When game designers have to listen to feedback

After the Cardboard Edison Awards

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This year, in January, we entered the Cardboard Edison Award for unpublished games. We submitted Build. This was a first for us in many ways: our first game; our first competition entry; our first video promo.

We made our submission and waited. Breath bated.

My attitude was philosophical. There was no way would win it, surely? It’d be great to shortlisted. We could put ‘shortlisted for the 2018 Cardboard Edison award’ on our box and on the Kickstarter page. If nothing else, if we didn’t even get shortlisted – it had been a great motivator to produce a finished, polished version of the game.

We waited.

Positive Feedback

At the end of February, the organisers emailed us.

“We have finished evaluating all of the submissions to this year’s Cardboard Edison Award, and while Build wasn’t chosen, we have feedback for you…”

We couldn’t help but feel a bit of disappointment, but we were being, you know, philosophical about it.

After the initial slump of our shoulders we read on. Each Judge gave feedback in a ‘best bit/worst bit’ format. The positive stuff was, of course, great to read:

“I like the simplicity of the game.” That was good, one of our target audience is secondary schools – we wanted a game that was quick to pick up.

“The theme integration (was strong)”, “I really appreciate the level of research and real-world economic theory and policy went into the design of this game.” We were glad to know that the game was thematically strong. As an education tool to be used here and abroad, the theme needed to be at the front of the game. Also, as a player it bugs me when the game mechanics don’t make sense in the game’s world.

“This looks like a solid and fun game. I love the interwoven mechanics. Gameplay appears engaging with very little downtime”, “Seems like you put a lot of work into having lots of mechanics that can interplay.” Yes indeed – all good stuff. It was certainly pleasing to hear that our carefully designed mechanics seemed to work well together.

Lily and I high fived, slapped each other’s backs and did a complicated Dad and daughter handshake. Of course we didn’t. We’re British. Philosophical and British.

Lessons to learn

So then we moved on to looking at the ‘worst bits’ feedback. A good thing to remember when hearing feedback is that you don’t need act on all of it. Some of it you can choose to ignore. You’re the designer and ultimately the final arbiter. You can make the choice of which bit of advice to take and which to leave.

Obviously, though, the positive feedback is bang on the nose and the product of a clear mind and a wise voice.

It fell into one main group: depth and complexity of gameplay.

“I’m not sure if there is enough to compete in today’s market”; “The diplomacy phase needs work. Making agreements is fun, but many players need a reason to make a deal, not equal gains but unique bones that help each player differently”; “I wonder if there is way to get more into the game play?”

Another one that stood out was, “Seems to be fiddly with a lot of time spent moving components around.”

The thing was when we heard these two comments, we realised that the judges were expressing some things that had been hanging around at the back of our minds already. Maybe it was a thin on gameplay options? Maybe the ‘creating buildings’ bit was redundant and fiddly. We had been wedded to the turning over of building cards since the start. That was one of the initial ideas of game design. Did we really want to get rid of it?

A bit of perspective

You see, I think at this point I was suffering from a lack of perspective. I’d been staring at Build for so long in such close detail that I couldn’t see the whole picture anymore. Which bits were fun? Which parts were integral.

The clear mind and wise voice would advise us that this sort of sentimental attachment had no place in grown up game design. I decided to let the playtesters have their say and see which they preferred.

Back to the issue of depth and complexity. As I said, I had this unspoken niggle in my mind that this was the case. As the judges expressed it, the thought took shape and I had to recognise its veracity. This was clearly feedback we needed to listen to.

What next then? How do Lily and I build in more depth without losing the ease of play? Some tough choices to be made there. I suppose it is important to stay philosophical.

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