There has been talk on the online roleplaying community (i.e. G+) lately about how we signal that games are to be taken seriously. As creators we want our games to be played and to have this happen we need to get them in the hands and brains of their potential audience. How do we tell that audience that our game is worth their time?
I think that all of the factors in signaling the worthiness of a game can be broken down into two components: reputation and effort.
Reputation is the easy one to discuss. If you’ve already made games that have been taken seriously it is more likely that your next game will also be taken seriously. Getting to that point is hard, but its effect is obvious. Some of the benefits of reputation can be gained by associating your game with those who already have reputation, either by getting a pull quote from them, having them post an actual play of the game, or recruiting them to write a chapter, playset, character class, etc. Still, this marker of seriousness is hard to obtain and exploring how to will likely result in some circular reasoning rather quickly (e.g. write good games so people will know your games are good).
Effort is the component that you can actually do something about. It is also the more nebulous component, and in fact, I feel the need to clarify it to visible effort. If I’ve worked on a game for three years I have clearly taken it seriously, but if none of that effort comes across to potential consumers it cannot affect their decision.
Here is my rule of thumb regarding effort (or apparent lack thereof):
Anything that makes it look like you’ve just dumped your game into the world without a thought or plan is hindering it from being taken seriously.
There are five* markers for effort put into a game. If I were to rank these in order of importance it would look like this: