No Games are fun - The Cardboard Designer

No Games are fun

Cyndi Lauper once told us that “girls just wanna have fun.” I have no reason to question that statement. Mothers are delighted to find out that their children had fun on their first day of school. Brilliant, couldn’t be happier for them. There is a place in Limerick called Funworld, and I am told it’s a delightful way to while away a few hours of a weekend. Awesome, you go Funworld!

That being the case, hearing someone describe a board game as fun causes small parts of my body to twitch. Why? Because as designer “fun” is not useful feedback at all. It doesn’t actually mean anything.

The problem with fun, is that it leaves you completely without direction on how to improve things. It doesn’t tell you what the player experienced in the game, what they liked, what they didn’t like. It’s like getting a valentine’s day card from someone for the last line to say “from Bob” instead of “love Bob”.

Why am I writing a rant about the word fun? Because when I heard it today at a play test, after getting over the urge to tear down the wallpaper in our living room, I realized that there is an important lesson to be taken from it.

As a designer – when play-testing your games with others, you have to become comfortable with pushing people into giving you real, tangible feedback, not just give you an overall sense of what it was like to play.

There will be obvious things that come up as you play-test the game that you will jot down to fix on your own time – and that is an incredible important aspect of the iterative process. However, to not spend a little more time badgering those that have agreed to play on a deeper dive into how the game experience was for them means you are missing out on valuable information.

Sometimes, it can be hard. Often people are reluctant to criticize the work of others, especially if they are good friends, or if it is someones first attempt at creating something. In my experience however, if you push people, they will slowly open up more about what they liked and didn’t like. There are more productive ways to illicit information:

  • Ask open questions. “What did you think of mechanism X?” will not provide as much information as “Which mechanism did you enjoy the most?”
  • Don’t be afraid to have a bit of silence.  If someone stops speaking, just wait a little bit.  Often it will encourage them to reveal a little more than they expected to.
  • Be grateful for every critique your given. Receive it as the genuine gift that it is. Nod your head, smile, give positive affirmations after each point they make.
  • Ask people how they feel about aspects of the game.  Feelings require people to identify less logical arguments and give you an opportunity to learn about the player experience of your game.

Play-testing can be hard. You can spend weeks or months refining a game to a point where you think it’s amazing (you shouldn’t do this by the way – see Playtest Early) and then have everything fall apart or not play out as intended when given to a player. It can be scary to present your work to others for critiquing and feedback.

Take a deep breath, find a friend and jump in.

It gets easier the more you do it, so do it loads!

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