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1. Apply for a badge scholarship
We created our badge scholarship to help anyone attend who doesn't have room in their budget for a badge.
Attendees have the option to purchase a +Scholarship badge to become a scholarship sponsor, and many attendees have given generously to this fund.
Our 5 question scholarship application takes about 5 minutes to fill out and doesn't ask for sensitive financial info. We don't publicly share the names of our recipients.
2. Purchase a Playtester badge for your first visit
All badge types come with lifetime Alumni status in our Discord server. We offer all of our Alumni the lowest price available on our badges through an early bird Alumni discount.
There are a few reasons for this:
- Returning attendees need less training on how to use Discord, virtual tabletops, and our system for matching playtesters to prototypes.
- Returning attendees take less time for us to set up on our website and Discord server.
- The earlier people register, the more time we have to answer their questions, put them in our Attendee Directory, and help with any issues that come up as they add prototypes to the event's listing or post sell sheets in our Discord server.
- The earlier people register, the sooner we know how many moderator shifts we will need to cover.
3. Keep an eye out for early bird pricing
We also offer discounted pricing for new attendees who register early. We keep the early bird deadline visible at the top of our badges page.
If your co-designer will sit next to you using the same microphone during every playtest, one badge can cover both of you.
If they are in a different location, they would like to play at different times than you, or they would like to play at the same time but in different playtests than you, they'll need a separate user account in our Discord server. We have a policy of setting each user's nickname in our Discord server to their real name, so each individual Discord user account has to be tied to its own badge.
For design partners looking to save money, we recommend purchasing a Designer badge for one person and a Playtester badge for the other(s).
When it comes to the Protospiel rule of thumb to put about as much playtesting time into the group as you receive (i.e. if 4 people spend 1 hour playtesting for you, aim to spend 4 hours playtesting for others), it's completely fine to consider it as playtest time on your game received = playtest time on other people's games given by your team as a whole.
Ideally with this setup, one of you can buy a Playtester badge and focus on spending time playtesting for others instead of both/all of you running one playtest of the game you've designed together.
This said, you many also want to consider getting a Designer badge for each person on your team so you can all get practice pitching your game to playtesters using our "Looking for a Game" system.
Buy a Gift Certificate
The gift certificate is an item in our online shop. You can find it here: gift certificate product page
A gift certificate will cover a dollar amount you'll choose from a list of options. It will NOT apply to a specific event, badge type, or lock in a specific badge price.
IMPORTANT: If you want to gift a badge to a friend at the early bird price, buy a gift certificate for the early bird badge cost, then share the code with your friend with instructions to use it before early bird pricing ends for the event you're inviting them to.
If your friend doesn't get a chance to use their code covering the early bird price before the early bird deadline for the event in question, they can either use the code to buy a badge at a reduced cost or wait until early bird badges for the next event go on sale.
Early bird pricing is generally available up until 2-3 weeks before a given event.
Most likely, yes
Protospiel strives to attract a mix of all types of tabletop game designers and gamers. It's common to find everything from light, quick, family weight games, to party games, to medium-weight euros, to heavy strategy games.
Our only hard and fast rule for games is that 100% finished games are not allowed. In other words, you must be open to playtester feedback if you present a game at Protospiel Online. This does not mean you have to agree with or make immediate changes based on feedback received. Instead, it means you must hear playtesters out without deciding in advance that there's nothing they could say that would influence your design decisions.
Role playing games and video games are not as common at Protospiel, but they are allowable as long as the designers presenting them are sensitive to the time investment they are asking for from their testers.
If you have a game that would take a long time to play from start to finish, you'll need to be conscious of our guideline for putting in about as much playtesting as you get out at Protospiel. (i.e. if 4 people spend 1 hour playtesting for you, aim to spend 4 hours of your time playtesting for others)
Come ready to describe your goals and vision for your game. You can expect playtesters at Protospiel to give you constructive feedback to help you make the best version of the game you want to make.
It's common for designers to have multiple designs ready to playtest at the same event, add all of them to the Prototype Listing in advance, and have a chance to play each game at least once during the weekend.
As a designer, one benefit of having multiple games available is that you can give a group of people looking to start a playtest two or more options of games to try, which increases the odds that the group will find something they have time, energy, and interest to play. This is especially true if you have games of various weights and lengths ready to test.
When you can offer multiple options, this gives you a chance to see which games seem to spark curiosity and interest with different groups of people. If, for example, you present the options of Game A and Game B to one group, the majority may seem excited about Game B, but the next group you offer the choice to will be excited about Game A. It can therefore be beneficial to test your game pitches with different groups and ask people follow up questions to learn what about your pitch made them react the way they did.
Having multiple games ready can also help in the situation where you feel your first playtest of a prototype goes off track enough that you don't want to test it again until you have time to make some adjustments. If you have multiple games available to playtest, you can continue getting help during Protospiel weekend even after setting aside a prototype you've decided to set aside.
