January 26, 2011

Making It Easy

What’s the most surefire way to scare away a player base? I’m sure you’ve got ideas, but there’s one I think is much higher on the list that you’re not considering.

Barriers to entry.

RPGs in general seem to have this thought that they are for intelligent folks, and so they can get away with being a bit complex. For some games, this is true, but if you want more than the twenty people you’ve personally sold your game to interested, you will want to cut back on as much complexity as possible.

The Product
As an indie developer, I have less worry about this, as it’s pretty obvious if you’re looking at ExoSquad, there’s only going to be one rulebook, so starting point is very obvious. Those with larger games, or larger ideas, may have this issue.

Look at the latest edition of D&D. On the shelf you have two products and a product line that call newbie attention. Should a newbie grab the Player’s Handbook? What about the red box ‘Starter Set’? Or maybe it’s one of these ‘D&D Essentials’ books?

Don’t get me wrong, I like the new edition, and even like a number of the Essentials books. For someone who’s never played before, these products are instant complexity. Making a ‘first sale’ is all about making the purchase easy, and complex game lines don’t do this. (Side note: as an indie developer, you’re going to need to be a creator, developer, accountant, manager, sales person, PR agent and a number of other roles or have the money to cover people who can do these things. Sweating yet?)

The Rules
Rules complexity can create a huge barrier to entry, especially if the prospective player has no point of reference on when various rules matter. Modern games are getting better about their book layouts as experienced developers realize how the books are used. Even so, I still occasionally open an RPG and find related information in completely separate chapters! Word processors are powerful tools, people, you have no reason not to change your layout to help your customer.

Guide your new players into the game. Show them what’s important, and in what order. Convert one person, and you have the opportunity to convert their friends, and like books, RPGs spread by word-of-mouth.

Character Creation
I separate this from the rules because this one point is enough to run some players away before they even see the rules. This is less about your first sell and more about your subsequent sales. If someone is teaching your game to another player, they have the helping hand through the book, but they still need to make a character they want to play. How easy do you make it?

This is where point buy systems fall flat most of the time. Try to get a newbie to make a GURPS or HERO System character without getting frustrated in some degree. It might happen, but not quickly.

So make your system intuitive. Make it easy to grasp and easy to use. You want people sharing it, and you want those receiving it to pick it up and love it. Don’t make them wait for pay out, we live in a time where entertainment is available now so you have to deliver if you want to keep them interested.

As for me, I intend to make ExoSquad remarkably easy in regards to character creation. Pick a weapon, pick some tactics and gear, GO! Once you’re in game, the complexity should come from choice on the battlefield or in conversation, not from reading the rules. You’ve all seen FRE’s design, simplicity is one of it’s core values.

Your turn, readers:

Are barriers to entry the biggest enemy of RPGs?

Also, great article on teaching kids to play D&D on the main Wizards website. A few comments in this article sparked this blog post, I’ll let you see if you can guess which ones.


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