Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The thing with prototypes

I’ve recently heard that with specialist software and high quality printing services so widely available, there is no reason (and no excuse) for a prototype to look much worse than a finished game, and that designers should really make their prototypes look great to improve their chances of being published. Ladies and gentlemen, that is bad advice.

Image Source: BoardGameGeek

During the last few months at NSKN Games I’ve had some prototypes pass through my gaming table. Some of them looked really impressive, with “near final” artwork and graphic design. Some of them looked merely serviceable, with simple clipart or symbols representing different game elements. And we’ve both accepted and rejected games regardless of how lavishly or how simply their prototypes were produced. 

Now, I cannot speak for all publishers in the world, as maybe some of them will have a different approach to prototypes, but I’m still relatively certain that the following list of things you really don’t need to do (and a few things you most certainly do need to do) is one that will work with a lot of publishers. So, here we go: 

Do not overproduce your prototype. We will not be more impressed if you go with fancy stuff instead of simple stuff. We will honestly be looking at how your game plays, not at how your game presents itself on the table (in its prototype incarnation). Believe me when I say we’ve seen a lot of games, and we will be looking at mechanisms and ideas, not at shiny things. 

However, do make sure that your prototype is serviceable, easy to read and complete. Even the most lavishly produced copy will fail to engage us, if simply playing it seems the biggest challenge. So, make sure that we know which element is which, and that we can read what’s on them without a problem.

A simple but effective prototype.

Do not commission artwork or graphic design, unless you really know what you’re doing. If you don’t, you may end up with an expense that will never be covered, as the materials prepared may turn out to be unusable for the publisher you’ve chosen. And if you designed a Eurogame, it may also happen that it might be rethemed, which usually automatically means that none of what you’ve prepared will be in any way useful. 

However, do use the internet to help you with making your prototype more accessible. You can find caches of simple artworks and/or symbols, which you can download and use for your game. Some clean and simple icons or illustrations might make the experience of playing your game easier and more enjoyable for us. So, by all means, make your game look good, but don’t overdo it. 

Do not waste your time on unnecessary “improvements”. Unless you are an artist or a graphic designer, your job is to design a game – and nothing more. Spending months on making it look better will be a time wasted if you skimp on polishing the gameplay. Seriously, when it comes to production quality, we’ll have it covered. You just worry about making the game itself really cool. 

However, do make sure that what you send us is, well, neat. Some wear and tear is acceptable (it only goes to show that you’ve actually played your game), but be sure that none of the elements look like something we’d be afraid to touch without tweezers or latex gloves. Also, if some of them have more annotations than original content, you might want to redo them as well. 

The above tips cover the basics, and if you follow them, you should be fine. And if you would like to know how to actually make a prototype (as in: what materials to use and how to make your life easier), just reach out to us on Facebook or Twitter.

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