Looking back – Test & Chill January 2018

In January we held another playtesting event at CMD Hanze Applied University. Around 60 students playtested 20 games and concepts, ranging from tabletop card games and party games to digital games. Some using hardware like a Hololens and augmented reality glasses. So all in all another great turnup, with students from year 1 ranging to year 4. Check out the pictures below. 

Next block we will have another one! Bring your prototype, or just come over to see what others made (and play it!). For those interested in non-digital / hybrid games: there is the monthly Spellenmaakgilde (game design guild) tabletop testing night on Friday 2 February. It is their 3 year anniversary!

Looking back: Test & Chill December 2017

Thursday 14 December we had another Test & Chill event at our multimedia design study. More than 45 students of our major Game Design and the minor Game On showed up to have their games playtested, nice!

In total 15+ games -applied & entertainment- were tested, including: rough early digital prototypes, paper prototypes, a Hololens game, an escape room for 3, games for mobile, a dating simulator, platformer games,  analogue / card games.

All in all the attendance was high, with students bringing interesting projects, sharing feedback and creating a good vibe. Looking forward to the next one in January!

Looking back: Day Jam November ’17

At our major Game Design students learn making games. Besides all the theories, assignments and projects one of my colleagues Sean had the idea to organise additional game jams to support the learning and to let students really feel they are studying Game Design. Game Jams are a great way to get more hands on experience, try something out, see how much you can accomplish within limited time. It offers additional practice to everyone interested, without didactical constraints. Aspiring game designers should make more games.

We decided -practically- to offer 24 hours, making it a ‘Day Jam’. The student association Glitch helped out with organising again and Mimosa Lethinen made another stunning poster concept. Thanks for all the support! day jam november 2017

As the first years’ students are still learning programming, we made this a tabletop challenge. As an extra challenge we asked there should not be separate rules, but learning the game should be integrated in the gameplay experience. Not easy, but good to practice a specific challenge.

More than 6 teams participated. The results were impressive. Some teams made really nice looking prototypes, others managed to had quite some playtesting and iteration done and could showcase a prototype that was quite playable already. It is really hard to get to a finished game in 24 hours, but it is the practice that counts.

All in all, this seemed nice and worth repeating! Probably a digital game Day Jam (or both). Check out these pictures to get an impression of the November event:

 

Looking back: Test & Chill November 2017

First week of November we organised another playtesting event. Again the student association Glitch helped out. It was very nice to see how multiple games were tested, being personal projects, as well as study related projects. Despite all the deadlines. There were digital games, naturally, and a good amount of analogue ones. Students from all ranks participated, which I really like.

As a bonus I could playtest 2 card ideas I am working on. 🙂

Looking back: Test & Chill October 2017

What started with a pilot last study year will now become a regular event: having testing sessions at our study CMD (Communication & Multimedia Design). Especially interesting for game design, but any app, art, code can be brought to showcase, for playtesting / user testing. Participating, also by giving feedback, is a great way to hone your design skills. So I hope we can expand the popularity even more.

The first event had a nice turnup and it was awesome to see the diversity in games There were digital and analogue games and they were study related courses and personal projects. An impression:

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Poster art by Mimosa Lehtinen

Design resources, hear hear!

As a lecturer game design I regularly tip podcast episodes on certain topics. Some students really like them, others roll their eyes when I start talking about podcasts again :-). And I am fine with that, I’ll keep recommending them as they are a great resources to industry news, personal stories concerning designing and publication, practical advice and game design theories.

I started listening to them about 5+ years ago when I got the ambition to make a game and have it published. After trying some prototyping I realised there is a lot to learn when I want to make a good game. Luckily, the tabletop industry is quite cooperative and transparant. A lot of information is shared and podcasts are a great way to soak it all in, in my opinion. You can listen while driving, commuting, doing chores, etc.

Above you see an overview of all the podcasts that I listen(ed) to. It is a salute to all the work the creators put in it. Thank you! I became a better designer because of all of these. I will shortly describe some of them to give you an impression what they offer. That way you can see which ones might be of interest for you.  I link to their respective websites, but you can look them up on your mobile with a podcast app, of course.

Ludology

This podcast started years ago, and the topics discussed are usually timeless in content and usefulness. For tabletop game design this is my number 1 to listen to, the hosts dive into interesting topics. It tackles theoretical topics concerning game design that are interesting as well if you make digital games. Starting at the beginning is worth it with this one and it offers a lot of food for thought.  Ludology_Banner_4

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The Game Design Round Table

More interested in digital game design? This one has a broader take on game design, TGDRT dives into multiple types of games, tabletop, mobile, digital, RPG. Two of their hosts work in the digital domain, the others in tabletop. You get insights in the overlap and differences between the analogue & digital scene. They discuss their own experiences, talk to interesting guests and offer a view on innovative new things happening. I like how they support the diversity in game design and designers. They showcase that designers are not only males.

