My friend Jon is really big on Blue Ocean Strategy, a book and business methodology based around expanding from a saturated market into new territory in new and innovative ways. I’ve been thinking about different ways that RPGs might find a blue ocean (Story Games thread here), and I’ll be bringing Jon on board for a podcast about it in the near future, but right now I want to talk a bit about some tangential stuff that came from the book’s chapter called “Build Execution into Strategy”. This is not as relevant to exploring the potential of blue ocean strategies in RPGs, but very, very relevant to how I’ve been trying (and too often, failing) to sell my friends on trying out different games.
However awesome an idea seems to you, you have to demonstrate its merits to the other people involved. This is common sense, but it’s entirely too easy to get too wrapped up in your own ideas and forget. The book talks about a concept called “Fair Process” at length, and it’s the main focus of this blog post. Fair process aimed at gaining trust within an organization to carry out the kind of radical changes necessary for a blue ocean strategy, but I think the ideas here are applicable to most anything where you’re trying to introduce something new to a group, whether a massive company or a little gaming group. The stakes aren’t as high as for factory workers fearing that the new reorganization will cost them their jobs, but that doesn’t excuse laziness about the presentation.
With Mouse Guard, I basically made the mistake of throwing the rulebook at my friends and saying “This game is awesome! Read it so we can play.” I’m a voracious reader when the mood takes me, and my relationship with RPGs and not a few other things basically starts with sitting down and reading a book as a matter of course, to the point where it’s easy for me to forget that not everyone is like that. I’m sure somewhere there’s a group where everyone would dutifully sit down and read a 320-page book cover-to-cover when someone asks, but I don’t know those guys. Likewise, my verbal presentation of the game was… let’s say muddled and leave it at that. Some people no doubt do fantastic presentations of the games they want to play as a matter of course, but perhaps because of my orientation towards reading I apparently needed it spelled out for me by a book to really get it.
“Fair Process” is the idea that even if the outcome is going to be fair, people will be far more willing to accept it if they see the process leading up to it also fair. A reorganization scheme that will ultimately benefit employees can be met with outright hostility if a company doesn’t communicate what it’s doing. There may be times when you can slide by (as I managed to do with 3:16), but needless to say relying on luck isn’t a winning strategy. The book outlines what it calls the “Three E Principles of Fair Process”, all of which are necessary to create a perception of fair process to get people on board.
Engagement: Everyone involved should have the chance to discuss and debate the merits of the new thing. This improves the quality of your ideas, and makes everyone better thinkers about these things. While it’s nice if people are open-minded about trying new things, if you can’t overcome objections and concerns about it, there’s obviously something lacking somewhere. The burden of proof is on the person who wants something new. Also, engagement helps people feel that they’re being valued in the process, even if the ultimate decision doesn’t go their way.
Explanation: The people involved need to know what the heck is going on. In an RPG group that means clearly explaining what kind of game we want to play, and giving an accurate picture of how it works. What kind of game are we dealing with? What kind of rules does it use? What materials are required?
Expectation Clarity: Once you know what you’re doing, people need to know very clearly what will be expected of them. In an RPG this means things like what kind of time commitment is required, what kind of character to make, what kind of role-play to mentally prepare for, etc.
Setting aside the marketing jargon stuff, the point is that from here on out I’m going to consciously try to have a much clearer and more deliberate approach to introducing new games to my gaming group.