Game design pros – professionalism or not

This is a bit of an esoteric post from the Simulating War yahoo group.

Some elements of disagreement in the discussion about ‘professionalisation of wargames design’ come from the application of concepts that may be pertinent in one part of the domain to another part of the domain. We can probably agree on the following simple diagram:

Domain

I think this is fairly obvious. More helpful in the context of this discussion is to think about the ‘systems of wargame design’ and its purpose(s). For each designer there will be a personal perspective to this. In simple terms the system has some inputs (there may be a lot more of these) and an output:

Process

While this might be a generalisable process, the purpose of each designer’s own ‘system of wargame design’ is likely to be very different and therefore colours our approaches to professionalisation. Take the following hypothetical system: ‘a system to design for the US DoD profitable simulation wargame products and services that will be a direct aid to US military or policy planners for use within a contemporary or very near future planning window within the constraints of US defence procurement’. This system definition has been loosely validated by me as follows [using a standard CATWOE method if anyone’s interested 🙂 ]

  • Customer – US DoD
  • Actor – game designer (company or individual)
  • Transformation – design process
  • Weltanschauung – US military / policy planning framework
  • Owner – game designer again (in that this company or individual operates the system)
  • Environment – US defence planning and procurement

For a game designer in this system, I can see the merits of imposing some more formal quality assurance constraints on the process – in fact, they may be essential for credibility with the customer, noting that the designer wants to maintain this system in the long-term (to design many of these things). This means the sensible designer will attempt to understand the customers’ attitude to quality assessment, so that repeat sales can be made. This might lead one down the formal professionalisation route, or at least to gain credibility through accreditation, for example relevant academic or professional qualifications. Experience and track record will only count if those buying the stuff understand the relevance of, have access to, and take account of, that information.

In contrast, I offer another hypothetical system: ‘a system to design a set of operational level WW2 miniatures rules that contrast different national doctrines for the delight of our local wargaming groups with a view to eventual publication through own means but with no expectation of profit’. Validating the systems definition:

  • Customer – local wargaming groups
  • Actor – game designer (group of individuals)
  • Transformation – design process
  • Weltanschauung – recreational miniatures wargaming
  • Owner – game designer again
  • Environment – Self publication without a commercial orientation

The designer has set some constraints on the design process here – “operational level WW2 miniatures”, “contrast different national doctrines”. However, the quality assurance of the process and output is almost entirely dependent on the satisfaction of the players at the local wargaming groups. If the game is a highly accurate simulation of the implementation of national operational doctrines in WW2, and the designer has assessed the process as of high quality, but the players find the game itself tedious, too detailed, not an enjoyable experience and they would prefer a themed game rather than a simulation, then my QA as a designer is irrelevant. It follows that the designer must use design process and output QA that is related to the audience.

This is similar conceptually to the need to take account of the perceptions and desires of the US DoD customer in the first example. In both cases it seems sensible to me for the designer to operate some process control in order to reduce the noise that disrupts the process and to improve the quality of the outputs. Much of this process control is play testing. The professionalisation issue seems to me to stem from an understandable desire to ‘reduce the noise’ within those game design systems that are perceived to require a high level of formal control. However, a great deal of wargame and simulation design does not require that.

It appears to me that the critical element in the success of the system is the perception of the quality of the output by the customer of the particular game design system owned by the designer. I’m very unsure that raising the profile of ‘wargaming’ or ‘wargame design’ per se makes any difference. The situation is much more fine-grained than that, and those who are interested in the more professional end of the domain might do well to focus efforts on particular customers within specific interest groups, rather than attempting wider ‘professionalisation’ initiatives.

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