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Breaking into Board Games

A relatively new one, the 3 hosts have a great vibe together. The podcast has quite a spark to it. Great practical insights and industry perspectives. Each guest they interview plays a game of ‘two truths and a lie’ with. Usually I don’t really like it when a game is played ‘on air’, but with this one it is quite entertaining.

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The Who, What and Why? Game Design Podcast

Not as popular and working on a smaller budget, this is an under-appreciated podcast. The host interviews designers and they discuss the tabletop games they designed. That offers interesting insights quite often.

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On Board Games

This podcast reinvented itself and currently has a nice mix of hosts. That keeps it even more interesting than before. They review tabletop games, discuss interesting topics and have interviews. It offers a good mix.

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The Dice Tower

This is the biggest tabletop podcast and has expanded to an entire network of podcasts. I listen to this one for the reviews of games and to get a sense for the industry (USA centered). Their website offers a ton of video’s as well. They have top 10 on diverse topics and that helps to learn about good games I did not know yet.

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Het Ludieke Gezelschap

A Dutch podcast that discusses tabletop games and the local industry. All the previous ones are located in the USA, so it is really nice this one offers a perspective on the Netherlands.

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Board Game Insider

This podcast is hosted by 2 tabletop publishers and that tells you the perspective they offer. One publisher is located in Poland, Portal Games, and the other in the USA, Stronghold Games. I like how complementary the gentlemen are to each other and the episodes are snappy.

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Board Game Design Lab

Another podcast that focusses on designing tabletop games. I am impressed with all the guests the host has interviewed so far. The output is spectacular.

 

Honourable mentions (tabletop): The Secret Cabal Gaming Podcast. This is an very enjoyable podcast with a lot of good banter by the big group of hosts. Due to overload I dropped this one, because it is less focussed on design. But it is a lot of fun to listen to. Games with Garfield (with Richard Garfield) & Board Game University are discontinued. While these are not updated anymore, I enjoyed them enough to keep in my list of podcasts as a reminder. They are certainly worth listening into.

So there is a lot to explore. Which ones do you like? And is there one I should add to my list? Enjoy the listening!

Going to the Göttingen Game Designer Convention

What follows is a report of our trip in 2017 to the annual Game Designer Convention (also known as the ‘Spieleautorentreffen’)  in Göttingen, Germany. We will share our experiences  and offer some tips if you want to go there.

As a tabletop game designer going to the Spielautorentreffen is great because you can meet a lot of publishers (40+) as well as many other designers (around 200!) . For many publishers this is the best convention to meet new talented designers. What started as a local initiative has grown to a big event. Starting with 2017 it will be organised by the SAZ (game designers’ union).

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We arrived early at the convention site so as to have some choice in where to set up. Except for some locations that are reserved in advance, getting a table is a free-for-all. Because we were with 3 designers we wanted to make sure we could sit together. The morning started off slow, with not many publishers coming by, probably because they had scheduled meetings first. In the afternoon we did get quite some visits , with the last one leaving our table after 18.00.

Going as a group turned out to be a really good idea. It meant we never left all our tables unmanned, and one of us could just walk around occasionally. It also was very pleasant to have friendly company, both at the convention and on the road (of course, your mileage may vary, depending who you bring along). Before and during the convention we  gave each other feedback on sellsheets, table setup and game pitches.

 

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Because we each (as it turns out) made good enough impressions that if one of us had a scout at their table and said ‘these other two also take testing etc. seriously maybe check their stuff out’ it would lead to all three of us getting eyes on our games. With a game that plays best with more than 2 players, we could sit in as extra players on each others’ demos. As you can see above, a black cloth on the table and stands for your sellsheets really makes you look professional (Aerjen left, Daan right).

From the perspective of a newcomer it was extremely satisfying to notice that our approach (thorough testing, strong ties between theme and mechanics) is appreciated. Compliments from professionals have a different impact than those from friends or testers. Turns out we’re not crazy, and actually do know what’s good!

 

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Prior to the convention we emailed some publishers that we would be present. We selected those that we expected might be interested in one of our games. We chose to present ourselves together, and showcase not only our games but also  how we take game design seriously (do a lot of playtesting, organising events). This seemed to work out great, as it gave a good first impression. We did get the feedback that emailing a week beforehand is way too late to set up meetings.

A working knowledge of German is not necessary for talking to publishers, they all speak   English well enough.  The introductory speeches are in German, but it is not essential to understand them. For the most part, the publishers and scouts are all boardgaming nerds as well. They have to be or they would suck at their job. This makes talking to them not only fun but often very useful as well, because they give great feedback and usually understand and appreciate what you’re trying to do. This makes it so that once you get going most nerves evaporate and what remains is a lot of fun and interesting conversations about a subject you care about, ie. your game(s).

