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Author Topic: Playtesting forum and Actual Play forum  (Read 6765 times)
David C
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Posts: 262

lost in the woods...


« on: August 11, 2009, 12:34:48 AM »

I know Ron spends a lot of time on this site, and I am eternally grateful. But since I've arrived, there are a couple things that have bothered me about the Forge.  It seems we've been evolving the concept of the RPG, but the Forge is stuck in its original form (as evidence by its "web 1.0 design.")

Recently, one of my threads was moved from "Actual Play" to "Playtesting."  Well, the overarching "concept" of the Forge is "RPG design."  However, a lot of times, it feels like there is a hidden agenda (the real agenda) which is to promote Indy RPGs.  The difference between "Actual Play" and "Playtesting" seems to be that "Actual Play" is for playing Indy RPGs, whereas "Playtesting" is for playing... unfinished Indy games??   A quick look at a couple statistics show us a coupe things about these forums.

Oldest post on page 1 "Actual Play".            July 09, 2009
Oldest post on page 1 "Playtesting"              May 28, 2009

Posts in "Actual Play"                                 R. 36353   T.  3554
Posts in "Playtesting"                                 R.   4986    T.    651

From these two forums, it is evidence that Actual Play has a rate of 35 topics per month, whereas Playtesting has a rate of 10 topics per month.  It has 1/7th (or 14%) of the traffic of "Actual Play."  This translates into less help, less interest and a general stagnation of threads.

In addition, Ron says that "After you playtest a game even once, all  other posting about it goes into Playtesting."  Well, guess what, I've been breaking this rule since I got here. I play-tested my game after spending an afternoon brainstorming about it. I didn't even know the Forge existed until 8 months after that.  The game I have now is completely different than that initial spark.  Every day, I have ideas which are completely new thoughts.  Those individual ideas are first thoughts.    Even if you make a huge change to a basic mechanic, in my opinion, that is a first thought. 

The Playtesting forum gets the 3rd least traffic.  A full 5 forums get more traffic than it, including "Site Discussion" and "Conventions."  Face it, Playtesting is where threads go to die.

In general, the Forge is a very slow forum board.  What's the point of having this 8th board that nobody posts in if they can avoid it?  What's the point in enforcing all of these bizarre, archaic rules on this forum board if we're all here to design games and evolve our hobby?  Haven't we discovered that clear, simple mechanics are the best in RPGs?  Why wouldn't we treat our forum board the same way?  Couldn't "First Thoughts," "Actual Play" and "Playtesting" be better replaced with just  "Design" and "Play"?  Would it be so "Destructive" to the environment to split those 10 topics a month into 2 other forum topics?  (5 additional posts per MONTH) These aren't the World of Warcraft forums where there are 100 topics an hour per forum board.

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Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #1 on: August 11, 2009, 11:45:08 AM »

Your post was moved because you were talking about modifying a game based on experiences of play. That's basically a text-book definition of playtesting, David. I was participating in that thread, and I glanced up and noticed that it was in Actual Play. I briefly thought "huh. Seems more like it belongs in Playtesting. Oh well, Ron will probably move it."

It's not about volume of posts, man. It's about what your purpose is. When people post about AP of a finished game, it goes in AP. This is true even when the game isn't an indie game, as has happened on various occasions. D&D play has found its way into the AP forum fairly frequently, especially since 4E came out. So long as there's something of interest, I'm going to read and participate in threads, regardless of where they are, and I'm fairly certain that's true of most people.

So it's like this: When you're designing a game that isn't done, it's First Thoughts. Once you start playing that game, and considering what might need to change due to what happens in play, it goes into Playtesting. If you're *looking* for playtesters, or if the game is "done" and you need editors, artists, layout dudes, etc. you go into Connections. When you need advice about publishing, whether it be laying out your document, how to integrate art, information about printing or your sales model, go to Publishing. When you're playing a published game and you're not talking about how the mechanics may need to be rewritten, or when you're addressing play theory through the lens of play, you use Actual Play. Then you've got other, special purpose forums, like Endeavor, Conventions, and of course Site Discussion.

