Friday 16 February 2024

Why gamers are lousy game makers

Let's start by clarifying the definition of a game maker in the context of this discussion. What I mean by game maker is someone who creates games in a financially sustainable manner. The games are being released to the public, and the whole process is profitable. Not necessarily profitable enough to sustain a livelihood. We know that is extremely rare. Just something that gives you a small side income on an ongoing basis. 

As gamers we are the consumer. A game maker is a producer. These are completely different games. We may have played hundreds of games, and we feel we are experts. We judge other people's games. We scoff at mass market games. We think we can do better than many games which are being released. However the consumer and the producer are two very different perspectives. As a consumer, playing games is a hobby. We are the customers and we pay to be entertained. When we are the producer, it's not about enjoying designing or creating games we like. It's about making games which enough other people will buy. "Enough" is a keyword. If not enough people want to buy our games, this whole exercise is a hobby. We are not really a game maker (based on the definition above). 

"Buy" is also a keyword. 

We spend much time designing a good game and not enough time designing a marketable product. As a gamer, what is most important to me is the game mechanism. Whenever I see yet another published game which feels samey, I feel it doesn't deserve to exist. That's a gamer perspective. Not to say a game doesn't need to have good gameplay, but if we don't know how to create a marketable product, that wonderful game of ours will not sell. People won't even try our games. So art, choice of setting, choice of genre, price point, how are we going to market the game, who is the target audience, does the market want this game - all of these are important. We make games we like, not games that sell. This is something difficult to get past. 

We think we can do this too. When we examine the popular games out there, we find them simple. We think we can easily come up with something similar. Anyone can design a boardgame. It's easy. You don't need to be a programmer like in the case of digital games. What we don't fully appreciate are the design thinking and thought processes behind the successful games. They feel easy to us consumers precisely because they have been designed well. That ease makes us underestimate the intricacies behind creating a good game product. 

Why do you want to design games? What do you want to achieve from it? I sometimes ask myself these questions. I'm pretty new in game design. It's challenging. It's not very profitable - at least I have not learned or worked enough to make it so. I'm still at it because I do enjoy the process. I enjoy the challenge. I enjoy watching people have fun with my games. I get satisfaction from bringing joy to people. I can stop here - make some games, let people play them and watch them have fun. I don't need to get my games published. I don't need to make money from it. But I pursue this - making marketable games - because I want more people to enjoy my games, and I like the challenge. It's a different ballgame. The market is honest with us. Not brutally honest. Just honest. The market does not have a will to want to hurt our feelings. If we can't sell our games, it means there are things we are not doing right. Maybe our games are not good enough. Maybe we have not defined our target market clearly enough. 

This is mostly a note-to-self post. I started getting into game design in 2019. I have been gaming since 2003, and blogging since 2007. When getting into game design, I knew I had to treat myself as starting from scratch. I had, and still have, a lot to learn. Thousands of games are being published every year now. The game industry does not need more games to be made. Gamers already have plenty of options. But I still want to do this, because as my slogan for Cili Padi Games says, I want to taste something new

Join me for the ride! 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a gamer that is also interested in game design, I understand and relate to all of the feelings expressed here. Especially your sentiment towards "samey" games. Novelty seems, to me, to be an underappreciated quality in the boardgame community. It doesnt mean much, but according to anonymous from the internet, he'd say that a designer's ultimate reward might be to be able to say that they published new ideas out into the world and provided people with a way to enjoy and explore them. I think that is more valuable than being able to say that they made a sizable profit. I recognize what you have done so far as a successful work of art. I gotta say though, if you are looking to expand your target audience, you may want to avoid 7 player minimum requirements in the future lol. I really like the design though. Also, Edwin Chong is an incredible talent and I think the aesthetic is top notch. I hope it does become a permanent part of the brand. Anon wishes you the best