 

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The picture above shows a board on which you can indicate at which table you are seated. You are free to also put up your sellsheet on it. This does attract potential interested publishers, so we recommend doing this.

The convention officially lasts 2 days, but you can indicate whether you go on Saturday only or Sunday as well. We chose to be there on Saturday only, as this is the day that the most publishers are present.  Some are still around on Sunday as well, but fewer. So you have to consider whether staying an extra day is worth it to you.

 

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Recap and some additional tips:

  • Think about your basic needs, bring enough to eat and drink, cough drops, have enough sleep, clean clothes, deodorant, et cetera
  • Prepare how to pitch and demo your game
  • Email publishers selectively and well in advance
  • Bring sellsheets (publishers love it, be aware they may pre-judge your game)
  • A cloth to dress up the table makes you look 10x more professional 🙂
  • Go as a group with fellow designers who you can vouch for
  • Be open for feedback you get, write it down
  • Be aware publishers are short on time and might be quite direct in their criticism
  • The parking meter in front of the building requires coin money…
  • Book a hotel Friday night
  • Enjoy it where you can, have fun!

All in all, we had a good time and made a lot of new connections. If you are considering going there next year, in 2018 the convention will be on: June 2nd and 3rd.

Daan Reid, Aerjen Tamminga, Arjan van Houwelingen

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PS. For a different viewpoint you can read this article written by a scout.

The meta-game: SAZ Game Designers Association

SAZ logo squareLast week I joined the International Game Designers Association ‘SAZ’ (Spiele-Autoren-Zunft). Seems appropriate with 2 game publications coming up… My first impressions are good. A personal welcome, an international oriented website in English (mostly) and the managing director Christian Beiersdorf explained all the topics they tackle on behalf of game authors worldwide.

Besides insights there are services that can be uses as a member, really useful when you are relatively new in the industry and lack certain knowledge or savvy. Their membership sure seems to offer a lot (for members only, by the way).

Topics they taken on are for example  taxing laws, whether game authors create work that is creative, just like book authors (this can make quite a difference in royalties earned). And they negotiate for (transparant) standards in publishing contracts. They give members advice on publishing contracts and the SAZ is a network to share insights, work et cetera.

So, this seems like the meta cooperative game: working together to be better at making games. If you are an analogue game designer (author), check them out and consider membership. Of course, feel free to approach me, for example at testing nights, to hear more about it.

Read recommendations by high-profile authors on their promotional flyer: SAZ Promotional Flyer (English).

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And some information of their website:

The “Game Designers Association” (SAZ) represents the interests of game designers to the public as well as to publishers and other work users. It supports game designers and campaigns for a stronger recognition of games as a cultural property in our society.

 

The SAZ is a strong community with many advantages for its members. Founded in 1991, it now represents more than 400 members in Germany and abroad. Although the main area of activity is in Germany, the SAZ is gaining an international character through its multitude of members from other countries.

 

The diverse fields of activity of the SAZ: The counseling of our members and the promotion of the exchange of experience are an important focus. This includes, if required, negotiations with publishers for fair contractual conditions. As co-organizers of the Game Designers Meeting in Göttingen, we are promoting platforms that bring together game designers and game publishers. On the political side, we advocate a fair framework for cultural activities as well as copyright, tax and social security laws. In addition, we support further training activities for the professionalization of our members.

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‘Everyone likes games’

Last week I had an interview with a local newspaper about playing and making games. It is in Dutch, you can read it here. I made the statement that everyone likes playing games. Even people who say they don’t. They just haven’t played the game they will like yet. Or maybe not yet with the right people.

Of course I am biased as a gamer and game designer. Yet I do believe this holds up. If you don’t like competition, there are cooperative games. If you hate thinky brainburner games, there are dexterity games, party games, games focussed on story, trivia, creativity or social activities. If you don’t like to sit around, sports is a form of games (competitive, cooperative, often both). Besides analogue games there are many platforms of digital games. If you hate sci-fi space theme, there are also games around fantasy, pirates, zombies, and other tropes. Besides the ‘standard’ themes more and more unique themes pop up in games.

Arjan-van-Houwelingen-©Arje-768x562Photo of the article, by Arjen Zijlstra 2017

Multiple professionals in the tabletop game industry state we are in a ‘golden age’ of board gaming. There are indeed a LOT of different games to play, with hundreds new games being published each year. The quality of components is great and also the designs are good. These have improved a lot the last decades. Having a game concept published thus has become harder. As well as having good sales: there is a lot out already. A lot of different games.

So back to the statement: everyone likes games. Do you agree?

