I Have a Board Game Idea – Now What? Part 31: 5 Tips to Learning to Deal With Failure

Welcome back everyone! I want to apologize for not writing a post last week as life just got busy and all of a sudden it was Friday afternoon and I hadn’t written the post.

Recently, I joined the hosts of the Beard Games Podcast and had an awesome time with them. During the episode, which I was listening to earlier, I told the story of how I started the development of The Hackers Guild. Part of the telling of the story included a brief recap of the first play test, which resulted in a realization of how awful the first iteration of the game really was. Afterwards, one of the hosts commented on how he appreciated that I didn’t let this early setback prevent me from continuing with the development of the game. For today’s article, I’m going to look at 5 tips to learning to deal with failure.

Tip 1: Set realistic expectations for yourself

Very few, if any, awesome board game designs are perfect on the first try, so don’t feel like you need to be the first. A key part of iterative design is the process of modifying the design, testing it through play testing, and then modifying the design again. No one else expects you to be perfect, so you don’t either.

Tip 2: Remember that making a “mistake” doesn’t make you a failure

Thomas Alva Edison circa 1922Thomas Edison, often described by many as the greatest American inventor, was no stranger to setbacks and “mistakes”. While he worked on the incandescent light bulb, he tried thousands of different approaches before he found one that met his desired results. He later described the process as follows:

Results? Why, man, I’ve gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward….

Think about all of the things we wouldn’t have if Edison had given up easily.

Tip 3: Making and learning from mistakes is what ultimately leads to success

C.S. Lewis once said “Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” In reality, the only true failure in life is not learning from our mistakes and the mistakes of others. When you have a setback, rather than telling yourself that you’ve “failed”, ask yourself questions like “What can I learn from this?”, “What is the root cause of the setback?”, or “What do I need to change to make this better”. Michael Jordan said it best:

I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Tip 4: Take some time to shift gears

Knowing that failure and setbacks will ultimately lead to success doesn’t change how they can make us feel. Take some time away from your game design and do something you enjoy and are good at. Then once you are feeling positive again, tackle improving your game design.

Tip 5: Keep your end objective in mind

It could have been really easy for me to give up after that first play test, but I had decided to develop a board game and I wanted that game to provide others with hours of entertainment. The version I was tested didn’t meet my final objective, so it needed to change. Each time I receive feedback, another aspect of the game design is possibly not meeting the final objective and needs to change. Keeping my end objective in mind has helped keep the setbacks in the process a lot easier to deal with.

That is everything for this week’s article. I would love to hear what you think and what strategies and tips you use for dealing with the setbacks you have in your game designs. Until next time, happy designing.

2 thoughts on “I Have a Board Game Idea – Now What? Part 31: 5 Tips to Learning to Deal With Failure”

  1. Thanks you for this article. The past 3 days I have been in a major game design slump. It’s started because I have been watching all the con coverage. It’s been entertaining but also has me depressed because I feel it’s something I need to be doing but, because of life I in no way could ever attend (no funds, job keeps me from traveling). Your article up lifted me, thanks.

    1. Raymond Northcott (gamesbyray)

      Hi James,

      Thank you for the kinds words. I’m glad it was helpful. I am in a similar boat as you and can often get bogged down with all of the things I “should” be doing. One thing I’ve done that has helped a little is take advantage of the con presence of the Indie Game Alliance. That is how my game The Hackers Guild has been available to play at the last two Gen Con’s. It is 30 US/month (or a little less if you can manage a yearly membership) and then you pay for their time, but I feel like it is significantly less than it would take for me to go myself. Check them out at https://www.indiegamealliance.com/join/?refer=1662

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