Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Wisdom comes from examining and reflecting on one’s experiences with an eye toward learning from them. The turn of the New Year offers a milestone at which many people stop to reflect on where they’ve been the past year and where they’d like to go in the coming one. Some set their expectations high with those pesky annual and often-forgotten “resolutions.” Others examine where they’ve gone right or wrong in the past year and resolve to be more mindful of such opportunities to improve themselves in the coming months.

The New Year’s holiday offers a chance for me to reflect on my professional game activities over the past 12 months with an eye toward evaluating my strengths and weaknesses, finding my inspiration, and re-focusing my efforts

Achievements in 2013

Looking back over the past year I see my accomplishments range across a number of activities, few of which one measures in quantitative terms: publishing and promoting gaming product, communicating with the vast gamer community, and connecting with key individuals for both playtesting and networking. Some endeavors have had particular significance for me:

Blogging: Over the course of 2013 I wrote 52 blog entries on adventure gaming and game design. Yes, everyone seems to blog these days and many argue it’s going out of vogue; but blogging fulfills two goals for me. It enables me to communicate with gamers on both general subjects in the hobby gaming field at Hobby Games Recce and on specific issues of game design here at the Game Design Journal. Blogging also requires me to maintain discipline, both to produce relevant, polished editorial content in more than 750 words each week, and to do so on a schedule (every Tuesday morning at alternating blogs). I’m not always successful in the “relevant” and “polished” categories, but the exercise keeps my writing skills active.

Online Playtesting: I sent several projects through various stages of playtesting using online contacts and access through Google Docs (or whatever they’re calling it these days). I viewed this as an offshoot of my activities to increase my online interaction with the gaming community. Early in the year I sent various iterations of my fantasy roleplaying game engine using some innovative dice mechanics (the Oracle System,about which I’ve written before). When inspiration hit me to create a customizable random dungeon generation system, my playtesters rose to the challenge and helped me refine my vision for the product. As with any playtesting effort, some participants offered vague suggestions and impressions (if any at all), but more than I expected provided constructive criticism, fresh ideas, and positive encouragement. I am fortunate to have cultivated a small group of intelligent and loyal playtesters during 2013, an asset I intend to continue using throughout the new year.

Pay What You Want: In 2013 DriveThruRPG.com and its affiliated websites offered publishers the option of pricing products as “pay-what-you-want,” giving customers the option of downloading product for whatever price they wanted, even “free.” The trend quickly gained popularity among publishers for a variety of reasons. I chose to convert all my previously free downloads -- mostly short scenarios supporting my Pulp Egypt and Heroes of Rura-Tonga supplements -- to “free/pay what you want” in an effort to raise some extra revenue from generous donors. (I examined the pay-what-you-want issue and my views of it as a “tip jar” in an earlier journal entry.) The change provided some additional revenue each month; subsequently released free product has fallen under the pay-what-you-want price rationale.

Themed Dungeon Generator:An unexpected project evolved from playtesting the fantasy roleplaying game rules under development. In seeking to self-test the character and combat systems I turned to the venerable random dungeon generation tables of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide (with my own modified monster encounter table keyed to my own game). After finding that experience haphazard and thematically meaningless, I set about creating my own one-page, fillable PDF form to customize my own randomized-yet-themed solo dungeon experience. It suited my needs; with some polishing and quick online playtesting it released to the public through my DriveThruRPG.com e-storefront. It was one of several small game design diversions in which I indulged and the only one to yield saleable product. I generally don’t like releasing small supplements with low price points, but this one sold rather well and made what seemed like sidetracked efforts pay off. (You can read about my solo dungeon delves and the rationale behind Schweig’sThemed Dungeon Generator in past blog posts.)

Goals for 2014

I think I set a positive course for 2013, so many of those trends I intend to continue in the new year; however, many new directions and challenges remain:

Project Completion: I’d like to complete and bring to publication two projects that underwent significant development and playtesting last year: my introductory tank wargaming rules for a younger audience called Panzer Kids; and a fantasy roleplaying game using the Oracle System’s innovative dice mechanic for a basic gaming experience similar to old school renaissance retro-clones, tentatively titled Basic Fantasy Heroes. (I’m also allowing myself to go off on a few other diversion to develop a small abstract board game inspired by some interesting game elements and a quick battle game using 54mm plastic soldier miniatures, which I’ve mentioned before on this blog; I intend both for eventual publication in PDF form, quite possibly for free.) I fully subscribe to the philosophy that “We will sell no wine game before its time.,” which, regrettably, means projects take their time to reach publication, but they meet my personal quality standards on several levels.

Convention Scene: I’m hoping to return to the regional convention scene this year, partly to playtest, demonstrate, and promote my game projects, but also to enjoy myself, mingle with gamers, try new games, and enjoy old ones with new friends. Unlike my previous convention experiences years ago where I attended as a gaming guest running games, speaking on panels, and hosting a dealers table, I’m taking a more relaxed approach, especially in these times of fewer and smaller conventions, tighter finances, and fewer invitations to gaming guests. I have plans to visit a few conventions I’ve attended before, as well as leads on a few others, both well-established and relatively new, I’d like to try.

Continued Blogging: I sometimes debate whether it’s worth my time to continue writing two blogs, one each week, especially when I’m light on relevant topics, have little time and focus to write, or simply don’t feel as enthusiastic about my subject as I should. Part of my blogging satisfaction comes from a need to create meaningful content, but another comes from the interaction I enjoy in sharing these views on the adventure gaming hobby and game design issues. On occasion these missives and discussions inspire me in new directions. I’m looking forward to generating more discussions through blog topics that interest me and the gaming community at large.

E-Publishing: I need to re-focus some efforts to promote my e-publishing endeavors more effectively, beyond actually producing and releasing product (a challenge given my limited time, focus, and energy). I learned during 2013 to use social networking, blogs, word of mouth, and the Griffon Publishing Studio website to promote my activities and publications and intend to continue those practices. But I need to spend time to more effectively market my materials using the publisher tools offered by DriveThruRPG.com and its affiliated sites -- particularly the “featured product” messages -- to boost sales. I also need to start seriously looking to make several of my PDF products available through that website's print-on-demand program.

My reflections on where I’ve been and where I’m going with my game-design endeavors serves as both a kind of “annual report” of the past year and an outline of some tasks that lay ahead. In reviewing last year’s “New Year’s” post I’m relatively satisfied that I’ve at least confronted the challenges I set for myself in 2013; I’m looking forward to moving into 2014 with renewed purpose and some solid goals to achieve.

As always, I encourage constructive feedback and civilized discussion. Share a link to this blog entry on Google+ and tag me (+Peter Schweighofer) to comment.