indie game development by J. Walton
Archived here from a discussion on SG.
I’ve been thinking a lot about limited edition games because some of my most interesting game concepts probably have a rather limited audience, due to both interest and the necessity of certain physical components.
I bought a copy of Cunningham & Venezky’s Diaspora playing cards a few years back, which describe humans abandoning civilization and animals slowly taking over the cities. There are only 300 decks in existence and maybe only a few owned by members of the indie games community (because a link to it was posted on SG a while back). So if I design a game that uses the deck, it would be a very limited-edition thing, only playable with people who owned a copy of the deck. Could be a big hit at conventions, since it might be your only chance to play it! But not very effective as a commercial product for the masses.
Another thought: my game Metrofinal is really crazy and weird, but the components are really difficult to produce in a way that makes them reusable. Players have to be able to draw on the game board and write on the components, but — unlike Risk Legacy or something — it’s a single session game, not a campaign-length experience. So either I produce components as pads of sheets in a boxed set — sorta like Luke and Jared did with Freemarket — or I produce the game in packets of printed products that you dispose of afterwards: you’d effectively purchase the material for playing the game once and would have to buy a new set to play again. Maybe you destroy the components in a ritual fashion afterwards? Still pondering that. Maybe it just shouldn’t be turned into a commercial product at all.
Lastly, I own two copies of Hodge & Wright’s landmark photographs of the Small Magellanic Cloud, which are 11×11″ cardboard prints in a box of 200+ sheets. These will eventually be crucial components for playing Fingers on the Firmament, where players will draw on the star photos to make maps of space. There’s probably a limit to how many copies of the game I can hand-assemble from used copies of Hodge & Wright’s prints. Plus, the 11×11″ dimensions are going to make them really hard to ship or do much else with. So maybe I’ll make 20-50 copies and that’s all the copies that will ever exist.
I realize that many designers feel a natural desire for their games to be played by as many people as possible, but sometimes an experience can be more special, intimate, and valuable if it is extremely limited and special. And, as indie designers, we’re not dependent on selling a bunch of games for our livelihood, like the folks at WOTC or even Green Ronin. Nobody’s going to lose their job if you just sell 10 copies to the folks who really believe in and desire your game.