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Today we’re going to discuss how to design your games to be more inclusive and accessible, because gaming is for everyone.
Board games are a format that can attract numerous different kinds of people and bring them together in a social context--this is part of the beauty of board games. It is therefore important to make sure that every person who sits down to play your game has the ability to participate, feel included, and not be put down or offended by your game. Many of the ways to do this are relatively simple, yet often overlooked, forgotten, or disregarded. It’s for these reasons, and others, that we decided to write a few general guidelines to ensure your game is more accessible and fun for everyone.
Colour Blind Accessibility
We’ve spoken briefly on this topic before, but it’s important to reiterate that a couple simple changes can make your game more accessible. When deciding your colour scheme, especially for player pieces and resources, avoid using similar tones along certain colour spectrums. You should also do your best to limit the number of similar tones you use in your game. Use symbols, patterns, shapes, or other non-colour identifiers wherever possible to differentiate various pieces (once again with a focus on player pieces and resources) as not to rely on the colour being the only differentiating factor (Circular Reasoning is a good example of this). Doing so will (hopefully) guarantee that there will be no confusion for colour blind players.
Your ability to lower the language dependency relies a lot on your game’s complexity. If your game allows it, creating a highly visible icon set will decrease your language dependency; using a well-constructed iconography set for your game can increase the age range of potential players, allow for those with lower reading comprehension skills and dyslexia to have an easier time playing/learning, and make it accessible to those with poor vision by removing small text. Furthermore, it can open up more opportunities for your game to be played by players who don’t speak your language without having to translate your rules. Of course, this isn’t a way you would advertise your game, but there are people who, despite language barriers, will want to play your game. If they really want to play it, then chances are they will buy it and try to figure out one way or another how to play. Having an easy to understand iconography set will help to assist in translating your game without actually having to translate your game.
Be careful though, bad iconography will decrease the accessibility of your game for everyone (not just the groups listed above). No published games in particular come to mind, but we’ve definitely seen some prototypes with confusing icons that made us feel like we were deciphering a forgotten ancient language.
Character Diversity and Portrayal
This topic is a sore spot for a lot of people and there are a wide range of topics, discussions, and schools of thought regarding these issues. We’re going to do our best to try and stick to the most basic steps you can take to make sure your game appears open and accepting to all people regardless of how you may group them.
Before we do though, if your game involves players being a type of animal/focuses around animals (like Zooloretto) or has a strict/rich historical content to it then these guidelines aren’t really going to help you. For the most part, people are highly uneducated on the variations in physical appearance of different species, or sexes, of a particular animal, and historical games cannot change the past...unless they decide to re-imagine/re-write history in some fashion in which case you should definitely try to follow the guidelines below while keeping true to historical contexts.
If your game has characters, playable or not, you should aim to include as much diversity of the human species as possible in a respectful manner. This includes sexes, ethnicities, religions, beliefs, lifestyles, occupations, mental health, disabilities, and anything else you can think of. Additionally, every character should visually have a similar presence about them and appear fit to take on the role/task as defined by your game. No character(s) should appear to be less valuable (either in general terms or in direct relation to their role in the game) than any others as defined by their looks, stylization, abilities, or powers. As an example, Allysha appreciated the job done by the artists behind Dead of Winter for their inclusion of a diverse group of characters and unbiased stylization. It’s definitely not perfect, but it does a pretty good job and is good example of what you should be aiming for.
These character guidelines are based around the idea that players want to believe that they could take on a role in your game. Sometimes that means they want to fantasize about who they could be and sometimes they want a character they see as representing the real them within the context of your game. We want you to do your best to avoid limiting the potential of a player identifying a character as themselves, and avoid them thinking that the character that best represents them is useless or portrayed in a bad light. By providing the diversity of characters we mentioned and making every character’s stylization, presence, and competence the same, or at least very similar, creates a smoother transition for a larger number of people of slipping into the game.
Tabletop gaming is meant to bring people together in a social context without anyone being ostracized. Anything that singles out a person or group of people in a negative connotation doesn’t belong in your game regardless of how it does that (unless following true historical contexts). Of course, there are games whose sole success is based around being “politically incorrect” and undermining people. Games like Cards Against Humanity have created a fad of discriminating, excluding, or finding ways to laugh off saying horrible things in gaming (although similar serious issues were present before Cards Against Humanity). Simply put, it should not be that way if creators wish to have an open and willing community. The above guidelines are little tools to remember when making games so your game can be more inclusive, inviting to all players, and create better gaming experiences. As we said at the beginning, gaming is for everyone and we should be constantly taking steps towards making it so.
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Good Day Internet!
This week we’re going to take a look at places to find external playtesters (based on a comment we received on last week’s blog) and also discuss the topic of paying for playtesting.
The paid playtesting portion of this post is inspired by a recent lengthy discussion regarding the Coalition Game Studios’ blind playtesting services on the Card & Board Game Designers Guild Facebook page (which if you haven’t joined--you definitely should). For those of you who don’t know, I recently joined Coalition Game Studios as one of their Consultants--my technical title being “professional developer” (which sounds rather odd and incredibly cool all at the same time). I thought it may be good to try and give some insights from both sides of this topic and then see what the public thinks instead of having my thoughts lost amongst the plethora of Facebook comments. Let’s first start with where to find playtesters.
Searching for external playtesters for the first time can be daunting--especially if you don’t know where to look. Luckily, there are plenty of places and resources to find external playtesters: your friendly local game store (FLGS), local designer nights, gaming groups, conventions, and community events are all good places to start. The first place you should check is your FLGS or local board game cafe (if you have one) to see if they do designer nights (we’re fortunate enough to be able to attend the monthly Snakes & Lattes Desinger Nights). If you prefer smaller gaming groups but don’t know of any local ones, you can always search social media sites or check places like meetup.com (where we found Token Resistance) or the boardgamegeek game groups forums. If there’s nothing in your area, don’t be afraid to start something; chances are there is a community in your neighbourhood that would love to participate in a consistent gaming group, designer night, or even a small local convention.
