GMT Games represents the industry standard. There are smaller publishers who do a better job on a unit basis, but nobody moves more good product than they. Over the years GMT have published developer’s reports and interviews but there is no explicit notion of how development proceeds in their shop. When putting up titles for P500 orders, developers will advocate or introduce a design . Whatever GMT is is doing, works. Although my query to Gene Billingsley, the company’s president, went unanswered we have the following from Boardgame Geek:
We tell the developers that their job is not to change the designer’s game or even modify it. It’s to give him clear feedback and let the designer make updates/corrections before a new version goes back to the testers. So the developer running the test process frees the designer to observe, listen, and then work on addressing any issues without the time sink of having to worry about all the interactions of the testing process. During final pre-production, the developers are really useful in helping the designer catch any errors that creep in during the final art/layout process. All in all, developers just make our products better.
So the role is one between a game organizer, catching observations as they rise from playtest, and a production editor. Contrary to popular notions, development isn’t a step between design and playtesting. This is Do-No-Harm development; not Berg’s synthetic-creative relationship.
I’m not sure how much sense it makes to talk about a state-of-the-art in magazine game publishing, if not because comparing them is difficult, given their varying publication schedules then for the logic that they publish games, after all, which are not so different from those that come in boxes on a more stately schedule. If you want to argue that magazine games are rough drafts, I’ll give little argument. If you say that that buyer expectations should be lower, I’ll refer you to my previous argument that the hobby is so crowded that bad games are driving out the good.
Decision Games, the inheritor of SPI’s imprimatur, and presumably some of its production practices, is quite straightforward. At this writing, the following job listing is open:
…[W]ork as a part-time contractor and meet with the Managing Game Developer and Publisher at least once per year. …responsibility for the overall quality of assigned games of a particular type (magazine, mini/folio, or boxed history strategy games, science-fiction themed, or Euro-style), assigned game audience development, direction of assigned Play Testers, and development of assigned game projects. He/she coordinates development efforts through Play Tester reports, progress reports to and discussion with the Managing Game Developer, and the proofing of component/art files. This individual coordinates schedules with and reports to the Managing Game Developer.
Additional duties and responsibilities listed are oversight of game publication process; communication with the design, development, and production teams; and, responsibility over printer’s proofs and freelance proofreaders.
The following is notable:
Ensures audience development from previews and discussion of assigned games during development through responding to game play questions and providing gamer support after publication.
You had me at part-time with obligatory travel. Intermediary reporting just sealed the deal! Add to that responsibility for customer outreach and advocacy and one wonders what part the publisher plays other than run the presses. It is clear, albeit hierarchical, but also a rather tall order for flat-fee compensation. One can dream, I suppose. There is no mention of matching particular historical expertise to designs. Both of these professional descriptions are centered on coordination and production control, an emphasis different from editor and movie director metaphors. Development is more scut work than top-down direction.
Mark Walker, of Tiny Battle Publishing, is considerably more utilitarian and to-the-point. A recent ConsimWorld Post:
I’m specifically looking for a person who can take what the designer deems to be a completed design, test it, eliminate silly-ass mistakes, such as “Set up on this hex” when “this hex” isn’t on the map, or “conduct ranged fire in the Ranged Fire Phase” when there is no such phase (it’s called a combat phase) or misspellings, poor grammar or mistakes on the counters or any of a million other things. I’m not looking for someone who tries to redesign a design…
Berg’s synthetic notion is out the door. This is production-oriented line editing. An interview at Grogheads suggests that the think-tank model no longer applies in the new golden age, at least at Tiny Battles:
What we don’t do is extensive development. If a designer can’t give us a completed game, we don’t want it. The role of the developer has become greatly exaggerated in today’s wargaming scene. I’ve met first-time designers who don’t feel it is their responsibility to test their own designs. They’re wrong.
This is something much more than Do Not Harm. Call it GIGO, or garbage-in, garbage out. It won’t do to submit grotty boxes of glued-together prototype counters rendered freehand with a few sheets of notebook paper, I guess. Walker wants to turn the presses, certainly, but he seemingly wants more forethought than designers traditionally apply.