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Presentation - As important as system?

Started by MatrixGamer, January 23, 2006, 02:34:53 PM

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The Lumpley Principle says that system matters. The rules of the game inform and shape all that follows. In my constant tinkering with Engle Matrix Games I've mused on how important presentation is. I think it is worth exploring and I hope that Forge viewers will start a lively discussion about the topic.

First a little history...

HG Wells bought toy soldiers (much as we might buy green plastic army guys) and wrote his rules in a book (Little Wars).  Later miniatures gamer stuck to this format - books and toys.

Avalon Hill started making boxed boardgames (essentially using the same techniques as Monopoly boards) in the late 50's, replacing figures with cardboard counters.

TSR started off with D+D in a little box with three saddle stapled boolets. They later switched to 8.5x11 saddle stapled booklets (for adventures) and large size hardback books for rules supplements. Other games followed and the 8.5x11 core rules book became the norm (be they perfect bound or smyth sewn - paper back or hardback).

Video games gave us virtual reality - or at least nifty pictures and stuff to shoot at. (Of course they still sold them in a box - until people became comfortable down loading programs.

MUDs MUSH, etc put games on line.

WotC gave us games on cards.

Wiz Kids gives us a variation on toy soldiers (with Hero Clicks) and cool little pop out stick em together ships.

The Forge has championed PDF products - That could be core rule book sized, or boardgame like, or blurring the ground between print and electronic media.

So you can see there are lots of ways games have been presented. I've used a lot of these methods for my game. I don't think we have exhausted the list of possibilities.


I see this discussion branching off in three directions.

1. Theory of information: What needs to be communicated for successful play.

2. Presentation/Packaging: A nuts and bolts discussion of ways and means of doing it (first hand personal experience would be most useful here).

3. Actual Play: How the different presentations work out. Do components fall apart, get ignored, are lost or eaten by the dog, etc.


For theory I might discuss how I view games as being mechanical procedures. Rules describe those steps and need to be written clearly. But what is needed beyond mere rules? Source books, the companions of core books, give maps, location info, story starting points, and fiction. Some books give rules for creating the same. So what do I include in my game, why am I putting it there, how do I think it will be used, is there a better way to present it?

For presentation I might talk about my latest experiments with production. I coud describe my experiences with different materials and techniques. One could look at how to combine multi media in game products and tell us how it's done. Clearly this gets into networking but is also an educational tool for those reading it - since other game makers will come along and ask "How to?" questions.

For actual play, I could go into how I saw players utilizing or not using the information provided in a book, laminated game board or terrain field. This also touches back on packaging because I could recount the frequent dramatic failures my game products have experienced. I could also mention how a product was received by a reviewer so we could all learn from it. Last fall one review described my Engle Matrix Game books as looking like "Children's books" which meant he didn't like it (without even opening the book up) and dismissed it. (I thought at the time, Children's know they are actually pretty well made - they have to survive children after all!)


I throw this out for you consideration. I believe that Komradbob and Guild of Blades will find this line of enquiry interesting. I hope other will as well.

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games

Josh Roby

System is the core of the game.  Presentation is the core of the product.  Unless we are talking about products -- things that we are making for the consumption of others -- presentation is irrelevant.  You and your friends may have an awesome System to coordinate your homebrew game of whatever, but as long as it's only intended for use by you and your friends, it's not a product and has no presentation.

Luckily, this is the Publishing board, where we talk about products.

In your examples, Chris, you mostly seem to be talking about format, which is one element of presentation, which is in turn an element of marketing.  Marketing is the practice of getting your product into the hands of consumers, and as such includes a helluva lot more than just advertising.  It includes branding, merchandising, promotion, distribution, pricing, and support, along with other bits and pieces.  All of those things are interrelated, and all of them determine how well you get product into consumer hands.  It's hard to talk about just format without also talking about the other bits and pieces.

