The Design Day

17 November 2014 | 20 Comments

This past summer I was talking with Funding the Dream’s Richard Bliss about new ways that Stonemaier Games could build community and be an asset to the game industry. Richard suggested that we host some kind of a mini-convention in St. Louis.

After talking with my business partner about the idea, we decided to create something called the Stonemaier Games Design Day. It would be a mix of Unpub, Protospiel, Geekway to the West, and Alan Moon’s Gathering of Friends. My hope is that everyone would walk away from the day with a better understanding of game design and a better network in the gaming community (not just St. Louis–almost half of the attendees drove or flew in from out of town).

The day would be part playtesting, part playing specific published games to help designers learn from the best. Designers were required to fully develop and playtest their games in advance of the event–this wasn’t at time for prototypes to hit the table for the first time. And our friends at the League of Gamemakers went through a thorough process to select the published games we would feature.

Design Day had a very specific schedule and structure–everyone had assigned tables and games throughout the day, and most everyone either taught a prototype and/or taught a published game. The day was just as much about giving as receiving. This meant that the day wasn’t accommodating for people who showed up unexpectedly or didn’t show up at all (we had 4 no-shows out of 70 attendees).

I was worried that the day would be clunky or that something big simply wouldn’t work at all, so Stonemaier Games paid the full bill for the event (about $1500)–there was no fee to attend. In the future I would feel comfortable charging a small fee ($20), not to make a profit, but simply to cover costs.

That said, Stonemaier Games got a lot out of the day. Rather than review game submissions one by one, we were able to see 30 prototypes all in one place. Not that all designers in attendance are interested in Stonemaier Games as a publisher (in fact, one of the games, the fantastic Stockpile, is on Kickstarter right now), but it was helpful for me as a designer to see what other people are creating.

Overall I’m filled with an immense amount of awe and gratitude for everyone who attended the Design Day. It seemed like everyone really wanted the day to succeed, so it did. I’m humbled that people came from around the country (even Alaska!) to attend.

Most attendees were adults, but there was a family of four and two middle-school aged designers. I think my favorite moment of the day was watching young Alex play his prototype with three playtesters who really got into the game. It reminded me of myself at that age–the best thing in the world was for people to have fun playing my games. I’m so impressed that Alex took the risk to polish his game and present it to complete strangers at Design Day.

Here are a few things I learned from the event (I’m still going through the feedback I got from attendees):

  • One day (9:30-10:00) is pretty intense. People learned/taught between 5 and 7 games in a very short amount of time. Next year I might consider making it a 2-day event (Friday afternoon/evening and Saturday all day) to spread things out a little more.
  • 70 people is just about the perfect number for the event. I don’t think it would have the same energy or cohesive spirit if we went much higher than that. People who attended this year will get first pick at attending next year, but if you’re interested, feel free to let me know on this form.
  • Playtests of the same game should be back-to-back. Originally I split them up to give designers room to breathe, but I changed it at the last minute so they wouldn’t have to set up and tear down multiple times.
  • I might have different lengths of playtests for different games. Like, a 30-minute large-group social game or a microgame don’t need 90 minutes to playtest. At the same time, a 2-hour game squeezed into a 1-hour time slot doesn’t work well. I did get the feedback that it’s good that time is limited, though–this isn’t a place for 6-hour epic games or games that take 45 minutes to explain. Also, if a game is bad, a person isn’t stuck playing it for hours.
  • Rather than have me create the schedule (which was incredibly difficult–I even hired a friend to help out with it because it was so time consuming), I’ll probably have people sign up in advance for specific time slots.

Why am I talking about this on my Kickstarter blog? I think it’s because I learned a lot about the value of building community in person instead of just online. Sure, I go to a few conventions, but by hosting an event, you have a lot more control over what you want to offer people. I didn’t want Design Day to be a place for people to pitch games to publishers or promote themselves or only play unpublished games. I wanted it to be about learning from one another in a welcoming environment for designers and gamers, and I think we accomplished that goal.

Here are a few photos from the event:

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20 Comments on “The Design Day

  1. Speaking from the League of Gamemakers, we were honored to be involved and enjoyed the process of thinking on what games people should play to learn design. Thanks for the chance to be involved and kudos on a successful inaugural event!

  2. Jamey, you did a great job! I can’t wait for the next one. I will say, even though I would have enjoyed multiple days of it, I did enjoy the fact it was only one day. This made it easier to for everyone who came to be there the entire time. I think this helped make it run smoother than other similar gathers. Having the food provided helped a lot too, so we didn’t have to worry about leaving to go eat. It was very generous of you to pay for all of us, but I think most would agree it would still be more than worth it even if you charged us for the food and other costs. Thanks! (and thanks for the shout out for Stockpile)

    1. Seth: Thanks for the feedback! That will definitely be one of my questions on the survey to attendees. I think I’d prefer to keep it to one day, perhaps adding something more casual on Friday to engage people coming in from out of town.

  3. I’m glad to hear everyone liked Stockpile! I’ve been lucky enough to play it in all sorts of incarnations and it’s grown up into a really great game (even to me, someone that isn’t all that keen on stock games). And if you care about the people behind the games, Seth is a really great guy and I’ve had nothing but good times playing games with him whether it is his game or not. Definitely a good game and designer to support. Thanks for holding this Jamey!

  4. I made a sacred vow not to back any more KS projects until my queue is empty and I have both played and blogged about every single one of them. (For those keeping score at home, that’s in the neighborhood of 60 games) (I might have a problem). However, after meeting so many cool people and seeing their projects…well, you can’t meet someone face to face, share a good time and then NOT support their dream, so Seth, you can consider me a Stockpile backer. :)

    The event was fantastic and my only complaint is that it’s such a long time til the next one. I got a lot of very positive feedback on my design, and changing one thing with my game changed how it plays significantly.

    1. I didn’t get to be the one that pushed you into funding, but I was close to it :) Give a like to Gateway Games on Facebook and keep an eye open for our upcoming projects. :)

  5. This is a fantastic idea, and I found out about it because I was following Stockpile on KS. Your endorsement of the game, which they shared in a recent update, was enough for me to go from $1 to a full purchase, and the campaign just ended (funded plus a fair number of their stretch goals!). I’ll assume that the fact that I was drawn to it BEFORE finding out about your endorsement just means we both have excellent taste in game design. But either way, I was excited to hear about your Design Day and the insights that came from it.

    1. Thanks Mark! Stockpile earned the highest user rating at Design Day (not that the day was a contest in any way, but it’s still a good sign for Stockpile). I didn’t personally rate it, but I did have the chance to play it for about 20 minutes at the end of the day, and it was a lot of fun–a really impressive design.

  6. […] Inspired by Ticket to Ride game designer Alan Moon’s annual “Gathering of Friends” event, last year, Stonemaier Games hosted and ran our first Design Day. The idea was 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. I wrote about the 2014 Design Day here. […]

  7. […] 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. […]

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