Communities of Design

2006 Nov 21

A thread on StoryGames inspired some reflections:

So we’ve talked a bit about how individual play groups are communities of practice that develop their own norms over time. Certain the same holds true for communities that resolve around things like design and publishing as well as play. The Forge is a great example, as is StoryGames itself. We don’t play with those people, but we are influenced by them in our design work and in our overall thinking about roleplaying.

The thing is, these communities aren’t really built to support game design. The people who frequent them (the Forge, StoryGames, RPGnet) aren’t really interested in real, bloody hands, words on the page, playtest-ready design work. They’re mostly coming there to talk about games, to talk about designs they may be working on or planning to work on, and, above all, to socialize with fellow roleplaying enthusiasts. That’s all well and good, but if you were hoping to build a community that was really about game design, it would have to operate pretty differently from the places where game designers already socialize.

In my experience, places that are used mostly for socialization are really bad at helping people finish projects and supporting them every step of the way. The exceptions are cases like Game Chef or similar design contests. THAT, I think, is one model of what a game design community could be like: people post actual work that they’ve done on a game and get response on actual design work, not hypothetical stuff. The energy level is high and engaged. Everybody is working alongside one another. There are concrete deadlines — often broken — but they provide structure to the process. People regularly review each other’s work and rate progress, recognizing accomplishments and talking through the next few steps.


5 Responses to “Communities of Design”

  1. Troy_Costisick Says:


    I hear ya, JW. We haven’t yet really developed a good place to design games on the Internet. The Forge comes close with its Connections, Publishing, and Conventions forums. But still, I think the current format isn’t liberating enough for designers.



  2. Jonathan Walton Says:

    Troy, the Forge is fine for helping people PUBLISH games. As far as DESIGNING games, I don’t think it’s ideal.

  3. Lauren Says:

    I think what you are describing is kind of hard to come by and should be treasured dearly while it exists. I feel like even in design school, a place set up to be that kind of support group and filled with people trained to function in that setting, it takes a while every semester to get to a point where everyone in studio can feed each other properly.

    Maybe I’m particularly picky about the precise quality of the interactions that I get from people. Suggestions and critiques from strangers are alright, but it’s not the same as working along side someone you know and respect.

    It can be hard to find a community with the time to put into the work, the seriousness and dedication to demand a high quality of output and personalities that gel together in a productive way. And then to attempt that with people you aren’t geographically complicates things further.

    But not that it’s impossible – it’s just very demanding and requires commitment that goes beyond what you find at the usual forum. It’s hard to get everyone working on the same page. But you have lots of friends and contacts, make a secret society or something. Something with passwords and secret handshakes. You might want to ditch the “No Girls Allowed” sign though.

  4. Annie Says:

    Lauren has some good points. Ones I would’ve said myself.

    Is this post related to the story games thread about “What do you see this place as?” (or whatever it was)? That was the first thing I read showing back up post-moving. When I saw “This isn’t supposed to be a place for game design”, at first I thought it was tongue in cheek. I don’t have a play group. Design is what I like. it’s what I do. It’s what I want to talk about.

    It made me a little sad and *runaway* feeling. I had thought of Story Games as progressive. Post-forge, almost (as seen coming from RPGnet).

    Let me restate what (i think) Lauren is saying: we don’t have somewhere to go. Let’s make it ourselves.

  5. xenopulse Says:

    I don’t think that socializing is the issue with the Forge. In fact, socialization is pretty much suppressed over there, which is why StoryGames is such a more friendly-feeling, but less focused, place.

    The reason I think the Forge doesn’t do as much as a place could to help with designs is a certain clutteredness, linked with the fact that members come and go, and that it’s a crap shoot whether anyone with anything good to say notices your thread. I’ve got some good feedback out of it, but I have also seen threads that barely got any response.

    So your points about dedication and involvement are more pertinent there, I think. However, that dedication is hard to come by in a world where we all have a million other things to deal with.

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