Do you primarily want to talk about format (loosely, the stuff that the product is made out of), or do you want to talk about the bigger question of presentation, or the far wider question of marketing? You have no idea how long I could run on at the mouth about this, so I ask before I blather.
On Sale: Full Light, Full Steam and Sons of Liberty | Developing: Agora | My Blog


Hi Chris,

My experience on presentation is doesn't matter all that much. Small box set, large box set, digest sized perfect bound book, full sized perfect bound book, small B&W digest saddle stitch book, larger saddle stitch books, free PDF download, for sale PDF downloads, well laid out HTML document, etc. So long as the package quality is on par with the price being asked thats all that matters. No, if you go with an non standard format, you might be fighting an uphill battle with the perceptions and prejudices or distributors and retailers, but once you get the thing in front of the end consumer, if the package seems to justify the asking price you make your sales.

After that....then thats where the value of the actual game content comes in.

Our best selling and most liked RPG game system was the WHAT Customizable RPG. We sold the core rules for $2 and supplements (14of them) for $3.50 and they sold like hot cakes. And they were all small page count (24) digest sized B&W saddle stitch books. But back then we buckeled to industry criticism and took that form of the line out of print to move it to the more industry standard perfect bound book format, which, when solicited, generated flat pre orders. lol.

The lesson we learned....what everyone "thinks" we ought to be doing is by no means what we actually ought to be doing.

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group


A related question for folks that sell both pdf and print versions of products:

How does that work out? I know that I've bought several pdfs of games that I was curious about but wasn't willing or able to get a physical copy of easily. I've also noticed a trend for small publishers to offer upgrade deals ( buy the pdf, now knock that off the cost of the physical copy if you later buy that). Is this a profitable proposition? What sort of problems, methods and benefits to the producer are involved in this model?

Chris: Ow! I have to admit that I'd be a little too thin-skinned to take that reviewer's comments at all well. OTOH, these days I'm focusing on family games, so maybe that is a positive!
Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys

Ron Edwards


A little clarification - "the Forge" doesn't "champion" PDF publishing. First, the Forge isn't a thing that does anything, which is why I gave it quotes just now; second, the point is independent publishing of any successful sort, with PDF happening to be an empirically successful introductory, primary, or supplementary format at this point.

So let's just nip this whole "I do books, you guys do PDF" dichotomy in the bud right now.

Joshua, you are my hero for distinguishing between the product and the activity. That's key to this discussion. I'm going to assume, for purposes of my next point, that we are talking about games (activities) which work well, and focus on them as games (products) with physical, marketable characteristics.

Example: my game, Sorcerer. Hard-cover (case-bound), unusual size and format, gold-leaf imprint, dust jacket, traditional print. It is expensive to print compared to modern POD companies, but the quality is at the top of the heap, and the "look" of the book is familiar if you like books, but bizarre and scary if you are thinking "role-playing game." Just what I wanted for multiple different reasons.

At the time of designing the book (2000), it was possible to move 500 copies into Alliance-based distribution as long as you had the good word with various key people. I say "Alliance-based," because if you got distributed by them, then all the other distributors flocked to carry you too.

Therefore I had to attract distribution-values attention, with full awareness of what made a retailer grunt. The standard approach - conform to the full-size, paperback, glossy-cover institutionalized by GURPS and sanctified by Vampire - was obviously not working for anyone (one of those weird blind spots RPG publishers tend to have, not to see this). I had to do something unusual, and sharply classy, expensive in a kind of customized, arrogant way. It also had to be physically heavy for its size, and have a cover that drew a second look no matter what was on it.

The internal layout and text had to generate a second "grunt" at first glance. I had to choose incredible quotes and set them off in readable ways. In fact, the whole thing had to be readable, and therefore the crappy-ass computer-geek fonts (Courier, etc) were straight out, and the fad-White Wolf wacky fonts and splattered shadowy graphics, with full bleed, were straight out. It needed to look like a real book, as I say - and instantly reassure the one-glance reader, i.e, the retailer/distributor, that it could be read.

