Jotting Notes on Red Byer's GC Summit 2009 Talk "Run More Games"

OK, jotting some notes about Red Byer's GC Summit 2009 talk "Run More Games". Yes, the talk was months ago; my notes are not timely. Oh, before I even start, I should link to Red's own notes about the talk--some hindsightish notes and clarifications. Are you back? OK. I'll mostly try to paraphrase here, but I'm injecting some thoughts [in square brackets]

  • Talking about the Bay Area Game only. Which doesn't include Shinteki, BATH. Talking about 1992-present.
  • Defining what counts as a Game. Site + Theme + Clue + Travel
  • Difficult enough: any GC can RSA-128 encrypt a message and give it to a team to slow them down. That's what we're gonna do to the lead teams in Muppet Movie Game, so beware. [hee hee]
  • Typical game is ~20 teams. Run only once. It's like a wedding. [don't scale well; e.g., "this site's parking lot can only handle 20 vans". replay value is there--but GC is probably too exhausted to do it.]
  • Team-based.
  • Community. You have to give back. Give back your time. Playtesting, GCing.
  • The formula. The basic idea: For the game community to survive, folks need to contribute, not just take. It's not enough to contribute just as much as you take. Because lots of teams drop out after just a few games, you need to contribute more than you take or else the community's going to asymptotically go to zero.
  • The formula, ctd. You need to give back one Game every Five Years. You might think, 20 teams play in a game, my team plays 2 games a year, so we'll just run a game in 10 years. But because of attrition, because teams stop playing, you'd better run a game every five years.
  • running games is big effort, expense, stressful
  • Folks worry about inadequacy. Don't do that. you're not gonna do the _______ aspect as well as ________ GC. That's OK. Doesn't have to be the same as everybody else's. My game is going to have my style, my flavor.
  • Running a game: warm fuzzies; giving back to community; try new things, e.g., industrial design; influence community direction; Higher Probability of Future Play
  • History. Captains list, so you knew teams were good--and not too many of them.
  • Feedback loops: a team will "try out" a player. Players they get along with get invited back.
  • Feedback loops: teams want to play, but also trust GC to run good Game. GC needs an audience that can handle 30 hours of Morse code and driving. There's mutual trust.
  • In the past, there was an understanding that teams who were more likely to run games would be invited to more games ??!? [Not sure how this worked. If a team played too much w/out running a game, were they removed from the Captains List?] Number of teams was pretty stable through the 90s. [Oh, maybe teams not-running games has always been a potential problem--but the explosion of # of teams in the aughts exacerbated said problem?]
  • Nowadays, there are still teams and games--but game community is larger. There's been crossover with other communities. No more Captains List.
  • Application process--takes team effort. Doesn't necessarily reward what you want. E.g., first-come first-served just rewards folks who wake up early. [Ideally, application includes a resume of games run, and you'd consider that. (But that requires GC folks to be judgmental, and not everyone is comfy with that.)]
  • Crossover has been good and bad thing. (Here crossover is with things like MSPH, Seattle Game, Shinteki, BATH.) We're more popular now! But we haven't seen a contribution from these folks back to the Game community. [So they should have run Moonraker's in San Jose instead of Seattle? WTF? (...and SBlom touches on this later)]
  • So there's a lot of teams that want to play, but the number of Games hasn't scaled to meet demand. Most games run by repeat GC. Not enough new GCs
    • Linda Holman points out: You don't have to run a BANG before you run a weekend game. Red says: Yeah, firmly believe in rookie GCs; ratrace was messy... but it still worked out. XX-Rated's Paparazzi game was awesome. Goonies was awesome.
  • Possible solutions:
    • close the Game Community 20 teams [reinstate something like the captains list].
    • we can "redefine and branch the community" [???] try to stop the crossover
    • reinvigorate the feedback loops. Even if you don't like a team, if they've run a game, let them play: they've given back to the community.
    • Don't expect to play in every Game.
    • Run More Games
  • Melinda Owens: Gee, if people ran more BANGs instead of more Games, that might help more: BANGs can handle more teams.
    Red: That wouldn't help reduce the demand for Games, though.
    [if your goal is max# of happy players, run a BANG. But if your goal is to get invited to more Games, run a Game]
  • Jennifer Novakoski: Ghost Patrol was team LowKey's first game. It was a full-length game. In hindsight, a few LowKeyers would rather have run a small game first. It's really hard to devote a year of your life to something that you're not even sure it's going to be successful. Just to learn the logistics.
    • Sean Gugler: not a rebuttal, just a contribution to the discussion. I have run full games, I have run half-games. The half-games were not significantly easier to run.
    • Red: Yeah, we spent as much time on overnightmare, a half-game, as on ???
    • Sean Gugler: then again, as I get older and need more sleep, I find the half-games more appealing. [This old fart says, yes, by jiminy.]
  • Brent Holman: As a prospective GC, you should push yourself a little bit. Try doing something that is more than you thought you could do. Try a half-Game instead of a few-hours BANG. Some things... taking the overnight aspect out helps the logistics a lot.
