How do we get more people to play Go?

[A guest article by Sven Walther]

Take one — action!

As we all know, Go is a totally fascinating game.

Playing (or even watching) a game and seeing how groups evolve, come to life or die, is a thrilling experience – well, it is if you already know the game.

Not knowing Go and watching two players stare at a piece of wood covered in black and white marbles? Not so much…

It seems that we’re in need of a kind of appetizer, something to show those who haven’t yet heard of Go what it feels like to play the game.

We need to recruit the next generation of players.

We need an advertisement for Go.

An advertisement for Go

The internet is, of course, a medium of choice for promoting Go.

The internet, including social media, allows information to spread far and wide. What if we created something that could work as an online advertisement for for Go?

If it’s online, there’s a possibility of it going viral. And if it’s interesting, exciting or funny – even if you don’t know Go – the possibilities are endless.

We need an advertisement where Go is the catch, the punch line… the story.

an advertisement for go 550x309 picture

We need an advertisement for Go.

You might see it and think “cool, I’ll share this with my friends”. And perhaps you, or some of your friends, might also wonder “what is this Go they mentioned?” Let’s see.

There are already some Go related advertisements online, but what we’re thinking about is something that promotes the game itself, rather than a special event.

And we’re working on that. Who’s ‘we’?

Introducing the team

We are Lars Walther, movie maker and actor, and his brother Sven Walther, Go player. We’re both from Germany.

sven and lars 550x412 picture

Help Sven and Lars Walther to turn this dream into reality.

We have a plan to make a professional Go advertisement, in the form of a short (2-4 min) video, that looks like a movie trailer for a feature film.

And – since our claim to be ‘professional’ includes real actors, crew, make-up, music and more – this will cost some money to do properly.

Fortunately, online ‘crowdfunding’ has become more common in recent years, and we think it’s the perfect way to fund this project.

Support Play More Go

In January 2013, we launched a crowdfunding project on indiegogo.com, to raise $8,000 USD.

This will enable us to create our first Go commercial. If the funding succeeds (and only then), we’ll start filming in spring and release the commercial this summer.

Online. For free. On Youtube.

While the film will be recorded in fluent English and German, there will also be as many subtitles as we can manage, to reach as many players in the world as possible.

If you’re interested in supporting us, please visit indiegogo.com/playmorego and pledge whatever you can afford.

Click here to support Play More Go now.

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Comments

  1. Michael Brown says:

    I totally agree that Go needs to be more widespread. Only problem is that I can’t help with the funding at the moment :3
    If there’s anything I can do besides that, please let me know ^_^

  2. The popularity of Go is determined by culture. If it is already played by many, by parents, school friends, it stays that way in a more or less hereditary way. In a culture where chess, bridge or poker are the popular mind games it is about impossible to give Go an equal footing. The explosion of bridge in the early 1900′s is a remarkable exception. If Go would behave in such a way in the West it would already have happened 30 years ago, so I am realistic/pessimistic. Only if the government decides that such a game should be promoted heavily, on schools and leasure time activities, there is a chance, like the revival of Go in China. Such a government endeavour is not to be expected in the West.

    That doesn’t mean one should not promote Go. One should do so, those that still have a place for such a game besides or in place of chess are enriched, like we all were. But don’t kid yourself, it always will be a few that will take on the game, certainly because it takes quite an effort and will power to master it sufficiently. Most walk away after a short while.

    I am not sure what a movie will accomplish, most likely it will be preaching to the converted. Still, making the film may be fun, even if the results will be disappointing. It is because of this all that I think Lee Sedols plan to move to America is ill advised, it will be either to preach to the already converted or to the deaf. His unique talent is to play marvelous Go, period.

    Kind regards,
    Paul

    • peter freedman says:

      I disagree. There are quantum changes in culture, behavior, fads, and we quickly forget how different the present is from the past. The difference between soccer today in the US and 30 years ago is mind-boggling. Same for the NBA, which was a little sideshow with no $$$ until David Stern took the league under his wing. The internet was NOT part of popular culture – in fact, didn’t exist until recently, but today, well, you know. Greek yogurt is a Greek tradition, but it’s all the rage in the USA…etc. So, the issue is not one of history or culture, it is one of marketing; strategic planning; funding. There is a reason Go is the oldest game of strategy and skill played continuously for 4000 years: It is the world’s best game, by far, ever invented. The fact that it is not well-known is the problem we have to overcome. To say it can’t be done is to give up the fight before engaging in it.

