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Turning Games into Art Panel Links
Learn more about some of the panelists!!
Firstly, I had a fantastic time moderating the panels at BFG Con, and I can't express how fortunate I was to have such a diverse and interesting group of panelists! (I can not lie, I definitely developed a few new geek-crushes, and I definitely fan-geeked over Zeb Cook a bit). Our panelists were an absolutely delight to just spend time with, and since they're mostly local, I look forward to following up with them throughout the next year!
Secondly, I want to make sure you, my lovely audience, understand the struggles that went into putting these panels together. Since this was only BFG Con's second year, they were not able to offer the normal package that panelists get. At most conventions panelists get a free pass to the convention, hotel room, and travel stipends. These wonderful panelists donated their time and energy without such accommodations, and I can only say that they are wonderful people for doing so! My personal hope is that next year BFG Con will be in a better position to repay panelists for their contribution!
Thirdly, I took a lot of notes! I thought it might be fun to share some of what I learned or found interesting from various panel discussions!
How Does GM
As someone who does GM (Game Master), quite often, it was a lot of fun to listen to the experiences and ideas of other GMs. Also, GMs make super awesome panelists. There's a certain type of person who is drawn to the role of Game Master, and in general, they are fantastic speakers. When I asked why someone should become a GM, there was an interesting theme of social obligation and sharing the burden. Here are my thoughts on the subject. Most people don't start off being GMs these days. In general there are enough existing games that those interested in getting started can join a group as a player. And it is all too easy to get into that player routine. But the secret that lies in the heart of nearly every GM is that they desperately want to play.
Yes, being GM is a great creative outlet, and it's awesome, but another theme that arose was the holistic approach to gaming. To truly appreciate a game, you should see it from all sides. The view of the table is very different from the GM's seat, and also from the player's seat. The idea behind this holistic approach to gaming is that experience makes you better at the game. The image of dancers comes to mind. Does the choreographer stop taking dance lessons? Isn't it better for the choreographer to have a wealth of experience in many genres and styles of dance? I would guess that the choreographer who has many dance teachers becomes a better dance teacher themself. I could apply the same logic to any art, including sports. A football player who has many coaches will make a better coach. And isn't gaming just a different type of art/sport?
The panelists also discussed managing player expectations, which is something most of us learn through trial and error. It's important to pitch your game the right way, and cultivate players that fit the culture of your table, or adjust your game to fit the culture of the table. If you want to run a cloak and dagger game, but your players want to hack and slash, there's a disparity between the expectations of the GM and the Players. Basically we talked about having dialogue between the players and the GM. The idea that the GM is the fascist overlord of the game is not constructive! Games should be run more like a democratic republic, with the players communicating their wants and needs to their chosen representative.
Why don't more people run games? I am reminded of my old MMORPG days - LFT (looking for tank) & LFH (looking for healer). The roles of responsibility in games are intimidating to say the least. When you suddenly become responsible for the happiness of others, there's a new level of pressure on you. I believe it was Liz from the panel who said, "It just feels like so much." I think that is one of the most daunting hurdles, particularly when you are playing a heavy system like Dungeons and Dragons. (Next year I'm definitely doing a panel or something about other systems if I'm still doing the panels.) So how do "we" (meaning existing GMs) do a better job supporting fledgeling GMs? I think it goes back to the dialogue. When a GM needs a break, they should have a dialogue with the players. Offering guidance and being a mentor is a very fun and easy way to shape potential GMs! And there's so many resources out there for GMs that need to broaden their scope to include new GMs who don't have the vocabulary and experience to create the implied context needed to understand the resources. When I put together my GM Resources, I always try to think of how to be relatable to those who are just getting started - maybe I need to do a better job of that too!
Turning Art Into Games
I was super excited to have a nice range of artists, including artists who work in digital visual arts, design, and literature. The sources of inspiration had a theme of obsession, fascination, and the desire to do better. I really resonated with me. In my "career" as a gamer (and by career I mean I never make any money off of it, but it's still work), I have often been driven to create to show how things could be. I don't generally have the obsessive fandom thing, but I certainly look at what I consume and think of all the ways I would do it differently, and why those things would make it better for me personally. Inspiration doesn't always conveniently come, however. The panelists talked about what to do when you aren't feeling inspired, and how to keep going. Work is not always fun, and part of making money from your art is letting your art be free of the necessity of inspiration. That doesn't mean that you can't ALSO be inspired, but sometimes you have to perform your tasks without the pleasure of it. As a non-professional, that explains a lot about why I am NOT making money from my games and gaming. For most of my gaming "career" I have let my games and writing be subject to the whim of inspiration. However, to turn games into art - consumable things - you need to find ways to get beyond that.
