Good Day Internet!
From November 3rd-6th I was in Morristown, New Jersey for my first ever Metatopia. I had a great time, got to meet some awesome people, and completely forgot to take pictures or record names for this blog post (pure blogging professionalism right here). Regardless, after some much needed recuperation, I wanted to share some of my experiences and things I learnt while at the convention. First, let’s discuss demoing our word game: Grumble.
I scheduled 4 two-hour slots to show off Grumble throughout the weekend (which appears to be the standard), for my first slot on Friday afternoon there was only one person who showed up, which was somewhat expected based the fact that I submitted a last second and rather boring description of the game. Despite this, the session went relatively well and I got some good feedback that started a chain of minor changes to the game. Luckily, at the next two sessions attendance picked up with 4 playtesters at each and I also got opportunities to playtest Grumble outside of the scheduled slots.
However, by the time I left Metatopia late Saturday night there was no one signed up for the Sunday morning slot; I fully expected to arrive at the convention to an empty table to nap on. To my surprise, when I arrived there were already 4 playtesters waiting and a 5th joined in. Two of the playtesters had played the game previously on the Friday night, Murph and Karen (if I got those names wrong I apologize), which as a designer is an amazing feeling! Somewhat unfortunate for them though, I had changed and iterated the game multiple times throughout the weekend and we ended up playing two different iterations during that slot; a liberty I was lucky enough to have as Grumble is a relatively short game and playtesters enjoyed it enough to give it a second (or third) shot. At the end of it all though I ended up only one tweak off from a game that many playtesters enjoyed and that fit the core experience I was chasing after.
Personally, I got exactly what I needed from my playtests and was very pleased with how the signup system turned out. However, I do think there are minor scheduling problems with Metatopia playtesting. One of my concerns is that the playtest slots go too late into the night. This concern was validated for me when I saw a relatively well-known designer/publisher walk out early on their 10pm-12am slot because no one showed up. What made it even more surprising was the playtest was for an expansion to a well received game. Although 10pm slots are great for some people, I think it’s too late for most attendees who want to survive the weekend. Next year, I will continue to avoid signing up for those slots and start winding down for the night instead.
I want to quickly mention a few thoughts on something that as far as I know is unique to Metatopia: Hi-Tests. Hi-Tests are basically playtests where the designer has specifically requested that only designers, publishers, or helpers at the convention play the game. The staff behind Metatopia works very hard to make sure that the slots for Hi-Tests get filled with designers and publishers who have experience creating and publishing similar games. All of this is in the hopes that there will be a higher quality of feedback during those sessions in order to better guide the design.
Each designer gets the opportunity to request that one of their slotted playtests for the weekend is a Hi-Test. I did not request a Hi-Test as in my personal experience the majority of people who end up playtesting your game at conventions like these are designers anyway (Metatopia was actually the first convention that it was mostly people with playtester badges who played our games). My other thought was if someone really wants to playtest my game at a certain slot (like Murph and Karen) I don’t want to take that opportunity away from them just because they’re “not experienced enough” to give the kind of feedback I’m looking for. However, that’s my own personal view and doesn’t reflect what Hi-Tests are about. I was very intrigued to find out what other attendees (who actually participated in Hi-Tests) thought about this unique offering. What I got was relatively mixed opinions.
It’s clear that there is value to receiving feedback from people who have experience with your type of game. However, sometimes that type of feedback isn’t very helpful if the game is not at a level that warrants higher level feedback. Additionally, it didn’t help that sending around a select few Hi-Test playtesters means that eventually they tire (just like a regular attendee) and start dropping out. This created a situation where what looks like a full playtest of industry professionals turns out to have just excluded desperately needed playtesters (which was what happened to our friend Peter). In the end, I think the Hi-Test is a unique way to separate Metatopia from other conventions and definitely adds value for some. Personally though, I would never request a Hi-Test for one of my slots.
Developers Work Differently than Designers...I Think
Throughout the weekend I was able to witness various developers in action and examine at a very basic level how they think. The pattern that appeared to emerge was that they could iterate really quickly, their brains always seemed to be coming up with new ideas and they didn’t mind trying out new things. This led me to one of two conclusions: 1) Developers have a different way of looking at games than designers or; 2) I need to change my view on how I design games. From my experiences at Metatopia, I came to the conclusion that good designers think methodically about creating a solid base while good developers can easily identify those solid bases and then iterate on top of them like crazy to make a good game great. Honestly though, I could be completely wrong about this, but it was definitely cool to watch them work and it’s something I will be taking into consideration when I think about our future designs (it’s also why I was more accepting of iterating Grumble so much throughout the weekend).
