Updated: Jan 23
This past weekend board game designers from across Alberta (and some beyond that) converged on Edmontons Norwood Legion for one purpose. Play a whole bunch of board games.
The Edmonton Prototype Convention was started by game designers for game designers. The intent is to get everyone in the same room, play each others unfinished games and provide advice and criticism. Thus improving all our works.
Last year I took Band Room Blitz (back then called "Band Libs") and the game improved immensely from just one play test with other designers. And right there is the incredible value in an event such as this. Play testing with other designers is immensely more valuable than play testing with average players. Which may seem obvious when you write it out in black and white like that, but that depends on your perspective. I preferred to play test my own game with my intended audience, music fans. And I loathed to bring my game to board game meet ups because, as a party game, Bandroom Blitz just didn't appeal to people looking for something they could really sink their teeth into. So I'd get "I don't like it" without any valuable feedback. Which stings. It stings a lot.
At EPOC however, things can be different. I told one group of testers that I was particularly interested in hearing critique of my rules document, One player chuckles and tells me I have found the perfect group for that. Over about 20 minutes these guys, designers all, tore into my rules like kids at a candy shop. While my fight or flight response did kick up a few times they provided some INCREDIBLE feedback. Yes, I did not expect to have so much work to do on my games rules still, yes my anxiety flared up from the thought of it. But these fellow designers delivered their advice and criticisms politely, professionally, and most important, constructively. Sitting at a table of designers (who love to design) doesn't feel like presenting your game to reviewers, who might say they don't like this, this, and this and disregard it entirely. It feels more like workshopping your game, because they want your game to be the best it can be when its released too. After sleeping on everything they told me (and my emotionally defensive wall had come down) I came to realize that I came for feedback and I got it. The game needed improvements and the improvements were all basically handed to me, all I have to do now is implement them. On Sunday, as more and more people began to leave for home, I sat down and had a chat with Dan Kazmaier, the designer behind Chai and picked his brain about the more "business-y" side of game development. Publishing, shipping, manufacturing. And from this conversation I learned, primarily, that I have so so so much to learn still. For instance did you know that some reviewers charge up to $500 for a review? I didn't. Bringing a game from your kitchen table to store shelves is EXPENSIVE. Far more so than just the manufacturing and shipping costs. This is my biggest hurdle. And the main reason Band Room Blitz will be launching later than my original forecast of "summer".
Both times I've left EPOC feeling tired, contemplative, and somewhat discouraged (primarily due to the incredible amount of talent your surrounded by all weekend). And though it may sound contradictory, I also left with a new found energy and motivation to dive into my work and make this game better than ever before.