Poor Choices: Becoming a Games Designer

by on 17/02/2016
 

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Last year I had the pleasure of play testing an up-and-coming new card game, Poor Choices. The Kickstarter launched two weeks ago and has already reached most of it’s goals, and looks like it will be achieving all it’s targets to produce a slick, fully illustrated, well designed game, ready to ship for Christmas this year!

I had a great time playing the game, although there isn’t much point reviewing that version, as many changes have been made for the final release. Basically, Poor Choices is a social game with elements of sabotage and real life consequences with the emphasis firmly on fun and humour. Check out the website for video demos of how the game works, and samples of cards and artwork. It’s an interesting concept, and one of those games that is a lot simpler to play than it is to explain.

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The creator, Wade Welsh, is not shy about the influence that Cards Against Humanity had on his decision to produce the game. CAH has firmly broken the mainstream market and opened the doors for new developers and rookies alike to try their hand at games design. This will surely result in a lot of CAH-style games (and outright rip offs) but has also added some new blood to the market, and brought card games back to the public eye, rather than the peak of elitist geekery that Magic the Gathering and other CCG’s are perceived as.

I was one of those kids that grew up surrounded by poly dice and wargaming miniatures, and I wasted plenty of my youth creating my own, generally rubbish, games. It’s been a privilege to get to know someone who has actually bitten the bullet, and is hoping to now live the dream and proudly call himself a Games Designer. With that in mind, especially for any budding entrepreneurs out there, I bring you an exclusive interview from Wade Welsh, Games Designer, about what it really takes to make your dreams a reality and launch your own game.

Tell us about yourself! Can you give me a quick summary of who you are and what brought you to this point, designing and producing your game?

My name is Wade Welsh. I have played a variety of games as far back as I can remember. Most notably, I played professional baseball for part of one season before hurting my elbow and ending my sports career. I gambled my entire life on the sport, so when I got hurt, I spent a good 5-6 years doing odd jobs trying to figure out what I wanted to do in my life.

I got into entrepreneurship as a means to escaping the 9-5, which felt like a prison sentence to me. Creating a game wasn’t planned by any means. The idea that I could use my entrepreneur knowledge to create a game came to while playing Cards Against Humanity with my family.

A month or so later is when I started researching what it would take create my own game.

How long have you been working on this idea, is it something you have always wanted to do?

The night the idea popped into my head was in December of 2014. I began research and testing a few ideas about a month later, and decided to go for it in June of 2015.

I can’t say I have had a goal of creating a game my entire life. I do, however, remember drawing board games on paper when I was a kid. Funny, I didn’t actually remember that until now. I don’t think you could play any of the games I drew, I just drew them. I loved the creativity involved in designing them. I also used to draw crazy characters with special abilities and physical traits. Wow, this is making me second guess my dedication to baseball!

Do you have a day job, or has this taken over? Will you risk it all for this or will you know when the time is right?

The last day job I had was selling auto insurance in 2011. The day I quit, I promised myself I’d do whatever it takes to avoid working for someone else again. I’ve spent the last four and half years supporting myself as an entrepreneur. I’ve done affiliate marketing, programmed a SaaS that tracked online marketing results, and imported physical products to sell on Amazon.

A big part of being an entrepreneur is being able to accept risk. I made the decision to risk it all in June of 2015. That is when I decided to devote all of my attention to creating Poor Choices. Since that day, I have worked approximately 2,000 hours in exchange for absolutely no money. The crazy part is that you still don’t REALLY know if your game will be funded until the Kickstarter is over.

What current or past games are among your favourites? Are you an exclusively card games guy, or do you play other formats (RPGS, wargames or even consoles etc)

The best part about playing games is the people you play it with. I am very family oriented and a fairly shy guy, so most of my experience with games is with my family. They gave up on playing strategic games against me years ago because I always win, so we just play social games anymore.

I was and still am a big video game fan. I’ve owned most of the consoles, all the way back to Atari. Nintendo, Sega, Nintendo 64, Wii, Xbox, PlayStation. I am a huge FPS fan, so Halo, Rainbow Six 3 and Call of Duty are my favorites. If you want some free kills, I suggest you find my lobby.

One game I played recently that I really enjoyed was Exploding Kittens. I didn’t think I was going to like it, but I play with my five nephews and nieces and I have a lot of fun.

What is a typical work day like for you?

I usually wake up around noon after staying up late the previous night. After I get ready, I look over my to-do list, which usually has 2-10 things I want to accomplish that day. I’m usually very unproductive in the morning, so I start with the easy stuff. Sometime in the evening, I get a burst of energy and tackle the “hard” stuff. I’ll watch some YouTube videos or stream an episode of Breaking Bad if I need a break. Then I proceed to work way too late into the night and do it again the next day.

What was the very first draft of this game like? Who did you playtest it with?

Oh man, I forgot about this. The very first physical draft of the game was permanent marker on lined index cards. After researching what people liked and disliked about card games, I had a list of about five different concepts. I tested them with my sister, mom and teenage niece. The game we all thought was going to be the best ended up being the worst.

We knew Poor Choices was the one because we were laughing so hard we were all crying. Even though we wrote the cards an hour earlier (and they weren’t even that funny at the time), we laughed a lot. Even today, when I get new cards from some of the comedians that write the cards for the game, I laugh out loud because I know that card will be hilarious.

