More Than Openness: Designing in Public

In my last article, I talked about some of the basics on open design. I’ve used those principals in my work with Sand & Steam, but recently I realized that what I’ve been doing has been a step beyond openness. I’ve been designing in public.

Openness vs Public

One of the distinctions that I missed in my last article is that openness doesn’t necessarily have to be inviting. It just leave the door open. Doing something in public combines openness with a call to the public to look at what you’re doing. It’s the difference between opening the front door of your house while you work, and inviting people into your house to watch you work, and give feedback on what you’re doing.

This difference became apparent to me when I saw what was happening with my most recent project, School Daze, which is currently being funded on Kickstarter. School Daze had its genesis as I was driving back from visiting friends in Kansas City. I was thinking about a joke a friend had made on Twitter, and before I knew it, a game idea was unfolding in my mind.

At that point, I had what I felt were two options: I could begin writing, and post everything on Sand & Steam as usual, or I could go to my community hive-mind, and start bouncing ideas off of people.  I chose the second option. As soon as I got home, I began bouncing around the idea of Ranks (a concept from School Daze), and what possible effects Rank-rhymes could have, in-game. The result is that I got a much more complete list of Ranks for School Daze, and the end result is much better than it otherwise would have been.

The Public Trap

Designing in public, asking everyone to see the entire process and provide feedback the entire time, it’s a daunting proposition. The thing that I have found that is most important in this process is this: vision.

Early in my public design life, with my work on Shadows of the Collegium, I found myself asking for so much feedback and input that I was losing sight of what I was trying to accomplish with the work. Because of that, and a few other things that I realized, Shadows is now sitting on the shelf. Maybe it will get picked back up, and maybe it won’t, but the point is that my own lack of vision for the project helped derail it.

With School Daze, my vision has not wavered. I wanted to make a fun, highly collaborative game centered around stories in high school. If anything detracted from that goal, whether I thought of it, or someone else suggested it, I axed it. The end result is a game that I am really proud of. The thing is, if I hadn’t reached out to my friends on Twitter, I would have had something less than what I ended up with. Designing in public is a key concept for me, and without it, I wouldn’t be half the designer that I am. However, if I were to let myself be swayed by every idea that came at me, I’d end up with a messy, water-down game that doesn’t succeed at the goals I set for it.

Moving Forward

Since the whole process of designing a game is new to me, I’m still learning about it as I go. One of the most helpful things for me in that regard is to talk about the various parts of it. I’m a verbal processor (it works when I type, too), so discussing things lets me get a better grip on them. I anticipate that my next few articles here will focus on different parts of game design, and how I see them used in my own work. Thanks for reading!


  1. Nice points. I suppose you would have to develop a serious sense of Triage for ideas as they come at you. Kickstarter fascinates me. So much so that we’ll be hosting the RPG Blog Carnival on our site with Kickstarter’s influence as the theme! Good luck with School Daze! It sounds like it’s going to be great!