Sunday, 22 April 2018

TDS 2: Playerunknown's Battlegrounds

Game Design Case Study: 
Playerunknown’s Battleground
Part one
By Tyson Bennett, creator of Act of Treason

PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS (aka PUBG) is a last-man-standing shooter. Players must locate weapons and supplies in a large map and fight to the death to be the lone survivor. Rounds often start with 90+ players and only stop when one player or one team is the victor.

I wanted to cover this game as it went somewhat viral in popularity, and I believe this has to do with the fact that it is a great game mechanically speaking. You might not play PUBG, but there is a wealth of game development and game theory knowledge to be acquired from looking into this game. The setup and premise of the game allow for very tactical, intense and engaging play, which makes for a solid competitive experience. Winning in PUBG is highly rewarding and is dependent on both macro tactical play as well as micro gun play - This sets it apart from many other competitive shooters.

While PUBG has many great qualities, it also has some flaws. As of the 28th of December PUBG sits at a low 57% recommended on Steam. Metacritic is similar with only 38% positive user reviews. These ratings shouldn’t be taken as representative of how good PUBG is. PUBG is actually a very popular game and has many players all over the world. I imagine a more realistic rating would be somewhere in the >80% region. I think the artificially low rating that we see is caused by two primary drivers:

1) The developer has managed to piss off the community by going back on promises and generally not listening to the complaints and grievances of the players.
2) There are a fair few negative things that get in the way of enjoying the game that are not related to the core game mechanics, such as hackers, bugs, poor graphical performance & netcode that leaves a bit to be desired.

These two things are likely to influence outspoken and negative reviews, and may curb the number of positive reviews. No one likes paying top dollar for a game they can’t play - or can’t play without erroneous things like bugs getting in the way of the fun. It only serves to piss players off further if they feel like they are not being listened to. PUBG certainly has done well enough considering the reviews overall, and has managed to develop a large following, in spite of it lacking in some polish.

Let’s dive deep into what makes PUBG so popular. The things it does well, and the things it does not so well, and the general strategies and mechanics of the game.

What makes PUBG fun?

I talked about how one might quantify what makes a game fun in my article "What makes games fun?" This is a good place to start for us here. The fact that you’re dropped onto a big island with 100 other people and it’s a fight to the death - last man standing - is a strong indicator that PUBG is going to be highly competitive. PUBG is a game of intense competition and I would argue it is the backbone of the game. The developers have done a fairly good job of making sure the competitive element within the game is fully capitalized on. Hackers are the main thing that gets in the way of this, but we will cover that later in the article. Maybe hackers get in the way enough that it turns some people off of the game - I wouldn't be surprised.

blue striped bar represents a somewhat more optional node

Quick Note: When we talk about what makes PUBG fun, we’re not trying to describe exactly what everyone experiences when playing PUBG, nor are we trying to rank how fun the game is. This is just a rough guide for what general factors and attributes of PUBG might make it fun for someone to play. ie: someone who enjoys more competitive gaming is more likely to enjoy PUBG.

I’ll be drawing a lot of comparisons to Counter Strike (aka CS) and some to Fortnite. That’s not to say either game is better. That’s up for you to decide. At the end of the day, it’s personal preference. I’ll only be talking about their differences and some observations as to why someone might enjoy one game over the other.

Social: Playerunknowns Battleground manages to draw in quite a social element with its ability for squad play, in either a duo, three man or four man squad. While in a team, there is plenty of "off-peak" time looting and running around. This is the perfect opportunity to shoot the shit with your friends or strike up a conversation with randos. Compare this to some other games where you’re too focused on playing, or the game is so intense for the entire duration that it's hard to focus on social interaction. Conversation can often end up as either difficult or comes at the expense of performance within the game. The downtime with looting in PUBG offers ample chance to chat! This facilitates social interaction quite nicely and its where some of the fun of PUBG can stem from. Admittedly, this downtime spent looting can be a detriment for solo play as there is less to do and no one to socialize with. PUBG can be less enjoyable when playing in solo.

Added to this, the content of PUBG can offer some rather interesting subject matter for your conversations. There is a lot to discuss in terms of tactics, and quite often funny situations crop up in the game.

Some situations are just ripe for a good laugh with mates

PUBG also makes for a great game to play tactically as a cohesive unit - using team tactics to achieve victory rather than relying purely on individual player skill alone. You have the option to play with two, three or four players. This scaling allows you to play as you like, and doesn't force you to play with randoms. This flexible squad based matchmaking gives you the flexibility to hone your team skills with people whom are interested in playing to win - allowing you to focus on improving, both as a cohesive team. Being able to work as a team - have each others backs and provide accurate calls can be a large part of the fun of this game, and are rewarding in there own right.

Ultimately, PUBG does well to capitalise on the social interaction between its players. It is a well suited game to play online with friends, and this ultimately ends up boosting its appeal.

Problem Solving: This is one area where PUBG does just a little better than some of the other FPS games in the market in my opinion. Let's take CS as an comparison. The tactical choices in CS are clear and laid out as there only a few variables and the meta is well known. In CS you start each round in the same place. You decide where you want to go to, and you buy the equipment you want out of a limited range of optimum items. It is all rather boilerplate. Large macro calls about what to do are not needed as much in a game like CS. Now, with that said, there is clearly still some amount of making calls and strategic thinking involved. I'll I'm saying is with so many known factors and limited variables, there is naturally limited scope in the strategies that need to be implemented on the fly.

Now let's compare this to PUBG where there are many more variables to contend with. From the start of every game you begin in a plane which has a randomized flight path. How the game goes is entirely up to you. Do you go for a location with good loot knowing it’s likely to be highly contested, or do you aim for an out of the way location to loot in safety?  Do you try to land in a place in the hopes of getting a vehicle so you can immediately relocate, or do you try land somewhere central to increase your chances of getting into the circle safely? Do you fight, or is it more beneficial for you  to run? All of these questions can't easily answered without knowing more about the situation - and that is what makes PUBG a interesting strategic game.

Clearly the optimum parking strategy

In PUBG, you’ll have to adapt to the situation at hand, and the answers are not always clear cut. Do you engage with that enemy you spotted and risk giving away your position, or do you leave it to gain a position, or loot advantage elsewhere? Do you head to the falling loot crate to try get better weapons and armor, or will that just get you killed? Do you spend the extra 20 or so seconds you need to swap out your AKM to an M416 on that dead dudes corpse? Or do you choose to not take the risk of looting to avoid getting shot and instead keep with the current ammo you have salvaged?

PUBG is filled with tough decisions like this all the way through. CS has tough decisions too, however they typically have more 'known quantities' with more fixed variables. Again, neither one is necessarily better. They are just different. It's arguable that tactical decision making has a greater impact on your chances of winning in PUBG moreso than CS. As a natural consequence of this, gunplay takes the forefront in CS as the main decider of victory. In PUBG, I think tactical decisions such as when to move, where to position, and when to attack, can be more vital to success.

Competition & Mastery: As talked about before, this is PUBGs bread and butter. The developers have done a good job at making the game fair and balanced, which is very important for a game that relies on competition and mastery for its fun. Choices are balanced and there is a strong incentive to improve ones skill in this game. Winning is very difficult, and thus highly rewarding when you do win.

