How long is a piece of string?

I’ve had a couple of experiences recently that a tie into the same theme. Just when is the writing of a game or supplement “finished” and ready for release?

1) I have a collaborator who’s working on tying ALL the old Golden Heroes scenarios into one magnum opus for Squadron UK. Brilliant work so far. He recently asked me when I stop writing and start preparing a product for printing. I didn’t have an answer for him.
2) I’ve been struggling to finish a product for years. Squadron: X, my X files to Avengers campaign pack. (I actually wrote the first draft years before the Avengers movie came out but now if feels like my product is a rip off. Superheroes vs. alien invasion? At least I’ve got zombies in mine.)
Anyway, month after month I just couldn’t finish it. It was basically the slog of statting up all the various ghoulies and extraterrestrials that bogged me down. So, eventually, I cut a couple of corners and put it out. It isn’t the product I was expecting or hoping it would be – but the only other choice would have been to shelve it.
3) I recently swapped games with another designer and we ran each others at a convention. His game had far more “stuff” in it than mine but mine’s in print and his isn’t – yet.
4) There are several designers on here who are “working on” games and have been for some time…..
5) There was a fascinating thread on UK Roleplayers recently – in the RPG discussion section – about how important it was to purchasers that a game was complete or whether it came with lots of supplements. I realised that I could have easily padded out my Basic Game to be the core rulebook and kept back some of my optional rules for a supplement.
So how DO you decide when to stop writing and publish your game? I realise now that my method is to mentally produce an outline or series of chapter headings and stop when I’ve written all those bits.
I think most if us just keep fiddling – trying to get it perfect. Like artists. “A work of art is never completed. It is only abandoned.”
Professional companies set deadlines that have to be met – the product is released on schedule even if it isn’t perfect. In fact, if it isn’t perfect it gives them an excuse to release a “second edition” and reviews/debates about the flaws and innovations of a game are all good, free publicity.
Perhaps we should take a page from THEIR book?

3 thoughts on “How long is a piece of string?

  1. Agreeded.. if people waited for things to be “perfect” then nothing would get printed.. thats the reason we have the 1st, 2nd 3rd, 3.5 D&D.. tinkering tinkering..


  2. Thirded. I had a conversation with a fellow game designer a year or so ago, when I was still ‘working on ‘ Sci-Fi Beta Kappa. When I brought up the long and complex process of game design and expressed unhappiness at the fact that, as Simon says, it could potentially go on forever, he replied ‘You just have to stop somewhere’. Fine, but where? By the 90s, most manufacturers and producers in the UK (well, those who weren’t putting out products that had obvious Health & Safety implications that is) had all but abandoned the Quality Assurance testing phase (QA) on the basis that it was more efficient to just get their products out there and issue patches if bugs emerged later. Likewise computer companies (I won’t name names but I think you all know who I’m talking about).

    So what would be analogous to that in terms of game design? Well, I think you need a core set of rules so the game is playable at the most basic level (with maybe a pre-made scenario or two if it’s a tactical game, or some plot ideas if it’s a more narrative one). Beyond that, the definition of ‘finished game’ is fairly elastic, depending as it does on the designer’s desire to ‘to get it out the door’, the audience’s desire- expressed on forums etc.- to get their hands on a copy, and to some extent the designer’s feeling about how polished the game is. Note, however, that game designers, almost to a person, suffer from perfectionism to a greater or lesser extent, and so are not necessarily the best judges of whether their product is ready or not.

    Re: Simon’s comment above- I realised that I could have easily padded out my Basic Game to be the core rulebook and kept back some of my optional rules for a supplement– I think that course of action would have been perfectly valid, as it conforms to my rubric above about having to get out a game only at a basic level of playability. As to whether Big Book (yeah, I know, not quite as catchy as Big Pharma or Big Oil, but you get the idea) cynically puts out products they know to be imperfect in order to have an excuse to bring out 2e a year later, and encourage debate about the quality of the product so as to generate chatter, I don’t know. I doubt it’s quite as cynical as that, but I guess there could well be an element of it.

  3. In the past I’ve always tinkered with games until I lost interest, as you said: “A work of art is never completed. It is only abandoned.”

    To actually get Intrepid out I noticed I hadn’t made any /significant/ rules changes for a few sessions, set my release date about 8 months in the future and worked to that deadline.

    Once you had a reasonably core game the rest is just hard work and you (well, I) need a deadline to get through that.

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