Intense networking led me to the right people to make all this affordable and to find the right printer.

The user-reader, or end-customer, also needed to be satisfied. This book needed to be used, carried, browsed, and even petted. Some of the above features aided in that, especially the look of the internal text, and then features that the one-glancer would never notice, such as the chapter guides (still in my opinion the best in any RPG) and the unusual organization.

But the customer interaction doesn't stop with the book - my other big innovation, expressed in two key ways. First, the PDF and PDF supplements already existed; there was already a history of actual play and excited interaction about the game as a phenomenon, and the book was eagerly sought by a few vocal people ("few" means numbered in the low hundreds). I knew this was essentially a primed-pump situation. Second, I treated the website activity as a punk publisher's magazine, and even encouraged the equivalent of fanzine websites.

The classy, even stern presentation of the product as an object acted as a confirmation to all these punky, side-line, dissatisfied, eager Sorcerer audience (whether they knew about it yet or not). A confirmation of what? Of the fact that I, and by extension we, were not fucking around. That typing X or Y or Z into the internet, about Sorcerer, was doing something, was being heard by me and by all the other typists like you, and was contributing.

"Crappy little independent publishing? No - this is Sorcerer. It's its own thing. It even looks different. It's not good because it looks like Vampire, it's good because it is what it is."

Participating at the websites (Gaming Outpost, Forge, and developing an interest, then holding the game as an object, playing the game as an activity, and finally returning to participate at those sites again as a practitioner ... it all goes together. The physical power of the book, holding it, is an anchor to that activity. It had to be top-notch because it served, intentionally on my part, as a flagship for the kind of publishing I'm advocating.

Which is a good thing, too, because now, attracting distributor or retailer attention is no longer the point, and it wouldn't be even if the whole RPG distribution/store system weren't broken. Sales in that venue are only good for so long, and I knew the book's presence there would only spike once - now, as planned, the stores are essentially billboards for the game, rather than primary sales venue. Now, the physicality of the book would be cost-prohibitive unless it was embedded in actual use and participation with others, as I described in the above paragraph. Fortunately, it is.

Chris, I'm not sure if you're seeing the real point of my description. The real point is that, in the long term, the game's physical nature as a product is extremely important as a component of its success as an activity. But it isn't a matter of one being the donkey and the other being the cart. It's more like a big puzzle in which the physicality of the product is one of the pieces near of the center.

As an illustrative contrast, one of my other games, Elfs, has a very different look and feel - it's punky, almost nastily basic at first glance, although on second glance it's sharply printed, well-built as a paperback book, and extraordinarily well-illustrated. It's very cheap to print using POD, and tends to delight the reader as an object because it's punky, rather than awe them like Sorcerer does (I'm not exaggerating; I get awed emails from customers all the time). The philosophy, however, is the same: how Elfs looks and feels as a physical book has everything to do with (a) how it plays and (b) how we interact about it, customers and myself, on-line.

That's really my main point made, but Chris, since you seem to have a bit of a bug up your butt about PDF, I should also clarify that both games appeared first as PDF products, partly to generate funds, certainly to see for myself whether they were any good to anyone but me, but mainly to generate a fan base.



Hum... looks like my post from yesterday didn't make it to the board. It referred to Joshua's post - basically it said "Talk broadly."

Presentation is partly format and certainly partly marketing. I also think it has a direct effect on how a game is played. The exact format isn't really important. It is the flow of information in the game that makes up actual play. In a hex board wargame a lot of information is stored on the board by where units physically are. If we tried to play it just using verbal descriptions the game would play very differently because no one could remember what was going on. This would not convey the wow factor and probably no one would buy it but it also would be a different game even if the written rules were the same.