No matter how many games you have ready to playtest for a Protospiel Online weekend, the main thing to remember is our Golden Rule: Aim to give as much playtesting time as you get. For example, if you spend 1 hour playtesting your game with 4 people, aim to spend 4 hours testing for others. If you are following this Golden Rule, you will spend more time during each Protospiel weekend playtesting other people's games than you'll spend playtesting your own games. The more overall time you spend actively attending the convention and participating in playtesting, the more likely you'll be able to test multiple of your own prototypes -- or one of your prototypes multiple times.
This is the central meeting place for everything that happens over Protospiel weekend.
When you purchase your badge, you'll fill out a registration form that gives you Attendee level access in our Discord server.
If you've never used Discord, you can learn the basics by watching these YouTube videos:
We recommend you install Discord's desktop app rather than using the browser-based version.
Playtesting Over Video Chat
If you have a game with few components and minimal hidden information, you may be able to run it using video chat. Discord voice channels have video and screen sharing built in, so there's no need to learn any other platform to host a video chat playtest.
Tabletop Playground (TTP)
This platform is a newer option for games that work best as a 3D representation.
This platform is still in early release and free to use for both designers and playtesters. It allows for a 2D top-down view of a game. Dice in this platform are effectively boxes with randomized outputs -- you can even make dice with numbers of sides that would never work with physical dice. 🙂
This is a good option for games that are nearly finished or have few components. It doesn't include a way to edit components in bulk, so games built in this platform can be cumbersome to keep updated when they are in the rapid prototyping phase. You can get Tabletopia free on Steam. It is also playable in-browser, but we've heard from the Tabletopia development team that the Steam version is the most stable and bug-free way to access the game.
You need an account with Tabletopia to create and host prototypes. Playtesters have the option to create an account or play as a guest. The free plan allows 1 game, the next plan is $10/month for up to 6 games, and the plan after that is $20/month for up to 10 games. $20/month is the cheapest plan that allows for 3D objects.
We recommend Steam accounts with Tabletop Playground installed for all attendees
Since each player at a Tabletop Playground (TTP) virtual table must have their own copy of TTP installed on their computer, and the game is only available through Steam, attendees without this setup will have significantly limited options for prototypes to play. TTP is the most likely platform designers will be using for games that work best rendered in 3D. Once you have a Steam account, you can get access to unlimited use of TTP for a one-time purchase of $15. It goes on sale occasionally, and you can sometimes buy discounted unlock codes for it on Humble Bundle
Tabletopia is another option for presenting games in a 3D environment, but is only recommended for prototypes that are nearly finished or have few components. Although Tabletopia can be played in-browser, the free Steam version is more reliable/less buggy than the browser-based version.
Read our Tech Requirements page for more info on system requirements for running Discord and Steam games at the same time.
When you apply for a badge scholarship, you can tell us you don't already have a copy of Tabletop Playground to get a free TTP Steam unlock code along with your Scholarship Badge.
Full instructions for our customized Looking for a Game system are available inside our Discord server's #lfg-instructions text channel. You'll get access to read the full instructions after purchasing and activating your badge. Here are the main steps:
To make a call for playtesters
- Step 1
- Join the LFG Voice channel in Discord.
- Step 2
- Visit the LFG posting form on our website.
- Step 3
- When the moderator calls for new prototypes, submit the form with your Players Wanted post information to send it to the #looking-for-a-game text channel.
- Step 4
- Give a quick verbal pitch of your game in the LFG Voice channel.
- Step 5
- Once enough people have added the "Ready to Join" reaction to your Players Wanted card, the moderator will direct you to start a private voice channel for your playtest in one of our Halls.
To join a playtest
- Step 1
- When ready to join a playtest, connect to the LFG Voice channel.
- Step 2
- Listen to the conversation and look through recent posts on the #looking-for-a-game text channel.
- Step 3
- Add the "Ready to Join" reaction to the Players Wanted card for the game you want to playtest.
- Step 4
- Listen to the conversation in LFG Voice to hear when the group is ready and which voice channel the designer will host the playtest in.
Protospiel is a network of in-person playtesting conventions held in different cities at different times of the year. One of the main reasons we created Protospiel Online was to give this community a way to gather and continue growing its user base without the need to book a physical space.
Free form, unscheduled playtesting is a key feature that sets Protospiel apart from other playtesting conventions such as UnPub and Metatopia. The absence of scheduled events or assigned table space creates a low-pressure, relaxed atmosphere that allows designers to use their time playtesting and offering feedback to build relationships and learn about each other's projects, goals, and talents.
A playtesting convention with scheduled events would not be Protospiel. If you can't feel comfortable participating without an officially sanctioned event schedule, this is not the right playtesting convention for you. On the other hand, if you see all the time you spend playtesting with other tabletop industry professionals as a powerful way to build relationships and improve your creative problem solving skills, you will fit right in.