Having 90+ players in each game could add to the appeal. Assuming you're an average player, you'd expect to win roughly 1% of the time based on the number of players alone. This makes it highly rewarding for when you do win. If you've won a game, you'll know what I'm talking about when I say the euphoria you feel after winning an intense match. If you were to lower the number of players, it would make for a shorter game, with less investment, and less reward for winning. Both a smaller player count and a larger one have their merits, however, what is worth noting is that the larger player count of PUBG makes for a rather unique experience that isn't really covered by many other games at the moment. This alone is of benefit to the games appeal, as it is a unique and new experience for the player.

I won’t expand on this point much further as this will be touched on later within this article in other points.

Discovery: There is a bit to discover in PUBG in terms of all the items and the maps. Both maps are massive with a lot of ground to cover and places to explore. Added to this, there are many vehicles, guns, and rare weapon drops to discover. While it's a fun little aside, it’s not the main meat of the game.

The map is likely the strongest aspect of discovery within the game, as the maps are huge, and even slight variations of terrain, weapon, playing zone, and foe, can make for a situation that feels quite different each time. For example even within the same town I am discovering new ways to use the terrain to gain a tactical advantage. There are also locations that I have never visited, or have only visited once.

Story, Progress and Creativity: PUBG offers little for any of these mostly because it doesn’t need to. While players to have the option to swap up their clothing, this is pretty low key and doesn’t have any major effect in-game other than a small bit of camouflage if you’re wearing the appropriate clothing for the terrain/lighting. It’s nice to have the customization, but I doubt PUBG is gaining or losing many sales because of it.

Unlocking clothing could count towards the progress element of the game. A player could be incentivised more to play if they are wanting to collect all the items of clothing & skins. It is also interesting to note that it is another source of revenue for the company, which may be one reason why they are focusing on it as much as they are. The time would be better spent on fixing other aspects of the game such as the hacking, but that might also be less profitable - who can say?

Don't judge me
Thankfully there is no progression in terms of upgrades, powers, perks, or new guns to unlock which was a very good decision by the PUBG developers. Adding any levelup component in an online multiplayer PvP game would create an uneven playing field which would dampen the games ability to be as strong as a competitive game. As it stands , two players are only differentiated by their personal skill level - and quite frankly I love this about the game. It's the players mastery of the game & their tactics that's the deciding factor in determining victory. Nothing else (except maybe a healthy pinch of luck). When it comes down to it, the better man/lady (/or perhaps the better hacker) wins.

Overall: PUBG is a very good competitive game that rewards players for both great macro tactical play (map positioning, choosing when to fight, etc) and micro play (gunplay, reactions, aiming, etc). The developers didn't waste their time adding unnecessary aspects to the game that would take away from the competitive element. The setup and nature of PUBG allows it to better tap into social interaction as well as problem solving when compared to some other First Person Shooters. Most importantly, PUBG is highly rewarding and highly competitive. All of these elements go quite some way to explaining why PUBG is so popular and what makes it such a good game mechanically speaking.

Some Negatives

I’m sorry to say that most of the negatives we are about to cover are not to do with the actual mechanics or the balance of the game. Which is very sad for me to say as a game designer as now I don’t get to comment on the game mechanics as much. The game mechanics themselves are actually pretty good in PUBG, it’s just the other stuff that gets in the way! I would hate to be strictly a game designer on a project such as this, because my job would be mostly irrelevant at this stage - and yet I would still see so much potential for improvement! It would be frustrating to say the least.

There are far bigger issues with the game that aren’t related to the game mechanics that should be addressed. These issues stop the game from being as good as it can be and get in between the player and the fun of the game.

The Hackers & Teamers: Cheaters will always be an issue with many games but it is of particularly high importance for competitive games. With PUBG being such a strongly competitive game, hackers and cheating becomes quite an important issue. Why? Because the last thing anyone wants to do is spend 30 minutes playing a game, looting, waiting, spying, camping, killing, to have a victory ripped away from them dishonestly at the end. I myself have had at least 3 victories ripped away by all but 'confirmed' hackers. I am a living witness as to how annoying it can be! 

Do you reckon' it's coincidence?

There is very little agency given to the player to combat this hacker onslaught. Furthermore, the effort the developers are putting into fixing this issue is not easily seen. This makes it seem like the developers aren’t doing much to fix this issue. I have read that over 1.5 million hackers have been banned in PUBG. While that is a huge number, and it sounds like a great effort, this number on its own means nothing. It may only represent a fraction of the hacker base. How many of these are repeat offenders? All we have to go off of is our subjective experience when playing the game. Many people I talk to have had run in's with hackers in PUBG. I think the developers could take a smarter approach with this.

In fact in doing a little research into this it seems that the developers have put in very little effort into even the most basic of ‘hacks’, as demonstrated here ( (published on 27 Sep 2017). There seems to be very little anti-cheat in place, which is unfortunate as cheating is a huge dampener on the player experience. Writing the code so that it is more resistant to macros, or so that it doesn't provide as much benefit should be very possible. I’m sure there is a huge range of hacking and cheating that is going on that is not being policed.

The recent update with the killcam did help somewhat as players can get a better handle on if they have encountered a hacker. Unfortunately the only thing this does is at best provide for slightly more accurate player reporting. The developers still need to investigate and act on each instance of cheating. If a hacker is left up to a week doing blatant hacks, and then banned, they can just purchase the game an hour or two afterwards and get right back to playing again. I imagine the game could monitored in real time and accurate predictions could be made on all users based on several points of data, such as location, name, accuracy, monitoring player mouse movements, large jumps in player performance, number of reports, applications running, etc, etc. This data could be used to generate accurate reports on who may be potential hackers, and it could be done real time. It just seems that this data isn't being collected and acted upon.

Games like League of Legends took an interesting approach in using a community based moderation system called "The Tribunal". It gave players rewards for helping to moderate their own community. Now I’m not saying such a system is flawless, there are advantages and disadvantages to anything like this. Ultimately it all comes down to the implementation. Riot Games (the developer of League of Legends) could be seen taking a stand against the ‘toxic’ players within the community. It was a very visible stance to be taking. Riot Games could actually be seen to be doing something, and this gave the players some comfort. Players of PUBG have no such comfort. It looks like nothing is happening for the most part.