High Quality Seminars
You may have remembered that we mentioned in our GenCon review that we personally thought that the seminars were not worth the time. The Double Exposure folks who ran the First Exposure Playtest Hall at GenCon assured us that the seminars at Metatopia (which is also their event) were much better. Having a thirst for knowledge, I decided to give them a try. I ended up only signing up for 3 seminars as to keep my schedule open and I have to say that they were definitely worth it. There were still things said that I knew, but I came out of them very satisfied and armed with a lot of new knowledge.
At “Life after Kickstarter” presented by Gil Hova (Formal Ferret Games), and Diane & Nick Sauer (Shoot Again Games), I got a crash course on the different options for selling additional copies of your game after a successful Kickstarter. I gained some extra knowledge on how to make your game stand out and be retailer friendly at “Designing for Retail” by Melissa Lewis-Gentry (Modern Myths), Cat Tobin (Pelgrane Press), Matt Fantastic (Prettiest Princess), and Zev Shlasinger (WizKids). I also had a very satisfying and personal Q&A session at “Developing Legacy Games” with JR Honeycutt (Artana Games and developer of SeaFall and the upcoming Charterstone). Overall, I was very happy to see that the quality of the seminars reflected the quality and quantity of awesome professionals at the convention. It was surprising though to see that some panels had almost no one show up and others were really crowded. Additionally, some panelists were well prepared and others winged it, but still did great.
Relaxed Schedule = Better Con
I was very happy with how I spaced out my schedule and left it mostly open with only 7 scheduled events for the whole weekend. Having an open relaxed schedule made sure that I was never rushing from one event to the next and allowed me the freedom to sit down at games that really needed the extra playtester. I quite like doing this because it usually introduces me to some interesting games I’d never play otherwise. Additionally, it allowed me to participate in all the other opportunities that I usually miss out including: lunches and dinners with groups of other designers and publishers, opportunities to casually playtest games, and meet some amazing people (it’s much easier to meet people while taking a break than at a scheduled event). In the end, I got a lot more out of the convention and missed less by not scheduling as much, which is kind of ironic.
Another happy accident that occurred from not scheduling as much was a revival of energy on Saturday night from playing Brew Crafters (which I’m currently obsessed with by the way). A group of us had just come back from dinner and although you would think that’s usually a nice break I was still exhausted. Playing Brew Crafters, a game I thoroughly enjoy and don’t have to examine in order to provide feedback for, completely reset and re-energized me for the night. I’ll definitely remember this for the next board game prototype convention I attend.
Overall, the experience was great and I look forward to the both of us attending next year! If you’ve been following us along you may remember that Allysha was one of the IGDN’s Metatopia Scholarship winners for 2016, but unfortunately she was unable to attend. Luckily, Avie at Double Exposure was kind enough to hold Allysha’s scholarship for her and so she will be coming down with me next year. YAY! Lastly, another big thank you to Chris & Suzanne of Cardboard Edison for letting me stay at their place.
Reminder that we will be hosting a board game prototype convention: Play & Pub in Toronto from February 24th-26th. We’ve confirmed two more publishers: Mercury Games and Jellybean Games and hope to be opening registration next week! Again, if you represent a publisher or would like to help sponsor in some way please feel free to Contact Us or send an e-mail to DancingGiantGames@gmail.com.
In other exciting news, we have been bestowed the honour of being Cardboard Edison Award Judges! We will be heading down to North Carolina in late March/early April for what promises to be an awesome weekend of judging. We also be taking the time to see a Carolina Hurricanes home game; Kevin’s favourite team (I know, it’s a weird favourite team for a Canadian) and an experience that’s been on his bucket list for awhile.
That’s it for now. Just a heads up that we do plan to be blogging through the holiday season, so there shouldn’t be any interruptions in our regular programming! If there is anything specific you want us to write about though, let us know!
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Board game designer and developer discussing the ins and outs of game design.