On Reddit, someone asked me this:
Hi Randy. If you don’t mind, could you elucidate on how you found yourself as a game publisher? Do you enjoy your work? How hands-on do you get in the game selection process?
This post is my response.
A few years ago, the board game scene on Kickstarter was just heating up. A friend sent me a link to Dice Hate Me Games’ campaign for Carnival, and I backed it; that was my first campaign to back. Being a part of that campaign really inspired me to take indie game design seriously and consider self-publishing a game I designed. The next year, my brother (an artist/graphic designer by trade) and I came up with a concept for a game that excited us both and that we thought could do well on Kickstarter: he would do the artwork, and I would design the game.
We wanted to self-publish the game for a few reasons:
- retain full creative control
- have maximum potential for profit
- gain the life experience of running a campaign
The next year, we started a company and ran a Kickstarter campaign for Relic Expedition. It funded, and we worked the rest of the year to produce the game and deliver rewards to backers. Publishing required an astonishing amount of work and stress — more than I had imagined. Everything also ended up costing more than we expected (for a number of different reasons), and I had to spend a significant amount of money out of my own pocket to get everything finished. But we had 900 copies left in inventory and were able to get some of the remaining inventory into limited distribution.
I did a lot of soul searching as I waited for the games to cross the ocean by freight. I had lost money, but I had learned a lot. I was glad I had the opportunity to take a game design beyond just playtesting to funding and production. But I was burned out creatively. I tried to design some other games in that time, but I felt pretty drained. I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do next in the industry (if anything). Perhaps designing and publishing a game was really too much work for me to do in addition to a full-time job and a family?
As I reflected on it, the part of the process I really enjoyed (more than I expected I would) was the “product design” or the “experience design” part: taking a fun game and figuring out how to make it a good product and experience for the market. That includes art direction, rulebook writing, components (e.g., should this be a deck of cards or a bag of tokens?), usability (lots of user testing), and all the little details. I enjoyed that part of Relic Expedition just as much as the actual game design! That’s typically the part of the process that a publisher does, so I decided to focus my efforts on finding a game to publish.
This was just over two years ago. I had already been looking at games, though I wasn’t really sure how I would know if a game was one I should to publish. But when I first played the prototype that would become Lanterns, I knew. I worked for about six months with the designer (Christopher Chung) to re-theme the game and develop the game mechanics, and I worked with the artist (Beth Sobel) to create the artwork. I just had so much fun. I have worked on a wide variety of creative projects in my life, and making games has been the most satisfying for me.
Lanterns did well on Kickstarter and has done even better in retail, so the company is doing well financially. We’ll be delivering World’s Fair 1893 to backers in a few months. I currently do all the game selection, though I have a handful of trusted game developers and friends whose opinion I seek. I am considering a number of games right now, and I’m still on the lookout for more.