  • Scott Blomquist: I'm in one of those not-in-scope groups [Scott is from Seattle game community, though he lives in Portland as of 2009. It's complicated.] How are we "invaders from the north" perceived by the Bay Area community? You know, it's really hard to run a remote Game. Alaska Air is cheap. If we run a Game in Seattle and you're invited, does that kinda count as "repaying the community"? Or do we need to put a cell membrane around each city and figure out what the equilibrium equation looks like?
    • Someone: I'd love to go to Seattle
    • Greg deBeer: I've never played a Seattle Game, but I think it would be really fun, so do it. But there's also a trend we're seeing more of: simultaneous running a game in multiple cities. No, nobody's tried to "simulcast" a long Game game, just BANG/SNAP/MSPH-like things.
  • Linda Holman: Another barrier to entry [and thus a way to control demand] is money. If you run a game in NYC or Chicago, that will limit your demand down to 20 teams--the 20 teams enthused enough to fly to NYC for a game. But right now, with demand the way it is--you would get 20 teams who are willing to fly to NYC.
    • Red: But do we really want do limit demand for each game? Or do we want to run more games? Most teams don't want to play in 6 games per year.
  • Corey Anderson: If I'm GC figuring who has game-running karma, that's hard if I'm a brand-new team. I might not know. And also--what have you done for me lately? [Is Red disappointed w/Desert Taxi and LowKey because Orange Snood didn't get in to Ghost Patrol? Orange Snood hasn't run a game since those teams have been around. Then again, the Orange-ites and the Snoodites ran more than there share of Games... but years ago. Maybe it was Red's contemplation of all this that led him to wonder how often a team should GC?] So do you tell a new team: well, you have to let this "old guard" in? I don't know what the solution is here.
    • Red: Yeah, been on both sides of that. Been rejected by GCs. As a GC, have rejected teams because I didn't think they'd be a match for our game. "It happens." But we try to favor teams that have bled for the game. As a community, to survive, you have to reward folks who contribute to the community. Otherwise, folks who have run games will disappear. We've seen GCs, where it just obliterated their team. The BioHazard game, the Espionage game, there have been several examples. Anyhow. I'm not saying I have all the answers, I'm just saying this might be a key to get more GCs to step up.
    • Crowd chatter: Hey, if we obliterate more teams, that will reduce the demand :-)
  • Jesse Morris: so we're new GCs. Of the teams that applied [to Ghost Patrol], about 15 were past GCs. We don't know what they did, but we know they did something.
    • David Mendenhall: We were trying to bring in new blood, folks who will maybe contribute more in the future.
      • Red: Yeah. And honestly, the folks on the "old guard" are pretty adept at landing on teams. In Ghost Patrol, I landed on my sister's rookie team and had a great time.
  • Chris Dunphy: If a team is cohesive, a team can go on to run a game. But what if it's a ragtag mob that gets together to play a Game--but not a great group of folks to run a Game? Like, say, RadiKS. I'd like to get advice on how to build a Game-Control centered team to run a game.
    • Red: You know how when you're playing and your team says "Hey we could run something sort of like this but--" that's the spark. [Uhm, and if your team doesn't ever say that?]
    • Teresa Torres: Orange Crush played in 5-7 games with no team dynamic problems. Friends from college, got along really well. Running a game destroyed our team. The reason why: half of our team had no idea what they were getting into. I mean, they knew: we had a plan of building clues and finding sites; and it didn't happen. 2-3 of us bore the brunt of the entire game. Fortunately, at the end we were all still friends--but we will never play in a Game again. Yeah, your Game team is not necessarily your Game Control team. But you might have two teams together like Desert Taxi and and LowKey [and the Snout/Drunken Spider combo springs to mind]
    • Red: Yeah. There's a few Orange Snood folks who are running the Muppet Movie Game. But not all of Orange Snood is running the Muppet Movie Game. I know Snout likes a big "core" GC, but I like a small core. Less effort on updates, reminders, the effort to keep so many people working towards the same vision.
      • Scott Blomquist: quick remark, for some reason in Seattle, 12-person "cores" work really well. Insert your favorite Microsoft joke here :-)
      • Corey Anderson: Huh, so in the Bay Area, part of the reason a lot of "teams" have a tough time GC'ing is that it's basically one serious person and their four "friends of the week". So is the MSPH tradition different?
      • Scott Blomquist: Yeah. Actually, some Seattle non-MSPH have chosen team sizes relatively prime to the MSPH team size, just to force folks to mix a little. I'm affiliated with a 12-person entity, a 6-person entity whose population is made up entirely differently, and when I was a Microsoftie I was on a 4-person MS Puzzle Safari team. Seattle has its own Venn diagram of puzzle communities.
  • Rich Bragg: so why just The Game? I think the community today is the big thing [Bay Area Game + BANG + Seattle + etc] I almost feel--
    • Red: Is it, though? They serve very different expectations. Some people may go between them but I personally only play in Games.
    • Rich Bragg: I think a lot of people would consider a Shinteki a Game. [Yes] So you almost have to make a choice of where to contribute: if I contribute to that circle, am I excluded from that circle?
    • I have no answer for you.
  • Me: The MSPH is coming up. It's not the kind of event I like to play in--too many puzzles, not enough other stuff. So since I don't want to play in it, I volunteered to help run it. Maybe there's enough overlap of interest so that people will remember that I helped do that.


