When Hub Games rebranded back in January 2017, we spent a long time during the lead up to the switch thinking of a tagline that would wrap up our whole ethos on gaming in one handy phrase. A lot of cups of tea were made, a lot of discussions were had, and eventually we landed on "Games with Heart". As usual, we've managed to make a rod for our own backs, because when people outside the company want to know exactly what we mean, we kind of sit back and go "Games with Heart! You know! Games! With Heart!". We have this concept in our heads, but when you try to examine what on earth we're talking about, the idea becomes nebulous and disappears into the ether.
We did, eventually, manage to boil the concept down into three core areas. When you sit down to play something from Hub Games, it should give rise to Discussion, allow for Reflection, and give you the opportunity for Self Expression. These three pillars help guide us down various design paths, and any time we make a decision about what do during design and development, we'll have at least one of these areas in mind. These aren't the only things we consider though; I'd like to go more in-depth on each of these three aspects individually in future posts, but today I want to cast the net a little further. Aside from those core tenets, what else do we want to see in the games we make?
One thing that's incredibly important to us is that we want our games to resonate with you, the player. Whether that's an emotional impact that hits you when you're playing through a Scenario in our upcoming Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr, or a memory that pops into your head when you're shuffling through your copy of Blank and you see a card that brings back a fun night spent with friends or family, the games we make should stick with you. The folks at Hub Games get to play a lot of stuff – I'd say, on average I personally play between 15-20 different games a week, with probably half of them being new to me – but out of all of those games that hit my tabletop, there's only a handful that create moments that stick with me beyond the duration of the actual playtime.
Now, this isn't saying that they're bad games, or that I've had a negative experience with them – not at all. In fact, I generally enjoy most of the games I play, and it's very rare indeed that there's a time I'll say that was a definitively poor game. But I don't often play something that comes back to me a few days later, either in a good or bad way. It's infrequent that I look back and wonder 'why did I do that?' or internally celebrate something I'm still really proud of. I'd actually posit that most people don't do this. But one of the things we want to do with the games that our company puts out is to have people go through this process, to recall times they've played with fondness or rage – because both emotions are an integral part of the game play experience. Importantly, I think this is separate from Reflection - it's more along the lines of making things memorable.
Second point. We're doing our level best to make our games inclusive. We are, of course, in the business of selling games, and as such want as many people to buy them as possible. To help make this happen the game itself needs to be great, but there are other things that we can do which will open a game up to a wider audience by degrees. It doesn't take a huge amount of extra effort to ensure that your game is colour-blind friendly, for example. Why would you want to exclude a significant percentage of people from playing your game because of how their eyes perceive colour?
Other things are trickier to implement, and though they take more time to bring about, are well worth it – rewriting and editing your rulebook until it's as clear as you can possibly make it (and then having as many people take a look at it as possible outside of your usual circle, because you're guaranteed to have missed something!) shows that you care about your game being understood. Using inclusive language such as the singular usage of 'they' – a topic I feel very strongly about that will invariably be something to dive into later down the line – means that you're welcoming a wider range of gamers to your table. If you pour care into the game you make, it will show.
Third and last (for this post, anyway) is that we want Hub Games to become synonymous with a certain level of quality. For years, under our Creativity Hub banner, we strove to make Rory's Story Cubes a product that was not only fun but also incredibly well put together. The same applies to The Extraordinaires Design Studio, and that desire for quality has now passed onto the games we released last October, Blank and Untold: Adventures Await. The amount of thought that has been put into those two games – from the moment you lay first eyes on them to the conclusion of the play experience – is honestly much more than the vast majority of people would expect. Even something as seemingly simple as the box for Blank was the end result of countless meetings and proofs, each one refining what the end result would be. The way the various components go into the box for Untold is a masterpiece of 'A Place For Everything, And Everything In Its Place'. A game isn't just the engine that drives it – it's the whole journey, from the first time you take it from the shelf, through the unpacking and punching, to learning how to play, to the playing itself, and much more besides. And if you can make each part of that journey a pleasant experience, you're on the way to having a Game with Heart.
Like I said earlier, this is far from an exhaustive list. There's always something that is unexplainable, that mysterious X-factor that you can't quite describe. Perhaps as we do further posts on the blog, more things that help make Games with Heart will become evident – I guess we'll know it when we see it.