      • Well, good luck, lets see in 10 years who is right. I hope you are, I expect I am. And some say poker is the best game, depending of the point of view they are right. At least poker is more popular than Go in the USA, I expect it to stay that way: speed and variety is so important nowadays.

        Kind regards,
        Paul

        • peter freedman says:

          Hey, Paul,

          I don’t really care ‘who’s right…’ I just hope Go players who love the game will try and change the present day reality of awareness of it:)

          My best,

          p

        • Hi Peter,
          I totally agree with you, but I have a plan :D

          In my opinion greatest advantage of Go is easy rules, fun for playing and all manual stuff which this game need. With this ‘features’ I easy convinced my kids (5 and 9) to play go regularly (they know how to play chess, but don’t really like it). Poker or bridge are obviously out of scope for playing with them…

          So plan is to sell Go to parent as ‘genius’ making game for kids, because:
          -it learn them how to count
          -it learn them how to take and put small objects
          -they have fun with creating shapes and mosaic
          - … (and lot more)

          For parents, because
          -it learn them sit still :)
          -give opportunity to spend time (from 5 min. to hours) together
          -it keep them away from computer (partially)
          -in Go you don’t have feeling that handicap is something bad – it good because you both can play with full stranght
          -you can play other games (5 in row, AtariGo) as well on same board.
          - … (and lot more)

          In conclusion I think if we really want to spread Go it should be started with kids and as soon as possible. They can playing with boards/stones at age 3 without problem but with great fun.

          Commercial are ok, but I don’t believe in them, far more better are fan creation like this for chess
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=fURFeHJyi98

          If this plan will work it depends only from us, but I can’t image that kids which learn Go at age 5-10 will not like it in future…

          Cheers and hf
          Darco

          • peter freedman says:

            So, Jake Shimabukura played the Ukelele, but nobody knew about it. Then he did a youtube video that got over 11,000,000 hits. Now he is the only solo, touring ukelele player in history. Perhaps this didn’t make people play the ukelele (maybe it did, I don’t know), but a lot of people know the power of this instrument now, and what it is. We need a breakthrough mass media piece of some kind so that, when you walk up to a stranger on the street and say, ‘Do you know about the board game Go?’ they answer, ‘Sure, it’s that ancient Asian board strategy game.’…People can’t engage with something they don’t even know exists.

      • Eric Martin says:

        I agree and am more positive. One billionaire could dramatically change the situation in the West in just five years, I bet. Just set up a thousand schools/clubs run by retired professionals all around Europe and America… with free lessons. I would go, especially if there was one closer.

  3. i agree with Paul. this game is too strange, too beautiful, it will always be of the few, a privilege and loneliness of good taste. But hey, let’s spread it, why not?

  4. How can you pay with Indiegogo? Can you use paypal?
    It wont tell me unless I make an account first…

  5. A hopeful one says:

    The goal is to make Go not identified as a ‘mind game’; it’s a rather small target to try to ‘take on Bridge.’ We don’t want it to just appeal to chess fans, mathematicians, and Japanophiles (not that there’s anything wrong with any of these). Most people consider both chess and bridge rather boring. The way to further Go is to find a new audience, and that audience is the young. Youtube is a good idea for this. Best of luck. ^^

    • In Asia many play because it’s part of the culture. In the West, you play because you saw the game somewhere by chance, and you thought: WOW. But that wow reaction identifies you as a geek by nature. So go will remain a brain game in the West, atleast for a long time. Ironically, the logic we value so much, is more like a crutch than a sword when it comes to go. Still, I support this project. The video shows that they’re really enthusiastic about it, and if they get the money in time, atleast the number of geeks that get exposure to the game could increase. :-)

  6. Mainly in response to Paul:

    I’m getting a little weary of the persistent defeatism that seems to follow around these kinds of discussions around Go evangelism. We all know that there are tremendous cultural hurdles in place, but why speak of culture as a static, monolithic entity? Culture changes, continually, and more quickly today than ever. Things like hip-hop, videogames, and Twitter have become serious contenders in the cultural landscape, without needing the permission of the incumbent cultural hegemony. Or government intervention.

    So, a dose of realism is fine, but let’s not let it accumulate into cynicism. Go is already far more popular in the West than it has ever been in history. Why shouldn’t we expect it to continue to grow?