Part of art-as-job means having goals and keeping to them. Self promotion and networking is also key. Maybe you get to a point where you need an agent to help out with that! If you don't have access to an agent/publisher/legal team, you might need to do some of the legwork yourself on protecting your art and yourself. The panelists had lots of great suggestions for how to get started:
Perhaps my biggest take away was (I believe) Ben Walker's description of finding the fastest way to get your creation to the consumer. The best way to turn your game inspiration into consumable art is to find a form of expression that is easy to create and put into the hands of those who would consume it. When I think about games and gaming, I wonder what the best way to do that might be? But these are ponderings for a different day. I suppose the panel became less of Games into Art and more Art into Money, but I'm okay with that!
As I stated at the beginning of the panel, I am probably the least qualified person to moderate a panel on arts and crafts. When it comes time to make a costume or prop, I will absolutely wait until the last minute and crap something out and call it good. If I need something to be nice, I pass it off to one of my skilled friends/family to make sure it's actually nice. There were some interesting tips and tricks, though! We had a cosplayer, two prop-designer and costume makers, and one tabletop terrain designer. They all had shockingly similar suggestions for things!
When it comes to crafting on the cheap, one of the recommendations was to identify needs before buying anything, and to take a look around for what you already have. Another interesting idea, brought up by Jette, I believe, was that you can go to a thrift shop and buy a large gown for less than you'd pay for the fabric in it. The dollar store came up with enthusiasm, and Jess pointed out that there's probably stuff already in your closet. Part of doing costuming means sometimes you have to take apart an old costume you'll never wear again and use the parts to create something new. My note reads, "Destroy things." ^_^ Dan also talked about using found objects for sculpting, like craft foam, cardboard, and cork. There are also lots of things that can be done with hot glue, and even nail polish! A new thing I learned about was liquid 14k gold to protect your skin from cheap knock off items from the internet.
When it came to the question of what is worth investing in, the answer was resoundingly: Your Tools. The things that you will use again, and again, are worth investing in. Sure, get cheap fabric for that dress, but make sure you have amazing scissors. That dollar store eyeshadow? Go for it. But make sure you're getting the best foundation possible. Good, light fast paints are worth it for color that lasts. Good brushes will perform better, even if you're using cheap paints. And if you're going to shop online for deals, understand that what you get may not be what you expected, and it will almost certainly take a very long time to get to you.
Concept to Consumer
Now it's been a couple weeks since the convention and I'm looking back at my notes wondering what the heck they're about!
The first legible note is "Good vs Marketable," which is a topic I believe Dave brought up. I think that's the sticking point of taking a concept and putting it in the hands of the consumer. My next note is "Identify your market." Having a product that is absolutely perfect for a very small segment of the population doesn't mean you shouldn't still try to turn your concept into a consumable, however if the concept doesn't have wide appeal, that's going to change your strategy for marketing and publication. And there are merits to having a broader demographic. Something that came up later was too much "crowdsourcing" and "focus grouping" causing an idea to be watered down. This is exactly what happened, I believe, with some of the big players in the RPG MMORPG worlds.
Going off on a brief mental tangent, 5th edition was an attempt to get back to good for D&D. After the massive attempt at a reboot with 4th edition, many players stuck with Pathfinder rather than shift to the MMORPG style of 4th edition. And in an attempt to keep the 4th ed players, win back the 3.x players, and recruit new players, 5th edition ended up being a little too egalitarian for my tastes. Don't get me wrong, it's a good system, and it's fine, but it's not... special. And with so many special systems out there to use, why would I use 5th? Well, it's why I do. I actually run a 5e game. I run it because it's accessible. Lots of people know about it. lots of people can pick it up easily. And because WotC has a massive built in audience, they don't need to try very hard to reach a large demographic. But on the other hand when I look at indie games, like Clockwork Dominion, they are so hyper focused on their target demographic (steampunk gamers) that their system can be very special! It's one of those balancing acts. When you're taking a concept and turning it into a consumable, you need to have a large enough interest base to make it viable, but a focused enough group to maintain your concept.
Another sticking point is the research before development. It's important to see what's already out there similar to your idea and figure out what you can do better. Just because something already exists doesn't mean that you shouldn't do it! In fact, looking at the struggles and failing points of other similar projects can help fuel your project and give you an idea of what pitfalls to avoid. you can build off of the reviews on attempted or existing products to tailor your idea to consumption. When you look at Kickstarter's most funded/backed/popular items you see games in just about every category. People are super into games. And by looking at what has been successful, you can model your own plans for promotion and production!
The last big topic was figuring out how to do the thing. Developing a support network was an interesting topic that went lots of different directions. Not only do you need a support network of professionals, but also a personal support network to keep you going and motivated. It's hard to turn a concept into a consumable! Having people around you who are invested emotionally and intellectually in your project also brings fresh perspectives and ideas about resources. There are lots of open source tools online for developing products, and it's worth taking the time to learn how to use them. Another part of this support network is the legal side of things. You don't want to get into real trouble, and if you don't have access to a legal team this can be a tricky area. It's worth taking the time to do the research, and even reach out to some lawyers in the game industry if you are looking at a mass production deal with a big game company like Hasbro or something.
