In the kickoff for my game producer blog series, I wrote about demo materials for different types of games, defined a few terms, and dove into quickstart design.
Today, I want to talk about jumpstarts. First question: why do you need one? Well, the answer is “it’s complicated”. A jumpstart is one method for obtaining fans of your game and, like any promotional tool, it has its utility. Some people believe jumpstarts deter corebook sales because they encapsulate the game and often have a lower price point. I am not one of them.
Jumpstarts are best designed when they are not conceived in a vacuum. When the jumpstart has a clearly defined goal like: “teach new players how to play our game” or “give existing players a sample of what they’ll find” or “use it as a free, promotional tool to attract all players”. Jumpstarts can be designed with several goals in mind when they’re produced with the understand that anyone–even those players unfamiliar with a publisher or gameline–might pick up a copy.
Like quickstarts, jumpstarts are marketing tools for a gameline. Unlike quickstarts, I don’t believe they’re always necessary provided the corebook teaches players how to play their game. Most corebooks do not have actual play examples, sample dice rolls, a step-by-step outline for a sample campaign, a full adventure, and a full page ad to show where new players should go if they need more information (YouTube!, Twitch, Discord, forums, etc.) Many corebooks, especially second editions, serial games, or collector’s editions, are not designed with new players in mind. Many games are crafted for people who already know how to run a tabletop gaming session.
Jumpstarts are often needed because they serve players who need a different type of game design. Often, jumpstarts employ word conservation by focusing on what players need to know in order to play the game. Jumpstarts are great for a) complex settings b) complex rule sets c) new or debuting rule sets d) games with multiple playing styles e) original settings and d) messaging/visibility showing how the publisher is new-player friendly. Players who have fun with a jumpstart will have more confidence when running the game–and that player confidence is key.
It can be challenging to distill a corebook into a jumpstart. My approach to writing/designing in this form is to empower the player while providing value. I’ve found the easiest design method is to utilize a 3-to-5 act narrative structure, 3-5 non-player characters, and a sample fleshed out location. All games need setting–especially places where the players can hunt, search, investigate, etc.–and a jumpstart helps ground the players in it.
My last post included five steps to producing a quickstart. These are the same steps to follow when plotting a jumpstart with one, major caveat: conceiving a jumpstart requires greater analysis of your corebook’s content. You could repurpose some material for the quickstart. A jumpstart that rehashes all of the corebook’s materials is less useful, however, and you’ll miss out on residual sales–even if the jumpstart’s release precedes the corebook’s.
Lastly, I want to mention that while there’s no “one way” to design a jumpstart, I do believe a good jumpstart provides value. The jumpstart shouldn’t be an exact replica of your corebook’s content–there’s a different type of product for that called a “beta”. Instead, use the jumpstart to frame your corebook’s material so players transitioning from one to the other are confident they know the basics and are eager to learn more.