At the moment, I'm mulling a response to your "tokens" post.
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~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls
Adam Dray
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« Reply #2 on: August 11, 2009, 12:45:27 PM »

Recently, one of my threads was moved from "Actual Play" to "Playtesting."  Well, the overarching "concept" of the Forge is "RPG design."  However, a lot of times, it feels like there is a hidden agenda (the real agenda) which is to promote Indy RPGs.  The difference between "Actual Play" and "Playtesting" seems to be that "Actual Play" is for playing Indy RPGs, whereas "Playtesting" is for playing... unfinished Indy games??   A quick look at a couple statistics show us a coupe things about these forums.

Maybe I don't understand what you mean, but the Forge is definitely aimed at independent RPGs. It's right in the About the Forge link at the top:

Quote
This site is dedicated to the promotion, creation, and review of independent role-playing games.

Pretty clearly about indie games.

That doesn't mean there isn't value in reading and posting actual play reports about non-indie games. Understanding how D&D 4E works via actual play and analysis thereof helps game design, which aids in the site's charter dedicated to the creation of indie games. That's how I read it, anyway.

I don't really care what forum posts are in when I'm reading. I use the "Show unread posts since last visit" link at the top almost exclusively and click anything that interests me. Getting your post moved isn't that big a deal, is it? Really?
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at foundry.legendary.org 7777
David C
Member

Posts: 262

lost in the woods...


« Reply #3 on: August 11, 2009, 01:04:29 PM »

Quote
Getting your post moved isn't that big a deal, is it? Really?

To quote myself, "This translates into less help, less interest and a general stagnation of threads."

There are no less than FIVE topics in playtesting that have 0 replies.  That's 1/7th of the posts on the front page.  In actual play, only 1 has no replies, and it is at the top of the page and will probably be responded to. If you do a quick scan of the topics, most have single digit replies.  In Actual Play, more than half have double digit replies.

Quote
I don't really care what forum posts are in when I'm reading. I use the "Show unread posts since last visit" link at the top almost exclusively and click anything that interests me.

Then you're a power user (a skilled user.)  That's maybe 10% of everyone?  The other 90% just visit whatever boards they visit.  Like I never visit playtesting (I always forget it's there... as evidence by the mistake I made where I posted my playtesting into actual play.) I don't use the feature you mentioned, and even if I did, other people don't. 

I understand the intent of the forum design.  But that doesn't mean it isn't dysfunctional. Just because that's the "way it has always been" doesn't mean that it is good or that it works well.  I mean, imagine if we had applied that to D&D 30 years ago?  Lets say that I scrapped all the mechanics I'm currently using for narration in my game.  Then I wanted to try something completely different.  Why would that go into playtesting?  The game has been playtested, but these mechanics have never been touched before.  How idiotic is it to post about theoretical NEW mechanics in playtesting (a forum where a game has been playtested.)

Sorry to be such a pill, but I couldn't hold my silence any longer.
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lumpley
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« Reply #4 on: August 11, 2009, 01:10:09 PM »

Just so everyone knows, the people to talk to about changes to the forum are Ron Edwards (who decides) and me (who implements).

David, the thing to do is probably to contact Ron in private. There's no sense arguing about it here.

-Vincent
(the Forge's technical admin)
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: August 11, 2009, 05:54:56 PM »

I'll deal with it here. After GenCon.

Best, Ron
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Lance D. Allen
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Posts: 1970


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« Reply #6 on: August 12, 2009, 06:03:53 AM »

Okay, Ron didn't say "please don't post anymore until I get back", which he usually does when he means that. Regardless, I'm going to say a couple things, then wait for his return.

Quote
Quote
I don't really care what forum posts are in when I'm reading. I use the "Show unread posts since last visit" link at the top almost exclusively and click anything that interests me.

Then you're a power user (a skilled user.)  That's maybe 10% of everyone?  The other 90% just visit whatever boards they visit.  Like I never visit playtesting (I always forget it's there... as evidence by the mistake I made where I posted my playtesting into actual play.) I don't use the feature you mentioned, and even if I did, other people don't. 

It's interesting to me that Ron has stated that he dislikes this feature, because it tends to encourage people to only look at the new threads. It's not considered an advanced feature at all. (for the record: upper left hand corner, under where it'd say "Hey David C, you have x messages, y are new.")