I would be cautious to suggest anything as a solution without trying it first. But with that said, it would benefit the game greatly to have something done. In my opinion, some possible solutions would be:
  1. Providing a less rigid system that lets players point out cheaters. This means letting players report before they die, and being able to report any player they can see/name. This allows for richer data collection, making finding and dealing with hackers a much easier task if you have skilled people to collate the data.
  2. Rewarding players who point out obvious Teamers and Hackers. This could easily be done with a small reward on login that says "We have successfully identified 3 hackers based on your reports. Your reward is 120 BP". This encourages accurate reporting as well as improving the visibility of something being done.
  3. Region-lock players (this may be happening). This may help to contain hackers to a certain problem region if such a problematic region exists. Either way there are additional benefits to actioning this point, such as removing language barriers on an intently team focused game. Also, helping to stop issues with laggy players and generally improving the responsiveness and play experience of the players.
  4. Improving the visibility that something is being done. This is done as a consequence of doing points 2 & 3, and to a lesser extent, point 1.
I’m not saying any of this is easy. Naturally there can be quite the legal implication from banning a players account, and invalidating their purchase. But for the health of the player experience it is very important to put a lot of time and effort into it. I would argue this is the weakest part of PUBG at current, and it's ruining the play experience. By not tackling hackers, the developers will hemorrhage players, and may actually encourage more hackers who will operate under the rationale of: "I'm clearly very unlikely to be caught as everyone else is getting away with it, and everyone else is doing it, so I'm leveling the playing field." By their lack of quality action, Blue Hole is not just letting the problem remain unchecked, they may actually be letting it get progressively worse.

In regards to the BP reward for players who successfully report, an understandable critique would be that it might encourage over reporting in order to capitalise on the BP reward. It should be made clear to the players that doing frivolous reports will result in either their reports getting ignored, account suspension, or a ban from the game entirely. This could easily be done by looking at the reported generated by the user and looking at the total report count over the games played, and the report accuracy. It should be easy to separate out users who typically give strong reports to those who give weak or false reports.

This is an issue of great importance for the enjoyable and playability of the game. If the developers are seen to be doing nothing it will only encourage more players to engage in the practice, whilst serving to piss off the existing playerbase.

Bugs, laggy servers and bad framerate performance: There isn’t much for me to say on this because these issues are all rather technical, but these are all things that could use some tweeks. Polish and QoL (quality of life) improvements are important in any good game - but things like the net code and lag are of even greater significance in a game such PUBG as they impact the competitive aspect of the game.

Having a win stripped away from you because of a spot of lag, or a glitch, or performance issues would be infuriating, and might influence a gamers choice to play PUBG regularly.

These issues need a little more elbow grease by the developers. I understand they can’t fix this overnight, but they need to work on this over time if they are genuinely interested in improving their game. It's clear that the developers are still focused on improving the game. It just seems that their efforts are focused in the wrong areas at current.

This may, or may not, be a bug in progress

Melee weapons: This is a small issue in PUBG, but as a lover of anything melee, it irks me more than it should. Actually landing a hit with a melee weapon is very difficult in PUBG due to how the collision detection and netcode interacts. If a player steps away from you, you’ll only start accelerating after them once your foe has already accelerated and left. This interaction can leave you outside of melee reach while you chase after them. Which feels ridiculous as you were touching your foe not moments before. This effectively renders melee weapons exceedingly difficult to use and forces you to use strange tactics in order to keep your speed up and preventing yourself from colliding with character models at the wrong time - effectively counteracting the bad coding by behaving in ways that are not intuitive.

Added to this, the range on melee weapons seems short - this is also counter intuitive. PUBG might benefit from a "lunge" mechanic similar to other games like COD (Call of Duty). I'm not saying it should act the same, or be an instant kill. But a subtle "lock on effect" or even just a boost forward, would be enough to give melee weapons to actually make them viable early game.

A disorientation effect, or weapon stability debuff is also an option, although I would want to do extensive testing before it is applied. This gives a melee attacker a little bit of respite for landing their first hit, and means that the contest of melee weapon versus ranged is a little more even at extremely close quarters.

Needless to say, I think this interaction could definitely use improvement! Perhaps a tweak to either the netcode, player collision, or the melee weapons is in order so that melee engagements don’t feel so clunky. Obviously melee weapons should still be slightly weaker overall compared to sidearms and other ballistic weapons. But a small boost to the QoL of melee weapons would bring them up from where they are, which is basically a novelty item. With all that said, melee weapons are such a small part of the game that this could be left unfixed without too much detriment - but it would be nice.


Balance is a important topic for many games, and PUBG is no exception. Games are all about choices. Good choices mean fair and valid options, and with PUBG being primarily a competitive game, this is of even greater importance. Balance is something that PUBG gets pretty good. PUBG is fairly resistant to imbalance since all players start in the same situation and have access to the same resources. No one is at an advantage or disadvantage. Some of the weapons are imbalanced, sure, but fortunately none are so imbalanced to the point of being broken or useless (apart from the exception of melee weapons, that are barely better than the players fists). The inferior weapons, such as the crossbow, still have a legitimate use in the beginning of the game. The superior weapons are not overpowered enough to be broken, and come from loot crates that all players have access too and can be risky to seek out. It is quite possible for a K98 to take out a AWP. It's just a little tougher.

I will say that there is of course an element of luck within the game, with the most impactful being where the circle randomly chooses to close in on - especially at games end. Where things like items, cars and loot crates spawn is a close second. Being a little influenced by luck isn’t necessarily a bad thing. PUBG seems to strike an okay balance between skill and luck - except at games end where you can sometimes be all but handed victory on a silver platter by a lucky circle spawn for you, and an unlucky one for your opponent. Perhaps a better mechanic is for the circle to collapse inwards in a more predictable pattern near the games end?

Something interesting to note is how team size affects the effective health of vehicles. As you might imagine, when playing in solo matches, a vehicle may have too much health to take down by yourself. However, when playing with a squad, your damage potential is up to 4 times greater against a single target, and a vehicles health may actually be too low to sustain fire from an opposing team. This means the best tactics can actually vary quite a bit depending on the squad size, with vehicles being more viable in the late stages of a solo match, as opposed to a four man match. An easy solution could be to have unique "armored" variants of vehicles, that only show up in games squad matches. These vehicles could have increased health to make them more hardy. Added to this, perhaps the UAZ could be limited to duo + squad sizes. But again, this could just be something that is interesting to note, rather than something that needs fixing.

With all that said, nothing is hugely broken or out of place in PUBG apart from maybe grenade spamming and the circle mechanics, which I will discuss as their own points later in part two.


I’ll be talking about the weapons of PUBG because they are an integral part of any shooter.

When you look at the weapons of CS, only a handful out of all of the available weapons for purchase see much play within the game. There is a good reason for this. Game theory and dominant strategy dictates that players will pick the best known option available to them, for a given situation, in order to improve their odds of wining. While an AK might be the best weapon at a medium range, it is not the best weapon at a short or long range. Added to this, it is not the most price efficient weapon. Because of this, the network of viable weapons in a game of CS is fairly broad, but still, only a 1/3rd of the 34 weapons see any great deal of playtime. While it isn't a bad thing to have so many options when it comes to weapons, it also doesn't add much to the game. It is typical for a CS player to never even buy 1/2 of the available weapons over the course of several games. I have always thought that a competitive shooter game doesn't need  more than 6 or so weapons. Games like Halo and Unreal Tournament are a fairly good example of limited weapons within a game. You simply don't have to have many weapons to have a great game.