Thank you Ron for telling us your experience. Your use of "grunt" in the book binding and internal structure of the product show a meeting of marketing and how the book is used. "This book needed to be used, carried, browsed, and even petted." The book is not merely a marketing tool but also a ritual object that becomes part of the actual play. People playing the game on the PDF version would need another ritual object to have exactly the same play - thought one could pet a stack of unbound pages, I guess. The actual rules would be the same - even the page layout and art - just the ancient tome of wisdom effect would be different.

Just as a thought experiment, consider what D+D combat would be like done in different formats.

The rules are the same in all cases.

1. The players discuss what is going on - they remember where the characters and NPCs are, no figures or maps used.

2. The GM draws a map and player mark where they are.

3. Figures are used on a drawn map.

4. Figures move through fancy terrain boards.

5. The game is computerized and players sit around the computer playing.

6. The game is done on line, with players all over the world.

While a verbatim example of play might look the same, the sequence of play would be the same as well as the dice rolls, I don't think the play would be the same experience. As game designers we pick formats to achieve effects in play - not just as marketing - or so I think.

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games


It is important in the early stages of developing a playing group into having a shared 'world' view.

We have just started a Serenity campaign. I would say getting into the character's and settings is a lot easier in media tie-in games as the presentation of the World and the Rules by which it works has already been done for you. But even then adding to this a very well presented rule book and some excellent cardboard props really helped us settle into the environment very quickly

I think later when people can visualise the world and how it works from what the GM is saying it is less important


I actually had another question also, though more of a marketing question:

Has anyone explored markets outside of strictly hobbyist markets? If so, what did you look into and what results did you get?
Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys


>>Has anyone explored markets outside of strictly hobbyist markets? If so, what did you look into and what results did you get?<<

We do this non stop.

Let see. So far we have:

1) We sell our Empires of History board games to a number of military surplus stores. (a minor success)

2) We tried some direct marketing through a couple of the major club membership associations. Complete failure.

3) We distributed 1.2 million copies of a free RPG PDF to generate interest in the eventual print title and in general to start forging a widing reaching brand recognition. The lions share of these were distributed through general online download sites, with listed along side the many PC game downloads. Minor success so far, insomuch as its driven people to our site and spurred some additional sales. But as the new edition of that RPG is as of yet not released, the direct impact of these efforts can not yet be measured.

4) We do order fulllfillment for G-spot Games. They sell a fair amount of product to Tattoe parlors. We've recieved a couple piggyback sales from that. Though we'll be working with them more closely in the future to offer up select products from our own product range to be solicited to those stores alongside theirs.

5) We focuss the majority of our advertising efforts are military and historical forums. And comic forums for our Heroes Forever RPG line. Both work well for us. We've advertised in a couple historical forums with marginal results. Haven't tried advertising inside any comics or comic targeted publications yet.

6) We ran the PBEM game version of 1483 Online for about three years in an effort to draw more historical audiences to our site. Thats worked pretty darn well for us. Hence why we are about ready to enter beta testing on the computerized online version of that game. We'll be adapting others of our historical games for online play in a similar manner in the future.

7) We've produced both Axis & Allies and Risk variants in efforts to reach out and grab the attention of the more mass market strategyboard gaming audiences. Worked well for us.

8) We've taken our products to a couple sci fi conventions before. Failure.

9) We've set up booths to sell a couple of times at the local big flee markets. Made money, but generally we found the time was better spent building the business in other ways. In other words, the profits were a one time deal and did little to nothing for building our longer term revenue.

10) We offer an affiliate program. Little participation so far. I believe, of that we do have, none of its really reaching outside the market.

11) We've got a couple historical dollar board games designed and have many contacts within the discount and dollar store markets. Even done a sales test run at two of the local dollar stores and both went pretty well. But, we've been unwilling to produce the 500,000 production runs needed to dive into that market fully yet. Plus in order to do business with the big chains we need to get set up to use a database and inventory software called EDI "Electronic Data Interchange". Its old, cumbersome and pretty darn costly to implement. We'll surely bite the bullet one day and get it set up, but not today.

