26 September 2016
On Saturday, Stonemaier Games hosted its third annual Design Day. We host designers, playtesters, publishers, and gamers from St. Louis and around the country for 13 hours of nonstop gaming.
The purpose of Design Day is to bring together designers and playtesters to give and receive feedback on game prototypes, expand their network within the gaming community, and learn from clever mechanisms in published games. If you’d like to know details about how the day is structured, please read this (which very closely resembles what we did this year) and this.
Why I’m Writing This
I thought about framing this entry as a Kickstarter Lesson. After all, the blog is about crowdfunding, so there are certainly some things to be learned from building community through events. I also thought about talking about events like this from a publisher perspective in terms of ROI (return on investment).
But the truth is, running an event isn’t for everyone. It takes a lot of time to organize and execute. It may not be fun for you. And I’m not so sure there is a direct ROI (or, at least, that’s not my motivation for hosting Design Day).
Rather, Design Day is just something I like doing. I like doing it for the designers. I like doing it for the playtesters and gamers. And I like doing it for me–it feels good for me to host something fun and useful for others.
So I thought it might also be helpful for you to hear a little bit about this year’s Design Day, just in case you’re interested in hosting your own event someday.
Top 5 Games of Design Day 2016
As playtesters tried out each prototype, they wrote down a 1-10 rating on a little card that would later become their ticket to the game giveaway. Design Day isn’t a competition, but the ratings are meant to help designers figure out how much work their games need. Last year, 3 of the top 5 games went on to become successfully funded on Kickstarter: The End Is Nigh (which is live on Kickstarter now), Biergarten, and the Stockpile expansion.
The top 5 games of Design Day 2016 are as follows:
- Cytosis: A Cell Biology Game by John Coveyou (8.53 rating)
- Space Gypsies by Austin Bennett (8.5)
- Magic Carpet by Jason Kingsley (8.3)
- Daemonopolis by Eli Omernick and John Russell (8.2)
- Tank’D by Mark Wisdom and Royce Banelos (8.1)
What Was Different This Year
Design Day 2016 was nearly identical to Design Day 2015, except there were 85 people in attendance instead of 75. The only changes I made were very slight:
- I announced everything in advance. Last year I had the sense that any type of announcement during the day really interrupted the flow of the event. Plus, I realized that anything that needed to be announced could easily be revealed in advance (pending last-minute changes).
- I used flickering lights instead of yelling. Last year I raised my voice over the din of the room to tell people to wrap up one session or start a new session (Design Day is very structured, with attendees signing up for all sessions in advance). This year I just flickered the lights a few times. It worked beautifully and seamlessly.
- Small changes to the giveaway. We invite each attendee to bring a good game from their collection that they no longer play. Two sponsors–Middleton Reutlinger (a law firm) and Miniature Market also donated some games this year. In the past, I’ve randomly selected names for the giveaway, which takes a lot of time and results in some people having worse picks than others. So this year I divided the games into two piles on a big table, covered up half the games with bed sheets, and told people they could pick a game at any time from the revealed games…but all picks were final. So you could pick early, but by doing so, you would miss out on a wider selection later. This seemed to work much better than previous methods.
- Facebook group. About a month ago I created a private Facebook group to help Design Day attendees connect with each other. It wasn’t particularly active leading up to the event, but it’s been very helpful after the event for attendees to find each other online.
What Might Change Next Year
I’m still gathering feedback from attendees (I asked them in a survey what they definitely want to stay the same and what they definitely want to change), but here are some preliminary observations and results:
- Better system for no-shows, players wanted, and vacancies. Out of 85 signups, we only had 3 no-shows this year. We also had a few people who needed to leave earlier than expected. For the most part, these were good problems to have, because the event was slightly overbooked. But it caused a little confusion–it’s really hard to tell from looking at the room which tables are full and which need people. So a suggestion was to have a big master schedule on the wall that we can update throughout the day based on no-shows, changes, and open slots.
- Different location. The location we use (the social hall of a church) works pretty well, and I’m not looking to grow the event (I think 75-80 is the sweet spot for a more close-knit, intimate event), but the room gets quite noisy. So I’m looking into alternatives.
- Rating system. So far the biggest area we’ve gotten feedback on is the rating system. Designers seem to be looking for more specific feedback than a rating (which they can already get in person and by e-mail), and I need to put the rating scale on the back of the rating cards. That’s easy to fix.
- Something on Sunday. I think most people (including myself!) are exhausted by the end of such a long, intense day. But I’ve been looking for ways to cater to those–particularly the out-of-towners–who want a little more. The game night I host on Friday night at my condo helps a little bit, and I’d be willing to host something more casual on Sunday afternoon as well (I need a little time in the morning to recover).
Have you found value in running or attending gaming-related events?