PUBG is interesting an case in that you do not have much control over what weapons you come across. Thus all weapons are typically viable at one point or another. Early game, if you encounter a double-barreled shotgun, and you perceive it as the weakest weapon, then that's too bad, because it is still your optimal weapon as of right now until you get something better. Unlike most other competitive shooters, PUBG would likely benefit from having additional weapons to choose from. The looting element really does make PUBG a different experience to most common shooters, and forces the player to be more adaptive to the situation as it unfolds to them. A game like Slay The Spire is a great example of how you can add a lot of value to your game by forcing the player to adapt to any given situation. Slay The Spire is a game almost entirely devoted to giving the player a situation to react to, and then a choice.

Players can only carry two primary weapons at a time. All weapons have situational advantages and disadvantages that can be quite nicely categorized into their effective ranges. Close, medium, and far. Since you can only use one weapon at once, it often pays to carry two weapons that are ideal for two different effective ranges, enabling you to be most effective at two out of three range categories. let's break down the weapons into their various qualities and ranges. 

While not perfect, this nice little table does help to highlight where some weapons shine.

An interesting side note is the S686, which is a highly risky weapon to use in close quarters. It is very unforgiving weapon if you miss. However it is exceptionally powerful if you hit. Making it a high risk, high reward weapon. Most of the other weapons on this list do not have as interesting a risk vs reward profile.

Many players opt for a weapon from the medium range category and a weapon from long range category, such as a AKM and a SKS. However, another popular variant is to opt for a weapon from the short range category, as well as a weapon from the medium or long range category, such as a Vector and a AKM, or a UMP9 and a Mini 14. It might be obvious to say - but it is rare to see players using two weapons of the same category. This is because there is no tactical advantage to having two weapons that fulfill the same effective range. There would literally be no advantage to swapping to your secondary weapon. However, if you have a UMP9 and a SKS, then you have an advantage to swapping to the UMP when you explore the close quarters of a house.

You'll notice that all these variants try to give the player the best "bang for their buck" in terms of optimum weaponry for any given range. Yet you will always be missing a weapon that is effective for one of the three range categories. This means that if you encounter a Vector user in close quarters while you only have a M416 and a SKS, then you'll be at a disadvantage. Choosing your terrain to match your weapons, as well as your weapons to match your terrain, is an important factor to winning in PUBG.

I think the case can be made for a lot of different weapon loadouts, and this is really good game design. Playing with the same weapons every single time would get boring after a while, and having to adapt to the situation at hand and use a variety of weaponry keeps the experience lively.

This makes for a very interesting challenge for the players as they loot up and find better gear. You just don't know what you're going to come across next. You need to both plan for the now, as well as the potential of what you'll come across in the future.

And that's it for Part one. Part two will be coming soon. In Part two I aim to cover:
  • PUBG vs. Fotrnite.
  • The grenade spam strategy
  • Circle mechanics and the late game
  • Car boots & downed guards
  • What do add-ons add?
  • The Pan
Until next time,

Creator of Act of Treaon

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Development Diary #10 - Back on the Path

Hi All,

Sorry for the hiatus. I was away on a spontaneous 4 week break. I was doing some housesitting and taking some time to get a couple of things sorted. Either way it was really great to collate my thoughts before I dived back into some more Act of Treason.

As many of you know, Act of Treason was up on Kickstarter recently. I've put up a short article: What I learned from Kickstarter here on the Blog. It's a pretty good read for any aspiring game designers or entrepreneurs if I do say so myself. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and gain a little bit of insight into that side of things.

Before I launched Act of Treason on Kickstarter I had said:

"I hope Act of Treason is successful, but if it were to fail anywhere along the road to funding, I can almost guarantee it will be due to a lack of strong marketing" - Tyson, Myself and future projects

I've been asking people and researching how best to market Act of Treason, but there's no silver bullet here. I think I just need to be patient and slowly crank out content - building support where I can. We will get there in the end. It may just take a while. An added complication is that I work full time and have a fair amount going on outside of work, so time is a rather limited commodity that I'm working with. I'm not saying any of this as an excuse or to gain sympathy. I'm just honestly laying out how I think it is.

A big part of why I find marketing so tough is because it is somewhat antithetical to who I am and what I like to do. I am very much a lone wolf type of character. I would self describe as quiet, reserved & analytical. I deliberately move away from the lime light. I enjoy designing and creating. I love Act of Treason a great deal, but I also dislike marketing a great deal.

I think the best way to progress from here is to stick to my strengths. This means I'll be doing things that might not seem related to Act of Treason from time to time. This likely means more focus on Dominant Strategy posts - this could also mean I spend a bit of time to work on other projects that will drum up interest in its own right. This isn't me turning away from Act of Treason - I honestly do think this might be the best path forward. Me taking on the these other tasks will drive interest back into Act of Treason in the long term. It's kind of the only way I see me being able to move forward. I ask for your patience and support - I'm doing the best that I can. This is a road now that I've be walking on for over 5 years. I'm already well accustomed to just how long and difficult this journey is. I'm not here to put out something that I'm not going to be proud to stand behind. I'm not here for a cash grab, or a quick buck. I'm doing my best to deliver a product that I will be proud of and that will stand the test of time.

I want to thank you all for your support so far - It has been really great to see! The Mailing List subscriber count has been moving up each day! Thank you for your follows, your support, and getting the word out! Every little bit helps!

I'll be spending a lot of time on Dominant Strategy posts in the coming months. In addition I'll see if I can queue up some play through of gaming groups playing Act of Treason from start to finish to showcase on the website and on the next Kickstarter Campaign. If you're interested in playing or reviewing Act of Treason or you know someone who can showcase it on their website, blog, or channel, don't hesitate to get in touch.

Until next time,

Friday, 13 April 2018

What I learned from Kickstarter

What I learned from Kickstarter
By Tyson Bennett

As many of you know, Act of Treason went live on Kickstarter recently (early Feb) and did not perform as well as I had expected. It's unfortunate, but it gives me a chance to learn, develop and improve. There are a number of reasons for this and I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on what happened here. Hopefully you can gain some insight from my thoughts and observations.

I've ordered this list, the biggest fumbles are at the top:

  1. 1,000 followers, but in the wrong places: I had 1,000 followers as my initial audience. This 1,000 was spread across Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, the Act of Treason mailing list, etc. The conversion rates were quite low for most of these. I peg that to 1) a lack of engagement from me and a long span of time between their acquisition and when the Kickstarter launched. 2) announcements and posts can be very easy to miss on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, where a great deal of my followers resided. And 3) A follow doesn't necessarily mean "I am interested in your product and I want to buy". Sometimes it can just be a follow back, or a "I like what you posted". It's a weaker link to your product when compared to say an email subscribe. All these together culminated in a low hit rate and less pledges than expected. Email signups did perform the best, but it was also the method where I had the least followers. In hindsight, I would focus purely on the Act of Treason Mailing List as my method for gauging the level of expected pledges. I would also consider periodically sending out important updates to that mailing list to get a rough feel for engagement and opens. If only 1% of your audience opens your email, then that's a fairly good estimation of the number of engaged subscribers you have. You can work out from your Kickstarter budgeting how many engaged subscribers you need to have a successful campaign and there you go, roughly accurate forecasting. 
  2. Length of the campaign: My initial research suggested that many Kickstarter campaigners choose to babysit their project full time. This helps them to get the most out of it and gives them the time and resources to respond to all queries, tweak the marketing campaign, add more details & create art assets, and so on. Added to this, I had read that campaigns up to 14 days perform better than those of 30 or 60 days. This is believed to be due to the shorter length of time creating a "urgency", where people are more likely to act on it sooner, rather then plan to act on it later - but then forgetting about it. This is not my full time job, and so I decided on a 14 day campaign with me taking the time off of work to check on the campaign. In hindsight, if you're a small publisher, only one day off is needed - the day of the launch. You use launch day to blast out on all of your social media channels and inform friends and family. This gives your project a good head start. Afterwards, you can just monitor it a couple of hours each day. If you've done you're due diligence, then things should be ticking along nicely, and you shouldn't have to do any major course corrections. If you're a small or first time publisher, you'll likely have a much smaller, manageable audience - full time monitoring is unlikely to be required. In hindsight I would aim for 30 to 90 days, especially as a new publisher.
  3. Advertising was ineffective: I made the mistake of thinking that I could use advertising to bridge any gap between my funding and my Kickstarter goal. This can only work under rare circumstances. It is possible to pump marketing with cash in order to get conversions if, and only if, there is already a large following. In the case of no initial following then there's nothing to build off of. A lot of what drives pledge conversion is confidence - am I confident that what I'm going to buy is going to provide me with value? In the case of a Kickstarter Project that's thriving, a great deal of confidence is given to the visitor simply through the fact that there are so many others who have been willing to pledge. A visitor thinks "Wow, all of these people have seen value in this - there must be something here" (subconsciously probably). I think it's similar to walking down the street, looking for a restaurant. If you see an empty restaurant nestled in among a sea of bustling restaurants one might ask "Why are their no customers?" It could be the service is bad, the food is terrible, the food takes too long to arrive, or all of these things, or none of them. But it doesn't inspire confidence, and so you typically don't take the risk. After all, there surely is a reason right?.. Right? The mere fact that the restaurant has no clientele scares off any potential customers. It's a vicious cycle, and well known in restaurant owner circles. How to get over this "hump" is an art of itself, and a very important aspect of running a successful restaurant. It could be the best restaurant ever, but if there are no people willing to go there it hardly matters. People use popularity as a barometer for successIt's a form of efficiency and outsourcing in decision making. It would be a rather tiresome affair to go to each restaurant and try their meals. Outsourcing this kind of decision to popularity is something we humans do all the time - it makes for an easy, and typically somewhat adequate decision. Put simply, advertising may have gotten a few clicks, but those clicks were unlikely to turn into pledges because the Act of Treason Kickstarter page was "an empty restaurant". Advertising is going to be almost entirely ineffective unless you can get enough pledges so that the Kickstarter page inspires confidence to the passerby, so to speak. All in all, what this means is that you can use advertising to add fuel to the fire - but you can't use it to start the fire! Lesson learned!
  4. Timing: I launched my campaign on a Friday. Not ideal. Initially I thought that it wouldn't make a difference, but you get a period of about 24 to 48 hours to show up as "New to Kickstarter", as well as on other sites that have a "new to Kickstarter" embed on their webpage. This is prime traffic, and best of all it's free. Ultimately, the best time to launch is when Kickstarter and other affiliate sites are getting the most traffic. Jamie Stegmair has some good info on this. He suggests avoiding Monday's and Fridays' and to launch mid morning. I was planning my launch strategy on what worked best for me so that I could babysit the campaign - not what would drive the most traffic. In hindsight, I think it's best to have it set up solid from day one so that it doesn't need babysitting, and then squeeze every last drop out of the launch timing unless it's absolutely not possible to do that.
  5. More detail: People were still unsure about some aspects of the Act of Treason, such as the Court and Quest cards. There was plenty of details on the game, but a few blanks here and there for some of my more observant visitors. Thankfully, this is an easy fix. In the future I can include some more detail.  Simple additions such as showcasing some of the Court and Quest cards, as well as having a rules video and a play through video are great additions. These additions to the Kickstarter page are definitely planned for the next Kickstarter run.
  6. Comparison to The Resistance: This comparison was made in comment sections here and there and in some questions directed to me. It's a little annoying to have your creation compared to something else like this - and not just because I'm not a big fan of The Resistance. Don't get me wrong, it is fine game and I understand why people enjoy it. But Act of Treason isn't like The Resistance in my humble opinion - and I didn't design it to be like The Resistance. I totally get it, it's a popular game, and it's of the same genre. To the uninformed it's a completely natural first question to ask - "How are these two things different?" Act of Treason is much more of a hybrid of both Mafia and Battlestar Galactica, incidentally the two games I played most before starting my work on Act of Treason. I think doing a direct compare and contrast between Act of Treason will be beneficial as it will help people with the question of "How is this different to The Resistance", and help them to get up to speed really quickly on Act of Treason and why it is different. I will write a blog post going in depth on the specific differences between these two games as well as an analysis of the game theory of Avalon. This can then be included on my FAQ for the next Kickstarter. I may do a blog post about some in depth strategy on Avalon / Mafia, and why I can't really get into these games as much.
In summary, Kickstarter chewed me up and spit me out - I had no clue what to expect. It's one of those classic situations where you don't know what you don't know. Which is perhaps my one of my favorite sayings right now. That and: Sometimes you've got to look the fool so you can become the master. Both quotes are amazing and I think they really help to spell out that you have to be willing to try and fail if you want to succeed - everyone looks foolish when they start out at something new. That's just life. I'm just glad I can pick myself up, dust myself off, and give it another crack.

That about raps it up. I'll be putting up a Dominant Strategy article very soon as well as a Developers Diary, going over what I've been up to and my next steps.

Until next time,

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Act of Treason Design Journal - Part 3

Why aren’t there more Examinations in the game?
I’ve deliberately put many opportunities to gain Examination Blocking and few opportunities for players to examine other players in Act of Treason for very good reason. If too much information is given out as to the loyalty of the players then the mystery and tension of the game is stripped away. Players can narrow down the suspects and simply make a plan to win, eliminating those they need to - there is no more unknown - The fun gets sucked right out of the game almost instantly and the game becomes an accounting exercise to wrap up an who wins.

If you know too much, then Act of Treason is no longer a game of intrigue and deception, and the whole point of the game is lost. I’ve witnessed this effect many times during my early playtests, and because of this, I’d rather have too few examinations than too many. You need to keep the suspense of who is who right up until the very end of the game for the maximum fun.

As it currently stands. Act of Treason has a good balance. You won't get too many examinations to reveal too much, and it's highly likely you'll get one or two - enough to encourage suspicion, interaction, and added conflict.

Why are there lots of ways to get Examination Blocks?
Sort of the inverse question to the one above. Examination Blocks gives both the Heir and Traitors the ability to pick up these cards without being too suspicious - after all if there are so many it's tough to avoid them... right? This makes getting an Examination Block less suspicious.

Added to this, you don't want the game flooded with Examinations, as noted above. Players will have to adapt their examinations to the blocks that are currently in play - It just makes getting clear information that much more tricky, which is a plus. In my opinion, there definitely isn’t too many examination blocks. I’ve never seen full saturation of Examination Blocking - there’s always been at least one person at the table who can still be examined by the end of the game.