That said, what you're saying doesn't seem like a failure of the design of the forum or a failure of the technology, but instead a failure of the community. A failure on my part as well, specifically. I'd have looked at your post regardless of where you put it for the same reason as Adam: I don't usually click into the individual forums, unless I'm looking for a discussion I was already following that doesn't show up under show unread. I read posts based on what the topic line is, and who the user is. Sometimes that means I'll look at a post by a new user, because they're new and I don't know who they are, or what they're bringing to the table. Sometimes that means I'll look at a post because the user has come onto my radar (such as you). I've also made a point to look a little more often at "First Thoughts" threads, because I know that people giving you feedback is important to getting through a design.

Apparently I have been dropping the ball on the equally important part of playtesting. If nothing else your post highlights that, for me.
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~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls
Frank Tarcikowski
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a.k.a. Frank T


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« Reply #7 on: August 13, 2009, 12:48:18 AM »

Why wouldn't we treat our forum board the same way?  Couldn't "First Thoughts," "Actual Play" and "Playtesting" be better replaced with just  "Design" and "Play"? 

When I first came to the Forge, the forums were:

Actual Play
Indie Game Design
RPG Theory
GNS Model Discussion

At some point, RPG Theory and GNS Model Discussion were closed for good, and Indie Game Design was closed to be replaced by First Thoughts, Playtesting and Endeavour, who moved above Actual Play. You can find the closed-down forums in the "Archive" section. I'm sure Ron will explain his motives in this change of forum architecture once he gets back.

- Frank
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Selene Tan
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« Reply #8 on: August 13, 2009, 10:39:55 AM »

Ron explained his motives for splitting up Indie Game Design in Forum re-construction under way. First Thoughts was meant to provide an entry point for people new to the site who could then be asked about how their actual play experiences informed their design. Playtesting was meant for anyone beyond that stage, with focused questions that are best resolved by playtesting, or for people to discuss the results of said playtests. Endeavor was for participating in design challenges to announce and discuss them.

Graduation, the sticky at the top of the GNS Model Discussion explains why it closed -- it had finished serving its purpose. Farewall to the forum, not the theory, the sticky at the top of RPG Theory, explains why it closed -- to ground theory discussion in actual play.

And in This one's important, Ron encourages people to reply to posts in Indie Game Design rather than hiding out in RPG Theory and GNS Model Discussion.
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David C
Member

Posts: 262

lost in the woods...


« Reply #9 on: August 13, 2009, 08:45:34 PM »

We could sit here all day and make arguments about how it is structured.  I think it is important to look at how the community uses the boards. Hasn't anyone else noticed all the confusion when new people get here?  I mean, the other 5 boards all make sense and it is quite clear what goes on there.  Also, people get the answers and feedback they need there.  If First Thoughts is supposed to be "Welcome to the Forge" than that should be made clear.  As it is, it is the second most used board. If 98% of designing an Indy RPG is supposed to go into Playtesting, than Playtesting is woefully underused. If Actual Play is for "Playing Indy RPGs" than that should be made clear. Right now, the 3 boards' names and descriptions are too broad and encompassing. 

If I was going to design this forum like I would design a game, it would probably be something like this, because these are the stages you move through as you develop a game.

(1st forum header/group "RPG Design")
Welcome to the Forge!  - Post here to introduce yourself and your game design. Also post here if you are beginning a new game.
Design - Post here as you work on your game.
Connections
Publishing
Conventions

(2nd Forum Header)
Everything else


One trick I learned back when I ran a forum board for discussing Hobby Remote Control Vehicles (back in the golden days of the internet where you could get free web hosting with no ads), your forums has to be proportional to your traffic.  Think of it as a party.  If you have 50 people show up to a 50 room mansion, it's not much of a party.  But 50 people at a 5 room beach house is a really awesome party.  On the other hand, 50 people in a 1 room cabin is really terrible.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: August 18, 2009, 05:36:18 AM »

Hello,

That's not a bad breakdown, David, and although I can't see adopting it exactly, your offering is stated as "something like" and indeed, something like it may be a good thing to consider.

However, one thing will not change: the distinction and usage of the Playtesting forum. I consider your use of First Thoughts to be breaking the social contract of the community here. I consider your reason for it - which amounts merely to clamoring for attention - to be beneath discussion.

If you have playtested your game at all, then all discussion of it goes into the Playtesting forum. Dropping this point by accident is one thing; defying it is another. Furthermore, any objections or concerns you have with Playtesting - primarily number of views and so on - are easily repaired by posting your topics there, contributing to other threads there, and generally helping to make it into a productive forum.

