CMU Partner Post

Four Reasons to Take “Finding Your Niche”

Gen Con and CMU are back to give you a look at the upcoming course in applied tabletop game design, “Finding Your Niche: Expanding Your Skillset Across Five Different Gaming Genres.” Below, instructor and game designer Travis D. Hill gives four reasons to take “Finding Your Niche.”

“Finding Your Niche: Expanding Your Skillset Across Five Different Gaming Genres” is a 6-week game design course taught by Travis D. Hill as part of the Gen Con-Central Michigan University Certificate in Applied Game Design program.

1. Exploring Options

Have you ever heard from authors that they write what they read? As in any creative exercise, creators make things based on the input they have received. If all you have ever known is abstract expressionism, then it’s tough to paint something that doesn’t look like de Kooning, Pollock, or Rothko.

It’s the same in game design. If someone only ever plays euro games, that’s all they might be able to design. In this course, students will explore five different gaming genres: economic games, conflict simulations, party games, roleplaying games, and small box card games. The goal of the class is to give a general survey of the major titles in each genre, while exploring the mechanisms that designers use to make up each one.

If this is your first time attempting to design a game, this course allows you to explore various genres to see if anything sticks. You won’t be proficient in all of them, but maybe you will find the one you never thought you’d get to design. If you have been designing games for a while, this is a great opportunity to break out of the mold you have built for yourself. Many game designers (myself included) stick with what they know, so being forced to explore and produce something different is exciting.

2. Rapid Product Generation

One of the more difficult parts about game design is translating what is in your head to paper. It is easy to continue thinking about an idea, but never get it set down anywhere. And then after it gets written out, then what do you do with it?

A goal of the course is to produce five individual game ideas, complete with mechanisms, titles, themes, and gameplay, all based on the five genres. It will be messy, fast, and furious. And since the designs will be quickly thrown together, no one is expecting your idea to be perfect. Instead, it’s more about getting the idea on paper and into a workable format so that you have the opportunity to interact with it.

3. Individualized Feedback

While half of the course is centered on the ideation, generation, and education of five genres of game design, the other half is about presenting and taking in feedback. Your product will only ever be as good as the feedback you receive from others, which means creating something entirely on your own without any input from others might be doomed to fail.

In this course, students will create a short two-pager for each game idea for the week. This will look like a two-page overview presentation of the various game elements and how they might interact with one another. Then, students will receive feedback from the instructors and peers. It can be scary to toss an idea out there, but the beauty of this course is that everyone will be on the same page, simply trying to wade through the murky waters of game design together. Some weeks will be a hit for you; some weeks might not be. But at the end of the course, you will have a group of peers who have seen your work and who might be able to support future iterations or even playtest your game.

4. Growing and Diversifying as a Creator

While it can be fun or fruitful to find the one thing you are good at and continue making it, you would be surprised how diversifying your inputs and interests will help inform other design avenues. Personally, I always believed roleplaying games and economic train games were opposite ends of the game design spectrum, but then I began thinking about how both involve relationships and interactions among players. A high-stakes economic game with auctions creates an interesting relationship across players that can be replicated in a group traversing space in an RPG. It is about how players feel and react to inputs, and how those inputs affect outputs, and how those outputs create a unique gaming experience. Diversifying your inputs can result in a wider exploration and deeper understanding of game design.

The course “Finding Your Niche: Expanding Your Skillset Across Five Different Gaming Genres” launches on May 16 and ends on June 22, taking place on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8-10 pm Eastern.

You can sign up for this upcoming course through CMU. For more information on CMU’s Center for Learning Through Games and Simulations, please visit their website.

Travis D. Hill

Travis is the sole owner of Press Pot Games, an independent game design and publishing company that focuses on small, unique experiences. He has successfully crowdfunded and published eight small-form roleplaying games (e.g., The Portal at Hill House, Humans., this world is not yours, etc.) with a few more on the way. On the other side, he designs and publishes economic train games (e.g., the Card Rails line of games). Many of his train game designs have been published by Hollandspiele (Westward Rails), New Mill Industries (Union Station), and Button Shy Games (Penny Rails).

Aside from game design, Travis spent many years as a freelance rulebook editor for numerous board game companies (e.g., Hollandspiele, Capstone Games, Wehrlegig Games, Eagle-Gryphon, Button Shy, GMT, and What’s Your Game?) and was co-host of Low Player Count, a now-defunct podcast focusing on 1 and 2 player board games.