Depending on your loyalty, the trick is trying to get an examination block as inconspicuously as possible! At the very least you may want to try to stop others from getting them, or use the opportunity to throw suspicion on them if they do!

Why do players gain Examination Blocking if they Examine?
'Chaining' examinations is a very powerful strategy that has been used in previous editions of Act of Treason. What is 'chaining'? It’s when player A examines player B and then Player B examines Player C. By 'chaining' examinations in this manner you gain an extremely strong sense of who is who, to the point of sometimes actually knowing for certain. A can’t be lying unless C is on their team, and so forth, The larger the chain, the stronger the information. This is very bad for he game as mentioned in 'Why aren’t there more Examinations in the game?' The fun gets sucked right out if you know too much!

As an added negative, this gives examinations so much power that players were incentivised to get Examinations at any cost. Worse still, the strategy was only dominant for the loyals, and yet the Traitors would be forced to go along with it or risk exposing themselves as a Traitor! This created a terrible dominant strategy that removed all meaningful choices from the game and replaced them with "buying Examinations so that you can chain them".

Examination chaining was removed from the game early on. Now, Examinations are both scarce and they can never really be proven to be correct because 'chaining' has been removed. This keeps the mystery of the game going. In the current iteration of the game, players who examine others or who get examined gain examination blocking - this is what prevents examination chaining. I trailed this in a few games a while back and have never regretted my decision to add it to the game. This is a very good mechanic to have because it keeps distrust and intrigue going, and if anything it adds to it!

Why does the Steward get to reward a Court card if the Quest passes?
The Court is where players can go to purchase cards that give them additional powers and effects. A Court card must be purchased buy spending Knowledge. Since Knowledge is used to pass Quests, players will be lowering the chance of the passing the Quest that round, and potentially subsequent rounds.

This has mostly been covered in parts 1 and 2, but simply put, the Court is restricted to put a limit to the amount of damage that players can do when acquiring cards from court - knowledge spent on court card can't be used to pass Quests for instance. Likewise, allowing the Steward to reward any left over cards in Court is a nice free bonus that rewards players as a group for not just buying cards outright.

Without these mechanics in play, new players have a strong tendency to purchase cards without knowing why it’s the wrong time to buy, or what it means. Then some new players may blame the game rather than realise the fault was with them. With these mechanics in place as well as the tips in the rulebook, players are more likely to build up the understanding that buying without solid reason is the reason for their downfall, not the game or anything else.

Why are the Quests ordered?
This is highly related to the point above, and why it is recommended that advanced players play with the Quests unordered and randomised.

For beginning players, playing with ordered Quests is somewhat like playing with training wheels. In blind playtesting some players would leap into tactics that were quite destructive without realizing. This could lead to them blaming the game for their actions, not realizing that they were "playing the game wrong". Now as a designer I don't believe players can play a game wrong, so I needed to provide a clearer incentive and push for players to play in such a way  I covered this before with the social contract as discussed before.

I've found that using ordered Quests help to keep the kingdom nice and controlled in the early game, with some of the more dangerous cards coming out near the end game to help facilitate conflict. This guides players into the the social contract and tactics that keep the game on course. When the Quests are unordered, players will have to organise themselves to ensure that they stay on track and that Quest and the Court cards aren't misused by the other players.

Why do you have a Deception Phase?
I've played a lot of games both with and without a Deception Phase, and with many different groups. The consensus is that including the deception phase is more fun and allows for more tactics with your Traitor friend. That said you don't have to include it as stated in the rule book. Optional rules exist that allow you to play without it. In fact for the five player game it's mandatory that you play without it.  Both ways of playing are equally viable, and in my opinion.

Why do you not reveal Loyalties after a player dies?
This keeps the suspense of the game going until the very end of the game. As discussed above, revealing too much can take away the suspense, and locking down a players loyalty after they die so that they cannot be examined adds yet another factor into if killing them is a good idea.

Tune in next time for the following:
Why is the Quest phase before the Action Phase?
Why do you discard down to 4 Knowledge cards each round?
Why is the cost of Court cards variable?
Why is there a Town Watch?
Are the Court cards balanced?
It seems way too tough for the Traitors/Loyals to win Tribute/the game?
Why do you not reveal Loyalties after a player dies?

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Development Diary #9 - Less than 24 Hours to go

Hey Y’all,

Under 24 hours to go until Act of Treason launches on Kickstarter. It all just feels so surreal.

The Update

Let me take you through some of what I’ve been up:
  • Updating the Act of Treason website ( and prepping it for the Kickstarter launch. It’s mostly new art assets and concept images, but the biggest update was adding the rules for Act of Treason, which are all sitting online now at
  • Created a press release, and sent it around to various bloggers and board game related news sites.
  • Act of Treason is now up on Board Game Geek. If you've played it, feel free to create an account and post up your review.
  • The Kickstarter page has seen a ton of work and is looking very swish now. I’ve included a mixture of text and what I’ve been calling “long tiles”, which are basically just images. I call them long tiles because they are tiled down the page and are typically quite long. A fair bit of work went into Photoshop to make sure they all look good and they covered all the needed information.
  • I created my own company called Saffron Entertainment. It doesn’t have an identity of itself yet, or website, or anything really - right now it’s basically a holding company for Act of Treason, but it will be getting its own unique personality & all the frills sometime after the KS launch.
  • Prepared some blog posts to come out before and during the campaign. A recent one went up for those who are interested in learning more about me and my future projects. You can read it here. Also, expect posts to come up soon for both The Dominant Strategy as well as parts 3 and 4 of the Design Journal.
  • I created an Act of Treason video with some basic animation for the KS page. It's embedded below. It took me roughly three days out of a planned two. First was getting the VO right, cutting out the background noise proved both necessary and more difficult than I had anticipated. That was most of Day 1. Days 2 and 3 where on the visuals, first half and second half respectively. I had most planned out ahead of time, but winged a couple of parts when I arrived at them. I think it’s important to stay adaptable for situations like that - you can sometimes stumble upon an easier and/or better solution if you stay flexible and open to it.

Personal Stuff

So about two weeks ago, windows decided to push updates on me really hard, and so I decided to go ahead with them. The next thing after I boot back into windows - my screens are glitching out and artifacting, flashing gray for a frame or two. Thanks Windows update! I trouble shoot to try resolve it via updates etc, but it keeps happening. The graphics card is the likely culprit - Gigabyte GTX980Ti for the tech nerds out there who are interested. So I decided to take my graphics card out and clean it. That's when I notice that it's boiling hot. I'm beginning to suspect overheating.

Sure enough I clean the card to remove the dust and then when I plug it back in I find out the fans either aren't spinning, or are making weird noises when they do spin. Sure enough, shortly after plugging in the card the fan falls off and I'm getting the artifacts again. I jam a large fan next to the case for a while until I can get my hands on a replacement - it actually worked too! No more artifacts while I had that setup. The culprit fan must have not been spinning for a while, or something came loose with it? Who knows. All I know is that I'm down one boss graphics card. RIP.

