Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Universe is Expanding

The Opinionated Gamers just posted a debate on the value or expansions for boardgame hobbyists. From the game designer’s perspective, this trend is also a mixed bag.

But first, we need to ask the question, “What started this expansion craze?”  With Eurogames, it must have been Settlers of Catan.  The reason for this is not only because Herr Teuber created a hit game, but because he invented a modular game system that can be varied in an infinite number of ways.

This is the “Holy Grail” of game design:  not only to create a great game, but to introduce a new gaming system to the hobby.  Gaming systems are easily varied and expanded upon, and this invites tinkering.  Much like a player who enjoys exploring different strategies in a particular game, the game designer can delight in exploring the game system he or she has created. Not only that—it invites fans of the game to become game designers by creating their own variants and scenarios.  Furthermore, published fan designs like Settlers Book give the players a sense of ownership over their favorite game.

From a financial perspective, of course, a game that can spurn an infinite number of expansions can yield a financial windfall for both designer and publisher.  This can give the publisher of a hit game a steady income, which they can then invest in seeking new designs, and likewise, discover new designers.  This does not always happen, however, as a publisher can be so consumed with supporting its best-selling products that new designs are often delayed or even cancelled.

And unlike Settlers of Catan, most new games are not new systems that can easily be expanded upon.  Expansions to these games are not as much explorations than they are "published house rules," tweaks that might offer some novel new components and a small variance in game play.

Finally, a third type of origin for game expansions is the "director's cut."  Just as film editors cut out much of what the director has filmed, game publishers often cut some features of a game submitted to them.  If the film--or game--is a hit, it often gives its creator the opportunity to re-release it in a version closer to his or her original vision.  For a game designer, this may take the form of one or more expansions.

When a designer has a hit game, it can be profitable and interesting to continue to revisit the design. I would assume, however, that most designers would rather spend their time developing new designs...

...or even better, new game systems.

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