Lessons From Shootouts: The Long Road

What does it take for an small indie company to turn an idea into a game like 6d6 Shootouts? In this and in two subsequent articles, I will look at what lessons first-time game designers learn from the development of 6d6 Shootouts.

Small Beginings

6d6 Shootouts has its origins in the 6d6 RPG but back in September 2010 the rules to the RPG were unwritten and still very fluid. Even so, we were already running demo games for the 6d6 RPG but we had a problem. Each RPG demo game takes about four hours and even if you get a full table of players, there is still only a very limited number of people who can experience it first hand. To reach more people we needed a way to demonstrate the central concepts of the 6d6 RPG with a flexible number of players and which only took an hour. The idea for 6d6 Shootouts was born.

Eighteen months later, the game is finally being launched but does it really take that long to develop a game as quick and easy to play as 6d6 Shootouts?

Iteration Is Key

Originally, the concept was just to have a demonstration game and there was no thought of converting it into a finished product. After several weeks of hard play-testing we had a game and it went down a storm at Indiecon. Only then did we really grasp that it could be a product in its own right.

This was the first major iteration. Having reached our original aim, we took a step back and considered a new target – creating a product. Some of the rules we had already developed that would never work in a product so those were discard and the play-testing start again. It may appear that the original version and all its play-testing was a waste of time but that would be missing the point. A good game is not something that springs fully formed from the head of the designer. It is an evolutionary process than polishes and refines ideas. By focusing on creating a fun, easy demo game and proving it at conventions, we had the perfect building blocks for creating a product.

The Second big iteration of 6d6 Shootouts happened just weeks before we were due to launch the product in the summer of 2011. The more we looked into how to physically the produce the game, the more expensive it got. Soon, what we imagined to be a cheap game that would appeal to CCG and RPGers looking for a quick distraction was costing more than a top-of-the-range Fantasy Flight board game. Clearly this not viable and the launch was pulled off.

Again we took a look at the game and reassessed it with a new aim – to hit the desired price point. Again this meant discarding work we had already done but yet again, it led to a better product as we created something new from those well proven building blocks.

These two major iterations in the product’s development took a lot of time, they cost us money and we missed opportunities because the product was not ready but they were vital to its development.

Big and Small Iterations

Game development is an iterative process and nowhere shows this more than in play-testing. It is a constant process of refinement and polish that takes many, many months and hundreds of hours as ideas are tried, tested and fixed, over and over again. Each iteration of design, testing and redesign may take minutes or days and each step adds time and cost to the development process but without it, there is no game.

Many first time game designers make the mistake of thinking that play-testing is what happens at the end of the process, once the game is written. Nothing can be further from the truth. If a game design has 20,000 words already written before play-testing begins, these words will need to be discard to reflect the outcome of the testing or the result of the testing have to be ignored to fit the writing. Either route results in wasted time and / or a bad game.

It is in play-testing that the game gets written. Creating the rule book is just a matter of putting those words on to paper.

The Long Road

Game development takes time and the road is not always direct. Any game designer must ready for a long journey with many detours a long the way.