A couple of weeks ago I posted a poll on BGG. This was to help with a game design dilemma I was having – basically a card game I’m working on has player elimination as a feature; that is, you’re trying to defeat your opponents by destroying their kingdom. As I know a lot of people are put off by player elimination, I thought I would ask the great BGG community what they thought, and almost 200 of them replied. Here’s what they thought:
Basically, one-fifth like elimination, one-fifth don’t and three fifth say it doesn’t matter if the game is short and the elimination is near the end of the game. The majority of the 30+ comments on the thread were expressing the view that elimination is fine as long as the game is short and you’re eliminated towards the end of the game.
This turns out to be the key point, and leads me to conclude a number of things:
1. People don’t always answer the question you asked, and sometimes the question you ask is not actually the one you want the answer to. In the above example, what I really needed to know was ‘how short does a game have to be for player elimination to be okay?’ because I was never going to take the elimination aspect out altogether (although I was toying with a resurrection mechanism so you’re never really out). But if I hadn't explained that the game was a short one, I'd have got a completely different set of answers which could have taken teh design down a completely different path.
2. Data is really important, as long as you know what it’s telling you. I knew before I asked that a lot of people don’t like player elimination. I wouldn’t have been able to guess though whether that was 10% or 90% of people, nor that just as many positively like elimination as dislike it.
It’s really important to understand who you think your audience is. If 20% say yes to something, 20% say no and the rest are unmoved, it’s tempted to think that you’ve not learnt anything from the experience, because there’s no clear majority. But if, for example, all of those that like your proposal are a particular type of gamer (maybe they all like filler games, or medieval-themed gamed, or family games, or battle games), then you’re starting to get some information you can really use.
“50% of people that go to see the Cure actually end up watching Placebo,
and enjoy it just as much” - Gary Delaney
Similarly, if everyone who doesn’t like your chosen feature is a particular kind of gamer (maybe they all like 6 hour wargames but don’t like the look of your game) then that might actually be helpful to you. If you understand what your game is and who it’s for, it’s much easier to own that, treat its characteristics as genuine features, and to be able then to market it to the right people.
3. Polling is like a very short form of playtesting. You can get a wide range of general views on a specific point in a far easier and quicker way than by getting all of them to play the game. And then you can save the playtesting for where it really matters, like how your game feels, what people do that you weren’t expecting them to, and so on.
4. If you're going to change something about your game, make sure you know what the knock-on effects are of that change. Your game is an ecosystem (that sounded better in my head) and you need to treat the whole thing holistically. If I'd just dropped the player elimination, there would have been as many players disappointed as pleased. So what's the net benefit of the change you're considering? And make sure you re-test your game once you've made any change, to check whether there's a consequence you hadn't thought of.
5. Most importantly, you can’t please everyone, and you shouldn’t try to. Mothing appeals to everyone. Monopoly has sold millions, but everyone on BGG seems to hate it. I don’t like party games that involve drawing or shouting. My Mum doesn't like Marvel films. If you ask a question, and you get an answer you weren’t expecting, that’s twice as valuable because it’s shown you a blind spot you had, that might otherwise only have become apparent once it was too late. But it's important not to be defensive – if you’ve asked for opinions, you’ll get them. The first responder to my poll told me that it must be a bad game design. It’s tempting to jump in and explain why they’re wrong, but just let the discussion play out and you’ll learn far more!