"Unscheduled" does not mean "Unorganized"
We don't leave you to your own devices when it comes to getting your game to the virtual table. Whenever you sign on to the Discord server during a live event, you will find a moderator ready to help you get oriented and find a playtest to join. It's unlikely you'll have to wait more than 15-30 minutes for a new playtest to start -- and there are plenty of metagames in the Discord ATTENDEE BENEFITS section and drop-in coffee topic discussions in the COFFEE TLAK section to participate in while you wait. (See "How does unscheduled playtesting work?" in this FAQ for more details.)
Please note that another core value at Protospiel is to put in as much playtesting time as you get out. (i.e. if 4 people spend 1 hour playtesting for you, you should aim to spend 4 hours playtesting for others.)
If Protospiel Online will be your first time attending any Protospiel, we recommend that you playtest at least one game for another designer before you make your own call for playtesters. It is our firm belief that playtesting for other designers is one of the best ways to become a better designer yourself.
All designers must give as much playtesting as they get.
We don’t have a rule to say you must keep all playtests under a certain time limit. Instead, every designer is expected to put in an equal amount of playtesting time as what they receive from the group. For example, if 4 people play a prototype for you for 2 hours (including feedback), we expect you to spend 8 hours (4 playtesters x 2 hours) playing other designers’ prototypes.
If you are planning to show a game that takes more than an hour to play, you'll find some helpful tips under the Q&A in this FAQ for "How can I get a good amount of playtests for my game with a 1hr+ playtime?"
Check your tech setup
Read our Tech Requirements page to help you determine whether or not you can get access to the necessary equipment, software, and internet coverage.
Get familiar with Discord
If you've never used Discord, you can learn the basics by watching these YouTube videos:
We recommend you install Discord's desktop app rather than using the browser-based version.
Get familiar with Screentop.gg and Tabletop Playground
We welcome multiple virtual tabletop platforms at Protospiel Online, but Screentop.gg and Tabletop Playground (TTP) are likely to be the two most commonly used platforms used because they allows for bulk editing of components to help designers quickly update their games.
Building in Screentop.gg sometimes involves interacting with a bit of code and entering coordinates to define component placement, and it presents games to players in a 2D top-down view. Building in TTP uses drag and drop controls along with a graphical user interface where you can define details of your components like color, texture, size, etc. It presents games to players as a 3D rendered simulation.
Screentop.gg is a browser-based tool that is free for both builders and players. TTP is a video game hosted through Steam, a digital content platform, that allows players to interact on a shared virtual tabletop. You can get TTP on Steam for a one-time purchase of $15 at regular price. It goes on sale for 50% off once every few months, and you can sometimes buy discounted unlock codes for it on Humble Bundle
Watch Our YouTube Tutorial Playlists
1. Build your own prototype in Tabletop Playground, Screentop.gg, or Tabletopia
You might be pleasantly surprised to discover how little time it would take to build your game in a virtual tabletop if you give it a try. Assembling components like cards, tiles, game boards, dice, and generic cubes is fairly straightforward in all of these tools.
Look through our list of recommended training resources on our Digital Prototypes Help page for more info.
2. Hire someone to build your prototype for you
Check out our list of recommended digital prototype builders on our Digital Prototypes Help page.
3. Attend under a Playtester badge for this round
You can still get a lot out of Protospiel Online by attending as a playtester. It's a good way of practicing playing in TTP, Screentop.gg, and Tabletopia before you have to build something in one or all of them yourself.
Even if you can't get a full playtest of your game in, you'll have plenty of opportunities to talk about your own projects with other attendees. Plus, playtesting and offering feedback to other designers is a great way to boost your creative problem solving skills.
As your time and energy allows
The minimum requirement to get a game tested at Protospiel Online is to build one prototype in one supported platform. Whatever reasons you may have for considering building different versions, plan to take things one step at a time and focus on making one working version in one platform first. If you still have time and motivation left after that, move on to the next digital prototype build.
Some platforms are more accessible than others
Screentop.gg and Tabletopia are free for all players and accessible via web browser. If your primary build for a prototype is in one of these two platforms, any Protospiel Online attendee, even those without a Steam account, will be able to access your playtests.
Depending on how your prototype works, you may want to primarily test using Tabletop Playground (TTP), which requires a one-time payment of $15 and a Steam account. While TTP has plenty of unique features that could make it the best choice for most of your digital playtesting, the slightly higher barrier to entry for this platform may mean it's worthwhile for you to assemble a backup version of your prototype in either Screentop.gg or Tabletopia.
In some cases, you may need tools/features from your digital prototype platform that simply aren't available in either of the free-to-play options. So, although we encourage you to look into the viability of the free-to-play platforms for building a prototype, we don't want you to worry too much if it's not possible. We'd rather our attendees who do have TTP installed can have the chance to playtest your prototype than have you skip out because you couldn't achieve the best-case-scenario.
To learn multiple platforms
Each of the digital prototyping platforms Protospiel Online supports has different features and processes for managing assets. We believe it's worthwhile for designers to learn how to use both TTP and Screentop.gg since each of these has its own strengths and weaknesses.