My makeshift cooling setup

Now I'm running my brothers old card, about the same power as an Xbox360 gfx card. While I wait for gigabyte to examine the card under warranty. The timing is just great as you might imagine. Right as the Kickstarter campaign is about to begin. Oh well, could be worse. I mean I could have had my hard drive fail with all my Act of Treason stuff. Instead I just had my hard drive fail with all my old movies and TV shows. Yes, you read that right - one of my hard drives failed like a few days ago! Afterwards I Immediately rushed and backed up my entire Act of Treason folder. At least I can still work and all my files are alright. That's the main thing. It is genuinely painful to work on some of my files now however. Even slightly large Google Docs documents are laggy at times!

Okay Google

So when I first started prepping Act of Treason for Kickstarter, I knew I wanted to have a website dedicated to Act of Treason. One of the things that really got stuck in my craw was that my website wasn’t appearing on google unless you typed in something very specific like “Act of Treason board game” - even then I don't think it was top of the page. Back then, typing in just “Act of Treason” had my website on page 5 or something, which might as well been tantamount to it not existing.

I’m proud to announce that when I typed “Act of Treason” into google today I got the following:

3rd result, not bad! And when I type in “Act of Treason board game” the results are even better still! It just feels good to make progress on something like that, especially when it has mostly resolved itself.

Learning From Mistakes

I was going through the Kickstarter, typing up the "Risks and challenges" section. For the unfamiliar, this is an area that sits at the bottom of your Kickstarter page. It is for the project creator to explain: "The risks and challenges that come with completing your project, and how the project creator is qualified to overcome them."

A rather important section for some projects and for backers too. It helps set the stage for what could go wrong and should be used by the creator to honestly reflect on where they could become stuck, which allows the backers to make a informed decision about the level of risk they are willing to take on.

In typing up that section, it made me realize something: It’s all about trust.

Trust is a huge part of any business interaction. If you don’t trust whom you’re dealing with, it’s unlikely that you’ll give them any money in exchange for a good or service. Why? Because you can’t be sure of the level of quality you’ll get, or that you’ll get the product or service you asked for. Heck, you could potentially not get the product or service at all. Any number of things can go wrong in a business situation, and not having trust and confidence in whom you’re conducting business with means that you might not get the outcome you want. Trust means you're confident that you'll come out okay, even when things go wrong.

Now, with all that in mind, I need to come clean about something that has been buging me.

This was not a great promotion I ran. I’m going to peg this one up to me not being so great at marketing - but even then I should have known better! Some of the things I mention in my post when I first revealed this are just straight up wishful thinking. It just wasn’t very grounded of me. I’m going to unpack it a little here for you so you can learn from my mistake. 

Let's start with the reward of this promotion - doubling the marketing and art budgets. My rationale at the time makes some sense:

“I wanted a reward that didn't detract from the product and divert attention or effort elsewhere. I also wanted a reward that all backers could enjoy. A reward that would be fair to all backers. This reward is in line with my main concern - making the best game possible.”

While I stand by this rationale, the biggest issue with the reward is that it’s vague, and not very tangible or salable. What does "double the budget" actually mean? Having values such as an increase of $4,000 for both would have been much clearer and more transparent. But even then, that’s not a very salable reward. No one is going to get excited when you tell them that they should sign up to a mailing list because they then get to increase the numbers on somebody's else budget.

A better reward would be in line with all the rationale I laid out above, while at the same time being  more tangible, salable and clear. I would give you an example, but if I could do that I would have run a better promotion in the first place. Something like adding a new card or two into the game kind of works, but that comes with it's own cost. I for one am very dubious of any Kickstarter game when they do this - offer to increase the components or mechanics of the game as a stretch goal or bonus. I wonder, "why am I not getting the most complete/best product when the idea is already out there and tested?", and "Doesn't adding/removing that component upset the balance of the game?" Both fair questions.

Another smaller mistake, but a mistake none the less, is that I should have taken a different tact with the x3 mailing list “rule” worked into this promotion. I should have only applied a 1 for 1 across all social media accounts, OR only included the mailing list in the promotion. Having mailing list sign ups count for x3 followers is a confusing and convoluted message.

In marketing, I think you should treat everything that you do like you’re playing Chinese whispers - if it can be miscommunicated, it probably will. You should always aim for the clearest and most impactful message you can as this has the greatest distance - a convoluted message won’t travel very far. This is one reason that memes have the spread that they do. They are a short snappy highly shareable idea or message that provides some level of value - The messages you give out to the public should be almost like memes. Clear, short, snappy and valuable. If you can do that, then the message will share itself. In hindsight I should have gone with email signups only for a clearer message.

But by far the biggest error I made was the amount of followers needed for the promotion to be successful. 4,000!? Are you serious? In my defense, I figured that if they were to all be email sign ups which is what I was pushing for the real number is ~1,333. Added to this I already had quite a few signups which made the number of signups I needed less still. But having such a large number as the goal would have made me look like I was living in a dream world - and let's be honest, in some sense I was.

I did see an increase in the email signups at the start of the promotion. I want to thank my supporters for that, but I’m sure it’s much less than it would be had I included a sensible goal, focused purely on e-mail signups, and had a much clearer, salable, and tangible reward for hitting the goal. My bad.

As it turns out, after doing some more calculations and juggling the budget, you’ll be getting some of this reward for free anyway. I really want to see the final product have great art, even at the lowest possible funding goal. So the minimum Art budget for Act of Treason has been tweaked to just under double of what it was to ensure this. The marketing playbook has also had some rework to allow for easy scaling. I might not be doing more marketing spending, but I most certainly will if the advertising has good hit and conversion rates.

Please don’t make the same mistakes I did - focus on simplicity & clarity. Run your ideas past someone first who will be willing to challenge you.


That about covers it. I look forward to the post Kickstarter blog write up where I can break down what went right (or what went wrong).

See you on the other side.


Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Myself and Future Projects

Hi all,

This is a space for me to shed some light on who I am, and some of the things I'm working on. I know that some of you will be interested in this information, and I think when using a service like Kickstarter, it's quite important.

When you choose to back a project on Kickstarter, you're not just giving money for the product (although, that is a big part of what you're doing). Your pledge has the potential to help encourage and finance future creative endeavors too! As such, It's always a good thing to know a bit about who you're backing, and I'm more than happy to share.

A Little About Me:

I've wanted to be a game designer since I was young. I love game theory and design and I believe my love of these topics stem from my logical and analytical personality. Understanding games in their totality appeals to me. I believe games can be a abstract representation of life - for example - playing team sports exposes us to fierce competition and how to handle it. It also teaches us cooperative team play, and how to work towards a common goal. These are both universal life skills.

I consider myself a creative and discerning individual. I am interested in philosophy, Truth, innovation and efficiency. My favorite movies are The Thing and The Hateful Eight. My favorite TV shows are Curb Your Enthusiasm and It's Always Sunny. My favorite pastimes are playing games, designing games, lifting weights, debates, and movies. In that order.

I am somewhat introverted, and prefer listening over talking (unless it's a topic like games or game design, in which case I can talk for hours and hours). Marketing and putting myself out there has never been my forte. It has been one of the roadblocks that has held me back on Act of Treason for so long. I hope Act of Treason is successful, but if it were to fail anywhere along the road to funding, I can almost guarantee it will be due to a lack of strong marketing.

