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Author Topic: Newbie-friendly Indie Games  (Read 18421 times)
John Kim
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« on: September 09, 2004, 02:24:49 PM »

Quote from: Matt Snyder
Malcolm, I'm not sure who's claiming they don't need to do anything in designing a game to make it newbie friendly. I've seen the opposite approach in many, many Forge-related games.

(For example, my own game, Dust Devils, has already been highlighted as a game that approaches, but doesn't quite achieve, a superb level of newbie-friendliness in both writing and design. Good. That was one of my intentions; I sure as heck wasn't hoping "innate virtue" -- whatever that means -- would get me there.)
...
So, where are you seeing this claim? About which specific games? How might your observation constructively help those and other designers as they work on new games or revisions of older ones?

OK, I think Malcolm was referring to comments in http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=12616">White Wolf discussion (split) and http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=12633">Rapid-deployment rpgs.  For example, there were claims that My Life With Master was much more newbie-friendly than White Wolf games, along with Primetime Adventures and Universalis.  

I'm sort of fence-sitting here.  In my experience, while there are exceptions, most indie games are written for experienced roleplayers.  They skip over defining what the game is; they don't provide startup features like sample characters and an adventure; and in general they assume knowledge.  Of course, this is also common in non-indie games but IMO slightly less so.  While I think that MLWM is a nifty game, I think it is not at all newbie-friendly.  It launches into talking about GMs, characters, d4's, and so forth without any explanation.  It doesn't have any filled-out character sheets, or a sample adventure.  PTA is much more newbie-friendly, but I'm still leary of handing it to a non-roleplayer.  

That aside, I think the problem is one of generalizations: which I think is going on on both sides.  Some people have generalized about indie games being newbie-friendly; while Malcolm generalized the opposite way.  

My suggestion here is to talk about specific indie games, how newbie-friendly they are, and what can be done to improve that.  I don't have Dust Devils (sorry, Matt).  I guess I'd put PTA as the most newbie-friendly in my experience, but I certainly haven't read everything out there.
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Matt Wilson
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« Reply #1 on: September 09, 2004, 03:11:31 PM »

Quote
I guess I'd put PTA as the most newbie-friendly in my experience, but I certainly haven't read everything out there.


Hey John, them's kind words. Did you get a copy at GenCon, or is this based on hearsay? Either way, I'll take it.

Anyway, here's some thoughts on newbie-friendliness, with some help from my wife the non-gamer.

1) the game should have some connection with games that they've already played or pastimes that they are familiar with. Primetime Adventures is about TV. Everyone except the elitist snob at your workplace who says oh, I don't watch TV* knows what the allure of a great show is. But what's GURPS similar to? How do you quickly explain what GURPS is about? No slight against GURPS, but it's not an elevator pitch kind of game. Dust Devils: westerns. zing.

2) There can't be big obstacles in the way of playing once they actually agree to check it out. That includes 300 pages of reading and 2 hours to make a character. Non gamers who like to play games don't want to read rules. People don't even want to read the 2-page pamphlet that comes with Scattergories. And imagine that we're sitting around at my place and you've never played a roleplaying game before, and you say, hey, what's D&D? Can we play that? And I say, sure, we just need you to fill out this character sheet first, with 8,000 things on it. That'll kill someone's interest.

It's kind of a combo marketing strategy. You have to intrigue them with (1), and make sure (2) keeps them there, or at least doesn't scare them off.

*If you're reading this and you're that person, just so you know: nobody likes you.
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #2 on: September 09, 2004, 03:49:48 PM »

One thing that I think Ron really got right in that discussion (but nobody really paid attention to) is that White Wolf games and D&D and other "mainstream" 250-page tomes are aiming a different newbie audience than the people who pick up most indie games to start roleplaying.  Mainstream games often appeal to the younger, upcoming group that has basically the same demographics as existing roleplayers: mostly male, overeducated, disposable income, possibly with below-average social contacts, likes comic books, video games, and scifi & fantasy, etc.  They help continue to serve the existing traditions and often manage to bring in quite a few people from outside this narrow range, because of high exposure, but I don't think that's their main focus.

Many indie games, like Ron said, attract people like the spouses of ex-roleplayers, people who know something about roleplaying but wouldn't normally have given it a try because it wasn't something that they felt comfortable doing, especially in the existing roleplaying culture and the stereotypes thereof.  In general, I think the indie games that exist now are mostly aimed at an older audience of people who realize that roleplaying exists, but haven't ever done it.  Also, and I don't know if this counts as "gaining new players," a lot of indie games keep dissatisfied roleplayers from dropping the hobby completely (I know they did for me), probably because most indie designers are dissatisfied roleplayers themselves.