So... how to choose teams? I'm DIY-minded enough to think: Yes, you should consider whether a team has run events lately. If a team's members play a lot but never run events, pass them over for newcomers.

But... you know how Red mentioned "crossover" from other communities into The Game community? I'm one of those "crossover" people. So, as you might guess, I hope when you're tally up events a team has run--I don't think you just count The Game events. I'm biased that way by preference... but of course you should also take what I say with a grain of salt--I'm probably biased that way out of self-interest, too.

And yet... and yet...

Even if The Game were the only thing I cared about, I'd still check for BANGs on a team's resume. Desert Taxi, XX-Rated, coed astronomy: they ran Games; I think they ran BANGs first? (Probably other teams did, too; those were just the first that sprang to mind.) Some folks are happy to just consume. Some folks create. You probably want the creative folks to be "in your neighborhood" even if they're not making exactly what you want.

So what should count? If you're a Bay Area puzzle freak, how much do you care about Mooncurser's? Does Shinteki count, if they're both a Game-like thing and a business that lets in just anybody? What about someone helped run the Microsoft Intern game? What about the guy who lives in Emeryville who runs treasure hunts for his kids for birthday parties? Me, I would count Mooncurser's and Shinteki. I'd probably not count the intern game, not Emeryville... I'm not sure why I wouldn't count those. Maybe because I wasn't invited to those events. But... maybe they'd count for something--because someone who ran such a thing might be tricked into other events later. Oh man, Thomas Snyder wrote a book of sudoku puzzles. How should that count? I mean, I was "invited" to it. I could go buy the book. On the other hand, it's not exactly a hunt. On the other hand, he's obviously of the mindset to make stuff. On the other hand...

There's going to be judgement calls. It's not going to be 100% fair. Not everyone on your GC committee will agree on what the criteria are. It would be easier and more straightforward to make your game first-come-first-served.

But you know? Red is right. Oh, I quibble on details; I would count "karma" from related-but-not-quite-what-I-had-in-mind events. But that's a quibble. It's a good idea to show appreciation for folks who run games, especially if you want to trick more folks into doing it. Slots in Games are darned precious; they're a great way to show appreciation.