12) Back when we had the first edition of the WHAT RPG in print, due to its small size and cheap production costs (it was a 20 page saddle stitch, digest booklet. B&W that we could print for just under $.02 each), we distributed 5000 of them locally into two local school districts. Then set up consignment deals with two local part stores and one local comic shop in the same area to see how well that many core rules put into the local populace would drive sales of the supplements that were available. Minor success. But the positive aspects are what led us to give away the 1.2 million of the same book in PDF form.

13) We've attempted to get purchase deals set up with a few of the mass market book chains and discount stores. Been more or less rebuffed at every effort for main entry into the book market (even though we know our historical games would actually sell well alongside the historical books in those same stores...the problem remains convincing the stores of that). We did get a 25,000 unit purchase order from one chain for the first edition of Button Wars (the collectible edition), but the terms of sale they wanted were so nasty that we chose not to do business with them, because if thing went wrong it would have tanked our company.

If I really sit down and think about it, I'm sure my memory can also dig up a few more failed attempts at finding new markets over the years. As a general rule, we spend about 80-90% of our marketing and business development efforts in non core market areas. Why? Because the core market is a massively overly crowded place. Its distribution chain and many of its retailers are fickle and the core audience loves to play many games, so even if you have a modestly successful market hit, odds are pretty good within a few years much of that consumer base will have moved into the try the newest fad/hit to enter the industry. We've seen any number of gaming companies achieve "mid tier" status, only to crash and burn when this effect happened. Consumers created from non gamers, and kept mostly focussed on your own brands remain far more valued and local costomers to your brand/s and hence their net value is far greater to you.

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group



Three cheers for your work ethic, Ryan. Your drive and focus are inspiring. I know I come no where close to equaling your effort.

I think this could feed into how we game designers approach presentation. I know my energy level and realize it limits what I can do. I have a personal rule that I don't advance the presentation of my games until I can sustain that effort. In the late 90's money was the limiting factor - I couldn't afford to do professional print runs. I didn't pursue the PDF option largely due to just not knowing enough about computers (I didn't get on line till late 1998). I did grow up around printing and published a paper newsletter for five years, so I started growing my skills in that direction. Since 2000 I've steadily improved my book making skills and now feel fairly comfortable offering hardback books - and hardback folio Engle Matrix Games. I feel confident I can sustain that with the modest level of sales independent game have.

If I was just starting in game making now I'm certain I'd go the PDF route. I know a lot more about computers now. I can see putting out the product in a POD version as well. It is a small step. My gut tells me that I would be afraid to take the next step into other presentation approaches. I would not know how to talk to printers/board game makers etc. and that would stop me.

The point is that knowledge of how things are done - being able to speak the language so to speak - empowers people to delve into other formats or more importantly trail blazing new formats. In the end sales will determine which formats survive. The only observation I think is solid is that doing things one way and never changing is a recipe for extinction.


I started off developing Matrix Games in military gaming circles which is why Matrix Games are used by the British and Australian armies. While this is really neat it has made me very little money.

I use variants of my game in psychotherapy, training graduate students, and in health care staff training. I've written a couple of business and leadership training games as well as a yet unpublished academic article but again this has not lead to sales. Eventually I'd like to get into doing business training seminars but I really need to run a successful business before doing this. If I develop this avenue it could lead to significant $. The academic/therapeutic game market dwarfs the hobby game market but it will take a lot more time and learning before I feel comfortable entering it.

I run PBEM Matrix Games on the MatrixGame2 yahoo group - and previously did PBM games back to the late 80's. I don't know if this gets beyond the core market of gamers but it might. The yahoo group has lead to the development of Spanish language Matrix Games pages. I love Spain and am glad to have this community growing - even though I can't participate due to not speaking the language.  I make a few sales through my PBEMing so it is worth while.

I have back issues of my various newsletters on MagWeb - a military history magazine web site which keeps all that work in print.

In the end though I've done no where near the work that Ryan has - and had many fewer sales. But I'm stubborn and will not give up. Bit by bit it is coming together.

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games


Hey, I really like your exploration of non-gamer markets. May I ask you to talk about your initial approach to those folks- For example the military surplus stores, the Tattoo Parlor supplier, the Dollar store folks. Were these on-on-one face to face meetings, or some other type of initial contact?

One other quick question for Ryan and everyone else:
What part does promotional sending play in your marketing approach. A couple of folks have talked about using pdf to generate interest, and Chris talked about sending a promo copy to a known reviewer. Has anyone tried sending a copy of a product directly to a retailer that you think might be interested in carrying the product? How has that worked out, and how does that cost get folded into the overall business plan?


Oh, one more add on:
Has anyone explored the family games market? I'm thinking of the more "upscale" toy stores and catalog businesses. Hmm. Upscale might be the wrong word ( although there is generally a price jump over your big chain stores). Sorry, I'm having a hard time describing that. Maybe "boutique" toy stores/catalogs?
Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys


Hi Robert,

>>May I ask you to talk about your initial approach to those folks- For example the military surplus stores, the Tattoo Parlor supplier, the Dollar store folks. Were these on-on-one face to face meetings, or some other type of initial contact?<<

Well, for the military surplus stores, a couple were local and we were able to call to find out who did the purchasing, then arranged to walk into the store and show off those products. But outside the local area, we only send them a full color 4 page brochure. It is very similar the the brochure we send out to local game stores. Since we own our own color copier, these only cost us about $.10 each. So the cost is in the mailing. Each week we're mailing out somewhere between 10 and 25 new mailers. The cost of stamps is the bulk of the cost of doing these. The big thing is, we don't send then out blindly. We research every store before we send them something. A lot of stores we simply chose not to send anything to at all. Once the brochure has arrived, then I will do a follow up phone call. From there I have to judge weather its worthwhile trying to pursue a sale and open up a business relationship or just drop it.

Thus far I haven't delt directly with the tattoe parlors. Just taken their orders and ship them. But I know G-Spot sends out a b&w flier to both tattoe parlors and various party stores. They used to send to adult botiques as well, but stopped when they were mostly non responsive. I guess they don't do follow up phone calls and just leave it to the stores to contact them.

As for the dollar stores, the bulk majority of dollar stores are chain stores like the Dollar Tree. You have to be EDI compatible to do business with them. There are, however, a few distribution type companies that service the independant dollar stores too. But you'll only make any real money in that industry dealing in bulk. So far we've only really done tests with a few local stores. The items we were selling were produced by us locally on our machines, but we can't get the price + labor down cheap enough to produce them by the hundreds thousand needed to service the entire dollar store market. Thats why we need to outsource a large 500,000 print run to the orient. But even getting a board game done completely for $.16 each, thats still an $80,000 print bill. Yikes!

>>Has anyone tried sending a copy of a product directly to a retailer that you think might be interested in carrying the product? How has that worked out, and how does that cost get folded into the overall business plan?<<

We very rarely will send a sample to a retailer anymore. Our experience is, the vast majority of retailers will ask for a sample as means if dismissing you. Its just not a wise investment. We will send a sample out every once in a while, but only on rare occassion. Its not a primary part of our solicitation process.

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group


Just a thougth about activity/product. I believe the two need to be design all together, not apart. Designing the activity and then the product might not be way to go.

Take Magic. I don't think they thougth of the game/rules and then ask themselves : how are we going to produce that. I guess they had both in mind. I also guess the two aspects interfere with one another in the design.

My guess is the same for sorcerer and elf, althougth I might be wrong.

For myself, I'm designing an activity that is meant to be product in htlm. In my specific experience, the two design influence each other. Because there is A LOT of things you can do in htlm that you can't in a book. My site in still in construction and for the moment I do have a paper copy of my game. It's not meant to be on paper !!! I can clearly see that. The design of the activity is specific for the purpose of my product. And you can't just use a different activity (game designed to be in a book) and just throw it into my htlm. Because it is not meant for that product.

