The Power of Enthusiasm
by Shannon Appelcline
More frequently than not, this is truly my column. Sometime during the interim between columns I face some problem or have some insight and it leads me to write a column on that topic, how it directly impacted me, and how I resolved the issue. Or, I pick a game design topic to dissect, and I do so over the course of one or multiple columns. No one else suggests what to write, nor how to do so.
But, no one ever works alone, in a vacuum, and that's just as true of the game design industry as any other. Inevitably some of the insights that I chance upon are thanks to coworkers or players. And so this week I want to share a short and simple piece of advice that was given to me and which I rely upon regularly.
Christopher Allen is the creative force behind Skotos. Perhaps he's not always as present here on the front lines, because he doesn't have a column, but anyone who's ever worked at Skotos, and anyone who's ever attended a GenCon knows that he provided the core vision for a community of designer games that we follow to this day.
I've worked with Christopher since before Skotos days, back to a previous company of his called Consensus Development. It was there that he first offered a piece of business acumen that I still hold on to.
Simply: Go where the enthusiasm is.
I've found little else that I've learned in 12 years of professional work to be as useful as this simple imperative. The most exciting, innovative, and successful projects here at Skotos have all been built on individual enthusiasm.
Two of the most recent Skotos Seven projects that I gave the green light to were almost entirely on the basis of raw enthusiasm, and I haven't been disappointed in either, as they both continue to add builders and/or game material at an awesome rate. Personally, I'm well aware that my own productivity can shoot up 2x or 3x when I'm working on something really cool, as opposed to just sitting around balancing the Skotos credit cards.
There is, of course, a danger to this. You can end up with less experienced people working on games. And, if that enthusiasm dies out, it can be like a rocket with too little propellent--suddenly it's hanging in the air, and you realize that nothing's holding it up.
We faced this exact problem early in Skotos' evolution, and came up with a good corollary to our rule of enthusiasm.
Enthusiasm & Communities
When we signed up our original Skotos Seven, a few years ago now, we signed up very talented and enthusiastic individuals who we thought could make great games. But, inevitably, their enthusiasm faded, and one-by-one those original S7 designs dropped away. (There were, to be fair, other issues, such as the fact that our toolkits weren't ready to go as early as we'd hoped.)
Since those original seven, we've tended to actively advocate large design teams rather than singular designers, and the results have been much better. Now, my general belief is this:
Enthusiasm can be reflected & sustained by communities where it might die out in individuals.
I think our communities act like big echo chambers, and even when the enthusiasm fades in one designer, as it tends to in the ebb and flow of human activity, there's a bond of community that keep everyone together, and gives the opportunity for that fading ember of enthusiasm in that one designer to be relit by the fire still raging in another.
Enthusiasm & Game Design
How to apply this to your personal game design should be obvious, especially if you're working on a team. If someone is enthusiastic about something, let them try it. I think this is particularly important if some team member has a weird & innovative idea that doesn't fit into your original concept of how your game might work. The obvious response is usually the knee-jerk one, which is to say that it doesn't match your vision.
However, if there's real enthusiasm there, consider instead the alternative: letting your team member do his wild & wacky thing. Your game might benefit immensely from it.
Enthusiasm & Writing
Personally, you might have noticed this column lagging in the last couple of months, and that's for the exact reasons that I've described in this column. Over the holidays, articles were very light, and so our columnar community was largely missing. And, a lot of my enthusiasm was missing soon.
To rev things back up, I've got a new series planned: gaming genres, where I plan to fairly decisively step through a number of gameplay types found in mass-market games--stuff like "shooters", "strategy games", and "adventure games"--and then see how they might apply to us in the MMORPG world.
So I plan to be back in two or three weeks with the first of those.