor to insert an appropriate link.
He can put the link right here: (Editor’s Note: Uh…uh…I did a Google search and found this article in the Washington Post?)
Years ago, I began my side career as a creator by writing a novel. Then another, and another, and so on. My writing got incrementally better, but when I gathered some like-minded folks into a critique group, my writing really took off. Something about critiquing other people’s work really helps you learn the lessons that you are blind to when looking at your own work. Also, having people dig in and find the flaws in your work is really helpful too, especially if they are totally candid and don’t pull their punches. And finally, critique groups give you a chance to talk shop with other writers.
It turns out the same is true for game design. You probably have a test group. People who play games, and they’ve agreed to play your designs and give you feedback. That is awesome and critical to do, but you can’t inflict half-formed ideas on them. They don’t think like designers, so they can’t help turn the ideas into playable designs. Designers can help pick apart your game from a different perspective. Even more, designers LOVE to talk design, so they are usually up for hearing your half-baked ideas and offering feedback. It may not work for everyone, but I know that I work best in a team, bouncing ideas off others, taking suggestions and making them my own, etc. In fact, when I have a bunch of half-formed ideas floating around, the best way for me to crystalize them into something coherent is to explain them in an email to someone willing to read my sometimes stream of consciousness idea deluge.
Enter our illustrious host, Grant. We’ve known each other a while over Twitter, and we’d gotten together to play and test each other’s games a few times at cons and around town (once we realized we lived near each other). However, we are both busy guys with careers, and it was pretty sporadic. Late last year, we decided to form a “design critique group” and get together every other week. Since then, my game designs have progressed more rapidly than ever. The combination of constant deadlines to keep me pushing ahead and a designer feedback is invaluable.
You see, I’m working on my first big game, by which I mean a 4-5ish player, 90 minute, co-op. There are a lot of different systems that I’ve been working on and pulling together, and being able to show early prototypes of the different systems helps keep me on track. Not to mention the brainstorming that has resulted in changes to my current prototype. I’ve also been able to play some “peer” games and get to see how similar ideas work in practice. Because he knows my design, my critique partner was able to point out things in other games that apply to my design.
Anyway, how do you form a critique group? It will vary, but like anything that involves meeting people you don’t know, exercise some caution. You can find local designers on Twitter, Facebook, Meet-up, etc. Go to local gaming events and talk about your designs. You’ll probably meet other designers. If you click with them, get together to play each other’s games. But start by meeting at a coffee shop, local game store, etc. you know, exercise caution. You’ll need to find people you are comfortable sharing with and giving/getting unfiltered feedback. You’ll also need to find a schedule that works for everyone.
When you give feedback, don’t be mean, but don’t pull your punches. If something isn’t working, they need to know. Try to always follow-up with a suggestion or two of how to fix it. When you get feedback, don’t take it personally. Creative people aren’t always the best at hearing criticism, but think of it as good practice for your eventual BoardGameGeek reviews. And when you get a critique, don’t argue about it, take it in, ask questions to make sure you understand the feedback, and then decide if and how you want to incorporate the feedback. And if someone doesn’t take your feedback, just remember, it is ultimately their game and they decide what goes in or not.
Todd Edwards is a robot engineer by day and writer/designer by night. He’s published 3 children’s books and one novel. Check them out here or learn more about him here. He also does freelance writing for games and is looking for more gigs. Contact information is on his website.
Great stuff, guys! That point about asking questions is right on! I accidentally discovered that asking questions IN ORDER TO BETTER UNDERSTAND was a great way of subverting the anger and disapointment of negative feedback. Instead of dwelling on a failure, you are actively moving forward right then and there. Thanks for the good reads