With conventions, this is one place where size doesn’t matter. If you can, making it to conventions that focus specifically on playtesting and prototyping (or have an area for it) is probably best (FEPH at Gen Con, Protospiel, Unpub and Unpub Minis, Metatopia, Spielbany, ProtoTO, are all good examples), but you can always grab playtesters from any convention that has open gaming. Just two weekends ago at FMG CON (which may have had 50 people when I was there) my friend and I were both able to get in playtests with some great feedback on our prototypes.
Perhaps none of those options really appeal to you or aren’t available to you. For those of you in this situation there are a few more options that will allow to get your game in front of people without having to leave your home. You could digitally upload your game to sites like Tabletopia or Tabletop Simulator and run scheduled playtests on those platforms. You’ll have to broadcast well to bring in playtesters, but this should help you reach a much larger audience. Print and plays are also an option (check out places like BoardGameGeek’s WIP forum to see some), but that usually requires a comprehensible rulebook. The last option is to pay for playtesting through sites like Coalition Game Studios. However, just like print and plays, these services would require a clear rulebook, so make sure you’ve put in time testing and editing it before paying for these kinds of services. The benefits to paying for playtesting is that you will receive additional analysis and development work beyond what you get from other playtesting methods. Before we get into that though, let’s take a look at the controversy around paying for playtesting.
The below list is a few of the most common concerns I’ve heard and seen (primarily from the aforementioned Facebook discussion) regarding paid playtesting:
Let’s take a look at these concerns one by one.
1) “Why would I pay for Something I Could get Done for Free?”
Before joining the Coalition, I felt this way too. As far as I could tell their proposition was to “pay us to play your game so you don’t have to be social and convince strangers to give it a chance”. That’s changed since I’ve actually started working for the Coalition and realizing the extra value that they are adding beyond simply telling you whether or not your game is any good. First though, I want to quickly touch on the experience of those who are in the Coalition for those who may think we’re all just hacks trying to take your money.
To join the Coalition I had to submit my “board gaming resume” along with a sample of my written work. The resume was to focus on my experience in playtesting, game design, and design theory among other things (you can see the desired qualifications here). Additionally, I can tell you that I personally was given an introductory case shortly after joining to make sure I was up to their standards. So we’re not just random people who like board games--we are experienced writers with vast knowledge, experience, and passion for testing and developing games.
In terms of the extra value added, Coalition Game Studios offers a wide variety of services depending on the client’s wants and needs. Beyond blind logged playtesting and thorough analysis, we also provide collaborative design consulting, where the consultant will actually join you in the creative process to take a more active role in guiding your game to its final iteration. It will allow you to keep in touch with your consultant throughout the progress of your game after receiving all the feedback and reports. Coalition consultants also play your game multiple times to determine its replayability, a trait that is usually difficult to test otherwise because getting someone to play your game over and over again is a hard sell. Basically, we are not only independent playtesters, but game developers.
2) “Money will Taint the Process”
As a consultant for the Coalition Game Studios, I get paid to playtest and develop games. As a happy paid worker I will do my job to the best of my abilities, knowing that it will be reviewed by my boss before being sent out. This means if the game is bad, I will tell you it is bad, and if it is good, I will tell you it is good. Either way, I am happy to tell you these things, along with further analysis and suggestions, in order to improve your game and hope to continue to do business in such a manner. In order for that to happen we as a business must do a great job with honest feedback. If we do anything else, we would no longer exist in the very near future. Furthermore, we are paid to do through analysis and development on games, not to review games. Designers know their own games better than anyone. If we can't engage them with intelligent discourse, they'll be the first to know. They will know whether or not we’ve done our job and they got their money’s worth. This is why having the consultants being paid will ensure the quality of the work instead of taint it.
3) “Proper Playtesting is the Designer’s Job”
First off, the services provided by people like Coalition Game Studios do not replace designers playtesting their own game and by no means are the two mutually exclusive. Coalition simply provides services to assist game designers with their playtesting and game development at various stages. From the earliest stages of a game’s design, we can provide light playtesting and input to get your game on the right track. We can also provide full-fledged game development to games in their later stages (which is not technicaly part of a designer’s job). Coalition Game Studios’ services could be used to help a designer put the final touches on their game before pitching to a publisher or launching their Kickstarter. Those final steps are difficult to do on your own without the proper personnel (ie. a publisher).
In the future the Coalition is looking to work with publishers and act as a kind of screening process for them. After providing our services to the designer, if we believe the game to be of superior quality and a good fit, we would suggest it to one of our member publishers to potentially sign. This is great for the designer, as they get access to publishers who are looking for their kind of game, and great for the publishers who don’t have to go looking through the hundreds of submissions they get for that one gem. Bottom line, the Coalition Game Studios provide much more than just playtesting and a game designer can’t always be expected to do (or be great at) everything. Especially, if they are restricted by other circumstances beyond their control.
Now that I’ve gone over my perspective as an employee of the Coalition Game Studios, what do you think of what we’re trying to do? Would you pay for playtesting? Is there only certain situations that you would be willing to do such a thing? Do you still think it’s a scam to separate the poor designer and their money? What concerns do you have that haven’t been addressed? Let us know below in the comments.
Also, if we’ve peaked your interest and you’d like to have a Coalition Game Studios Consultant take a look at on one of your games, you can receive a $10 discount off your final invoice by entering the promo code “dancinggiant” at checkout courtesy of Mike Mihealsick.
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Board game designer and developer discussing the ins and outs of game design.