I have squandered a number of my younger adult years as I was trying to find my place in the world, and my goal in life. For those who are in a similar predicament I can only suggest that you work towards aiming for something. The "what" is less important than the pursuit. Your goals and aspirations will change over time anyway, and working towards something will help you to understand if you want to continue down that path, alter your course slightly, or if the path no longer interests you. The words of Jordan B Peterson have helped me greatly and I strongly suggest listening to him on this topic.

Act of Treason:

It took me over 6 years to get Act of Treason to this point. My goal from the beginning was to create the best social deduction game that I could and hit all my design objectives. After a long 6 year journey, I am confident in my self assessment that I have attained this goal. Because of this, Act of Treason will have a great deal of support from myself after the Kickstarter. I will continue to promote and market Act of Treason as long as I'm seeing positive reviews and demand for it. Depending on the success of AoT, there will likely be an expansion.

I often get asked if the game would work well online or on the computer. Since Act of Treason is a predominantly social game, I feel it could work online, but that the best application of it would potentially be in VR, where players can get a bit more sense of their interactions with the other players. All of this is up in the air at the moment of course, but the main theme I want to express here is that I am definitely keen to keep going with Act of Treason after the Kickstarter is done.

I have little interest or inspiration for any other board games at this time. Act of Treason will likely be my first and last board game. But don't be alarmed, I have other great projects you may be interested in.

Blood and Guts (Working Title):

This will be the next major project I work on. It will be a vaguely Dungeons & Dragons inspired Pen and Paper Role Playing game. Set in a grim fantasy world with Lovecraftian elements. The theme/genre I'm aiming for is horror-heroic. Your character will be powerful, but at the same time the world is a brutal and threatening place, even for a hero.

I've always struggled to enjoy PnPRPG's. There's a lot of things I love about them, but at the same time there's quite a few things that can get in the way of the fun for me. For example, being restricted to certain character types and limited character choices, or having to deal with vast oceans of imbalance between one character and another. Even the imbalances within the same character options can be too much at times, and can ruin the experience for me.

Some of my design goals for this project are as follows:
  • Brutal and swift combat - A focus on rapid conflict resolution. No more combats that drag on.
  • Narrative focused - Mechanics encourage a rich and conflict filled narrative that don't detract from the story.
  • Balance and polish - A focus on balance and streamlining the game to only the most necessary of complexity. A highly polished presentation, and a game with all the quality of life improvements it can get.
  • Embrace the unknown - Magic and the occult is shrouded in mystery in BnG. Mechanics and incentives will be in place to help ensure that some aspects of the world stay this way. True horror and excitement comes from the unknown. Blood and Guts plans to fully capitalize on this fact.
  • Rewarding resourcefulness - BnG will emphasize barter, scavenging, and adaptation. No more getting to choose the best equipment from a list, or picking the optimum abilities. Blood and Guts is about making tough choices with what you have. Making the most of any given situation!
  • One step forwards, two steps back - You don't have an interesting narrative without conflict. BnG will have deliberate mechanics to really push you and your companions to your limits.
  • Risk and reward - This will be a central mechanic. Do you take the safer option for a skill check? Or do push your luck and increase your chance of success, while at the same time increase your chance of a critical failure? 
  • All rules will be officially available online in an easy to access, mobile friendly HTML format. A offline rulebook will be offered on completion of the ruleset.
As I develop this game no doubt there might be some drift in these goals, but I think this captures the essence of what I'm going for.

I'm still drafting the rules, but play tests will be starting soon.

The Dominant Strategy:

These are my articles that sit on this blog that cover all things game theory and game design related. I’ve loved the topic of game theory and design for a long time, and I’ve loved games for longer still. I’m glad that I can finally have a voice in this space, discussing what makes games good, and what makes games bad. I won’t be able to stick with a schedule for it, and my posts will likely be infrequent, but I will be writing articles when I can.

Each post will be considered a living document and will be subject to review and updating. There are a number of core articles I plan to tackle. Rather than quantity of posts, I will be aiming for quality, with sufficient critique, and self-reflection.  There are also a number of games I want to use as examples to highlight both some of the best and worst parts of games so that we may hopefully learn from them.

You can read my existing articles on the Dominant Strategy here.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Development Diary #8

Hey Y'all,

Merry Christmas and I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season!

Only 43 days until Act of Treason is up on Kickstarter! I'm currently rushing, making sure all the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed. This week I'll be talking about the most recent Act of Treason review by Unfiltered Gamer, the website update, social media, and other sundry miscellaneous thingys.

Unfiltered Gamer - Act of Treason Review

I'll start with the most awesome news - Unfiltered Gamer has reviewed Act of Treason, and from the sounds of it they really liked it! For those of you who don't know Unfiltered Gamer is an independent 3rd party board game reviewer. They often review games that are going up on Kickstarter to help people get to know if the game is for them. Overall I loved the review and I'm very happy with it. You can watch it below.

In addition, Unfiltered Gamer will be doing a live play of Act of Treason on Wednesday the 17th of January PST. This is the best opportunity to check it out and see what AoT is all about before the launch date ! You can watch the livestream at the Unfiltered Gamers Facebook Page. Be sure to sign up so that you get notified when it's on!

Website Update

With the new video from Unfiltered Gamer I wanted to slap on an update to the Act of Treason website. I've added the following:
  • Featured the Unfiltered Gamer review on the front page as well as on the feedback page.
  • Revealed more rules for Act of Treason in the Rules section.
  • A few other small tweaks and Quality of Life improvements here and there.

Social Media Promotion

I just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who is signing up to the Kickstarter mailing list. I've already seen a notable increase to the number of subscribers there. It has more than doubled since the 8th of November, which I'm pretty ecstatic about, which brings us to a solid ~700 followers. We're well on our way folks!

As some of you may know where currently running a promotion whereby if we get enough followers before the Kickstarter launch date on the 10th of Feb we'll be boosting the art/marketing budget. I think 4,000 followers may have been a bit high in hindsight, but it's still very much possible! If we can make a sizable dent in it then I'll definitely consider giving a small bonus as a reward even if we don't hit the 4k goal.

I'll be working hard to make sure that we try to collectively hit the 4k goal! I want to be able to make the best product possible and 4k would make for a very stable foundation indeed.

If you know any podcasters or 3rd party reviewers who might be interested in covering Act of Treason to help get the word out please do let me know in the comments or you can contact me directly.


I'm not sure if I've shared it yet, but here is the final prototype all boxed up. The art is subject to change, and the components might be altered a bit, but at this stage the mechanics are all pretty much locked down.

That's Emilien Rotivals artwork featured on the back an front of the box. Great artist, you can find more of his work over at

Frontside of Box

Backside of Box

For those of you who may have missed it, the first article of The Dominant Strategy is up. It's called 'What Makes Games Fun?' In it I explore the various reasons why we enjoy games and give some color to how a game designer might use this information to inform your design choices. If you're interested in game design, feel free to give it a read here.

I think that about covers it for this week.


Music of the week