Pareto the Craftsman

In an attempt to incorporate some of the experience I’ve gained in creative projects, I’ve decided to implement a framework for my efforts in the upcoming week. Although the goal is to better guide my journey in designing a board game, I think it’s certainly applicable to any boutique-level endeavor.

I’m a firm believer that any creative project needs to be both effectively done AND be of exceptional quality. So for my proposed framework, I want to focus on the initial speed and efficiency of action required to iterate quickly. But I also want to keep a high-level perspective and track the elements that will eventually be required to produce a well-polished game.

The name I’m giving this framework is “Pareto the Craftsman”:

  • Pareto – smashing through the first 80% of game design as fast as I can so I can identify fatal flaws early on
  • Craftsman – Really honing in on the details and providing a polished, amazing product. I don’t really see another way to success as an individual, unknown, wanna-be designer

I find this idea of Pareto, not as an economist in an office but as a craftsman in his shop, to be quite powerful. He moves from task to task; swiftly and efficiently completing the portions of work that matter most so he can identify problems early on and work to resolve them. But after the major tasks are over, he sits down to finish the finely detailed work – sanding, painting, adjusting, finishing – so that the end result is of the quality expected of an artisan.

It’s this imagery that I want to keep in mind. It’s far easier to apply “What would Pareto the Craftsman do?” to multiple situations than to try and remember which inspirational quote needs to be applied to which step in the process.

I also want to share how I intend to implement this framework in my creative process. For me, this involves more than just going fast and working more. My aim is to create a structured focus on self-testing before playtesting, developing systems that scale, and being able to defer with impunity:

  • Self-testing is, in my mind, the fastest way of making early-stage progress
    • External/Blind playtesting is critical, but I suspect it will take an exceptional amount of time to conduct the tests and collect/parse the data
    • I want to smash through enough self-testing first so I’m not wasting time/resources on the slower efforts through other’s people’s insights
    • If I’m still going through games and finding glaring weaknesses/not having fun, there’s no reason other people need to tell me the product needs work
  • Developing systems that scale is an umbrella phrase for anything that might make design iterations faster/easier – both now and as things progress. The goal is to free up more brainpower for infusing quality during those iterations. Examples of this include:
    • Building a system for batching prototype card JPEGs/PDFs
    • Utilizing Tabletop Simulator to swap out/add/remove/edit components and rules on the fly
    • Adapting my working style to allow for more consistent throughput (via workflows on my phone and creating Google Docs that allow me to work anytime, anywhere)
  • Deferring with impunity is a concept that revolves around rapid memory dumping so ideas don’t get lost. Then I can go back to quickly iterating what’s important without the fear of losing potentially great concepts
    • I plan to use Evernote for this, again using workflows to speed up the process
    • Specifics including quickly tagging and tracking potential mechanics, theme changes, rule changes etc.
    • When I finally get to the last 20% of development, I can then quickly pull up the tagged notes for reference

You’ll notice that none of the above mentions how I plan to be a craftsman. That’s because it’s not yet time for that. The last point – deferring with impunity – is intended to set myself up for future craftsmanship success. I’m fully aware of how important it is to produce something amazing. The problem, for me at least, lies in letting the desire to produce something amazing get in the way of producing something viable (or at all). I need to stay mindful, in the moment, and let the desire and need for quality be noted, but not dwelled upon while it’s time to be moving quickly.

If you have any strategies you’ve found useful in navigating between moving fast and producing quality, let me know in the comments below!