Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Collections: Just Another Game

I was all set to rant and rave about a couple of the games we managed to bring home from GenCon, when the head of the credit department at my office threw me an interesting curve ball.

"I'm not," he told me, "a gamer myself, but I like hiring tabletop gamers for Collections."

This was a sufficiently interesting statement that I pressed him for more information, and here's what he had to say:

Gamers understand the concept of turns.
When making collections calls, sometimes it's your turn to talk, sometimes it's the other guy's turn to talk. Non-gamers have a habit of interrupting or of spending too much time talking. Roleplayers especially understand the concept of whose turn it is to talk.

"In my experience," he said, "knowing that it's your turn to listen is an important skill that isn't easy to teach."

Gamers understand and follow the rules.
We want to win on our own merits. If a rule doesn't make sense or conflicts with another rule, we try to follow the spirit of the rules.

"Not every call will be covered by the rules," he explained, "so you need to be able to follow the intent of the rules. The rules don't make allowances for family illness or road construction in front of our building."

Gamers want to win.
Yes, gaming is a social affair. Yes, we all have our own reasons for playing games. But when you get right down to it, we want to win.

"In collections like we do," I learned, "the goal isn't to make the customer pay off completely - the goal is to get the customer to the point where we can sell to him again. That's not to say we never want our customer to pay off - because we do - but as a wholesaler, we are vested in our customer's success."

Gamers are problem-solvers who can adapt to changing situations.
Similar to being able to follow the rules, gamers are able to change strategies if the existing strategy isn't working.

"Obviously, all customers have different circumstances. Some customers can make small payments weekly, others can pay monthly or quarterly. The trick is to figure out which type of customer you are talking to, and create a plan that works for them."

Now, I'm not going to be joining the Collections team any time soon. This is partly because I have no great desire to move to Portland and partly because I like the job I have now. If I ever do join a collections team, however, I'll remember this:

"Collections is just another game. The best collectors are already aware of this and play to win."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mission #200

Mission #200
Originally uploaded by Gamethyme
I'm still recovering from GenCon. It was good/great/magnificent.

It was a show filled with highlights for me - I'll try to get a post up later this week about it, but it may be next week.

The image you see here is one of my highlights: It's the scorecard from my 200th Virtual World Battletech Mission. It's also the first time I set foot in a VWE pod since the Wizards of the Coast Game Center in Seattle closed, nearly a decade ago. I'd saved my 200th mission for my birthday, and the center closed between 199 and my birthday.

I just want to thank John and Katie for recruiting enough players to fill an Advanced-level mission at GenCon.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

No Post This Week

I'm tied up in final prep for GenCon, so there won't be a post this week.

Head on over to my twitter account to keep up. I can't promise a lot of tweets, as I will be working.

You can also follow #GenCon on Twitter - there's an RSS link to the right. It'll give you a good overview of what is going on all over the place, not just in and around the Asmodee booth. :)

Saturday, August 08, 2009

System Still Matters

Here's what we've covered so far:
System Matters because it sets up the expectations of the players.
System Matters because it provides a reward system, impacting the style of play.

Here's today's discussion:
System Matters because the system chosen restricts player choice.

This restriction begins at character generation:

If I tell you "Make a character for a game," you will probably first ask me what game it will be. After all, if we're playing D&D and you show up with a GURPS Traveller character, we have a problem.

If I'm more specific with my request - "Make a GURPS Swashbucklers character," then you have more information, but still not enough to get started. At this point, you need to know what power level the character should be, if there are any off-limits Advantages or Disadvantages, and so on.

Every choice that I, as a GM, give to my players modifies their available choices. "Make me a 150 point GURPS Swashbucklers character. Some GURPS Steampunk and GURPS Space skills and Advantages are available. Disadvantages worth more than 5 points require specific approval. Humans only, unless you have a really cool concept you want me to work in. No magic-users."

I've just told my players what I want - and have given them a clue about the game we'll be playing. I slammed a lot of doors shut - I won't be seeing a party of Elves, for example. But they know to expect Steampunk Swashbucklers in Space. Since magic is not a default in any of these settings, my mention of magic-users hints that magic does exist in the setting. It also suggests that it's rare - or problematic in some way. And non-humans do exist - that is made explicitly clear in my instructions.

System Matters because it can support the setting.

In Dungeons and Dragons, you very rarely see Wizards on the front lines going toe-to-toe with monsters. Instead, Wizards tend to stand back and fire spells from a safe distance.

The setting1 says, "Wizards are not melee fighters - they are support characters." In response, the rules give wizards fewer hit points and it's harder for them to wear armor.

Many games have system "tweaks" to respond to specific setting differences. The Fuzion system is an excellent example of this: Even with the same rules, a Champions: New Millennium character would not fit into a Bubblegum Crisis campaign - even if you ignored the setting clash.

Why? Because Bubblegum Crisis is a fairly gritty setting where guns are a thing to be feared. Superheroes, by contrast, don't usually use guns (or fear guns). Because of this, the Champions character will eat most Bubblegum Crisis adventures for breakfast. And a Dragonball Z character will overpower a Champions character without breaking a sweat.

In general, I'm not fond of universal systems in part because people will inevitably try crossovers between two very different settings, and then get upset when it doesn't 'Work.' This is partly because of publishers who get lazy and don't tweak their engine for different settings - In my Fuzion example above, the system is tweaked for each setting.

Part of my general dislike for universal systems is because of this lack of subtle setting reinforcement - a GURPS Swashbucklers character will be equally as effective against a sword-wielding medieval knight out of armor as against a WWII soldier in the trenches. In theory, any 100-point GURPS character is on par with any other 100-point GURPS character.

This is one of the few areas where I give credit to Palladium Books. If you look at the Rifts setting and all of the hundreds of thousands of available character options, it rapidly becomes clear that certain character options are dramatically more powerful than others. The various authors and designers involved don't even try to maintain balance. There are character races which are clearly better than others. I'd go so far as to guess that there are options that less than 1% of Rifts players take because they are so dramatically inferior. At the core of this inferiority is the Mega-Damage settings, where some character are 100x as tough as others just because they're from a different universe. There's actually a decent rant on this here.

I've got more to say on this, but this post is long enough already, I think. I'll be at GenCon next week and will be spending my normal writing time packing. This means a two-week disruption in posting here2. In the meantime, feel free to watch my Twitter feed, which will be active next week.

I'll see you after GenCon.

1 I say "The Setting" - the same applies to all published D&D settings I can think of, many of which are virtually identical.

2 The Wednesday AFTER GenCon may just be an overview of my haul.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Late Again!

This week's post will be late - My nephew's first birthday party was Sunday, so I haven't had a chance to finish my pending post.

Also: RPG.GEEKDO.COM is now open. It's from the minds behind BoardGameGeek, and hope to have similar utility. So far, it looks pretty good.

Go poke around a bit while you're waiting for me. :)