While Tabletopia is among our supported platforms, it does not have a bulk update feature, and you'll have to add art for cards one image file at a time. Because of this, we only recommend designers use Tabletopia for games with few components or those that are far enough along in development that you're unlikely to need to update multiple components at once.
Write a clear Players Wanted card
Once you have purchased your badge, you'll have access to the #lfg-instructions channel in our Discord server where you'll find our Players Wanted card template. This has a place for all of your basic game stats like the number of players needed, the estimated time needed for the test, and, of course, a brief description of the game. Do your best to describe the theme, mechanics, and intended experience of the game in as few words as possible. There is also a space to describe the kind of feedback you are looking for. This helps playtesters understand from the beginning what to pay attention to and consider as they play your prototype.
Add your game to the Prototypes listing
Visit the prototype submission page on our website to add your game to the prototypes listing for the current event. Similar to the Players Wanted card, this also asks for brief description of the game, which is shown in the game preview on the main prototype list. It also creates a webpage for your prototype where you can write a more detailed description, share links, and upload extra images. Once you've purchased a badge, you will find a link to the Prototypes listing for the current event in the #prototypes text channel and at the top of the #lfg-instructions text channel in our Discord server.
Share your sell sheet
Sell sheets are single-page ads for a game or prototype. If any of the prototypes you are bringing to Protospiel Online are developed enough to warrant creating a graphically designed, single-page ad, we encourage you to create and share your sell sheet and request feedback from our Discord community. Once you've purchased a badge, you'll gain access in our Discord server to the #sell-sheet-instructions channel where you'll find the link to submit your sell sheet and the #sell-sheet-list channel where you can see examples from other attendees.
Check out this video presentation from Sydney Engelstein to learn what makes a good sell sheet (and how to pitch to publishers if you're interested it that, too!) Sydney is the head of game development at Indie Game Studios and head of new game acquisitions for Stronghold Games and Indie Boards and Cards.
Pitch and run your playtests with the experience players are looking for in mind.
Our format of giving equal playtesting time to what you get (when 3 people spend 2 hours playtesting and giving feedback on your game, you spend 6 hours playtesting and giving feedback for others) allows games of all lengths at the event. At the same time, designers must use our looking for a game system to pitch their game and gather playtesters, and this system can sometimes pose a challenge for designers looking to playtest longer games.
As part of the process of making a call for playtesters in LFG Voice, we ask you to post a Players Wanted Card in #looking-for-a-game text with the estimated time to teach, test, and talk. Cards with total times of 120-240 min may have a hard time drawing as many playtesters as the designer would like.
There are many reasons for this.
First, at Protospiel Online, it’s common for attendees to want to see a variety of prototypes and meet a variety of people. Since choosing games with shorter playtimes allows them more time to see more variety, Players Wanted Cards with total times under 120 min tend to gather playtesters more quickly.
Second, there are fewer people in general who like the idea of playing, for example, a 4 hour published game than there are who will play a 1-2 hour published game. On top of that, it’s understood that prototype games are not finished, and therefore even more likely to be tiresome than a published 4 hour game. These two factors combined make it difficult to find playtesters for prototypes pitching themselves as 4 hour behemoths — at Protospiel Online or otherwise.
In the case of Protospiel Online, it's also important to note that online play often takes longer than playing in real life. Moving pieces around with a mouse and keyboard controls is more time-consuming for players than using their hands. Because of this, if your game takes 2 hours in real life, you should assume it will take 3 hours or longer as a virtual playtest. Many attendees at Protospiel Online have a lot of experience playtesting online and know it's common for games on the digital tabletop to run longer than the estimated time on a Players Wanted Card. A time estimate of 120 min can easily read as 150 min+.
With these concerns in mind, there are several possible ways to have success showing and getting feedback on a longer game:
1. Since it’s easy to save a game state on a virtual tabletop, you could let one group play for one hour, then later let another group pick up where the last group left off.
2. You can set up the play area in a mid-game state you know makes sense and let players play to the end from there. (You might even find that some aspects of this mid-game play state could be part of setup without losing any of the fun, thereby shortening your game’s play time in its finished state.)
3. Do what you can to teach the rules in the most efficient way possible. Consider teaching only enough for people to get started, then teaching new aspects as they come up. One way to teach rules efficiently is to take each of the players’ first 1-2 turns for them, explaining each choice and move as you make it. This can give the added benefit of both saving time and helping people with a variety of learning styles understand the rules.
4. Tell playtesters that, while you expect a full game to take, for example, 180 min or more, you’ll plan to play the first 90 min, then ask if they are ready to give feedback or if they’d like to see the end. (In this case, it would be appropriate for you to list 100-110 min as the total expected playtest time on your Players Wanted Card.)
Note that, while it’s important to be honest about expected play time up front and stay aware of the expectation you set, even your estimate doesn’t mean that, regardless of how the group is feeling, you *must* stop at a certain time — or play for the entire time you gave as an estimate during your call for testers.