 

PDF download of the article (Dutch):

Arjan van Houwelingen: ‘Iedereen houdt van spellen_ – Groninger Gezinsbode

Play: serious business

This blogpost is is about ‘play’. The concept is getting more attention by psychologists and I became more interested in the topic myself. Not only as a psychologist, but also as a designer of games. Creating games means creating experiences that have a potential for priming playfulness. Now, after 2 years working as a lecturer I am even more intrigued in ‘playing’.gamepadWhat is so interesting about ‘play’? Playing is learning and learning is playing. Whether that is in some skill that has applied use outside play is a different matter, but as Raph Koster has stated and argued succesfully: Learning is fun. In that sense, his book is interesting for game designers AND teachers. Having fun and learning are 2 sides of the same coin, so to speak. Check out this presentation, in which he looks back on his book about this topic.

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Even something that many might regard as very serious: philosophy is not without play. Plato opposes separating seriousness and playfulness. And we Dutch have our own historian Johan Huizinga who wrote ‘Homo Ludens‘ in which he argues play is important for culture and society. It is a activity all humans (and animals) show when they are young, but most seem to lose the playful attitude when growing up.

A time ago a Dutch documentary ‘De Kennis van Nu’ dived into the concept of play and how being playful as an adult has a lot of advantages: ‘Spelen is van levensbelang‘. It is very interesting to watch (in Dutch) and it discusses the many advantages. Playful adults are better at coping with stress, more likely to report leading active lifestyles, and more likely to succeed academically. And it makes them more attractive to the opposite sex. Intrigued? This article also discusses and sums up what playfulness can do for you.

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As the article states, playing a game and being playful are not the same. In a competitive game of soccer the teams try to perform as well as possible and probably players will not goof off or fool around. How about goofing off during practice? Will they also have a performance mindset or be more playful? I have seen and felt the difference in martial arts training groups and the atmosphere it creates. When it is all about performance (and not losing), not much is experimented with and there is a lot of angry frustration.

Being playful might have a lot of advantages, but players (and coached) might think it is nonsensical behaviour without any use. There seems to be a link with growth mindset versus a performance mindset. If it feels ok to make mistakes a soccer player or martial artist will probably try out more challenging or unconventional techniques. They might fail -at first-, but with a playful mode that is fine. You tried something and got feedback on it. In contrast, a performance mindset inherently will be negative on fooling around, it is behaviour that seems to be not helping and making mistakes is deemed a bad thing. Good luck coming up with something that is innovative and surprising that way. Or expanding your skills in new ways.jugglerBeing playful seems to trigger more of a growth mindset, which has a lot of advantages. And a lot more fun can be had. In my experience as a teacher I have seen a playful approach and culture help relieve pressure and lower the threshold for students to try something out of their comfort zone. And the fun increases the motivation to practice. These days, most students often feel enough performance pressure. As will teachers. Offering clear rules, structure and demanding performance is fine. But we do run the risk of losing play in our education.

Learning how to cope with the complex world education strives to have students develop 21st century skills. Those entail complex behaviours needed to face a rapid and everchanging world in which graduates will be confronted with questions and jobs not even predicted when they started their study. Having a playful attitude seems very beneficial to have. And the good news: even those researchers who think of playfulness as a personality trait (being persistent) suspect it is a malleable one. This means it can be developed and probably the context can prime one to it (my experience in class is this is certainly the case).3d-meepleI advocate to add playfulness where we can. In the classroom, engrained in a course, within the structure of a study, in the hallways of the building. And to start, in the attitude of a teacher. Be it with making jokes, not take yourself too seriously, make a game out of an exercise, be ok to experiment and be ok it might not work out. Laugh it off. Now not everyone feels playful and there are several ways to be playful. To find out how playful you are yourself, René Proyer is the psychologist that contributed to the documentary and he developed a questionnaire to measure playfulness. His survey is available online in Dutch. Go fill it in!

It is also available in English here in the published article. They found out there are 4 basic components that make up playfulness: Other-directed, Lighthearted, Intellectual, and Whimsical playfulness. Read below what these mean.dice-six-faces-four

  • Other-directed: enjoying to play with others; using ones playfulness to make social relations more interesting or to loosen up tense situations with others; enjoying good-heartedly teasing.
  • Lighthearted: seeing life as a game and not worrying too much about future consequences of one’s own behaviour; liking to improvise; reserving time in the daily routine for play.
  • Intellectual: liking to play with ideas and thoughts; liking to think about and solving problems; thinking about and trying different solutions for a problem; preferring complexity over simplicity.
  • Whimsical: finding amusement in grotesque and strange situations; having the reputation of liking odd things or activities; finding it easy to find something amusing for oneself and/or others in everyday life situations and interactions.

This blogpost is an exploration in playfulness. More can be said, more can be done for sure. As a lecturer I am more and more focussed on having an playful attitude and stimulate it during teaching and coaching whenever I can. Where and when can you be more playful? Let’s take play seriously, and be surprised where it takes us.

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(A Playful path’ website: Bernie DeKoven has been exploring playfulness for years)

(game icons resource)