In this edition of One to Many, we talk with designers about handling disagreements when it comes to co-designing.
In this edition of One to Many we posed the question to designers:
I like to work with co-authors and sometimes we have not the same opinion. That is usually. If we have a disagreement, we test both versions so often till we know which version is better.
We have the same aim, we want to design an outstanding game. Our discussion is always factual never personal.
– Wolfgang Kramer (co-designer of El Grande and Tikal)
So far I have only fully co-designed one game, and we didn’t really run into too many disagreements. I would like to think that through testing the right direction should become clear and that my co-designer and I would want what’s best for the game, not our egos.
– Danny Devine (co-designer of upcoming 2017 game, Circle of Wagons)
I just wait until my co-designer realizes I’m right!
In actuality, the first thing I try to do is to see things from their perspective. I try to find all the possible flaws of my idea, and all of the pros for theirs. If I’m still convinced my course of action is the best, I will walk my partner through that same thought process. I’ve been lucky that I’ve never had a major difference of opinion about the direction a project should take, but if I ever do, I’d resolve it the same way you playtest games: solicit outside opinions. Come to an agreement with your co-designer about whose opinions you’ll seek, and agree that their decisions are binding.
– Mike Mullins (co-designer of Bottom of the 9th)
Whenever there’s a disagreement between me and my husband on the direction of a game, we talk through it. Much like any partnership in life, it’s important that each person is heard and understood. If neither converts to the other’s position, or a compromise can’t be reached, it is decided by who originally came up with the game. Most of the time, it is my husband who comes up with the original idea and mechanics for our games, so I will eventually concede to his point of view. It has been a bit more difficult on our latest project as its the first one we’ve created together, at the same time. We haven’t had an insurmountable complications, but it definitely has been a lot more tense working on it. We have yet to label which one of us is the originator. I’m hoping it doesn’t come down to that, but my advice for others who are collaborating is to definitely decide who has the last word. And it doesn’t have to be on everything. One person could be the decider for mechanics while another is for graphic design. But it’ll save headaches later if this is clear from the beginning.
– Sarah Reed (Project Dreamscape)
When co-designing if I reach a disagreement on the direction of the game, one of three things happen. Either we start brainstorming until we both agree, or we put that game on the back burner to simmer. Hopefully the next time we come back to a game on the back burner, we are more open to new ideas. Often just giving it space and time helps a solution be discovered. The third option is split the game into two versions and see where they each go.
– Daryl Andrews (co-designer of Walled City and Sagrada)
I tend to be slower and more pensive while Jay tends to be fast and more action oriented when we design together, which is often. I’m more mathematical and calculating, he’s more go by the feel of things. So we sometimes come to loggerheads over things like getting the balance right vs. getting games to the table quickly. We’re lucky, I guess, because we’re best friends, so we don’t let things slide. We know we can be frank with each other and we’ll still work well together.
In terms of direction, I think most things are mutual decisions. If they’re not, I think we tend to go with Jay’s impression first because he’s the one that makes the art for the prototypes because he’s faster than I am with that kind of stuff. And really, after that, all the proof comes out in the playtests anyway. So whether my idea or his idea was better is really immaterial. It tends to all come out once the cards hit the table. You’ll hear both of us say, “That’s not a hill I’m willing to die on,” a lot. It comes from us working together and learning to compromise our creative ideas for the betterment of the game as a whole. In the vast majority of cases, it’s better to just get the game playtested and find out what changes are needed by really putting the game through it’s paces than it is to spend hours deliberating things that are vapour-ware at that point. Sure, there’s a point where the investment to make a change is high – e.g. f we had to remake a whole prototype, we’d have to really deliberate if making that specific change is the right move – but otherwise, you have to be willing to murder your darlings, right? Jay and I have gotten pretty good at that because we do that between ourselves all the time. So anytime before it gets to a publisher, we’ve already pretty much culled so much out of the game through beneficial disagreements through the whole design process.
– Sen-Foong Lim (co-designer of Junk Art)
– Nicole Kline (co-designer of RESISTOR_)
Nothing is set until playtesting and note-taking happens. If there is a real disagreement happening, then we need to try both. But honestly, someone generally has to take the lead, and in a way it is whoever can sort of grock how the whole thing is going to work first and can get it to a playtest. Then you both sort of dissect it together.
So when we disagree about a point, I just get out of the way and say “Let’s try it your way”. It’s either going to work, or it’s not going to work and you try something else, or it’s going to partially work and illuminate something else about your game that maybe you didn’t know. All of these are great outcomes.
I love to co-design because it’s social and collaborative. It really doesn’t help the relationship or the design to let ego get in the way.
– Daniel Rocchi (co-designer of Bomb Squad Academy)
I’ve only ever worked with Philip as a co-designer and I think we tended to trust each other. We both brought different experience to the table and when we would disagree we would seek to understand where the idea was coming from. If it was well defended and kept with the spirit of the game we’d go with it.
– Jason Kotarski (co-designer of Fidelitas )
I usually start with casual dismissal, followed by a condescending overstatement of my position as obvious fact, and then I finish up with some shouting. After all of this, I’ve generally cooled down and realized that I’m probably wrong. I won’t generally admit it aloud at this point however. I’m much too prideful for this. To save face, I’ll start to talk aloud each side of the issue and start to verbally weigh the pros and cons of each path. By now we’ve generally reached the point where it’s obvious I’m backtracking and we quickly move onto the single most tried and true method for design disagreement. We prototype up and try each proposed way. This always ends the disagreement for us. We’ve yet to have this method fail. The game itself always knows what it wants to be, and the choice is clear once you play each way.
-Ben Pinchback (co-designer of Fleet Wharfside)
In one instance the publisher just choose what they wanted and that was the final decision.
In another the designer and myself sat down and talked out every possible scenairo playing through it together to see what worked and what did not.
In another instance we did a kind of UAT where we took two sets of people and watched their reactions for which group had the better overall experience if we could not come to an agreement.
– Dave Ferguson (co-designer of Succession! and The Lords of Rock)
Whenever we disagreed, Rev and I discussed our options to each other with the reasons why we wanted to make specific changes. We would then discuss the two (or more) options with other designers and play testers who had played the game already. If we still could not agree on the best way to move forward, we would just play test both options.
– Dan Letzring (co-designer of Gadgeteers and TIGR contributor)
I think in any co-design effort, there probably needs to be one designer that has “final say” so to speak. There’s a lot of back and forth, and designers who work well together or have been doing it for a long time will come to some agreement, but if one designer is the “lead designer” so to speak then at’s one way to resolve disagreements that don’t get worked out in discussion.
Another way to deal with it might be to try both versions of whatever idea is being disagreed on, and we which one goes over better with players.