What has been the hardest part of bringing your game to market?

Without question, exposure. You can have the best game in the world, but if nobody knows about it, you won’t sell a single copy. Plus, most people that have a large audience won’t/can’t help due to the fact that the game isn’t for sale now and they don’t know who you are. So it has been a huge struggle to gain exposure. Also, because this is my first game, I started with literally 0 followers. I didn’t even have a social media account at the time.

Were there any humiliations that you decided would be a bit too much and didn’t include?

Absolutely! Most humiliations were cut actually. The humiliations are a touchy part of the game. Few people actually want to be humiliated, so they need to primarily be fun, and avoid going too far. If they are too much, you won’t want to play the game with them, and that’s part of the fun. For example, who really wants to suck on someone else’s toes? And who would want their toes to be sucked on by one of their friends or family? Not me. I’ve actually toned them down a bit.

I do have plans to create themed humiliation packs after the game is complete. That would allow for people that want “hardcore” punishments to buy that pack in isolation, rather than force everyone to get them. Truth or dare, drinking and flirting humiliations are a few ideas I’ve thought about, but I don’t want to get too ahead of myself.

If you were doing this all over again would you do anything different, and what advice would you give to yourself?

I’d advise myself to get in a position that I can afford to hire people to do most of the work for me. This process has been the most stressful six months of my life. Can you tell I don’t yet have children?

I would also play test the game as early and as many times as possible. I was in such a hurry at the beginning that I spent $600 on samples from the manufacturer, and I had only play tested it with a few small groups. By the time I mailed some of the samples, I had already received feedback that changed the game.

Another thing that I probably don’t take as seriously as I should – have fun. I put a lot of stress on myself to create a perfect game. If someone said anything remotely negative, I was crushed. Games are all about having fun, and I think creating them should be as well.

Has anyone helped you make the game or have you done everything yourself?

I was very lucky to find Neil Morley from the UK, the artist that illustrated all of the characters, the logo, packaging, etc. He has been the easiest and most fun person to work with on any project I’ve ever done, and he’s done an unbelievable job. In fact, I’m trying to figure out a way to pay him to illustrate the rest of the characters in the game. Having every character illustrated on the cards would really pop.

I found Karl Brudvig from South Africa, a really talented 3D video generalist that helped me create the gameplay video, and he’s going to help me with the Kickstarter video as well.

I was also fortunate enough to partner with some real-life comedians to write some of the cards. I wanted to make sure there was a variety of humor in the game, and I found four standup comedians and a few more comedy writers that wrote about half of the cards.

I did most of the rest on my own (which I wouldn’t recommend doing) and almost every step was a challenge. It really makes my job easier when you find people that are good at what they do. This game would look terrible if I was in charge of the design.

Have you got some advice for the aspiring game designers out there?

I recently got my hair cut. The girl that cut my hair asked what I do for a living and I told her I created this game. She couldn’t believe it. I probably would have been the same way five years ago. It’s just not common to meet someone that creates games (or any other product for that matter). But I will say this.

Creating a game is probably more work that you think, but not as hard as you think. Just because you’ve never created a game, doesn’t mean you’re not capable of doing so. You don’t need a degree. All you need is an idea that you validate by having others test your idea.

Here is a bird’s eye view of the process I’d go through if I were to start over:

1) Write down as many ideas as possible – even if you think they are dumb or won’t work. Do this over the course of days or weeks. Play other games for inspiration. Write down what you like about them and what you don’t like about them. A lot of people jump into projects without thinking everything through. Taking the time now, will save you a lot of time later.

2) Once you have your list, create a super simple prototype of all the good ones – even if you have to use crayons and binder paper you rip into squares. Find a couple of friends or family members and try it out. Write down the things that work well and brainstorm how to improve things that don’t.

3) Mix and match different mechanics and concepts until you narrow it down to either a few good options or one good option with a few variants. Play test these as much as you can with as many people as you can. I recommend testing with friends and family, as well as blind testing (people you don’t know without you being there). Get everyone’s feedback and make changes as necessary. The game isn’t what you like or what you want, it’s all about your (future) customers. They are the ones paying their hard-earned money for your game. You must cater to their wants and needs.

4) Tell people about your game. I was SO afraid to do this. I thought people would steal my idea, tell me it’s the worst idea they’ve heard since they were born, etc. Tell everyone you know – even your friends and relatives you haven’t talked to in two years. Create a simple website, social media pages, etc. Start spreading the word any way you can, and there are infinite ways to do this.

5) Contact manufacturers to get quotes. This seems so daunting to someone who’s new, but let me tell you, this was probably the easiest step of this entire process. I recommend using a Chinese manufacturer because their prices are so much lower than US manufacturers. I admit I never researched UK and India manufacturers. I started searching for manufacturers on Alibaba, but ended up using a couple recommended manufacturers listed on Board Game Geek.

6) Figure out how you want to bring your game to market. Presales? Kickstarter? Indiegogo? Investors? Partnerships? Self-funding? Study people who have gone down the path you choose. Just make sure you listen to the people who have done what you want to do, rather than people who created a blog so they can make £50 a month with Adsense.

7) Have fun and don’t give up. There will be roadblocks. All you have to do is start, and then figure out how to get around each roadblock as they appear.

Thanks for the great interview Wade! Wishing you all the best for your project, I’ve got my order in – can’t wait to play the final game.

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