A Revolution in Game Design

This past weekend, I attended a convention (UnPub) focused entirely on playing unpublished board game designs. The official program included 68 different games presented by dozens of different game designers. Members of the public turned out in droves to play these games, and so far 7 games earned publishing contracts! It was a phenomenally well-run event, and I made sure to express my tremendous gratitude to founder John Moller and to this year’s ace organizer Darrell Louder.

I brought Lagoon, of course. My goal was primarily to test the usability of various graphic design elements, but also to confirm with repeated plays that everything continues to work well. Happily, Lagoon was very well-received at the convention. The only problems that emerged are minor graphic design and wording issues that are easily resolved. I met dozens of designers, wonderful players, and a handful of new publishers. Quite a few times, I met someone new who had already heard of Lagoon and reported hearing only good things about it. It was a new experience for me, and rather humbling.

Best of all was the new friends I made, and the good times spent with friends I first met at GenCon and Metatopia last year. I continue to be blown away by the unusually high concentration of amazing people in the board game industry. As a general rule, publishers and designers are eager to help and support each other. I really enjoyed the chances I had to play other designers’ games, offer feedback, share lessons I’ve learned, and otherwise give back to the community some of the generous assistance I’ve received.

Although we’re each building our own games, the feedback and input from our players and peers make game design a collaborative effort. Together we’re building something bigger: a strong community of game designers and seasoned game testers. This seems to be happening at an unprecedented scale in the past few years, with a growing number of conventions and events focused on bringing designers together. This was UnPub’s fourth year, and I believe Darrell said attendance exceeded all three prior years combined! Other events with a focus on unpublished games and their designers include Protospiel and Metatopia, which are also young and thriving.

Historically, game conventions have focused on bringing players together. That’s awesome and important, but I think the emerging phenomenon of events focused on bringing designers together is going to be huge for gaming. Just think back to the scientific revolution, which was made possible by better communication and collaboration among far-flung scientists who previously labored alone. That’s not so different from the transformation that’s happening in game design today.

We game designers now have our own conventions, we have a ton of real-time design conversations happening on Twitter, and we have more reflective discussion taking place on blogs, podcasts and on BGG. Not to mention innovative game design roundtables like Building the Game: Something From Nothing. Game designers have never had better access to each other, and I believe a new renaissance in game design will be the inevitable result.

It may take 6-12 months for a designer to get a game polished enough to pitch to a publisher. Then it may take another 6-12 months before the game hits the market. That makes for a 12-24 month life cycle from game conception to game publication. That dramatically slowed the pace of design innovation in the old world order, because a given game would only be seen by other designers once it was published. Only then could they be inspired by it. Today, the exchange of ideas, inspiration, and cross-pollination is happening realtime. Game design will flourish as a result.

The magic of table top games is that they give us new ways to connect with each other and share engaging experiences face-to-face around a table. It’s no surprise then that the community of designers striving to deliver this magic understand the importance of connecting with each other in pursuit of our common goal. We’re extraordinarily lucky to also be joined by a small army of veteran game testers skilled in providing spot-on feedback. I believe the growing strength of this community is going to drive a revolution in game design, and subsequently expand the appeal and reach of board games in our society dramatically. It won’t happen overnight, but it’s beginning. People in our technologically-mediated culture are desperate for ways to connect without a computer between them, so let’s put our heads together and give them ever more magical ways to share amazing experiences face to face, around a table!

6 thoughts on “A Revolution in Game Design

  1. David,
    I am really enjoying your blog so far, nice work. This post especially I found very intriguing, exciting and insightful. I have wanted to go to an Unpub event since first hearing about them and it was cool to get a taste of what the experience was like. I really liked your comparison of game design to the scientific revolution and think that is an awesome and inspiring way to look at the medium. Keep up the good writing and can’t wait for the campaign.

    • Thanks for the support, Tim! I wish you could have been at UnPub, and hope it won’t be long before you can attend a similar event. It’s an exciting time to be a board game designer, and I’m glad you’re part of the revolution!

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