The History of the “Lowest Common Denominator” concept.

Years ago (2001-2007) I was heavily involved with the design and running of a Live Action Role Playing game called The Imperium LARP.  You can see what we worked on by pointing the Internet Wayback Machine to  While working on the project the creator drilled the idea of the LCD into our heads…  And made us better game designers because of it.

The guidebook that existed when I started the game hurt to read.   Sentences made no sense, terrible paragraph structure, bad spelling, and plenty of typos plagued the book.  It was my goal in those days to clean up the grammar, spelling, sentence structure, and clarify the rules without actually changing or developing the rules.

We had a couple hundred players at the height of the game.  This generated a lot of feedback about who like what rules, who thought what was fair, etc.  The games co-creator William Terry Armstrong knew from his years of gaming experience that taking on all feedback would kill the game.  He dubbed this the “Lowest Common Denominator” effect.  He took a firm stand against it.

The lesson being that designing any game for the LCD player, or across a large player base, leads to boring game design.  It is the weird rough edges that makes a game interesting.  Smoothing out those edges removes what makes the game distinct.  Our constant refrain was “Don’t dumb the game down to the LCD.”  Back then we didn’t have alt-dev-blogs about ‘core audience’, ‘target audience’, no gamasutra articles to help guide us.  Nor the more positive spin of today’s phrasing.

But we did have one hard-nosed game designer, who had 20 years of experience getting LARP players to do something they do surprisingly little of: Role Playing.  Designing a game with a set of constraints creates art.  Designing by metrics for a broad a group as possible creates bland palp.   What Terry failed to mention was that the audience for bland palp is actually really large.

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