Friday, May 30, 2014

How do you decide what projects to design?

How do you choose what projects to design?

That’s a toughie. I could say something trite like “the designs choose me!” because it’s kind of true. If I have an idea, I try to take it to execution. I might put stuff on the backburner but I always try to work on things periodically, keep old projects in mind, and take notes. Google Drive is a huge tool for this. I have loads of unfinished ideas lurking in a folder on Google Drive where I will take notes and log ideas.
Here are the major things I think of, honestly, when it comes to deciding whether I proceed with a project.

Do I have ideas for it?

If I don’t have ideas for a project, there’s no point in working on it. If I’m in a rut, I can dig at it, but often that just keeps me digging deeper instead of finding my way out. There’s a lot to be said for having inspiration and enthusiasm for a project, and without those things, it’s just toiling, and I don’t design to toil. I design to create things people will enjoy, and if I don’t enjoy making it, it’s not my best work.
Now, it’s one thing to design something that is hard or tedious, but I’m talking complete lack of interest. If you ask me to design something based on politics (like bureaucracy) or something with strict history guidelines, I probably will have a lot more trouble and enjoy it a lot less unless it’s something I find fascinating.

Do I have an audience for it?

I have loads of ideas just hanging out and waiting to see if there is someone who wants to play it. With Girls’ Slumber Party WOO! I am anxious because it’s kind of a niche game. I have ideas and enthusiasm for it, but I don’t know whether there’s a big enough audience to sell it, which is why it may end up being a free release once it’s done. One of the keys with having an audience is having playtesters, and we all know that having playtesters is a struggle for designers. If you can’t playtest a design, you put yourself at risk of having design flaws. Yeah, it can be done, but I’d rather find obvious design flaws before I put my games in the hands of people who paid for it. This is why development for Clash and Tabletop Blockbuster have taken as long as they have – we playtest, we find flaws, redesign, and playtest again. Rinse, repeat.

Is there interest in it?

It’s one thing to have an audience. Having an audience means there are people out there in the demographic and with preferences that means your game might appeal to them. Having interest is a whole ‘nother deal. Interest means that there are individuals or groups out there that receive your pitch and say “YES. Let’s DO this.” You don’t want to be putting something out there and have people bored to tears or uninterested because you didn’t design it to appeal, or because there’s just not interest in what you’re selling. You want people picking up what you put down, right?

Can it make money?

This sounds shallow, but frankly, I like getting paid for my work. To put it in perspective, I was not going to sell Clash. I was going to print it out and give it out for free. Then a few IGDN members went “Oh, no no no!” and gave me what-for about it. They showed interest in the game (see the last question), and gave me reasons for why it was a money-making possibility. Subsequently, I invested tons of time and some of my own money in getting it to ashcan state over six months, including taking it to cons, paying for scenarios to be written, etc. I still think free products are great, but I also think that models like Patreon are appropriate for people making “free” games because I think it’s fair to pay people for their efforts. As much as it would be great to just create and be free of societal expectations of financial responsibilities, we still live in a world where living – just living – costs money. Design work isn’t magical. You still have to eat while you’re designing, and keep the internet and power on. When I’m working on design, I’m not working at my day job or doing freelance writing, but I’m still using power and burning calories. Something’s gotta pay for that. This doesn’t mean that I’ll never release something for free, it just means that I’ll try to create products that can pay me back for the work I do.

Does the design concept work?

I’ve written down some really silly design ideas. Some I saved, some I deleted. The thing is, if your design concept is flawed – like bad math or too much complexity or too much simplicity – there’s no point in pursuing the design as is. You either need to redesign or dump it. And there’s nothing wrong with dumping a design! Generally when I dump a design I put it in a Google Drive folder just in case I want to pull it out and pull ideas from it at a later date – I’ve saved every revision of Clash, every draft of Tabletop Blockbuster rules, and a bunch of other stuff.

Do I have time for it? OR Will I make time for it?

I’m super busy. I work and go to school and have this blog, plus I do freelance writing and design. So, stuff I’m working on personally has to have a lot of value for me. I have to either have free time, or make time. And whether I make time really depends on whether I like the product.

Do I like what I’m working on?


Some stuff this is a quick and easy “Yup!” like Girls’ Slumber Party WOO! Some of it is harder, like certain aspects of Tabletop Blockbuster (like GM rules, which were quickly handed over to John, my partner-in-crime). While designing is something I have found passion for, I still need to like the stuff I’m doing. This is different than having ideas; this is more an emotional investment. I need to want to pour my soul into what I’m doing.

In the end, it's about whether I like the project and whether I feel like it's worth investing in.

What helps you decide what projects to focus on?