You should do your best not to feel anxious if the game starts to run long as compared to your time estimate. Anxiety about this tends to make a designer want to rush playtesters as they play or give feedback, which makes a poor experience for playtesters. It can also diminish the designer’s ability to observe details of the playtesters’ play choices/behaviors and/or listen effectively to playtester feedback.
Instead of getting anxious about running long, check in with your playtesters a bit before what would be the end of the teach+test time to see how they are feeling. Are they ready to stop right now? Do they want to play one more round and then go to feedback? Would they like to play to the end of the game even if it takes a little longer than the original estimate? (After playing for an hour, most players have a sense of how far away the end is, and hearing their thoughts on this can be useful feedback in and of itself.) It’s not uncommon for players to find plenty of helpful feedback they can give about the main play loop without seeing the end, so there’s no shame or insult intended if the group decides to stop early.
While any person who says they need to stop on time should be allowed to do so without pressure to stay, this may or may not mean you have to stop before seeing end game conditions. If, for example, in a group of three playtesters, two say they want to see the end and only one says they want to stop, you could take over for the player who leaves. Depending on how the game works, you may also test a rule for what will be done with any exiting players’ progress so the two playtesters who want to continue can play on their own. When doing either of these things, make sure you hear feedback from the player who leaves before they go, since this was the whole point of asking them to test for you.
Remember: as long as you are putting in as much playtesting time for others as you are getting from the group, you are within bounds for the amount of time people spend playtesting with you. As the designer, you are the de-facto leader for your table. Our moderators are not going to enforce specific end times for each playtest. If you set clear expectations on playtest length and keep tabs on how your group is feeling, we're happy to see the table stay together until the playtest comes to its natural conclusion.
As with the answers to many other questions in our FAQ, the main thing to keep in mind when running unguided playtests at Protospiel Online is to follow our Golden Rule: Aim to give as much playtesting time as you get. For example, if 4 people spend 1 hour playtesting your game (with or without you present), aim to spend 4 of your own hours at the convention testing for others.
Unguided playtests add some extra factors to consider when balancing for this Golden Rule.
On the one hand, if, as the designer, you don't even want to be present to silently observe the playtest, this means you can simultaneously playtest for another designer while others play your game.
On the other hand, unguided playtests usually take more time than guided playtests since they often result in extra time spent discussing judgement calls as to the designer's original intent any time a point of confusion comes up. It can also be more time consuming (and just less fun) to provide feedback to someone through a written feedback form instead of a voice to voice conversation.
Remember that one interpretation of "spiel" (as in Proto-spiel) is to verbally present a viewpoint. Protospiel definitely lives up to this moniker. Human connection and honest conversation is a key tenant of this community.
However, we also value helping other designers at any stage of their game's development journey (as long as they don't consider their game 100% finished and are open to feedback.) With this in mind, we recommend a specific format for an unguided playtest that will take less time, provide more connection, and, quite likely, more insight for the designer than an asynchronous unguided test: let's call it a teachtest.
In this type of playtest, one or two people read a designer's rule book, then set up and teach the game to each other or the designer while the designer remains completely silent. No one needs to actually play a single turn of the game for this type of test to prove useful. If there is anything in a rule book that still needs clarifying, this type of test will bring it to the forefront immediately.
And, if you really want to get into the collaborative spirit of Protospiel, you may consider pairing up with another designer to trade teachtests. Each of you can read the other's written rules at the same time, then take turns teaching the other their own game. With this arrangement, you automatically put in the time you get out, meaning you don't even need to focus much on monitoring the clock for these sessions.
We've got your back
Our goal for Protospiel Online is to grow a diverse, worldwide community of tabletop designers. We are committed to supporting designers and playtesters from traditionally under-represented groups in the tabletop gaming hobby such as women, LGBT+, and BIPOC.
Here are a few things we've put in place to help you feel safe and welcome at our event:
- Our code of conduct is clearly visible and easily accessible in our Discord server. We have a no-tolerance policy when it comes to bullying and bigotry.
- We have a diverse crew of paid moderators who provide 24 hour live support. You'll always be able to find someone you can talk to if you need backup -- or some plain old tech support.
- Every person’s Discord nickname in our server must include their pronouns (zero exceptions)
- Our focus is on human connection in our prototype-playtester match ups. (i.e. You will have a few minutes of live conversation with the humans you are about to spend 1hr+ with before committing to a playtest.)
If you have any specific questions or concerns, our door is open. Use our contact form on this website to reach out.
Family meetings FTW!
Clear communication and setting fair expectations are both key for juggling household responsibilities while attending an online convention.
A good first step is to tell the other decision makers in your house why attending this event is important to you. Next, ask them what you can do for them in exchange for their help making sure you have enough time and space to attend during the hours you want to.
Some common requests we've worked out in our own households are:
- Set yourself up behind a closed door so no one in your household has to worry about disturbing you (or you disturbing them).