When you ask teams to include a resume with their application, you remind them that running a game is important, that you care about it.

Oh yeah, and: Run More Games.


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Book Report: Predictably Irrational

A series of musings about how people really behave. Or, rather, how they misbehave. Describes experiments about placebos, cheating, and other circumstances in which people lie to themselves and to others. I'd heard about some of these topics. Lately, some economists have pointed out how people don't follow the simple economic model--that people follow other rules, similarly predictable albeit less sensible.

But there were new-to-me ideas in this book. E.g., that to encourage people to be honorable, you might occasionally ask them to swear an oath to be honorable. Not necessarily because you expect them to respect the force behind that oath, but instead to remind them that honor is important, to remind them that they think of themselves as honorable, that they take pride in it.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, Bless Them

Traffic was bad this evening; my commute was long; I emerged from the bus nauseous. That happens when the commute goes too long: stare at the laptop screen too long while on a moving vehicle, don't look up. My inner ear decides it's going to have one of its moods. I'm stumbling homeward dizzy and grumpy.

Then Yar says "Hey", because, as it turns out, I am walking in front of Yar's house, that is to say the house of a couple of people in Coed Astronomy, a Game team that's running a game soon. So we exchange a few pleasantries.

Then as I kept walking home, I didn't think about the icky bus ride anymore. I thought about

...and I was happy again. Yar, harbinger of joy, reminded me that I have good things to look forward to. (Well, at least one good thing. I'm only registered in one of these games. But you get the idea.)

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Book Report: She's Such a Geek

This is a book of essays by women geeks. It's pretty inspiring. That's partially because geek stories can be inspiring. But also because the stories from several years back tend to be about women overcoming bias/stereotypes to fit into the geek world; but in the more recent stories, the adversity's largely vanished. Some of the modern women still had crises to overcome; academia is still a cut-throat world, full of bullies and credit-stealers and... and all that crap. But you look at the old stories, you look at the new stories... It seems like academia is approaching a situation in which its male and female members are equally miserable.

Not that all of these stories are of grad-school indenture. There's computer games, there's... there's a variety. Give it a read. If you don't want to do that, you can at least read the She's Such a Geek web site.

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Charitable Giving for People with Tiny Mailboxes

As a bleeding heart tree-hugging liberal dupe of the special interests, I give to many charitable organizations. Then they send me paper mail to let me know what they're doing and to encourage me to give them more money. Meanwhile, my apartment building has teeny-tiny mailboxes. My mailbox often fills up. Once my postal carrier fills my box with urgent bulletins notifying me that some children in far-off lands are still hungry, sometimes s/he notices that there's not enough room for unimportant mail like bills and invoices and so those get returned to sender. It was like a DDoS attack on my physical mailbox. For the last year or so, I've been letting these charitable appeals pile up--so I could count them. I guessed that there were probably just a few places filling up my mailbox with constant mailing.

And that's true. The following organizations, between them, sent me a little bit more than half of the charitable-org mail I received in the last year or so. I want to remember to not send them any more money until I move someplace with a bigger mailbox.

SPLaC List 2007

(I'm calling this list the SPLaC List in honor of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which I gave some money a few years ago and which responded with too much mail. I had a bigger mailbox then, but they still managed to fill it.)

  • Americans United for Separation of Church and State
  • Doctors Without Borders
  • Environmental Defense
  • FINCA International
  • Friends of the San Francisco Public Library
  • Greenpeace
  • Friends of the Urban Forest
  • Glide
  • The Ocean Conservancy
  • Pacific Crest Trail Association
  • People for the American Way
  • Planned Parenthood of North America
  • Project Open Hand
  • Save the Bay
  • Sierra Club
  • United Negro College Fund
  • The Yosemite Fund

I'm not saying that these organizations aren't doing wonderful things. I'm just saying that I'm going to let someone else, someone with a bigger mailbox, support them.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Redmond

I was planning to visit the Seattle area this autumn. MS Puzzlehunt 11 is happening around then. Any Microsofties reading this... any suggestions on how I might volunteer as slave labor for the folks running this thing? I'd be happy to sit on a hint-line phone, watch a clue site, and/or monitor the status of a juice refrigerator, whatever would be useful.

