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if you asked Ben's brain about gaming, this is what it would say

Lottery & The Pickup Donut

One of the big challenges of running events like Go Play NW (or even small events like the weekly Story Games Seattle) is actually getting people sitting down and playing.

It’s not that people don’t want to play. Quite the opposite. They’re there to play. But everybody is a little picky. They actually want to play in good games. Games they’ll enjoy. Crazy, I know.

Faced with a world of choices, and with more opportunities lurking in every corner, hesitation becomes an optimum strategy. The excited gamer thinks “but if I decide to play in this game, maybe another game will pop up in five minutes that I’d rather play in!”

The easy solution is just to schedule all games in advance. Put up a big grid and have everyone sign up before they even set foot in the door. The downside is that you lose the opportunity to make connections and experience unexpected things. If you’ve got every slot scheduled, you can’t decide to play that game that someone just told you about which sounds really awesome, or play with those cool folks you just met at the Friday Night Feast. You can’t go with your own personal flow, because you’re booked.

Last year, Go Play NW swung a lot more towards pickup instead of scheduling, both by popular demand and as an intentional policy to encourage people to mix it up and embrace the unknown. But that also meant a lot more people milling around, so we came up with some new and experimental methods to get folks into games quickly.

The Pickup Donut

When it gets down to pickup games, you’ve got basically two sets of people: people who want to play in something but don’t know what, and people who want to run/facilitate particular games and are looking for people to play (you could add to that a third category, people who want someone else to facilitate a particular game they want to play, but for our purposes that doesn’t make a difference).

At Go Play NW 2009, during the pickup huddle (aka the group hug) each person who wanted to facilitate a game pitched it to everyone who was free. With a small group that works, but for some slots at Go Play NW 2010 there would easily be 50+ people looking for games. With the old huddle, that’s chaos in the making.

The idea of the Pickup Donut (né Power Donut) is pretty simple: divide one large group into several smaller groups so it’s easier for people to pick a game. The trick is that you want to make sure that the ratio of facilitators to players stays about even. If you don’t, if you just divide your 60 would-be gamers into four groups of 15, you have no guarantee there will be enough facilitators.

The method is fast and simple. Assemble the entire mob in one room, everybody who wants to play or facilitate. Everybody forms a rough circle around the organizer, who stands in the center of the room.

Next, the organizer asks everyone who wants to facilitate a game to step forward toward the middle, forming a second circle inside the first. Now you’ve got your donut, players as the outer ring, facilitators as the inner ring. The organizer is still in the center. The people in each ring should make sure they’re evenly distributed (i.e. no part of a ring has people bunched up or spread out). Organizer, you should spin around once or twice to double-check.

Now you slice the donut. Organizer, close your eyes. Rotate a bit so you don’t know where you’re facing, then point your arms straight out left and right. Where you’re pointing cuts the donut in half. Open your eyes and rotate another 90 degrees, then slice the donut again. Now it’s in quarters.

You’ve now got four separate groups, each with roughly the same number of players of facilitators. Each group huddles, makes pitches and decides how they want to break up into groups and play. By drastically reducing the number of pitches and the number of people, it’s much easier for people to get settled into games.

Know Your Donut

Slicing into quarters is usually good, but with 30 or less you might only cut in half. With a lot more people, you might slice even more. You want about 10-15 people in each resulting group.

If you want to really mix things up, after you close your eyes have the ring of facilitators rotate a bit before you slice. That means no one can predict what facilitators they’ll be paired up with.

Oh, and organizer, don’t forget to leave room for yourself. Pick a spot in whichever ring you want and tell someone to leave a phantom space that you’ll jump in. Otherwise you’ll wind up standing in the middle looking like an idiot. True story. I said these things were experimental.

The general complaint against the Pickup Donut is that someone only has the games in group A to choose from, but the game they _really_ wanted was in group C. In fact, that has nothing to do with the donut, it’s true of all gaming events, everywhere: You will miss that really cool game.

next: we up the ante even more with The Lottery


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