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General Forge Forums => Independent Publishing => Topic started by: Daniel B on July 01, 2009, 10:09:17 PM

Title: How do you know when you're designing for your audience or yourself?
Post by: Daniel B on July 01, 2009, 10:09:17 PM
Hi folks,

this post might have been more appropriate in "First Thoughts", but I decided to put it here for some grounding.

I've met many, and heard about many, many more GMs who start their campaigns by detailing the entire campaign world from the "top down" (i.e. starting from the most global perspective possible). I even tried this a few times, but got quickly irritated by the amount of work it was, especially when most of it went unused. I switched gears and started building games from the bottom-up, i.e. a very small area with specific encounters, and just enough border to catch the PCs if they leave the immediate area quickly. At it's worst, it felt like the players were in a "Star Trek TNG" Holodeck, but at it's best, the locations became much more alive and personal. Even in the former case, the players gave good feedback even though I was stressing behind the GM's screen.

I have come to believe this is a superior approach despite it's problems, because when the campaign finished, we still ended up with a hefty sized map, and more importantly, I could look at any portion of the map and say "Oh that's where they got ambushed by that Gnome, and that's where Ariad got challenged to a duel by the beautiful Dark Elf monk girl" etc. etc. I had memories tied to over 95% of the map except on the borders (i.e. the places the players decided against exploring further).

Now I'm actually attempting to develop a game. I want the game to be as generalist as possible, but by appealing to player types, as opposed to by attempting to make the game literally become any other game through modular components (as seems to be a recent trend in the First Thoughts forum). To that end, I'm cutting out all optional rules or rules I deem to be inefficient for my purposes. As such, I'll only be presenting one "preferred" way to GM the game, and suggest that people can simply be creative if they want to try other ways.

Here's where I've become a bit worried: the "top-down" approach to world design seems to be so common, I can't help but wonder if I'll be alienating a huge chunk of my audience by only addressing the "bottom-up" approach. This starts me to wonder about other aspects of the game, where again I'm only presenting one approach and so may turn off people who simply don't like that approach.



Title: Re: How do you know when you're designing for your audience or yourself?
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on July 01, 2009, 11:47:46 PM
Maybe you should realize that you're contrasting your own values against a particular groupthink here? What you see as a common audience preference is not, can not, be anything else than a simplified, received wisdom percolated in a handful of heads and laid out in some web forum somewhere. I would not put any more stock to that than your own judgment as far as game preferences go. Your own values and needs are still your best guide in creating games; then you at least know that your own market segment is getting serviced well, and you're basing your work on real needs and experiences instead of some fashionable axiom somebody else told you.

Another angle on the matter is simpler: do you really get paid well enough to design games you don't like yourself? If not, then what exactly drives you to try to design games for an imaginary audience you don't belong in yourself? Even presuming that the audience is not imaginary, why do you want to create games for somebody who plays in ways you don't appreciate yourself? It would seem to me to make more sense to create games for yourself and like-thinking individuals if you're doing it just for the art's sake.

Title: Re: How do you know when you're designing for your audience or yourself?
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 02, 2009, 05:51:34 AM
All you're doing is terrifying yourself by imagining a horde of people out there who would buy/play your game if only you did it in the more familiar way, even though your own experiences and logic have shown you that the more familiar way doesn't work well.

Never mind these unspecified, imaginary people. Especially never mind them if your best friend (who's always intruding himself into your game design) keeps pretending to be one of them.* What's really going on here is that you're getting cold feet and not trusting your own damned experiences and your own mind.

At this site, you and I and everyone are talking about independent publishing of role-playing designs. If you're not going to rely on your own damned experiences and your own mind, then who the hell are you publishing for? "Them," out there?

Pah! Let "them" make their own game. Write your own.

Best, Ron

* I don't know if this point applies to you, but it's very common.

Title: Re: How do you know when you're designing for your audience or yourself?
Post by: Daniel B on July 02, 2009, 12:37:53 PM
LOL ..

I feel like the toon who goes nuts, only to return to normalcy after a good smack. The point about the imaginary common audience is well taken.

Thanks Eero, Ron. I needed that!

Title: Re: How do you know when you're designing for your audience or yourself?
Post by: Jake Richmond on July 03, 2009, 08:55:05 PM
I vote for bottom up. I want the experience, not the history and geography.

Title: Re: How do you know when you're designing for your audience or yourself?
Post by: Lance D. Allen on July 03, 2009, 11:33:15 PM
What Ron and Eero are saying can be best summed up by the simple idea that you should always be in your target audience. Given that there are gamers out there who are not like you and have different preferences, it's probably equally true that there are gamers like you who will love that you designed a game for them. The others, this supposed majority? Their needs are almost certainly already being met. Don't design for people who would rather keep playing what they're currently playing anyway. Design for the people whose needs aren't being met.. In other words, design for you.

More specifically, I like the approach you describe. I *also* like the top-down approach, mostly when other people with more skill than I have do it. But the bottom up approach is what naturally happens anyway, no matter how much top-down prep you put into the game. You can know the precise tea times of the Wungabunga people, but no richness of detail will occur unless play goes there. Think of fictional works set in big top-down settings.. You might know that David Eddings Thulls are stupid and brutish, but as no significant fiction ever takes place in their lands, you never really get a feel for them. The Malloreans and Murgos are much more fully fleshed out because the story of the "PCs" goes into those lands and experiences their cultures. If you've ever picked up "The Rivan Codex", you see that he approached the setting in a very top-down manner.

Systems that help you shape a setting from this organic bottom-up approach are a good thing, in my not-so-humble opinion.