Sunday, April 29, 2012

David Sirlin

There are a lot of reasons to dislike David Sirlin. He made a game with a near constant stream of gratuitous female crotch shots. He made an expansion for someone else's game and then released their game bundled with his expansion (no, they don't make any money out of that arrangement). One of his games blatantly copied the graphic design, if not the entire game gimmick of tokens instead of cards, from another person (no, they don't make any money out of the arrangement either). He is disingenuous about the marketing of his products. He is not particularly respectful towards people who disagree with him.

None of which is particularly surprising when one considers where he's coming from. The fighting games community, where a high profile member recently said, without internal dissent, that sexual harassment is part of the culture. If you remove that from the fighting game community, it’s not the fighting game community, and the video game community, where copying someone else's idea and releasing it as your own is standard form, and likely the largest reason for the rather narrow breadth of types of games offered by the larger video game companies.

However, David Sirlin, as an outsider to the board game designer's club, does bring with him some very interesting ideas.

One, he wants to be paid for his design and development work. His method, for now, is to be an independent producer and to make sure he pulls in a fair share on his end, as opposed to the traditional designer method of selling one's idea to a company for them to produce it. A traditional method with an end result of designers earning less per hour than someone working in a fast food restaurant (where employees are paid the minimum allowable by law). Obviously, this is unheard of in the video game world.

Personally , I'm hoping designers will follow his lead. I think that for serious progress to be made in board game design, someone has to think it is worth their while to bother becoming really really good at it.

Now, he takes a lot of verbal abuse for this online. People consistently complain that he over charges for his games and that they can't be found online at super-discount like most games can. However, that's because people are comparing the model of not paying the designer a fair share for their work, to a designer who actually wants to get paid reasonably (not handsomely) for their work.

The fact is, the board game industry has created a situation where customers have come to associate the cost of a game with the components and not with the work that went into making the game (curiously, they can see that artists need to be paid, but not the game designers themselves). The work of designing a game has been completely erased from the end product as far as consumers are concerned. As if game ideas just appear out of nowhere, fully formed, ready to be manufactured.

Essentially, they only care about the physical production end. Sure they understand that the owner of the means of production deserves to get paid, after all, without them they wouldn't have a physical product sitting in their hands, but the designer? They don't see the importance of that aspect, and they don't connect it the hours put into design with having an impact on final cost.

Sirlin is having none of that. He works hard and he wants his fair share. I applaud him for that.

Two, he believes that games should be improved rather than expanded. Now he isn't the only person in the boardgaming world to act in this manner (Andy Looney's Fluxx series has seen both expansions as well as improvements with basic Fluxx being on version 4.0 I believe and other versions being on 2.0), but he is the only one that I know of to state it as a business model.

Now, when this principle is taken to the extreme, you end up with an industry that is simply in a cycle of reselling the same games over and over again with different trappings and the odd aesthetic improvement every once in a while like the video game industry (while modern fps may look very different and react smoother and what not from Castle Wolfenstein, they still end up providing the same experience as a game that came out over twenty years ago).

That's not good.

However, I think there is room in the board game industry, which is currently releasing more games than are being played, to learn something from this model. To say, rather than work hard at getting the next game out, maybe we should verify that all the games we have released already are still in working order. To see if they require fixes to make them the experience we are promising people they are (think of all the games you've played that promise you fun for x-y number of players but where the fun range is much smaller than that).

He also takes abuse from people for this one. People who are upset that they have to keep paying out money if they want to own the latest version. People who feel ripped off because the game they own will not be the same one that is being sold in stores.

Sirlin's response? If you are having fun with your copy of the game, don't buy the newest version, keep playing the copy you have. The newest version only matters if you want to play at a tournament level and need a physical copy of the game that matches the online version of the game, where those fixes were necessary.

Essentially saying, if you don't see why this version is necessary, then you are not the target audience for this game. A fair response and one I'd like designers to acknowledge more often. That there is a target audience for a game, and it doesn't have to be everyone on Earth. That you can make a quality game and make money off of it, even if the target audience is not the traditional target audience of the boardgame world.

Another issue where I think Sirlin brings with him an interesting point of view.

Hate him? Sure, if you must (I know I'm not a big fan). But I would prefer that we don't discount what it is he has to offer the boardgaming industry.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Downtime is the part of the game where you aren't interacting with either the game or the other players of the game (as players of the game, chit chatting with them doesn't count).

Generally, downtime is viewed as a bad thing. For me, I like my time spent playing games to be spent actually playing the game. Not waiting around for my next opportunity to play the game.

Now, downtime doesn't exist in every game. As an example, there are real time games where everyone is playing at the same time throughout the entire game. No downtime there.

However, most games will have downtime. So a big question becomes, what does the game give you to do during downtime? Are you just twiddling your thumbs? Or does the game provide a reason to remain engaged?

Monday, April 16, 2012

What I play

Most of the games I play, they fall into at least one of the following categories:

Cooperative - where everyone playing either wins or loses together;

Historically or culturally significant - with ties to the values of a particular time or place;

Aesthetically beautiful - with visuals that could be described as art;

Relevance - where the trappings add to the cultural conversation of modern life;

Mind altering play dynamics - where we are forced to think in new ways.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Why I play

For me, games are learning tools. A good game will force me to think in new ways.

When I play, it is a collaborative effort. Even if the game is competitive, even if in the game we are working against each other, our reason for playing the game is to help each other learn. The competition is an illusion.