So, my guess is that activity is not more or less important than product, as they do influence each other.
Sébastien Pelletier
And you thought plot was in the way ?
Current project Avalanche

Josh Roby

Quote from: pells on January 25, 2006, 01:19:13 PMDesigning the activity and then the product might not be way to go.

Designing the activity and then the product is quite possibly the worst way to go, in terms of sales numbers and getting your game into the most hands possible.  (Designing the activity first is the best way to go to pursue your Pure Vision -- but I guarantee people aren't interested in your Pure Vision.)

Luckily, designers can't help but do some very rudimentary "marketing" when designing the activity -- they use themselves and their friends as a baseline.  At its worst, this devolves into "Well, I like it, so other people will like it."  At its best, though, this is a process of taking a good, critical look at the actual things you do and the actual things you enjoy and bending the game to address those processes and preferences.  The designer says, "Wow, that five minute span was awesome; how do I make it so that that sort of thing happens more often in my game?"

The next step up is playtesting, which is sort of a low-powered and imprecise focus group testing.  As long as the designer is paying attention to the playtesters' reactions to the product and incorporates that feedback into the design, this is good stuff.  Using a playtest as a "seal of approval" is a nearly useless activity.  The focus needs to be on empirically checking what works and what doesn't and changing the design to suit the observed needs of the consumers (the playtesters).  I still want to set up a game of FLFS where I can just watch other people play without playing myself -- I think that would be very illuminating!

Due to our low development budgets, we usually can't give our focus group / playtesters a fabricated copy of the end product, but that would be the next step up -- watching how the focus group interacts with the physical product -- which would answer many of the questions that Chris raises.  The next-best-thing is to observe consumers interacting with other, similar, physical products, and extrapolating from there on how to design our own products.  Imprecise, but reasonably accurate.

The rest of designing the product -- mostly merchandising and distribution -- rarely get the sort of in-depth consideration that Ron talks about with his Sorcerer book.  Deciding whether to go pdf or pod is barely scratching the surface, here.  Asking questions of where the product will be when customers encounter it, how it will look in that context, and how we can clearly communicate the product's value in that setting, are incredibly important, and often untouched.

Consider how different a given book looks: (a) as a pdf product to be downloaded, (b) as a mail-order book available over the internet, (c) as a physical artifact available at a Convention, and (d) as a physical artifact on a store shelf.  What will work for the store shelf (title in the upper third of the cover, bold covers, high contrast, back cover copy, working towards or against the "standard" trim size and binding) may be irrelevant or antagonistic to what works as a pdf or at a Con.  A simple thumbnail of the front cover stuck on a webpage is not good marketing!  It conveys hardly anything about the product's value to the potential customer.  We should take a look at Steve Jackson Games, which has a few spreads of the book's interior available for download, or Amazon, with its "peek inside" functionality.

Now consider making those decisions, not only after you've got a finished product and physical book in your hand, but while you are developing the manuscript for the book -- what can you do differently that will make it easier for you a year down the road to market the eventual product?
On Sale: Full Light, Full Steam and Sons of Liberty | Developing: Agora | My Blog


Now consider making those decisions, not only after you've got a finished product and physical book in your hand, but while you are developing the manuscript for the book -- what can you do differently that will make it easier for you a year down the road to market the eventual product?

That is where developing some theory about this subject could be useful. It could help people see how their game (that set of information that is manipulated by play) can fit. The nuts and bolts info on packaging/format shows how, and actual play shows patterns of use, longevity of components, and ideas on future experiments.

I know I didn't do this kind of thinking when I started my game project. I think I had some vague notion/hope/delusion that some white knight would ride up and do all the work for me. Didn't happen...darn...realized I had to get practical...

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games