- Do something fun with your family/housemates the week or weekend before or after the convention.
- Schedule meal times over the convention weekend in advance and take breaks to eat together at those pre-scheduled times.
- Take care of chores in advance, schedule specific times over the convention weekend to make yourself available for chores, and/or trade chores to do double duty the weekend before or after the convention.
- Bring them along! Family members and house mates who love games and are comfortable engaging over voice chat make great virtual playtesters.
Our open format gives you the freedom to set your own schedule
Since this event is open 24 hours for 3 days straight, no one who attends Protospiel Online can participate during every open hour. When we've polled our attendees to see how many hours they've spent actively engaged in the event, typical answers range from 8-20 hours over the course of the 3 days.
If you are bringing a prototype for testing, we ask that you spend enough time over the weekend to put in about as much playtesting time as you receive. (i.e. if 4 people spend 1 hour playtesting for you, aim to spend 4 hours playtesting for others)
If you attend under a Playtester badge, meaning you don't have access to bring your own prototype for testing, there's no minimum time investment we expect from you. You should come for the amount of time you feel gives you value for the money you invested in your badge.
If the idea of participating for 3 days straight with no scheduled end times gives you anxiety, we recommend setting your own private start and stop times in advance. Also keep in mind that the end of each playtest session is a natural break point. You can easily hang up from your private playtest Table Voice channel and walk away instead of jumping back in to the Looking for a Game Voice channel.
24 hour moderation
Our team of organizers is based in Colorado, USA, and the bulk of our attendees live in the eastern US, so we use Eastern Standard/Daylight Time to announce the event's start and stop times. We open Friday at noon Eastern time and stay open until Sunday at midnight Eastern time.
We're set up to support a worldwide audience with several moderators in international time zones to help keep things going during overnight hours in the US.
We do not record Coffee Topic discussions
There are 2 main reasons for this.
First, we want people to feel they can connect through voice/video and speak freely without feeling self-conscious or worrying about who might watch the recording later.
We also want to keep the Coffee Talk experience simple for everyone involved, and sharing the recordings would add the complication of needing permission from all participants to record and share their voice and image.
Since each Coffee Topic session is 4 hours long, it's our hope that those who want to participate in a specific topic can fit in at least a portion of the session they're looking for between playtests.
See our Coffee Talk page for more on how Coffee Topics work and info on the schedule of topics.
NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements) don't fit well in the setup of public playtesting events.
The moderated Looking for a Game system at Protospiel Online asks designers to pitch their game using a combination of a posted Players Wanted card and a spoken explanation in a public Discord voice channel before starting each test. There's no natural or convenient way to ask potential players to sign an NDA before hearing the pitch, and there's no way to prevent a new person from joining the conversation in the middle of a pitch. We also keep a history of posted Players Wanted cards in our Discord #looking-for-a-game channel where future attendees will be able to look back over what was shared at past events.
One major benefit many designers get from Protospiel Online is that public playtesting can get people talking about their game, which helps keep them motivated and building potential future playtesters and/or customers. We encourage shout outs about prototypes played at Protospiel Online during the event and in our giveaway livestreams after each event. Adding NDAs to the mix would prevent designers from experiencing these benefits.
Some general notes on NDAs and board game development
New designers often wonder what they should do to protect their game idea from getting stolen before it's published. The answer in almost every case is that the policing of this naturally takes care of itself within peer-to-peer design communities.
Ideas are easy, but fully developing a game is a time consuming and often tedious process. No one wants to steal anyone else's game idea because they don't even have time to fully develop all of their own ideas. Plus, if a designer has shared about their game in public places like the Players Wanted cards and prototype listing system on the Protospiel Online website, there is an easy-to-trace record of who had the original idea. The Court of Public Opinion would end up shunning anyone who was known to have stolen a game idea from another designer.
The most common playtesting situation that will involve an NDA is when an established board game publishing company is organizing private playtests. In this case, the company has often already made a significant financial investment into the game which needs to be protected. They may also require an NDA because the company has purchased intellectual property rights on some fictional world or character. In this case, they need to keep this under wraps as part of their agreement with the intellectual property owner. It's also common for playtesters in these situations to get paid, which makes entering into the NDA worth the trouble for them.
However, there are good reasons to only put art you have permission to use in your prototype.
Protospiel Online will not check the art in prototypes designers bring to the convention for copyright infringement. At the same time, there are several ways using borrowed art could create roadblocks for you or get you in trouble with the art's owners or some service providers:
1) If you put the prototype in any type of public listing so others can play it when you’re not with you, and someone informs the art’s owner, they could choose to ask the owners of the game listing site to take your game down and possibly ban you from posting games to the listing for awhile.
2) If you want to print a physical prototype through The Game Crafter (or any other professional print shop, specifically for board games or otherwise), they won’t allow it. Specifically, The Game Crafter has processes set up to detect the use of stolen artwork, and there may be consequences for trying to sneak it by.
