Friday, April 27, 2007

Flawed Published Products

So, there has been some buzz around the webs this week about indie game design and publishing, specifically here at Story Games and here at the Forge. The gist of these conversations is that some games have been published in an unfinished or half-baked form, and many folks believe that this is harmful to indie games in general, and unfair to gamers who may have purchased these products.

This is a topic of some interest, of course, and I agree with (most of) what everyone here is saying. Some of the solutions being put forward are excellent, including the idea of printing ashcans, or beta versions of games, in cheap formats for low prices, and then incorporating all the live play feedback you can get into a final version of the game. Plenty of people have done this, and it works.

If you've followed the discussions above at all, you will know that the reason I'm bringing the subject up here is that Mortal Coil gets called out for some heavy critique on these threads. I wanted to say my piece about it in my own space, rather than jumping into these other threads with long discourses about my own game. The main reason for this is I'm not really interested in getting into a long argument about the game on those other threads, or dealing with the attacks and well-meaning defenses that would inevitably come up.

I know that Mortal Coil has some problems with how the rules are presented. Lots of feedback from players, with the same questions coming up again and again, are an excellent indication that some areas of the rules are not well explained. If I had done a better job communicating everything in the text, I wouldn't have as many questions coming up about it.

Some players are going to contact me and ask questions no matter what. There are players out there who like to gather all the info they can before starting a game, even one that is well layed-out and explained. These aren't the people I'm talking about. The ones I feel I've failed are those who bought the game and couldn't understand it well enough to give it a try. Some of these people have contacted me, or gone on the web and found some of the FAQs and examples I've posted. Many of these people, on the other hand, took the game and put it on their shelf, and they will never play it. Those are the ones I feel I have failed.

So, mea culpa aside, I want to talk a bit about the expectations that go into a design and second editions. I've been accused of picking gamers' pockets by publishing Mortal Coil the way I did. I don't really see it that way. Mortal Coil is playable, and many people have figured out how to play from the text alone (I know because I have heard from some of them).

I design and publish games and try to put the best product out there I can, and I spent a lot of time thinking about how to present the rules in Mortal Coil so they can be understood. After getting all of this feedback, I have a much better understanding of how I missed, and what I need to do next time to present the rules in a better way. My next product will be much better. I also plan on revising and releasing a new version of Mortal Coil at some point, to better explain the rules. Nothing about them is going to change, I am just going to adjust the areas where comprehension was difficult, and add in the extended examples of play I've written for the forum. This will be a better product than the first version.

All I can do is learn, and improve. That's my duty as a designer, and that's where I am going to go in the future.

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At 11:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think your last line is the most telling and one which I, personally, shows integrity and a commitment to quality. All any of us can do is learn and improve. I certainly learned a lot from a|state, which has come in for some flak of its own over the years, so I know how it feels to have such issues brought before you.


At 12:02 PM, Blogger Brennan Taylor said...

Thanks, Malcolm. I'm not perfect, and no matter how hard I try, I won't ever be perfect. Instead, each effort should build on the last.

At 11:17 PM, Blogger Jonathan Walton said...

I was talking to Emily Care about this after JiffyCon. My take is this: nobody but the author can decide when a game is ready to be published. That's indie publishing right there.

Some people have said things like "Well, if you publish a game that sucks, then people will decide indie games are crap and not buy my game." But there's nothing we can do about that. We can't tell other people what to publish. We can't write their games for them.

All we can do is make the best choices we can, based on our own experiences and feelings. And if you've done that, there's nothing to apologize for and nothing more anyone can expect from you.

At 11:30 AM, Blogger rdonoghue said...

My money spent on Mortal Coil was well spent indeed.

Rob D.

At 3:48 PM, Blogger Brennan said...


Yep. That's where I stand. My next game will be better, and the next one after that still better.

At 1:11 AM, Blogger joshua said...

As The Other Guy, I feel just the same way. I didn't feel that an ashcan was going to be a good route to publication, but I think Ron's right: it was.

That said, there *are* people who have played Shock:, played it correctly, and had a good time. Those rare folks apparently think in a way similar to me. For the rest of people, the text is unclear. I'm very confident of the way the game works. Ron is even quite reassuring on that front. But man, it was hard to express.

I didn't pick anyone's pockets. Caveat emptor, and all. But I *do* wish I knew then what I know now.

I'm working hard on a rewrite with some substantial help from this rockin' community, and I don't think that would have happened had the game not been presented as well as I could have — including a self-respecting price tag.

I eagerly await some hard data from the Ashcannies. I want to see what price points work, what covers get fingerprints on them, what disclaimers intrigue instead of deter.

I want to wish I was there.

At 4:35 PM, Anonymous Saint&Sinner said...

If you wanted to be really cool make sure the existing customers get a free PDF of the updates or a substantial discount if you feel too much work has been done to offer it for free.

Those of us who take the leap with new games would like to know that we will reap the benefits of our feedback.


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