    I think this video, if done well, will fill a crucial and vacant niche. Check Youtube for introductions to go/weiqi/baduk, and see if any of them make Go seem even remotely exciting. They don’t, because they’re focused on the mechanics of the game and they don’t care about making the game look at all appealing to a nonplayer. For comparison, take a look at this video, which is an introduction to a pretty expensive and densely technical piece of music production hardware. It doesn’t even say what the thing does, but I already want to buy one. The power of suggestion. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3hsMFFcKP0

  7. I’d venture to say that most people who have watched HnG have at least tried to learn how to play. That’s what you have to do: make it prestigious within a certain context. Also, kids will try games that they know about. The problem is that most people in the West have never heard of Go, and a commercial isn’t going to help unless you can afford to air it in a lot of places. It’s visibility that is the #1 problem, and image or cultural associations would then be the second problem. Unless you are one of the chosen few who commands a significant audience in the West, there’s nothing you can do about the visibility problem, and without doing anything about that, you certainly can’t do anything about the other problem.

  8. I play in the US, and I think two simple things would help Go expand by leaps and bounds.
    1. Play go outside, at coffee shops, bars, restaurants, parks. etc.
    2. Patiently, kindly and politely answer questions about the game from observers.
    I wish the AGA would promote a play go outside day and local clubs would create pairs to play all over their city.

    • That’s an excellent idea! We have a similar initiative in Ghent, Belgium from our go club. Just playing go outside in places where lots of people gather will alway entice some people to ask questions. Being patient and friendly when answering those questions you’ll have heard a hundred times before (“oh, the white stones look like Mentos”), will be the most important thing. People are willing to do almost anything if other people already doing it seem like nice people to be around.

  9. Hi all,

    thanks for your comments! I know that a single video will not lead to an explosion of go players. And I totally agree with the ‘visibility’ argument: that’s why there is an increasing effort (at least in Germany) to introduce go to schools (of course this depends solely on volunteering go players).

    I also agree with the internet argument: it enables information shared almost instantaneously. We did not had that 30 years ago.

    So we aim at actually having something to share in the first place. If there is nothing that looks exciting, then we don’t have anything to show to the kids. So we need a start.

    In my opinion, as of today, spreading the game actually means ‘making the game known’. While many people know chess (even if they can’t play it), that’s not true for go. So even if we make the game known without making everyone play, that is one step forward.

    Making a Youtube video is only part of this process. ‘Go(ing) public’ is something everyone can do. Going public is absolutely necessary, and the more ‘cool’ material there is, the better. HnG is good for the ones who read manga and have some time. Aji’s Quest and similar comics (which can be shared more easily than HnG) are also very useful. A video is something that complements this material. But really going out and showing it is crucial. So yes, ‘going public’ is the thing every single go player can do.

    One more concerning the content of the video: We want to make go look ‘cool’, so maybe — only maybe — the video will get viral among the kids. Of course we have to decide on one way or the other to present the game in this video, and while some of you will like it, others won’t. But then again, there are several ways to promote go, and we hope that this video will only be the first one (not necessarily made by us).

    At last a link to the (European) ‘go public’ project. There are some other ideas how to promote go as well: http://go-centre.nl/wordpress/european-iwamoto-awards/iwamoto-awards/go-public/

    Have lots of nice games,
    Sven

  10. Soduku went from niche to mainstream in the West; I wonder what lessons we can learn from that transition. Getting into newspaper puzzle columns would surely help, though it’s difficult to make an enjoyable Go puzzle for beginners in limited space. First get the newspaper editors to play Go, next the world.

  11. The other problem we face is that nothing about Online Go is accessible. IGS, KGS and Tygem are ancient applications with severely hindered or non-existing social features. I remember spending several hours asking questions and trying to work out how to use KGS after completely giving up on IGS; and that’s to say nothing of Tygem. I have tried to get many people playing Go on KGS and a lot of them have given up purely because of the client. I appreciate the developer of KGS doesn’t have a UX consultant nor the time to make any real changes to the client, but the user interface is a slip-shod affair with absolutely no consideration for usability. What new players want is a big, clear button that says “Play now!” and connects them up with the automatch system with some suitable default settings. The fact that KGS players don’t start with a rank also makes it very hard for them to find a suitable opponent and start playing at the right level. I’m not saying you can’t overcome these obstacles, but the amount of passion it takes to overcome them (fortunately for me I really, really wanted to learn how to play) is too much for players that could be spellbound if they just go the right start.