3) If you or others take pictures of your prototype and share them around social media or other websites, the art’s owners may end up seeing you using their art and send you a cease and desist letter from their lawyer.
4) At Protospiel Online, we encourage attending designers to list their game on our website’s prototypes directory, which always includes at least one image for the game. We also encourage you to share a sell sheet for feedback in our Discord server. If images of your prototype in either of these two places contain art that someone else holds the rights to, there is a chance the art’s owner will find out that you are using it and contact us with a request to remove the content from our site. If we do get such a request, we would remove the entire listing for your prototype, and you would have to submit a new one that didn’t have any images showing that art. We would also look at removing any corresponding sell sheets from the list in our Discord server.
As you can see, while it’s not against our Code of Conduct to use this art, you are taking on certain risks if you don’t replace it with something you do have permission to use.
Fortunately, there are tons of places you can get free-to-use or cheap-to-use art for prototypes:
- Design Asset Market on The Game Crafter
- Nasa Image Library
Always be sure to read the licensing rules on any repository you use art from
These are our requirements to qualify for a Publisher badge:
Requires: Have worked w/ 1+ designers/artists to publish 1+ games & give playtest feedback at the event as an industry insider
Publisher badges are intended for experienced publishers in the tabletop games industry. A Publisher icon next to your name in the Discord server is meant to signal to designers that you will be able to give industry-specific manufacturing, marketing, and product development advice as part of the playtest feedback you offer.
We ask that our Publisher badge holders have collaborated with at least one other designer on a published game to ensure that the advice they share will include some project management experience. We use this as a filter for a "successful" publication in place of an arbitrary threshold for number of units sold.
If you have self-published a game with a co-designer, this counts as having collaborated with at least one other designer to bring a game to publication.
There are no formal design pitch events at this convention.
You may find that some designers will seek you out and invite you to playtest and give feedback in particular. This is not the same as a pitch. You are not expected to give an answer on whether or not you'd be interested in publishing the games you playtest.
Instead, your feedback from a publisher's perspective is valuable to designers because it can help them think about their game as a product, which can increase their chances of eventually getting the game signed.
We decided not to allow sharing of Discord join links in text channels because we don’t want them shared out of context. We want people to connect with each other 1-on-1 and join email lists, Facebook groups, or other Discord servers via personal invites from people they enjoyed connecting with.
Our Discord server is designed as a gathering place for an event. Without clear boundaries around link sharing in place, we risk members misusing the server as a place to share mass-marketing messages.
Since it can sometimes be hard to judge which posts will or won't come across as spammy, we created a Code of Conduct FAQ that gives specific examples of the right an wrong ways to share links of any type in our Discord server.
Online conventions have different costs than in-person conventions
Creating a welcoming environment at an in-person Protospiel is fairly easy to do. It takes minimal effort and coordination. It's intuitive for attendees to come in, find an empty table, and start playing with the people they bump into.
This is not the case with online conventions. Attendees often find the format confusing, overwhelming, and/or intimidating. Running these events takes a lot more planning, careful communication, and customer support than an in-person playtesting convention. It also requires a more robust website and general online presence. Everything from web hosting to online communication software to web development services have a price.
In addition to all of these costs, we have 24 hour paid moderator coverage. We do this because we've seen that moderators make a big difference in helping online attendees feel welcome, safe, and supported through any tech issues they might run into.
Moderating is difficult work. To really take care of our attendees, our moderators need to be tech-savvy, friendly, compassionate, and firm -- and stay at their station on camera for 4 hours straight. We pay our moderators because we value their time and specialized skill sets.
When attendees invest money, they're more likely to show up
It's a fact of life that people don't value or prioritize things they don't pay for. Experience has shown time and time again that free events have a lower show-up rate for registered participants than paid events do.
Our attendees only get value out of our events when the whole community shows up. We feel much more confident guaranteeing our attending designers that they'll be able to find playtesters when we know all of the attendees have voted with their dollars in a commitment to show up.
We use a process for adding each attendee in our Discord server and the Attendee Directory on our website designed to foster human connection and community building. If people could register for a free badge and then not bother to come, we would likely end up wasting a lot of time managing these registrations.
Playtesting cons have a different purpose & business model
The point of “game fair” type online events like GenCon Online or Essen Online is to get as many people together playing games online as possible so the vendors can market to them. When this is your goal, it makes sense to charge the vendors and make tickets for attendees free or very cheap.
Protospiel Online is not primarily focused on helping vendors market to the gaming public. Our event is about supporting people in a difficult creative endeavor and building a tight knit community. The things we do to shine a spotlight on the companies & media outlets that attend are not overbearing or flashy.
Attendees (designers) pay more than vendors (publishers and press) because the event's focus is on supporting the designers rather than selling products or services.
Designer vs Publisher
We see the discount we give publishers as compensation for the special value they bring as attendees.
Publishers can give feedback that speaks into a prototype's feasibility and/or marketability as a product. They also make great industry contacts because publishing games successfully takes a village. They have to be connected to many different players in the industry to bring their games to market.
