Written by Nathaniel ‘Nat’ Levan. Nat and his wife, Anna, are the brains behind Oak Leaf Games, based in Philadelphia. Nat has been participating in Unpub events for the past 2 years and has always been eager to contribute, as you can tell from the post above. Nat is awesome.
Hi, I’m Nat, new game designer and member of the Unpub network for about a year and a half. My first experience was accidentally encountering an Unpub Mini at the local game store. This was a bit of a revelation, that games don’t just get made by pushing ideas around. It comes from pushing cardboard. Many games never make it as far as a playable prototype, and many of those that do never reach a publisher. This is where Unpub comes into play. If you’re reading this, you’re already a member of the Unpub Network, just by knowing about it. It is a network because it includes not just designers, but publishers, store owners, bloggers, podcasters, and especially players. And it is a way to connect all of these people who are passionate about games to advance the hobby.
So what can you expect from Unpub? Well, the core of Unpub is the feedback system. Designers design games, players play them and give feedback, and designers take the feedback to improve their games. This sounds like a great system for designers. Have people play our game and tell you how to fix it? I’m in. But the real advantage is that everybody benefits from this system.
Lets start with the game design. Designers can use Unpub to meet and talk with other designers, publishers, and players. Designers get a better idea of what they want to make and how to make it. Bringing it to an unpub event means creating a prototype. The prototype gets a designer thinking about manufacturing and components, which not only helps in design, but will help when the game is ready to be published.
This sharing of ideas early in the game design process leads to better, more interesting games for players. It also gives players a way to influence the types of games that get made. If there’s something you would like to see, tell someone, and it might become a game. You can watch something grow from seed to a finished product.
The next step is playing games. Designers get to see their creations come to life, and they get to see people try things that might not have occurred to them. Finding people outside your family and gaming group to play test your game is absolutely vital for a designer, and Unpub provides that resource. I have personally benefitted from this aspect, just by watching new players get confused and realizing there was something I needed to change.
Players get to actually play new games before anyone else, and you (usually) get to play with the actual designer. I’m not telling anybody to rub it in their friends’ faces, but when your friend gets a new game, you can say “This is a great game, I played it with the designer at Unpub.” You might even get some helpful tips from the designer that can give you the upper hand. If you want a new, unique game experience, Unpub is the place to find it. People sometimes criticize the appeal of new games as being the “cult of the new”, but every “good old game” was new once. You might be playing the game that everyone will be praising in 3 years.
With the popularity of Kickstarter, Unpub also provides a way for players to try out new games before they back them. Many Kickstarter games just sell you on the idea of the game, but every game at an Unpub event is an actual prototype that you can play, albeit not in the final form.
Feedback may be the most important part of Unpub. For a designer, you get honest feedback that you might not get from family and friends. And you get way more information than just good or bad. You learn what people think about the length and difficulty, and what they like, dislike, or would change.
As a player, your opinion matters. Feedback gives you the opportunity to really influence a game’s development. For any time that you have played a game and said “This doesn’t make sense, it should be done differently,” Unpub gives you the opportunity to do something about it. And you don’t have to worry about offending someone, because your opinions were requested. You know that the game will be better because of your input.
Designers take the feedback and use it and the product is a better game. This is an obvious benefit for both designers and players, because a better game is more likely to be published, and more fun for players. Let’s not leave publishers and store owners out, either. Publishers get a game that has been put through some real tests and know they have a proven, high quality product. (Several recent flaws in high-profile games from well known designers and experienced publishers show that more testing is always helpful.) In turn, store owners generate traffic into their stores, and generate interest to buy the games once they reach the shelf. I ran out and bought VivaJava after meeting the designer at an Unpub event and playing one of his new games.
So besides the actual process, what other benefits does Unpub provide? First off, the boardgame community at large is open and friendly, and Unpub seems to be especially so. You are surrounded by people who love making and playing games. As a player or designer, you can sit and talk details of game design with the designers. I love doing that whenever I play a game anyway, so Unpub is a great outlet for that.
Unpub is also a great networking resource. It is called the Unpub Network. I frequently see designers and publishers talk about how important it is to go out and meet people in the industry. It is so small that everyone knows each other, and Unpub is a great way to get into it. For players considering designing their own games, the Unpub Network also provides a wealth of resources and a lot of encouragement.
And then there’s the annual Unpublished Games Festival, the UNPUB Event. It’s a weekend of no-stress fun and a chance to experience everything I’ve already mentioned. And unlike other major conventions UNPUB is FREE to players. In fact, most Unpub events are free to players and designers. The price of the main event for designers is less than the admission to most conventions, and you get all the playtesting and feedback on top of it.
Next year will bring even more benefits from participating in the Unpub Network (participating rather than belonging, since there’s no signup, no fee, no money down, no assembly required, no batteries included, and just no stopping us now) as the website develops, Unpub returns to BGGCon, and I hear that there are some surprises in store.
What makes Unpub work is that everybody gets something out of this system. 5 out of 10 designers and players surveyed recommended it, and the 6th is busy teaching his new game design to the other 4. Don’t forget to fill out your feedback forms!