I expect anyone and everyone with a game which has entered playtesting to be doing this. Or rather, anyone and everyone who is serious even to a little extent about his or her game.

Everyone: you may take this post as a clear signal that the First Thoughts forum is off limits to playtested games, period. I'll be more attentive to this from now on.  If you'd like to help, then please report posts which clearly violate it to me. I will not punish or shame the violators, but I will move the threads. It is likely that merely doing this will jack up the Playtesting forum because a lot of content is probably currently hiding in First Thoughts.

I also ask that people pay more attention to games in Playtesting, as those thread authors are clearly braving some fear and demonstrating some seriousness, and they should not be ignored.

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Thunder_God
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« Reply #11 on: August 19, 2009, 04:31:41 AM »

To pick up on Ron's last line, I don't think it's surprising that Playtesting has less posts than First Thoughts:

1. Many designs don't make it to playtesting.
2. They make it, and then are left alone, and off the designer goes to try something different.
3. Some people don't feel the need to get help on the Playtesting forum, and tweak on their own and discussing with the playtesters directly.
4. Some stuff in First Thoughts is not actually a game, but a game-component idea.

All in all, I for one am not surprised at the disparity.
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Guy Shalev.

Cranium Rats Central, looking for playtesters for my various games.
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Patrice
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« Reply #12 on: August 19, 2009, 06:17:15 AM »

To back part of what Thunder said, I'd say that the relative depletion of the Playtest forum comes more from design constraints and habits than from site-abuse behaviour. Very few First Thoughts ever make it to Playtest and if they do, they might change and evolve so much that their author feels justified into breaking a new First Thoughts rather than going on with Playtest. From the "you have a game, play it and let's discuss and play again until you publish/share it in some way" point of view, going back into First Thoughts doesn't make sense but it seems that what happens is more "I have an idea, play it, dump it, shape another, start a new game, play it, take back the first one, play it, dump it, start afresh again" in serendipity mode.

On the other hand, Actual Play allows you to talk about the games other people designed. No wonder it's big and fat since it doesn't involve the "creation" process as such. It's what we play, and we play.

There's a side risk here: enforcing First Thoughts would be enforcing the staged vision derivated from the "you have a game, play it" point of view and I don't think Playtest will get any benefit from that. I like that, it's challenging and compels us lurkers/posters into framing a sensible and straightforward game design, but I'd like us to be aware of what that means: that means that if we drop an idea, this idea is supposed to evolve into a game, be tested and shared in such a way that Actual Play will happen afterwards. It's the ideal pattern. Thing is most of us aren't fitting this ideal. Most designers need to muse a long while at design before becoming actual designers and it so happens that The Forge is also a good place to muse at the moment.

I think most of us (well, I do anyway) consider Playtest entries with a "waw, she/he did it!". Playtest is glory, it shows you were damn serious about this First Thought and I feel very strange reading that one might feel "dumped" here. This forum sets aside the musers and the fledged (however fledging) designers, if I may say so (and I may because I've never ever opened a Playtest thread).
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: August 19, 2009, 07:00:15 AM »

Those are good points too.

I'd like to distinguish between the necessary self-selection factor, which automatically means less and slower posting in Playtesting, and what I see as under-using that forum. I agree it will never be as rapid and high-reply as First Thoughts or Actual Play, and that seems to me to be a good thing. But I do think it should be more active and better utilized than it is now.

In other words, I would like to see David's criticisms addressed behaviorally and in community terms, not structurally as he suggests (a reversion to Indie Design, effectively).

Best, Ron
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Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #14 on: August 19, 2009, 08:12:17 AM »

The behavioral aspect of the problem is what I was trying, perhaps less than successfully, to address in my last post. My posting and participation here will always be whim-laden, but as I recently made a point to aim my whims at the First Thoughts forums more, Since this thread, I've made a point to look at the Playtesting forum more. I am especially remiss because playtesting is the part of the process I am having the most trouble with. If I would get past this hump with Rats in the Walls and ReCoil, it would do me some good to spend some time focusing on the playtesting efforts of others.

Playtesting is possibly the most important thing you can do for a game, even moreso than designing it. Anyone can toss together some neat ideas and call it a roleplaying game. These days, anyone can make a physical book or a .pdf of those ideas. You don't get quality without making sure the ideas actually work well.
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~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls
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