On Prioritization

Now that Ten Candles is out there, and To Serve Her Wintry Hunger is in the external playtest stage (which means a lot of the work is out of my hands - and in yours) I am brought back to a question I've been asked more times than I can count. If you are a creator, you no doubt are quite familiar with the question. And it is a vexing one indeed. 

"So, what's next?"

A simple enough question, that should have a simple answer. However, over the past year as I've been asked this question, almost every single time I've given a different answer to my inquirers. I've rattled off one of a hundred different game ideas, whichever one happens to be bubbling at the top of my mind in the moment. It's not a lie, mind you. The answer I give tends to sincerely be the game I think I will be putting out next, because it's the game that's the most exciting to me in a given moment. The problem there is twofold. The game idea I'm most excited about fluctuates wildly at an unruly rate, and just because I'm excited about a game doesn't necessarily mean it will be the next game I put out.

As a game designer, one of the battles I fight is trying to figure out where I'm going to put my time and energy next. While there are countless different considerations to think about when determining what game ideas I want to invest in, I've found that there are two core points to consider when sitting down and prioritizing my list:

1. How much do I love an idea?
2. Is the timeline that I'm looking at to create this game reasonable?

So, we're looking at two things here. With #1 we're talking about my passion for a game concept. I have a ton of game ideas, but I'm not passionate about all of them. At least once a week I hear about something, some article or some new concept and think to myself "I could gamify that." And I could. I could sit down and make a game out of a lot of these random ideas. However, I don't care about most of them. I'm not passionate about the idea, and I know that if I make a game that I'm not passionate about that it will be clear in the design.

A great example of a game that fails #1 is a dice-rolling game I had an idea for about a year ago. The game is basically written. It's an incredibly simple, no-depth, generic-setting die-rolling game that I could probably have published, printed, and on my website within the span of three months. The problem here is that I am not passionate about the game. It doesn't excite me. I dread the very idea of playtesting it, because I'm not excited to play it. While I imagine other people may feel differently, or even enjoy the game, at the end of the day I don't feel that it's fair to folks who like my work and who stand by me as fans to put out a game that I'm not going to stand behind and truthfully say "I love this game, let me share it with you."

With #2 we're talking about the amount of time it will take for a game to get from an idea in my head to an end product on your game table. This is where a lot of ideas get moved to the back burner. 

This is a tricky consideration to talk about because, put simply, it can change. At any given time in a designer's life they are looking for certain game-creation timelines. For Ten Candles, that game took me three to four years to create. That timeline worked for where I was at the time. I wanted to put something big out, and was fine with it taking a while. However, right now? There's no way that timeline would fly for me. Right now I'm looking at games I can write up in a month or two, get into playtester's hands, and have done in a year or less. Will there be another Ten Candles in the future? Hell yeah! But right now that sort of time-intensive project just isn't in the cards.

Another large part of this is a little thing I like to call "real life". Any designer has real world things they have to consider. Career responsibilities, relationships and family, etc. When looking realistically at these factors, they have to be taken in consideration for their impact on how quickly games can be made, and how large of a project a designer should reasonably take on.

A great example of a game that fails #2 is a short campaign LARP I am desperate to create and run in the MA area. It will run over the course of seven events spread out over a couple years. The game's setting and concept are written and are amazing. I am incredibly passionate about the game idea and want nothing more than to make it a reality. However, the amount of time and energy it takes to run a campaign LARP, even a short-form LARP like the one I'm imagining is staggering. To do it justice, it would take me several years to prepare everything and a substantial amount of focus. With this much investment, I likely wouldn't be able to put out anything else for several years and it would just sort of generally be a terrible idea for me at this time. However, five years from now, with a much stronger foothold in the game design community and several more games under my belt, things might be in a much better place to take on a project of this size.

Point #2 is a hard one to wrap my head around sometimes, and it's certainly one I never like to admit, especially if a game idea has already passed #1 with flying colors and I'm incredibly passionate about a game idea. However, I feel that to be successful as a creator you need to be reasonable with yourself about the timelines you anticipate for upcoming projects, and if they work for you in the moment. 

Which, I guess, is all to say -- will you see another hundred page game from me in the future? Absolutely! Probably some that are even longer! But will you see them from me in the next year or two? Eh, probably not. Coming down off of Ten Candles means that you'll be much more likely to see smaller games like To Serve Her Wintry Hunger and several more I'm working on currently. And that's okay. Small games are actually great because they allow for experimentation. They let me play with ideas that people may be less willing to toy around with if it means a multi-session investment. But for just an hour or so? Sold.