Going to specific examples, because that's what John says he wants to talk about, how about Vincent's Nighttime Animals Save the World?  I mean, gee, if I wanted to introduce a total newbie to roleplaying and the whole idea of shared imagination, that would be the game to choose.  It even incorperates simple mechanics and a traditional GM-player relationship, while remaining casual and super-accessible.  Vincent plays it with his 7-year-old kid.  It's like an out-of-body LARP too, where you imagine your character next to you, in the environment (so no huge game world full of details to keep in your head), but it's not "you," in the same way as a normal LARP or tabletop game.
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #3 on: September 09, 2004, 03:51:06 PM »

Hey!  I'm that guy!  And I even bought your fscking game!

yrs--
--Ben
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #4 on: September 09, 2004, 04:07:25 PM »

Hey John,

While I think that MLWM is a nifty game, I think it is not at all newbie-friendly. It launches into talking about GMs, characters, d4's, and so forth without any explanation. It doesn't have any filled-out character sheets, or a sample adventure....My suggestion here is to talk about specific indie games, how newbie-friendly they are, and what can be done to improve that.

I think conversation would be facilitated by decomposing "newbie-friendly" to the constituent parts of 1) accessibility, and 2) presentation. My Life with Master was not written to newbies. It was written to disillusioned, maybe lapsed and jaded gamers tired of all the lies (i.e. me in 1999). In consciously omitting a playable sample Master/minion/situation, and obfuscating the stats of the minions used in the examples of play, the game seeks to foist the thrill of its collaborative social dynamic onto otherwise dubious gamers. "Please, I insist."

So in being written to people like me, it fails newbie-friendly in its presentation, as you suggest, by referencing dice and GMs and whatnot without explaining. But system- and subject-wise, if presented to newbies by someone familiar with the terminology and ephemera, the way damn near all of us learned how to play RPGs anyway, there is no doubt in my mind that it succeeds in being eminently accessible.

Paul
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Callan S.
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« Reply #5 on: September 09, 2004, 04:19:11 PM »

Quote
I'm sort of fence-sitting here. In my experience, while there are exceptions, most indie games are written for experienced roleplayers. They skip over defining what the game is; they don't provide startup features like sample characters and an adventure; and in general they assume knowledge. Of course, this is also common in non-indie games but IMO slightly less so. While I think that MLWM is a nifty game, I think it is not at all newbie-friendly. It launches into talking about GMs, characters, d4's, and so forth without any explanation. It doesn't have any filled-out character sheets, or a sample adventure. PTA is much more newbie-friendly, but I'm still leary of handing it to a non-roleplayer.


Okay, imagine we have two tomes. Both of them contain the same sort of stuff you mention above, that requires skill ranks in knowledge: gamer (as does that in joke!).

Now, one is quite thin, perhaps twenty pages. The other is around 150 to 200 pages.(Just checking a my life with master review, I see its 64 pages. Not quite as lightweight as my example but you get the drift.)

If you don't know you don't need to use everything (like us gamers do), you'll look at the book and think you'll have to read all of it. Which is more appealing?

Okay, with the size there's a corresponding price reduction. Now, your a newbie and think you might even end up playing this just once. Which one do you invest in?

Finally, the smaller one seems to have some goal...its contents and even it's title speak of a bad guy. Even a newbie knows bad guys need to be defeated - clear goal. Defeating bad guys sounds kind of fun - clear reward.

If we think of newbie friendlyness on a sliding bar, we can place both books at quite different points on the bar. But a binary interpretation is probably going to lead to having them both on the newbie unfriendly side.

Perhaps a scale of 1 to 10 might be better.
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Philosopher Gamer
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eyebeams
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« Reply #6 on: September 09, 2004, 04:30:23 PM »

Quote from: Noon


Okay, imagine we have two tomes. Both of them contain the same sort of stuff you mention above, that requires skill ranks in knowledge: gamer (as does that in joke!).

Now, one is quite thin, perhaps twenty pages. The other is around 150 to 200 pages.(Just checking a my life with master review, I see its 64 pages. Not quite as lightweight as my example but you get the drift.)



As a newbie, I choose the one that tells me what an RPG is and how to play them.
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Malcolm Sheppard
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« Reply #7 on: September 09, 2004, 04:34:45 PM »

Disclaimer:  Serious question, no hooks intended, I just want to understand.

