Minimum Viable Product Game Design

If you sat through my first two videos, I do apologise for the poor quality in every sense.

This video is about minimum viable product. The idea of MVP comes from silicon valley. With new tech it makes a lot of sense. New hardware is expensive to develop and manufacture. If you make something really basic, it is cheaper to create. If early adopters latch on to it, they are often happy to play top dollar for basic functionality, just because it is the newest, shiny thing.

If you have a successful product then you can invest in making it better and more feature rich.

This idea was never intended for books and games.

The problem with MVP in games is that it often comes down to:

  • rules light
  • no setting
  • poor quality or no art
  • basic page layout

Rules Light

There is nothing wrong with rules-light games. I love them. Two of my favourite systems are TinyD6 and Adventurers! Both games were designed from the ground up to be rules-light, and with Adventurers! modular games. Most games are not like that. They are not rules-light enough to be really classed as rules-light but they are not fully developed enough, because of the MVP idea, to be called rules medium. I fell into this trap. My design for 3Deep was that the core rules would be simple and stripped back and I would then sell addon books that contained the genre and setting material.

This approach really only achieves one thing. It dumps a load of work into the GM’s lap. Stuff they have to do before they even get to play your game.

There is another flaw as well and that is the addon setting

No Setting

I have written/produced two setting books for 3Deep. The first was 3Deep in the Wild West, and the second I got permission from Tangent Zero [Todd Zircher] to port No GMs Sky to 3Deep. That all sounds fine, there are also several adventures from a fantasy horror campaign, science fiction adventures and theatre of the mind adventure ideas for the game.

If I had these ready before or at the same time as the core rules, then that would have been a nice package. But if they were ready at the same time, why not include them in the main game and make the game that much more appealing and complete?

As it was, the people who bought my game (thank you if you did!) had to wait a year to get that additional material. The MVP idea ended up hurting the very people who gave me their hard earned money when they bought the game.

The problem for the indie developer is that it took a year to make 3Deep in the Wild West. It also cost about $200. That is a gamble that some people would not be comfortable making. I was spending the money I had made from the core 3Deep book on an American writer to write the setting material for the American Old West. For me that validated the whole idea of MVP. The first book paid to write the second, both are now on sale, then they produced the third, and so on.

But would 3Deep have been very value for money, and easier to play if the settings had come out at the same time, or in a more timely manner?

I think the answer has to be yes.

Poor Quality/No Art

Art in role playing games is a nightmare for the indie producer. About the best small games company out there for managing this is Earl of Fife Games. They use a wealth of fantastic art in their books. I would hold them up as an example of how to do it right.

When I was starting out I had no budget and I lacked the knowledge of where to find the art resources I needed. That then comes across in the finished book.

A lot of MVP books, games and adventures go without art all together. I suspect that that is a better option than the terrible design choices I made.

Poor Layout/Design

This is closely related. There are three common options for design and layout. The first is the free option of Scribus. It is an open source layout programme. The one thing it struggles with is tables, and of course tables are a core feature of role playing games.

I use inDesign. I bought a cheap second hand copy of Creative Suite 4. It works with Windows 10. I will continue to use it until it stops working, which will probably be with Windows 11. I am rarely in a hurry to upgrade my computers and operating system so I will get a few more years out of it yet.

I refuse to go to software as a service and pay adobe every month. The alternative is Affinity.

Affinity Publisher and Affinity Photo are a viable alternative to inDesign and Photoshop. Together they will cost you about $100, but discounts abound. For me, I think they are lacking a few of the nicer features of inDesign. But they are gaining features almost monthly and rapidly going through version upgrades. I fully expect the programmes to be mature and feature rich enough for me, when I am forced to move over.

My advice would be to reinvest the first $50 you make into buying Affinity Publisher. What you gain is the ability to do professional looking layouts and prepare Print on Demand book files. Seeing your book in print is worth every cent!

Minimum Viable Product?

I would honestly recommend building your game to a stage where you could release it and then carry on building. Go beyond that minimum. Create the extra stuff that will make your game really fun to play, and if you can make it beautiful to look at. It may sound shallow but with PDFs and digital downloads you are going to need to appeal to all the senses you have access to, and that is primarily visual.

Save yourself some grief!

I will be the first to admit that I am not destined to become the next Youtubing superstar. I much prefer the written word. If you would like to get email updates from me then I have an update mailing list. Please consider joining.


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