I'd be curious to know if they're interested. If they're not, I'll probably head up in November instead.

[Update: I have heard from them. After I posted a message on Which is what I probably should have done in the first place.]

In other news, Hurrah for Team Bloodshot! Bravely determining whether Ravenchase's Great American Race is fun and/or awful. Upcoming weather reports predict temperatures in the 90s and thunderstorms. Oh dear. Hurrah?

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Book Report: How I Came into my Inheritance (and other true stories)

'Lene is out of the hospital. Meanwhile, Alexandra says that her mother is sick; Team Mystic Fish might be on shaky ground this weekend. I have no health problems myself; in theory I have no cause for complaint. But I do complain: will you people please stop having health problems? It's interfering with my leisure. Please consider this request with the weight it deserves.

Right, right so I'm supposed to be talking about How I Came into My Inheritance. This is a collection of short family stories by Dorothy Gallagher. Her family had the ill fortune to be Jewish in Russia. Some got out to the USA in time to experience the depression as others stayed in Russia to be starved by Stalin. These people squabble and don't seem to help each other much. It's interesting to watch Communists come to terms with how Stalinism turned out. This book is bleak, but funny in the way that reading about other peoples' problems can be funny. As long as you don't know those other people or their relatives.

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Book Report: The Design of Everyday Things

Yesterday I flew back into the San Francisco bay area after a business trip down South. I was looking out the window as we passed over scenic Fremont. We passed over some bodies of water. I looked down and wondered if this was the site of the "reservoir" in the movie "Sneakers". Then I noticed all of the parking--and I wondered if one of those nearby buildings was a public restroom. Wow, what a great site for a Game clue! An interesting, thematic location is good; but don't ignore parking and bathrooms. Linda Holman says it; Team Snout says it; it must be true.

Functionality is awesome; but without usability, it is nothing. Probably the main book to popularize this idea was The Design of Everyday Things. I finally got around to reading it. The ideas in this book have permeated my world. People talk about usability all the time now, using jargon that was first made popular by this book. I needn't have bothered to read it.

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Pirate-themed Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even the Castro

Even if it didn't conflict with No More Secrets weekend, I'm not sure I'd play in a treasure hunt run by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. That sounds like more fun than I could stand.

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Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, but not where I am

Four conversations at work yesterday, vaguely remembered:

Avani the intern and me:

Me: Yeah, that phone conversation I had yesterday must have sounded pretty weird to you. All that stuff about "Warrior Monks" and "XX-Rated" and "Mystic Fish".

Avani: Nah, I just figured that you were talking with your S.O.

(Brief image flashes through brain: Wesley Chan and I cooing sweet nothings to each other over the phone.)

Me: Eww, yick. Uhm, no it was this treasure-hunt game stuff. People drive around the bay area, solving puzzles...

A.: Oh wait, I have heard of this. My friend Ari just did one of those.

Me: Uhm, the sarong math guy? You know him?

A.: Yeah, we know each other from Harvey Mudd.

Me: Huh. Well, one of those games is coming up this weekend. I hope it's fun.

Avani the intern and me, later:

Me: Uhm, so this cold that you have. Was the first symptom a scratchy throat? Ahem.

A: Yeah.

Me: Oh man. Ahem. [shakes fist] Curse you!

A.: I've had it for about three weeks now. It's not so bad now as when it started.

Me: Gah?

Vanessa and Me:

Vanessa: So, how are you doing?

Me: My intern gave me a cold.

Vanessa: Didn't he just start this week? And you're already making out with the intern?

(Brief image flashes through brain: Avani, some how transformed into a "he"--and I, making out.)

Me: Eww, yick. Uhm, she's married? I got it just from us talking to each other. Ahem.

Vanessa: Hmm.

Me: Hey, don't worry, I'm standing all the way over here.

Wesley and Me

Wesley: I hope you get better by tomorrow and can play.

Me: Ahem. I don't think that's going to happen.

So Anyhow

So anyhow, the Paparazzi game is happening today. But instead of filling up the Mystic Fish van with my cold germs, I'm sitting at home, gulping down vitamin C. I guess the good news is that if I hadn't caught this cold, I wouldn't have had a chance to talk to Vanessa yesterday--I would have been on my way to outfit the van.

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