This is a really good point to say that on just about all of these topics there will be wildly differing opinions on what to do depending on who you ask. This is really about my experience. And this is my first time out, so if I do something that completely fails, I’ll come back and let you know. But for now, let’s begin.
What kind of prototype do you need? Before I can answer that, I have to ask: where are you in the process?
You have an idea for a game. Just a germ of an idea. Just a little squiggly sperm of a concept, looking for an egg to fertilize. Cool. You don’t need anything fancy at the moment. Some people create initial prototypes with paper and pen, some print things out on computers, some do stuff with stickers. You’re going to throw all of these things away before too long, so if you spend more than 20 bucks total you’re probably spending too much. Your goal in the beginning is just to get items that you can use. Get it going as quickly as possible, because it is only in testing that you’ll realize how badly you screwed up.
But eventually you’re going to get out of the initial testing phase and you’ll want the rest of the world to start looking at your game. What do you do at that point?
Some will tell you that a prototype is a prototype and it doesn’t really matter what it looks like as long as it is legible. That’s cool. It’s fair. And I would probably play a game that looked rough and hand-made if the gameplay was engaging. But personally, when I bring my games out for the rest of the world to play, I want at least a step up from that.
There are a number of different services that you can use to create prototypes. Personally, I use The GameCrafter (www.thegamecrafter.com) because they have many different parts and pieces, and I’ve been very satisfied with the service. I find uploading and making games on there pretty simple, but you may find that a different service works better for you.
Now that Adobe Photoshop is 10 bucks a month, it’s a little tough to recommend any other service for creating files for games. If you want to really make this game, you’re going to have to make some investments. And for me, Photoshop is a no-brainer. (Others love inDesign, which I have not used. I am an old Photoshop vet, so that’s just me. Bottom line: you can probably afford better than free).
So now I’ve got my creation tool and the company that will create my prototype. What next?
In the last log I talked about art. Is art strictly necessary for your prototype. No, it is not. But is it nice? Is it helpful? Does it get people excited about your game? You bet your ass.
Let’s take the prototype for Bill Shakespeare is Dead.
Not the greatest pictures in the world, I know. But it gives you an idea of what I’m talking about in terms of completion in the prototype phase. It’s a solid-looking box. It’s filled with cards (see other pictures below) and small booklets. It’s got cover art and a blurb on the back. Is this what it’s going to look like at retail? No. But would it look ridiculous sitting on the shelf of a game store? Personally, I don’t think so.
For the purposes of clarity, this wasn’t free. Or even particularly cheap. I paid about 70 dollars for the piece of art to go on the cover. I paid about 50 dollars for the prototype itself. It’s not cheap. But when I do a demo at a game store or at a convention (or even with friends!) people compliment the cards. They take notice of the art. They know I’m serious, and with the large amount of crap that gets shoveled onto Kickstarter on a daily basis, having some credibility goes a long way.
As a note, I made a smaller version of the game to send to reviewers. I’m the first to acknowledge that my prototype is way too expensive to make en masse, so I made an edition that I can print a little more freely. It’s not the full version of the game, but it’s enough to play and review. And it is clearly indicated in those copies what isn’t there (just missing some white cards, so the game can be played fewer times before getting repeats). I’ll talk more about reviewers at a different time. You can check out a few pictures of the review copy below.
What do you think? Do you take games more seriously if the prototype looks quality? Do you care about quality prototypes for your own games?
In the next log – Testing.