And last, but not least, testing. Possibly the most important part of bringing a concept to a consumer is to test your product out before sending it to the printer (so-to-speak). One of the questions brought up by the audience involved receiving two completely opposite critiques from players, and how to know why was right. I think the most impactful note I wrote was "where are the problems, not what are the problems." This is a big revelation moment for me, because I've always fixated on what the issues were, when what I needed to do was identify WHAT the problems are. It's not just about fixing an issue for one person, but finding in general what the problems are and finding ways to adjust the game around the issue, or how to change the game to accommodate more flexibility of play for people at that point. It's definitely inspired me to go brush off my old d10 system for LoC.
Technology and Games
For my part, this was not the smoothest panel I ran this weekend, and for that I am sorry. It is certainly one of the most exciting topics for gamers, because it's a look at where we came from and where we are going. We talked a lot about accessibility and inclusivity that technology allows. It's now easier than ever to adapt existing products for different physical needs. With character customization anyone can see themselves in games. And because of the widespread access to technology, it has become advantageous for companies to be more accessible and inclusive, because it means they get more players.
The topic swiftly lead to an interesting discussion of analogue vs digital gaming. In the beginning everything was analogue because digital didn't exist, right? And then for a long time digital reigned supreme. Now we are seeing a return in many ways to the analogue days. By no means to I suggest that digital is going away - what I mean is that despite having access to digital games, people are playing analogue games with increasing passion as well. This resonated with me personally because that's sort of the journey I took. When I started gaming I was all pen and paper RPGs, and then I got real hard core in World of Warcraft for about 5 years. When that crapped out, I started playing analogue games again, moving even all the way to LARP, which is the most analogue of analogues! But there are things that you can do in digital that are intoxicating and appealing, which can not presently be replicated in the real world. The digital replaces a lot fo the strain on the mental and physical capabilities of a person, which is important for those of us who are not quite so capable.
Along the same lines, the panel brought up that pdf's are helping to expand and preserve the analogue games of the past. You don't have the hunt and peck through ebay to find a copy of first edition D&D anymore. Now you can go online and just buy a pdf. Drive Thru RPG and similar sites have digital copies of many favorite analogue games, and are constantly pumping out new content to be explored! Perhaps the resurgence of analogue gaming is being aided by the pdf revolution - making it easier to access information without carrying around the books and papers necessary.
A topic I wish we had more time to explore at the panel was the effect this is having on digital games. Zeb brought up the fact that digital games, once gone, are gone forever. I can dust off an old copy of second edition D&D and play today. But can you log into your old city of heroes character? There is an impermanence to digital media, and all that's left behind are screen shots. It's strange to think that the archivists of the future will sit back and wonder what those things used to be. But we can still dig up a d20 from the Ptolemaic Period.
At the end of the panel we talked about the future of games, and where they're going. ESports seem to be on the decline? Is the bubble bursting on league events? And why? Michelle brought up the issue of the gamer mentality. Once a PvP gamer is the best of the best, it's not in their interest to stay in that game, because now other people are catching up. And games, over time, in general, become easier. they have to become easier to maintain a broad player base, and as a result, one can only be the best for a short time before everyone becomes the best. With the ephemeral nature of games it is difficult to cultivate a stable sport. Imagine if football kept updating the rules to make it easier for people to play. Well, it's hard to maintain a million dollar linebacker when the game gets to accessible that anyone can do it. And while it's great that more people would be able to be a linebacker, that makes it a difficult career. The internet also creates equality of quality. You don't have to be a professional gamer to have a twitch channel. Anyone can have a twitch channel. And you don't even have to be good to have a twitch! The big companies are using twitch to advertise their games. Your nephew uses twitch to show off to his friends. It's a platform that give access to everyone.
So where do we go from here? Games are always at the edge of technology, pushing the boundaries of available tech. Is VR the way of the future? Or will AR reign supreme? There are a lot of questions about how VR affects the brain. Even folks who work in VR professionally are finding limits to how much they can play without physical side effects. Until we know more about how VR works with brains, I don't think we'll see to much of it on the mass market. There are also space requirements for VR that make it inaccessible to many people - and it's relying on physical ability in many ways. These issues go against the grain of the role of technology in games. At some point I'm sure the issues will be addressed, but the general consensus of the panel (and myself) was that VR is still a ways away from a mass gaming platform. AR, however, and the use of cell phones as game platforms, is definitely on the rise. Things like Pokemon Go and the vast number of pvp phone games speaks to the rise of the cell phone as a gaming platform.