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PAX Pox: Lessons in Big Gaming Pt. I

Today's post will take you through the unique challenges and goals we considered while designing PAX Pox. For each, I'll provide a quick summary of why it was important and what kind of impact it had on our final product. We'll go into more detail in our post mortem, but for now we'll try to stick to the big picture. Though the details described herein are fairly specific to our game, the issues addressed by each have the potential to arise in any Big Game setting.

Let's begin by taking a quick peek at the goals that defined PAX Pox. These were established at the onset of our project and shaped the major elements of our design.

  1. Anyone should be able to play
  2. The game should last all three days
  3. The game should appeal to nontraditional gamers (especially journalists)
  4. The game should get people to come to our booth
  5. The game should get people talking about GAMBIT
  6. The game should not have a lose condition
  7. The game cannot disrupt non-players' enjoyment of PAX

While many of these goals were fairly straightforward (we wanted people to come to the booth) they began to set the tone for our game to be all-inclusive and pervasive. They also pushed us to consider a viral-style of game play, an element of our design that would ultimately carry over to our fiction as well.

From here, we began to consider the unique design challenges we would have to consider to produce a Big Game. They are as follows:

  • Control over game space
  • Managing GM Load
  • Technology
  • Availability of alternative activities
  • Design time limit
  • Game scalability

Our game, like any big game, needed to be playable anywhere at any time. However, we had little to no control/ownership over the space outside our 20'x20' booth. Additionally, due to our relatively small team, Game Managers (GMs) needed to be minimally involved in play. These two conditions forced us to continually simplify our model and motivated us to create a game that could spread from player-to-player independently from GMs.

We knew that PAX would offer countless distractions, so players needed to be able drop in and out at will. Due to time constraints and a general lack of availability of Wifi/3G in the expo hall, technology had to be kept to a minimum. These issues compelled us to eschew complex scoring systems in favor of simple, low-tech alternatives. They also kept us from closing off players who might have limited access to technology or other responsibilities to attend to during PAX.

The most important challenge was to create a system that could scale between 10 and 1,000 players. This meant we had to iteratively simplify every aspect of our game from how we explained our game to how we produced our materials. In the end, this forced us to strip any unnecessary or arbitrary components from our game.

These elements were at the forefront of our design for the entirety of the process. However, as with any project, we recognize that there are many things we could have improved. My next post will address the three main lessons we can draw from our experience at PAX and how we might approach these issues in future Big Game design.

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