    Up and coming servers like Kaya.gs are making steps in the right direction but it’ll be a few years before that particular client is polished. In fact, right now, I’d say GoShrine is one of the most usable and approachable Go platforms we have, but again, it has nothing in place to foster a sense of community and help young players out.

    If there was a Go platform that was modern, simple, social and geared towards supporting a new generation of Go player then I think these kinds of drives would work. But right now, people are being shown this amazing game and then left with rickety old, user-unfriendly, buggy and confusing Go platforms to try and work out for themselves.

    • I’ve never had a problem with KGS. What social features are you talking about? Something beyond chat? It seems like writing yet another online Go site would be pretty trivial. Pretty much anybody could do it if they knew what it was that was missing.

      • Alas, this is exactly the point I’m making – just because one person has no problem with KGS doesn’t mean other people will – especially the younger audience who are so important to capture. Dismissing that because your personal opinion differs is a common fallacy.

        Creating new Go sites is decidedly *not* trivial – there is a user interface to design and code, network architecture, complicated algorithms to implement (territory scoring, identifying dead groups, scoring variations), chat facilities, etc. It is often for this reason that we find Go servers compromising on certain areas, because to do everything and plan for it and implement it in an effective manner is a huge engineering task that requires literally years.

        The way Go servers will forge ahead is like most software – building on and learning from the mistakes of the past. The hindsight attained from learning about what works and doesn’t from the melange of current clients out there is the only way to forge ahead with a new solution that answers the problem of before.

        • Please point out where I “dismissed” anything? I don’t understand the hostility. You made a very nonspecific complaint, apparently assuming people would just know what you were talking about, and I indicated that I wasn’t familiar with whatever problem you were having and asked for clarification. From my point of view, you seem to be stubbornly refusing to clarify.

          Creating a Go site is decidedly not a “huge engineering project” that would “take years”. It’s just another game website. No fancy “network architecture” is needed for something that simple. Code to implement the rules is not a “complicated algorithm” at all. I can almost certainly write basic rules and scoring code in under 30 minutes.

          You go on about learning from the past and hindsight… but it’s hard to learn from claimed “mistakes” if no one will tell you what those mistakes are. In case you somehow missed it, I was trying to not-so-subtly hint that if you gave me some pointers I would start working on putting together a site to implement your ideas (whatever they are).

          • Dragoon says:

            The simple fact that you are offering to write a fully-functioning Go server for a complete stranger is an indication that you don’t really know what you’re talking about, unfortunately. But if you want some ideas on what is missing, re-read my posts since they contain suggestions.

        • I’m afraid it’s less a matter of years involved; an estimate of 3 or 4 weekends for a bored programmer could prove to be plenty of time to implement such a thing. The algorithms involved are quite simple to anyone with decent problem solving skills and experience programming, and the nature of the game results in trivial implementation of its mechanics. The only issues are that there are probably not that many American programmers who want to write a Go server and client on their free time, and that advertising such a thing may be troublesome. Maybe I’ll do it in the near future.

  12. As a fan of both go and chess, I have noticed a great resurgence in online chess popularity associated with commentary (kibitzing and during the play of the game) of blitz games. There are a few strong players (Chessnetwork/Jerry, for example) that livestream their games with viewers and comment on them in a very exciting fashion, and this has had the effect of drawing in a lot of young people who barely know the rules, just because of the energy and humor of the commentary. When I look for similar kinds of things on youtube relating to go, they tend to be very long, technical and monotone, and clearly directed at people that already know the game well. I don’t know to what extent one can hope for go ‘personalities’ or showmanship, but I definitely disagree with maintaining any sort of elitism around the game. I recently took a trip to three different cities across the US and visited each of their go clubs, and all of them gave me the feeling that attendance and interest was waning, despite go’s popularity in the US being at an all-time high.

  13. I’d love to see a training montage. C’mon, does it get any better than Rocky IV? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SUzcDUERLo

  14. Hi Sven, hi Lars,

    Excellent idea! Contribution made. I hope it will be a great success. Will you will be able to attract native speakers for the English parts? I sometimes find that some professional productions with a global audience in mind could have been better if one had paid attention to that detail. :-)

    As for Lee Sedol’s idea I totally agree with Paul. Sure, a professor could spend his time serving burgers but why would he if he could use that same time to teach? Sedol is famous within our Baduk world, not outside of it. I do not believe his name will attract a single extra newcomer to the game, however much joy he will bring to existing players in the US. That must be done through initiatives like this, playing outside, setting up clubs and introducing the game in our schools. Everyone should get a chance to learn this most beautiful of games.