Do you want the one that tells you what a general RPG is, and how to play the whole genre of games?  

Or are you just looking for one that tells you what this game is, and how to play it, without assuming that you already know key facets?
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Callan S.
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« Reply #8 on: September 09, 2004, 04:43:03 PM »

Quote from: eyebeams

As a newbie, I choose the one that tells me what an RPG is and how to play them.

Slow down. Both books are as I said, the same in my example as they both lack that quality. And by lacking that quality, they have something like 'To understand roleplay, we need to take a time machine back to ancient greese...' sort of bollocks, both of them. I mentioned MLWM in case it didn't quite fit the example for someone in terms of page count, if someone wanted to insert it into it to see how it would go. But it's supposed to be a generic comparison to show binary evaluations suck.
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Philosopher Gamer
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Valamir
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« Reply #9 on: September 09, 2004, 05:19:14 PM »

Quote
As a newbie, I choose the one that tells me what an RPG is and how to play them


Has anyone ever read a game book that did a really good job of this?  Not the typical slap dash "like cowboys and indians but with rules" nonsense. Or the boiler plate stuff that reappears over and over again.  But a really good "if you gave it to your Aunt Lois she could teach her bridge club how to play from the book" kind of text.

I haven't.

"What is an RPG" & "How to roleplay" sections are a waste of space even for newbies.

"How to play this game, right here, right now"...THAT's the text that we need to see more of.

No newbie want's to pick up Game X and read a "How to Roleplay" chapter.  They want to pick up Game X and read a "How to play Game X" chapter.

Figuring out how to write such a chapter is an ongoing process that many indie designers have taken stabs at.


Nobody needs to be taught "how to role play" every human being has roleplayed every day of their lives from the time they were old enough to learn the rules of etiquette and social behavior.  What is pretending to be a fine upstanding young man when you're meeting your girlfriends parents but roleplaying.  What is the "professional demeanor" that we put on when we go into the office but roleplaying.  What is the story you give your wife when you come home late and don't want to tell her you were at the strip club with the guys but roleplaying.  What are the mind games couples play on each other in their relationship but roleplaying.

People already know, in spades, how to pretend to be someone they're not.  What they need to be taught is not the generalities of how to roleplay...but the specifics of how to apply that ability to this particular game they are about to play right now.
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John Kim
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« Reply #10 on: September 09, 2004, 08:21:41 PM »

Quote from: Matt Wilson
1) the game should have some connection with games that they've already played or pastimes that they are familiar with. Primetime Adventures is about TV. Everyone except the elitist snob at your workplace who says oh, I don't watch TV* knows what the allure of a great show is. But what's GURPS similar to? How do you quickly explain what GURPS is about? No slight against GURPS, but it's not an elevator pitch kind of game. Dust Devils: westerns. zing.

Here I agree completely.  I would add, though, that the connection doesn't have to be "mainstream" in the sense that everyone knows it.  It just has to be something which your target non-gamer audience knows.  For example, goths connect to Vampire: The Masquerade; and anime fans connect to Big Eyes, Small Mouth.  

Quote from: Matt Wilson
2) There can't be big obstacles in the way of playing once they actually agree to check it out. That includes 300 pages of reading and 2 hours to make a character. Non gamers who like to play games don't want to read rules. People don't even want to read the 2-page pamphlet that comes with Scattergories. And imagine that we're sitting around at my place and you've never played a roleplaying game before, and you say, hey, what's D&D? Can we play that? And I say, sure, we just need you to fill out this character sheet first, with 8,000 things on it. That'll kill someone's interest.

Well, I partly agree with this -- that's why I am in favor of having sample characters and a good sample adventure.  However, as I mentiond in http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=12633">Rapid deployment rpgs, I think it is easy to fall into the trap of dumbing things down for the newbies -- which I think is a mistake.  

I disagree with the "rules lite" argument that game books have to be short and super-simple for non-gamers to play them.  If you look at more "mainstream" games like Magic: The Gathering or many popular videogames, there is a lot of complexity to them.  They can be played before learning most of that complexity, but many people like to have that depth below the surface.  Empirically, there were plenty of simplified rules-lite games in the 80's, and Vampire: The Masquerade outshone them all in getting new players.  What I take from that is that a lot of people are willing to (gasp) read a book if it is relatively well-made and interesting to them.  In contrast, many people will only glance at a two-page sheet that you hand them, because they don't see anything interesting about that game.  

