Thinking Gaming: 4

What’s driving modern successes?
While the successes are smaller these days there are successes that can grab people and make an impact. I’m not going to limit myself purely to tabletop RPGs. There are overall trends in games of most kinds that it’s worth keeping an eye on, particularly in computer games and social gaming.

Social networking
Not just a buzzword, social networking – in whatever form – makes or breaks a great many games across ‘platforms’ either in the form of cheap promotion as people pass on the good word, integration where achievements and fun in the game are ‘broadcast’ to people’s friendship groups OR due to being designed to be played on that platform in the first place (facebook/myspace/etc).

RPG companies that are switched on to social networking, blogging and make the effort to reach out to communities seem to be having greater success because they’re forming an evangelical and motivated fanbase that’s involved in what’s going on with the game and the company. Establishing that base can be very difficult and time consuming – unless you luck into something – but looking at the guys who do make it a success can maximise your chances.

Tying game aspects to real life and vice versa is a bit of a trend at the moment. Achievements in things like 4square have made people more interested in and more likely to use various apps and turning chores and work into games seem to encourage people to do them. How this might be integrated with tabletop RPGs I am not sure but it might be a way to encourage people to buy direct from a company’s own web store – if it could be hooked up with facebook. Doing much more isn’t really possible, given the small scale that most RPGs work on and the way that they’re played, though some sort of ‘honour system’ could let people express interest in the games as well as announcing that they’ve done particular things, achievements and badges like:

“Ran my first game of X”
“Ran X at a convention.”
“Bought book X.”
“Got a character to level 10 in game X”

Free at point of entry
You wouldn’t think that this might work in tabletop RPGs but the experience of the Eclipse Phase guys suggests otherwise. They released their main book for free right at the beginning, on PDF at least, a way to expose a lot of people to the game – which had a lot going for it in other ways – and as a counter-example to the seeming trend of more restrictive DRM and withdrawn PDFs, anti-piracy measures and so on. It may be a one-off, it’s hard to know, it did come out at a time of annoyance and reaction to the withdrawal of other PDFs from the market and was a diametrically opposed way of doing things – and it worked. Whether that’s something that can become an ongoing trend remains to be seen.

In social gaming the ‘free to start’ thing is huge, most games get people hooked and then offer them premium services later on. Extra options, ways to do more, ways to get one-up over others who play the same game. In tabletop games that’s a little harder but our supplementary material fulfils much of the same role and if we have more money or expertise providing online tools or subscription services. A free opener, a ‘loss leader’, can be a good way of getting people into your game – providing it’s good enough to hook people in the first place. Otherwise it’s a horrible risk.

If it’s worth time it’s worth money
Once people have spent time on something they, apparently, apply more worth to it. If you can bring someone into a game, make them spend a bit of time and effort on it then they’re going to be more willing and more ‘able’ to spend money on your products. This is skewed a little when it comes to RPG gaming because people seem to expect a lot more value, a lot more bang for their buck, than you would with other forms of entertainment – as well as there being a tendency to think of an unsupported system as a ‘dead’ system.

Dip in and out
One thing that has driven the change and scope in computer games is the rise – and apparent profitability – of casual games. Their secret, if it is a secret at all, is that they can be picked up and played as and when people want. They can pick them up as and when they have time, play for as long as they want and then put them away. While many of these are called ‘social games’ they aren’t particularly, but in others people can compete against each other and their actions interrelate. RPGs don’t lend themselves well to ‘pick up and play’ normally, but perhaps we can tap into some of this by encouraging the idea of an ongoing game where things can happen or be done between individual sessions. Downtime actions – as LARPs sometimes call them. This is more pressure upon the Games Master but it might also be possible to experiment with hybridisation where social games give characters benefits in tabletop sessions, tracking characters in ‘the cloud’. This takes some control from a Games Master though so, if we do try and exploit some of these changes from other media we’re going to have to put a lot more thought and effort into it. It also reverses the (good) trend of easier accessibility and the thriving indie and PDF game scenes.

Instant availability
Another aspect of this is ‘instant availability’. When people’s fancy takes them or on a whim, they can buy – say – a mobile game or sign up to a facebook game instantly. We’re halfway there with PDF market, but the bar is a little high to create apps, even with Android, requiring a confluence of skills that’s harder to bring together. Books are harder to read on smaller screens and colour e-books are thin on the ground, tablets have their own issues. That’ll change as time goes on but in the meantime looking into formatting for tablets and phones might be another means to check. A game with a ‘dice’ app built into it could be an accessible way for people to opportunistically play and even a way to overcome some of the physical limitations that dice have to them.

FATE thoughts and teasers for my next FATE project.

So. Given the success of SWING I’m thinking about future FATE projects and about the nature of the FATE system and what criticisms and thoughts have come up in the feedback. To be honest, SWING isn’t as ‘fat’ as it appears. The decision to go half-size made it somewhat more than twice as thick, turning it into a brick, but the glaring ‘flaw’ in FATE’s ‘easy’ credentials is the massive amount of space that goes into the stunts, their descriptions and their implementations.

I think the solution to this may be to make stunts, other than specialist stunts, into more generic bonuses and let a lot of the stunt ‘weight’ get pulled by aspects. Let’s face it, a lot of stunts could be handled by aspects, especially if we loosen up the FATE points economy like I did in SWING. Let the stunts become things like generic +2 bonuses, superhuman or supernatural abilities, initiative bonuses and a few other generic things like extra stress or consequences. Aspects can handle things like being a natural linguist, eidetic memories and so on and stunts can go into inherent ‘edges’ and things like equipment and ships.

With that gumph cut out you free up a lot of space, without gutting the system back to a skeleton as happened with ICONS. That leaves you more room to establish a setting – though I’m always in two minds about leaving a game open for people to put their own spin on it or weaving my own background for people to play in. I’m never sure quite which approach to take because while people are free to ignore any background that they want to they don’t seem to like to do that. Equally there’s a number of people who want a strong, canonical background that’s well written. It’s a puzzle.

I’m hoping SWING represents a new era for Postmortem Studios, it’s a truly popular product that can only get more popular once I get it into broader distribution. I’m adjusting to the whole ‘thing’ of supporting a popular line, though it’s taking a bit of adjustment. Usually I flit from one idea to the next, onto the next thing one after another. That’s just the way my brain works. There’s only so much time I have for everything I have to do as a one-man show and another big adjustment this last year has been in ‘letting’ other people work for me.

Wish me luck!

Dominic Hyde

A while back in reviewing Hot War I linked to some old British telly. This is a TV play that also had quite a big effect on me as a child and I think you should watch it too.
The Flipside

No Savage Worlds for us

Alas, our application for SW licensing has been denied. Which is a shame as I think it might have been a good fit for the Camelot in Space game and a Savage version of ’45.

On to other things! London?

Is a Swinging London sourcebook something that would interest SWING players?
Carnaby Street?
Mary Quant?
The music.
The fashion.
Spy digs and headquarters, nefarious groups and a London centred adventure?

Ian’s Updates

Shadow World
Tough Justice
Faith Elements (Very NSFW at the bottom and the spoiler tags don’t work in a direct link)

While we’re casting off the shackles of oppression, you can preorder our products in print at IPR

Take a look
HERE Comrade!

Postmortem Week Wrapping Up

Over at the Most Unread Blog so let’s make it a blog that isn’t the most unread one!