I’m a perfectionist which is really hard when you are trying to make something as elaborate as a board game. I often get caught in the trap of feeling the need to make something look 99% complete before asking other’s opinions. What often happens when I do that is then I feel disappointed when people don’t respond well to it and it can lead to discouragement. I had poured my heart and soul into something and it wasn’t good enough.
Of course, there are two extremes to this subject. You also have people who present every small change to their audience for feedback and either have other people design their game for them or it’s in constant fluxx and never arrives at a completed state. This is often caused by either the designer lacking a firm grasp on what this game is trying to achieve or by the designer not being confident in their abilities to produce something that others will enjoy, therefore leaving it up to others to decide what they want.
Both of these issues can bring your game to a standstill or taint the final product of your game. So what are you supposed to do when you struggle with either of these extremes? This article is written to discuss this topic in hopes to help us game designers to form better habits when considering community feedback and engagement.
The Client is Always Right, but They Don’t Always Know What They Want
No matter what business you’re in we’ve all heard the phrase, “the client is always right”. I am a graphic designer by trade so I heard this phrase more than I wanted to. Even though this can be a painful mato to follow, this statement stems from wisdom because at the end of the day, the client is the one paying and receiving the final product so they need to be pleased with it, even if their reasons aren’t always sound.
What I have learned through my education and career experiences is that the client often doesn’t know what they want, even if they think they do. What I mean by this is that a “client” (could be the consumer of your game, a company seeking your services, or a marketing team looking for content) wants to arrive at a certain outcome and they typically have formed some expectations on how to arrive at that outcome.
Here is a personal example. I worked for an insurance company that owned several other smaller companies. We had a marketing team that handled all of the digital and print marketing for this selection of companies. As one of the web designers on the team, I would occasionally need to redesign these sites and present various mocks to the admins on the marketing team.
The workflow would often be, I make 2-3 different designs, present to the admins, and then they give me some feedback that I’d implement before the mocks got sent off to the appropriate company. At the end of the day, there are several hands in this pot and many different preferences and voices having their say into this process.
Unfortunately, what would often happen is if the marketing admins saw something that wasn’t working whether it be a deviation from branding or just an issue with the user experience, rather than pointing it out, making suggestions and bringing it back through the design process, they played web designer and just told us designers to change things to their new ideas.
The problem with this workflow is that you have people who aren’t very skilled in a specific area, making big decisions. We would often say they have enough knowledge to be dangerous because the lines between marketer and designer often blur.
Game design is very similar. There are many board game enthusiasts who try their hand at designing their own game. You have a game that you’ve been developing and learning all of the intended and unintended aspects that make your game what it is. You present that to your audience and they give you feedback. This is wonderful and I do not want to discourage that at all because that’s how you’re going to make your game great.
A problem I see is when designers rely too heavily on this feedback and aren’t able to find the heart of the game they are trying to capture so it mutates into something completely different than what was intended. Maybe you come up with a game that’s amazing but there is also a part of you that is unfulfilled because your core concept that drove you to start making the game was lost along the way.
“The client doesn’t know what they want” idea can apply here too but be careful because this doesn’t mean that you should ignore the feedback. When playtesters/interested parties are bringing up an issue with your game, they may come up with solutions that taint the heart and soul of your game. This doesn’t mean you have to change it to be something completely different than what it was intended but you should zero in on it, especially when a particular issue gets brought up multiple times by different playtesters.
This information tells you something is wrong with the game but it isn’t necessarily followed by a worthy solution to fix it. Sometimes it is but at the end of the day, you as the designer know what the lifeblood of the game is intended to be so the solution to the problem should be viewed through that lens.
I’ve received amazing feedback that I took and used verbatim and there are others that I didn’t use at all except maybe to detect that there is a problem that needs address in a manner that makes sense with my game.
Another issue I see on this side of the problem is that games are constantly in fluxx and never get complete. Not everyone is going to have the same opinions about specific details, especially the nit picky stuff. At the end of the day, we need to take the feedback we were given and decide, what is important to spend our time on to make the game the best it can be.
Now to address us perfectionists, we’ve got to be willing to be vulnerable and honest with ourselves. Letting someone see something that is 80%, 20% or even 5% complete is okay and healthy.
If we aren’t willing to share more, we are going to miss out on opportunities to gain exposure and gain an invested community for our games. The feedback you receive can help you pivot to a new direction and help you see flaws that otherwise you wouldn’t have picked up until you are too deep and committed in your path.
I was just wrestling with this the other day. I was getting everything ready to post on reddit about how I updated the box cover art and that people could try the game on Screentop.gg. The image featured the new box cover along with some of the game components in the background so I made sure that I got the image of the box switched out and wrote out the post.
Then I was like, well, the featured image doesn’t have the updated color for the green faction so I should open up blender and get all of that updated. Then I was thinking, well the digital copy uses all of the old artwork still so I should probably go in and upload all of the new cards before sharing the link again.
I had the original post written ready to publish. As I was sitting there making this list of things I needed to update before posting, my 3 week old baby started to scream, my other two kids were getting on each other’s nerves, screaming and crying and I said “nope” and hit “post” and went to try to help my kids.
Why? Cause parenting is hard work. Well, yes but moreso I knew all of that work would have taken at least a week to complete with my current schedule and that was going to be one week less of people’s exposure to that content and potential feedback I’d be missing out on. You keep adding a week onto every time you want to put your work out into the world and it adds up quickly. We’re already 5+ years into this project from int initial conception so delaying that timeline any further is something I want to avoid if I can help it.
So I put out work that wasn’t 100% up to date. Even though it goes against every instinct in me, I try to look at it as another opportunity to share my game with people once I have it 100% complete. Next time I share, I can tell everyone that the artwork is all up to date now and they can experience the game to its fullest (or at least to its most current rendition). And then again when I create a how to play video. And so on. See what I’m getting at?
Bringing people into your process creates trust and helps steer you towards a better product. I am constantly having to remind myself of this but it’s an important lesson to learn. The whole point of crowdfunding is to see if people are interested in your idea. You gain a sense of that on the way to building your following in addition to the campaign itself.
Keeping all of this in mind, ask yourself, why are you making this game? Are you making it so you can hoard it all to yourself? Unlikely, so what is preventing you from sharing your process with others?
When making decisions about what to share, make a schedule for yourself on how often you want to post. Prioritize the tasks that are needed to complete each post as you plan for them. Select the tasks that are most important and stick to those, the other ones are nice things to do but not crucial if they can’t get completed on time.
You’re going to fail your schedule sometime and you’re not going to complete everything on your checklist sometimes but that’s okay. Learn from your experiences, press on, and keep sharing content.
Are you paralyzed by making decisions and feel overwhelmed by all of the different feedback coming your way. Have a sit-down where you set aside the feedback, and ask yourself, “What am I trying to accomplish with this game?” “What kind of experience am I trying to provide for the players?”. Make some key notes and then take the feedback you received and filter it through that lens.
Learning from the community is so important and I am thankful to be a part of such a welcoming and helpful community. Don’t take it for granted and make sure you are giving back by providing others with rich feedback as well.