Note: This is less essay, more diary, than what I usually do. It’s a very spur of the moment thing and is somehow even less structured than my usual writing.
I submitted With A Smile & A Gun to the Cardboard Edison Awards. It’s a yearly contest where you submit a rulebook and a video overview of a pitch-stage game, and get feedback on it. I LOVE that contest, because you get high-level feedback on your pitch, and can have a better idea of the first impression your game idea has on people. Usually, by then, you know what works mechanically, and its just a question of what to emphasize and what to tune down a bit, whether it’s to pitch to publishers, or to customers when you get to self-publishing.
That kind of feedback is very valuable for me. I can walk away from a playtest without asking questions and still get a pretty good feel for how the systems worked, what mechanisms need to be dug into, and which part people struggled to understand. However, I have more trouble figuring out those first impressions, how much of a tester sitting down is interest in the game idea, in playtesting in general, or just politeness.
I had a LOT of feedback about it at ProtoTO, where there is a presentation of your prototypes, and you set up your game and spend an hour-ish telling people why they should spend their limited con-time testing YOUR game. But that is a very limited thing, it’s pretty hard to reproduce: at design nights, we usually all get a turn, you don’t have to convince anyone. If you bring a new prototype to your regular game night, it’s more about social aspects than your pitch itself–your friends probably want to help you, they know about your other projects, they know who you are and the kind of games you like.
I could probably find a way to ask playtesters about that pitch, but I never do. To truly grasp their first impression, it would probably have to happen before the actual playtest, and I’d worry about what it would do to the session’s pace–hook them, then feedback, then teach, then game, then feedback again? Or just do the pitch, feedback on pitch, and then thank you? Catch-and-release?
I wrote about thinking about your pitch earlier in the process in another article. I still think that is a crucial part of serious game design, and that you should test how excited people get about your concept before you start working on it. That being said, it goes against all of the “get it to the table ASAP” advice that we hear from the greats. Problem is, I haven’t yet mastered how to get feedback on my pitch during the game’s development, and so I either do it all at the end (which is VERY hard), or before (which delays the mechanisms from being tested).
So yeah. As I said, more diary than essay, and probably not that helpful to many of you. I’m hoping maybe we can get a discussion going about it? Do you work on your pitch during the game’s design? If so, how?