Designer vs Press
We see the discount we give board game media outlets as compensation for the effort they put in to creating content about the event. They are helping us get the word out, and this lower badge cost is our way of saying thank you.
Designer vs Playtester
Playtesters don't have access to bring their own prototypes for feedback. See "Why do you charge for Playtester badges?" in this FAQ to read more about the benefits playtesters do have access to.
We want to make it easy for playtesters to come to Protospiel Online. The more playtesters we have attending, the more confident we can feel telling designers they will have ample chance to playtest their games.
Attending as a playtester is an experience worth paying for
The main thing that comes to mind for most people when considering the value of Protospiel is the benefit it provides for designers. Getting playtest feedback on a game you plan to sell is easy to classify as a worthwhile investment.
There are many other "soft" benefits designers get from attending a Protospiel. These are also the benefits playtesters enjoy:
- Quality time spent with quality people who are equally invested in the convention experience
- A chance to play games you can't find in retail
- Improving your creative problem solving and communication skills through collaborative feedback sessions
- Networking with game designers and other industry professionals, including a listing in our website's Attendee directory
- An opportunity to help shape games not yet in stores -- and maybe someday have the satisfaction of seeing a game you helped create make it to publication
These things add up to make for a pretty awesome and unique experience -- one we're sure playtesters will see as a good value for the money they pay.
People who pay for badges are more likely to fully engage in the event
Protospiel is a community of creatives who are looking to support each other. This applies to the playtesters as much as it applies to the designers. Playtesters are the ones who spend the most time giving feedback on other people's games, so it's important that they see value in that exercise.
We want to attract playtesters who will be invested in the designers' success and truly engaged in the process. Charging for playtester badges decreases the risk that we'll have attendees show up to the event without understanding what they are getting themselves into. It can be scary for designers to put a game out in front of strangers for criticism. We're looking to foster a friendly and kind community that makes this a little less scary with every playtest. Knowing playtesters have paid for access to the event makes us feel more confident telling designers they'll get high-quality playtest feedback.
All badge types require admin & customer service
Our Publisher and Press badge holders are not immune to the general woes everyone experiences when attending an online convention. They also need training, general customer support, and help with tech troubleshooting. While we're happy to give them a discount, we feel it's fair for them to help pay the moderators who help them have a great experience.
There's no reason you can't do both.
Many of our attendees also participate in weekly playtesting groups and get value out of them. Protospiel Online has a different purpose and format than weekly playtesting groups.
1. Protospiel Online is a fundraiser
10% of our proceeds from badge sales go to charities working to fight systemic racism. You can divide proceeds from your badge across all 6 charities we support or choose your favorite. This is a great way for us to join together as a community to make a difference both inside and outside of the tabletop industry.
2. Attending Protospiel Online helps us reach our goal to support new designers from underrepresented demographics.
Proceeds beyond our operating costs will go towards travel stipends to help new designers from under-represented demographics attend Protospiels in person and/or contribute to startup costs for Protospiels in new locations.
3. A weekly playtest meeting is not the same thing as a triannual playtesting convention
Since Protospiel Online is a triannual event, we have 4 months to plan and prepare a memorable experience for our attendees.
- All attendees are invited to add themselves to the Attendee Directory on our website where they can share up to 3 links to their profiles and projects. We keep an archive of past attendees on our site to help everyone stay in touch long after the event.
- We have 24 hour moderation. That means there are 60 straight hours where you'll find a dedicated moderator live on camera to help drum up interest for your game, troubleshoot tech issues, or simply engage in friendly conversation with you.
- You can submit your sell sheet to be featured in our Discord server and gather a burst of feedback from our dedicated sell sheet reviewers and other attendees.
- Depending on your working style, triannual events can serve as a deadline to encourage you to make progress on big projects. Recurring weekly events can make it easy to say "I'll do it next week" several weeks in a row.
- We run random drawing giveaways, and, starting in October 2020, all badges include a Protospiel Bingo card. Players mark one square on their digital Bingo card each time they playtest another designer's prototype. Everyone who participates in Bingo can claim a digital prize pack from our sponsors.
4. Protospiel Online attracts a different crowd than weekly playtests
The 3 weekends per year we host Protospiel Online are opportunities for the Protospiel community to gather in one place. Although many members of this community are active in a wide range of other online groups, this is their chance to all show up at one coordinated time and place to spend a weekend collaborating together.
There are many people both inside and outside of the pre-existing Protospiel community with long lists of responsibilities who don't have enough time to attend weekly playtesting events. These people often find it easier to prioritize attending a playtesting event if it only requires committing to one day or weekend every few months.
With 4 months to plan and one focused weekend to draw attention to, we can make a concerted effort to bring in new designers and playtesters who don't already frequent existing online communities.
One way or the other, even if you regularly attend a weekly online playtesting group, you'll find a wide range of new people who can give you fresh playtesting feedback.