How to Start An Online Game Design Group
As many of you know, I run the online Chicago Tabletop Game Design Group that meets the 1st and 3rd Thursday every month at 7pm Central Time. But some of you may not know how that started or how I did it. Well, it all began over a year ago when I downloaded the app “MeetUp” and found the Chicago Tabletop Game Design Group.
Very quickly, I became friends with the current host Miguel Martinez, co-owner of Neat Games. At the time, the Chicago Tabletop Game Design Group was meeting every week on a rotating schedule of Thursday nights and Sunday during the day at two different locations in the city. Due to me living in the suburbs it was easier for me to go to the Thursday meetups after work so I started going. After a few months I was co-hosting and focusing on the weekday meetings because Miguel was being stretched thin but wanted to make sure there was always someone running the meetup. Eventually, we changed the Thursday’s to once a month because we had a lower attendance rate. Having it once a month helped make more designers commit to coming on that day.
I have found through helping run Meetups that there is not a lot of accountability when the group is run through an app versus starting a group with some designer friends. Many people on Meetup over commit then don’t show up. Thankfully, I started collecting some regulars who brought friends or family so we started having an average of 10 or so people which was fantastic! We tended to have one or two people who would drop in and never come back because they thought we were a video game Meetup. When I see returners after the first time I always get excited. In our group, half of us were normally there just to playtest so we were always able to get to everyone’s games. Which as a host is important. I would normally offer my game last so we'd make sure to play everyone else's games.
Now with Covid, I have moved the Chicago group online using TabletopSimulator, google sheets and a Discord! And have opened it up to any playtester, designer or hobbyist that wants to join us. I work hard to make it an inviting atmosphere. The group continues to be intimate and have the feel of a family. I always suggest anyone who is intimidated by online playtesting to check it out first then move into the weekly groups that work for your schedule. Emma, Gil and I work to send designers to and from eachother’s groups. I think it’s important for designers to take advantage of all of the available playtesters out there. When you play your game with the same people it’s hard to see the problems with your game. So having the ability to jump around groups is so important. Take advantage of the groups while they are still up.
As for a run down of how I actually put together the groups here it is broken up:
Set up a Discord for your group.
Discord is a free app that allows you to create multiple text and audio channels.
Set up text channels for the rules, schedule, how you run things, questions, prototyping tips, etc.
Set up an audio lobby for playtesters to jump into when your playtesting is beginning.
Create audio channels for your playtesting tables. Make sure to label their numbers so players can reference what games are in which tables and what status their playtest is at.
Invite people to join your discord once it’s set up. Note that you can change how long the link will last before it expires.
Gil, Emma and I’s groups ask that you change your nickname to your real name and preferred (she/her)/(he/him)/(they/them). For example, “Danielle Reynolds (she/her)”. This helps group members connect, feel more comfortable and be able to track playtests on the google sheet associated with the group.
Set Up a Google Sheet for Games.
Create a google sheet that has a check in, designer name, game name, game description, server info, table number and anything else you may want included. Feel free to copy the Chicago’s sheet and adjust to your group’s needs.
Share the link to edit the google sheet with your group on the discord. Make sure everyone has editing rights.
Have designers sign up to have their game playtested in this google sheet. Or have playtesters check out what games will be played that night.
I suggest telling people not to wait to fill this out because we try to go in order of people who signed up first!
Download Tabletop Simulator
Set up a Steam Account and purchase the app Tabletop Simulator. This program tends to go on sale a lot and should cost around $25. Which is a great deal for how much I use it!
I suggest watching youtube videos and blogs to learn more about the program.
People playtestesting are also always encouraged to ask questions about keyboard shortcuts. I know I still learn new things about Tabletop Simulator through playtesting other designer's games.
Time to Start
Advertise a start time/date then you’re ready to go!
When it's time to playtest have players hop into the Digital Playtest Lobby audio channel and start dividing players into games. You can also message the #playtest-schedule with questions on what Digital Table you should go to.
Make sure to update the progress of each playtest table on the Google Sheet and in the Discord channels. That way new designers coming in can join when people are looking for more playtesters.
I hope all these steps help you start your own little local playtest group. Or convinces you to come playtest with me and the Chicago group. Either way, good luck gaming!