Online Community Building Lessons From Collaborative Board Games

When was the last time that you trusted your community with the responsibility of collaboration? In this episode of Community Signal, Matt Leacock shares lessons he’s learned while designing popular collaborative board games like Pandemic, Pandemic Legacy, and Forbidden Island.

Matt also discusses how he leans on the board game community for his own games. In the pre-launch stages, he has rallied supporters to pre-order his games and prove demand. In the development stages, he’s openly shared rules documents, inviting feedback from fans. After a game launches, he also discusses the role that players have when it comes to helping one another as questions and loopholes arise.

Having a shared goal –– winning the game –– is perhaps what motivates players to come together at all stages of the game’s development. Knowing that your community members also have a shared purpose or goal, are there ways that you could trust them with collaboration opportunities that could lead to positive outcomes for everyone? That’s winning! 

Matt and Patrick also discuss:

  • Competition within collaborative games
  • Establishing norms within games and communities
  • The importance of establishing straightforward nomenclature

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Big Quotes

Trust as an integral part of cooperative game design (6:54): “In a cooperative game, you can guide people along. You’re all working toward the same goal, so you can help each other out as you go along. I think that does help build trust. Having that common goal really helps. The opposite is true with semi-cooperative ones, or even the ones with the hidden traitor. Most of the game is really about social reduction and trying to guess what people’s agendas are.” –@mattleacock

Getting buy-in on community norms outside of the context of guidelines infractions (8:45): “To the extent that people can understand what the norms are before they exhibit the behavior the better. … It’s not just, ‘Here’s the rules. Follow them.’ It’s, ‘Here’s the intent of the community [and] where we want to go, so that’s why we have these rules.'” –@mattleacock

Board game communities step in when players need help (13:43): “I lean on BoardGameGeek pretty heavily because there’s so many rules questions about so many of the games. Some of them are quite simple and very easy to monitor. Especially when the game is released, I want to make sure that no one’s found any loophole or has any big questions. I look at those [communities] pretty carefully after release.” –@mattleacock

Trusting your community with collaboration (18:52): “We put the rules [for Thunderbirds] up online … in Google Doc format and invited people to edit, which was this leap of faith. People would see the text, and they could make suggestions right in the text. I would obviously monitor this stuff and pull out any abusive language. I was really impressed at how just meeting people with good faith, how far that went, and how much buy-in that created.” –@mattleacock

The upsides and potential pitfalls of crowdfunding (20:25): “There are certain advantages of trying to get buy-in [for your board game] from the community, where you’re listening to them and understanding what’s important. If that’s taken too far, then you get perhaps people that feel entitled to tell you exactly what they want and expect it.” –@mattleacock

About Matt Leacock

Matt Leacock has been designing board games full-time since 2014. He is best known for his cooperative titles, Pandemic, Pandemic Legacy, and Forbidden Island, and he has designed and developed over two dozen titles for the international market. He is currently working on Daybreak, a game about taking on the climate crisis. His games have won many awards including four nominations for Spiel des Jahres and the Sonderpreis in 2018. In a prior life, he was a user experience designer at Apple, Netscape, AOL, Yahoo, and the chief designer at Sococo.

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