Which is not to say that complexity is unimportant, but isn't purely one-sided.  Complexity can be part of the draw for a game rather than being a barrier.  Now, I agree that something on the order of full-bore RoleMaster is never going to go over well.  But once you're at the level of  moderate-to-simple games (i.e. Basic D&D, West End's Star Wars, Call of Cthulhu), I think this is an issue.
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- John
timfire
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« Reply #11 on: September 09, 2004, 08:25:41 PM »

I want to throw out some ideas I've got based on my experience with The Mountain Witch. I believe MW has non-gamer appeal. When I explain MW to non-gamers, it intrigues them. They often say it 'sounds cool.' More than one person said they thought it would make a good movie. And even if they're a little leery, most say that they would be willing to give it a try. (Interestingly, I feel I have to do more explaining to gamers before the light bulbs start going off, I guess because they have more pre-conceived notions.)

Now what's important to note about this, I communcate these things to my non-gamer friends without ever discussing rules.

The reason I believe MW has this effect is because MW has a clearly expressed premise (in the non-GNS sense) that people can relate to. People pick up on the implications of Trust pretty much right away. I feel people 'get' the spirit of the game.

I think that once you get a person to the point where they 'get it' and are interested in playing the game, the complexity and... err, learnability of the rules become a minor issue. If people want to play the game, I believe they will do whatever it takes. In other words, they will learn whatever rules they have to, no matter how complex (given that the rules are coherently designed and adequately explained).*

I think this is the same advantage that PTA and MLwM has.
_________

(*) I'm not saying that complexity doesn't matter or won't have an effect, but rather that I think it's a side issue.

[edit] Cross-posted with John. I think we are both trying to express simliar ideas. [/edit]
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joshua neff
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« Reply #12 on: September 09, 2004, 08:38:21 PM »

Quote from: John Kim
I disagree with the "rules lite" argument that game books have to be short and super-simple for non-gamers to play them.  If you look at more "mainstream" games like Magic: The Gathering or many popular videogames, there is a lot of complexity to them.


There is complexity in the play of Magic, but not in the rules of Magic. I remember buying my first Magic decks, just before it got really big. I'd vaguely heard of it, but at the time, the only games I was playing were RPGs & the occasional mainstream boardgame. My friend & I bought Magic decks, went home, read the very short book of rules, and began to play. Out of the box, Magic was pretty simple to learn. However, the complexity of play wasn't nearly so easy for me to learn. That and the escalating cost of playing against my friends (who were spending hundreds of dollars on cards) turned me off to Magic.

Overall, from my own experience with non-gamers & gamers alike, I think Matt & his wife are spot on.

I'm also thinking that having a "how to play role-playing games (in general)" section in any RPG is a lot like having a "how to play boardgames" section in the rules for Monopoly. Playing D&D is very different from playing Vampire, playing Vampire is very different from playing Trollbabe, and playing Trollbabe is very different from playing My Life With Master. I'm starting to think that there's no reason to assume that learning to play one of these games means you can play all of them straight out of the box.

When you want to learn an instrument, you don't go to a music teacher and say, "Teach me to play guitar, piano, drums and saxophone." And when you learn guitar, what you learn on Day 1 isn't applicable for playing jazz guitar, metal guitar, blues guitar and classical guitar. Learning to play Poker doesn't mean you can pick up a deck of cards and start playing Bridge. Learning to play Monopoly doesn't mean you can look at a Risk board and intuit how to play.

So, yeah, I think one definite approach to writing for newbies is to not write as if you're teaching people how to play all RPGs. Teach them how to play your own RPG, and that's it.
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--josh

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eyebeams
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« Reply #13 on: September 09, 2004, 08:48:34 PM »

Actually, Ralph, I've met lots and lots of people who benefitted from just that kind of cliched text. People can and do buy mainstream games in isolation from other gamers (it may happen with indie games, too but book trade encourages it more, I think). I know, because I'm one of 'em. I nicked money from my Mom's wallet and bought a copy of D&D (and r0xx0red at some video games) when I was wee, read it, got a vague idea of how to game and ran it for my non-gamer friends. This and Dragon Magazine articles were my sole source of gaming info for about the first two years.

I know lots of people who learned to roleplay from some variation of the descriptions in TMNT and Robotech. A while back, I met a woman who had only ever played Rifts because she grabbed a copy cheap and suckered non-gamer friends for a spin.
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Malcolm Sheppard
Callan S.
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« Reply #14 on: September 10, 2004, 12:24:37 AM »

Hey John,
Quote
They can be played before learning most of that complexity,

Hey, if they can play without having to learn it all, there is no problem (and as you say, it can be a plus).
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Philosopher Gamer
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