Monday, January 7, 2013

Post-Pitch Analysis

In 2012, I participated in several workshops, game design contests, and a game jam.  Most were first-time experiences for me and I'd like to share with you some of the design processes I underwent to develop these game concepts.

During the summer, I saw a contest to design a tournament for the PvP aspect of an online game.  It struck me that this would be like designing a mod for the gameplay because I would be giving structure and rules that were not in the inherent gameplay.  It's as if Tag suddenly became a competitive sport with referees and Olympic prizes.

Though I was not active in any of the tournament-style PvP, I was already familiar with the gameplay.  I don't think I would have attempted this contest otherwise. I did know that because I was not a "known" gamer celebrity of that game, I'd have to devise a concept that would catch the attention of the judges.  I also knew that a pitch can be a different beast than an actual game document.

A colleague had remarked to me that sometimes the person with the best presentation or pitch doesn't necessarily have the best concept, but that the person has a great, winning way of selling that concept.  I had noticed in the Winning Pitch Workshop (more on that later) that humor goes a long way in putting the judges in a good mood.

So, serious or not-so-serious?  I noticed that the serious proposals posted so far sometimes missed audience appeal.  They were interesting ideas for the hardcore players, but not so much for casual players.  In fact, some seemed so difficult as to dissuade casual players from even entering the tournament, so....Hmm, what would the judges looking for?  I knew this would be a tournament that the judges wanted to put in their regular line-up of tournaments and also, I thought, the new tournament would need to appeal to new players.  I decided that not-so-serious would be my direction.  I needed my proposal to be original and not easily viewed as just a dismal copy of some other idea.

I admit I had my worries in how would I inject the funny, but it came to me naturally and I figured if my concept made me laugh, it might make others laugh too.

My second goal was to make the tournament more social.  I wanted my tournament to have social interaction.  I wanted social interaction between the players and also with the spectators.  I wanted a tournament that spectators would enjoy and could also participate in some way, akin to people clapping to the music in gymnastics or ice skating competitions.  The current tournaments were often hours-long affairs, whereupon spectators would start to chatter about all sorts of unrelated topics, distracting the players.

My third goal was to make the tournament rules easy to understand and remember.  My personal reluctance for these tournaments was due to the long list of rules I would have had to memorize.  I once did a search on official Scrabble tournament rules and I was amazed that it had so many pages!  So many details!  I would hate to have to remember all those rules or risk being disqualified.

In summary, I wanted the concept to be:
  • Original
  • Accessible
  • Social
  • Easily Understood
I still wasn't really sure how the judges would react to my proposal.  When I saw that my concept won the popular vote (I guess the funny worked there!), I thought maybe I had a chance at winning.

But I didn't. 

I inquired later for feedback.  Basically, the judges had viewed my entry as a joke submission and had not given it any consideration.  I viewed my submission as a viable idea, just presented in a humorous way.  What did win is what I would have called one of the "very serious" concepts and of course, it didn't hurt that it was proposed by a well-decorated tournament winner.

What happened here was a failure to understand what the judges wanted.  Perhaps the judges didn't want accessible.  Perhaps their need was to appeal to their existing set of hardcore tournament players.  I think I was imposing my values and what I thought would be desirable in a tournament setting.  Still, I found the contest a welcome way to exercise creativity and maybe one day, I'll learn more about running tournaments.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG


Post a Comment