    Kind regards,
    Thomas

    • Hi Thomas,

      thanks for your support! As for the native speaker question: yes, we hire not only native speakers, but trained voice actors.

      Kind regards,
      Sven

  15. My idea is to have inter-school tournaments with prize money.

    Picture this: The economy is poor. The education system is in need of funding. Go players want their hobby to be more mainstream.

    What if you had an annual tournament between schools, with the winning school earning $5,000 (pick an amount) and the winning student winning some scholarship to help pay for college. Even if you held the tournament every other year, or had $2,500 for the school and $2,500 for the scholarship, it would be the motivation necessary to get schools to have a GO club.

    Getting teachers for the club will be the challenge; however, if the prize pool for schools is large enough, it could prove to be an interesting idea.

    • peter freedman says:

      Forming teams of kids and having them play each other is ‘the way to go’:) Last Sunday a team of 8 Portland, OR elementary school kids played a team of Mexico City kids on KGS. Since I formed a team, interest and involvement of the kids in our Go program has jumped dramatically…It has also, significantly, increased parent involvement. Some of the kids from Mexico City will do homestays with Portland kids on their way to the Congress in Tacoma…How about that?:)

  16. Hi Guys,
    no offence but you don’t really need 8k$ for make good and interesing spot about Go.

    Take a look at this one about chess it is good beacuse it make that you want to play chess!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=fURFeHJyi98

    • peter freedman says:

      This is a nice video…which got less than 5000 hits. The challenge is: What Go video will get 5,000,000 hits.

      • Hi gogeo, hi Peter,

        I agree if we talk about a video like Chess in the Central Park. But in the end, our video should look like a trailer for a feature film, so it targets another audience. It should create tension even if you don’t know go, so that you are likely to spread the video even if you are not interested in go. Nevertheless, by then you know that this game exists. And some of the other visitors will be interested in go.

        And for the amount of 8k$: we have trained actors and a trained crew. We appreciate fan made videos very much, but we aim at something that is, in the end, a professional piece of work (and you have to see that).

        Cheers,
        Sven

        • peter freedman says:

          Yes, there are many paths. I’ve contributed to your film. I teach Go to children. I chair the AGA marketing and development committee. I organize pro workshops in Portland. I’ve successfully gotten 501c3 status for the Portland Go Club…Being retired, I have time to do a bunch of stuff…We cannot have too many ideas, and, too many activists promoting Go. The Go Guru website is a great, relatively new development. I think we are rolling, and if we are both lucky and smart, I believe a Go transformation within our culture is possible:)

          • Yes, the more, the better. And maybe there will be the Bill-Gates-Video as well?

            • peter freedman says:

              I don’t know, Sven…We have someone who will approach him on our behalf, but we have no idea of his interest level, if any…wish us luck:)

  17. I am a fan of go problems. I love go for the mental challenge. I love the go problems of the week on this site. Though not the same as a full game, go problems can be easier understood and can be marketed to the sudoku crowd, and as they begin to enjoy them then they can get into the bigger full game

    • What with Kakuro, Hitori, Nurikabe, Masyu, Hashi and the like I fear the “sudoku crowd” has its hands full for a few decades.

      Love problems though, I wish tsumego books were as easy to come by as chess books, having them sent from japan is so costly…

  18. I hope I’m not doing anything wrong posting a link to another site, if so I deserve a spanking from Jing.

    http://www.wbaduk.com/news/news_view.asp?news_no=691&listType=1&tabMenu=1&global_div=&national_code_no=&index_div=

    Seems to me a much more wholesome way to spread Go.

    • Hi Murius,

      I agree: that’s definitely the way to go. But then again, the more ways of spreading the game we address, the better. But yes, in the end, children are crucial (not only in go).

      Cheers,
      Sven

  19. peter freedman says:

    Thanks for the link – great article. I’ve posted the link on my Facebook page.

  20. Anonymous says:

    You know there’s an anime about Go, right? Why not just show clips from that? Here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hikaru_no_Go read up.

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