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Most published games are 80% complete

Page: DesignArticle.Article-IncompleteGames - Last Modified : Thu, 01 Dec 16 - 1847 Visits

Author : Eric Pietrocupo
Source: Game Design: How to create video and tabletop games, start to finish / Lewis Pulsipher.- Jefferson: McFarland, 2012.- 268 p.

As many of you probably know, I like to modify existing games usualy to fix issues or make the game closer to my taste. Some people are actually offended by this and I have even received comments that if I hate board game so much I should then change hobby.

Now I have a quote that explains the reason behind those variant which had been said by the famous god of board games that many people worship:

Making an 80% game is very easy. A lot of games out there are just 80% finished. With more testing the game could be more elegant and the last 20% takes a lot of time. That's the difficult part. - Reiner Knizia

I have said it hundred of time that most game out there sucks but nobody beleived me, they just thought I just had very difficult taste or was simply in the wrong hobby. But no, like Reiner said, it's because most of the game are incomplete. And when I am designing variant, I am actually finishing the designer's job in my own way.

Now how does this occurs? Board game design demand a lot of work, when the designer played the game multiple times and they end up with a working game, they stop and think their game is finished. That is the first 80% of the design, get a working game. But a working game is far from beign a good game which required that missing 20%. But the problem is that missing 20% takes as much or even more development time than the first 80%. Here is a graphic that shows the curve.

So as you can see half of the designer's time should be spent to get a working game and another half should be spent to complete the game. The last part of the game requires much more playtesting, but sometimes it requires time to rest. By resting, you'll eventually see your game from a different angle and found issues you have not seen before.

Fallen kingdoms took me 4 years to design produce and publish. 3 years later I am making a second revisions with new rules and modified components. So a game design is unfortunately never over and since I want my game to be good, not just working, I insist on putting additional time into my game to make it more perfect.

Some could say according to Pareto's law that the first 80% of your game design's would take 20% of your time, while the last 20% of game design would take 80% of your time.

Law of Diminishing Marginal Returns

The problem is that a game is never finished, it could be improved infinitely, but you do not have an infinite amount of time to spend on your game design. So you must know where to draw the line or when it should worth it to invest time on your design. Maybe by waiting a few years, you are going to playtest with new players or get a new idea that would solve a problem you had with your old design. So again pushing yourself to design your game is never the best solution.

The law of diminishing marginal returns states that the more your game progress, the more time it takes to make it progress further. Which create a logarithmic curve where perfection can never be achieved, so you will end up in a situation where investing more time will give little progress to your game.

So you must be able to determine when you should stop designing your game to make sure your time is well invested. Personally I am aiming for 95% completion since I am very picky on details and I want to make good quality games.

How could this be achievable, one of the solution I intend to use in my next designs is to pre-release the game to the public to get a maximum amount of feedback and playtest to improve the game before releasing it for real. This is a similar solutions that has been used by some kickstarter projects (ex: 12 realms, D-Day Dice, etc).


Partially related to playtesting and time invested in the game, there is an interesting concepts called "Outliers" which is in fact a bad gaming session. Murphy's law say that:

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong

The same thing can happen in board games, you can have a playtesting session that goes very wrong either because the cards were badly stack or because the player had unexpected behaviors. This could be analysed as a probability bell curve.

This cuve is similar to rolling 2D6 where rolling 12 is much more harder than rolling 7. Playing a board game is like rolling a pair of dice. Most of the time, you'll get a number around 7. But eventually you will roll a 12 or a 2 and that game will be horrible and very different from all other games played so far. This is called an "Outlier".

Now you cannot expect all game to occur perfectly the way you intended too. Even if you succeed to do so, your game might be simply boring. Instead, you need to make some rules to prevent or reduce to possibility of outliers to occur like shown in the curve below.

This curve is much better since the extreme probabilities are not so different then the regular game play. So the experience given by your game will be good even if the players hit an outliers. If you fail to identify those outiliers then you would need to spend more time playtesteing to find them or you are going to get embarassed when you'll hit an bad playtesting session. Beleive me, you start getting anxious when it happens.

Now, there is bullet proof way to test those outliers, but murphy's law could help. Ask yourself what is the worst thing that could happen if all the stars were right. Does that breaks your game, if yes you might need to add a restriction of somekind to prevent it from happening.

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