Gen Con is Ground Zero for game designers

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Gen Con attracts more than 50,000 game enthusiasts to the Indiana Convention Center each year: For game designers, it’s a huge opportunity to promote new products and a perfect testing ground for games still under development.

Dozens of gamers sat huddled around circular tables in groups of four or five Friday in the First Exposure Playtest Hall. They played games for hours and offered feedback on what worked and what could be improved.

Mike Sellers, an Indiana University-Bloomington professor with more than 20 years of experience in the game design industry, is taking on his first board game design. He has worked on video game projects, mobile and social games, and was the lead designer of ‘The Sims 2′.

“I’ve tested the game out with family and friends, at game nights with professional designers and at smaller conventions, but nothing of this size,” Sellers, a professor in game design at IU’s Department of Telecommunications, said of the Gen Con event in Downtown Indianapolis.

“It’s a great way to self promote,” he said. “The hope is that the people who test the game out will remember the game by the time it reaches the market and then they’ll tell all their gaming friends about how much they enjoyed it.”

Sellers’ newest creative venture, “Our Town,” takes lessons from early American exploration to show how towns are established. Game players vie to gain the most individual wealth, happiness and influence, which are collected throughout life events, but players must also cooperate to ensure that the town is built and that each player survives.

The game also highlights the importance of systems.

“Systems are the interconnectivity of society. It’s as important in this century as literacy was in the previous century,” Sellers said, “be it finding the fastest ambulance route to a hospital or calculating the shortest wait in a queue for a ride at Disneyland. And it has depth, it affects more than just the gaming industry.”

Sellers plans to incorporate some of the problems he faced during the modification process of “Our Town” into his teaching about game system design at IU, where he will be working with students enrolled in the new Game Design major set to begin this fall.

If all goes well, Sellers hopes his game will be ready to promote and sell at next year’s Gen Con.

Originally published at Indianapolis Star, USA Today, The Arizona Republic, Detroit Free Press, The Tennessean or Democrat & Chronicle.

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About Alana Mitchelson

Alana Mitchelson is a journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Follow her on Twitter at @AlanaMitchelson.

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