Randy Hoyt

The Viking Ship At The 1893 World’s Fair

I wrote this post for an update for backers on my World’s Fair 1893 Kickstarter campaign:

Today, based on archaeological research from the 1960s, scholars believe that Vikings came to America 500 years before Christopher Columbus did. But that wasn’t the case in 1893. Many people doubted that Vikings could have reached North America, until an exhibit from Norway at the fair removed those doubts.

The 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago was held to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in America in 1492. (The fair started the following year, 1893, to allow for an additional year of preparations.) The official name of the fair was the “World’s Columbian Exposition” in honor of Columbus. Columbus was represented in many ways, including a large statue in front of the Administration building. (You can see this statue very small on the front of the box.)

Administration Building, East Entrance

Administration Building, East Entrance

In 1880, a 9th-century Viking ship was discovered in a burial mound in Norway. For display at the fair, Norwegian shipowners built an exact replica of the ship in Norway. A crew of 11 sailed the ship from Norway to Chicago. They arrived on July 12, 1893 (two months after the opening of the fair) after a four-week journey. The replica ship was a popular exhibit for the rest of the fair.

The Viking by Charles Graham. The Chicago Tribune Art Supplements, 1893.

The Viking by Charles Graham. The Chicago Tribune Art Supplements, 1893.

You can see the original ship (the one excavated in 1880) on display at The Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway. The replica ship remained in the United States, and today you can visit it in Geneva, Illinois. (It is only available on very limited days and times, so check the schedule before you go: Visit The Viking Ship. The first date of this year, April 16, is coming up.)

2 years ago 0 Comments

Motion Pictures At The 1893 World’s Fair

I wrote this post for an update for backers on my World’s Fair 1893 Kickstarter campaign:

While the fair created many business opportunities, those opportunities did not always end up being successful for everyone involved. We can see that looking at how two early motion picture devices intersected with the history of the fair.

Zoopraxigraphical Hall — Kinetoscop

Zoopraxigraphical Hall — Kinetoscope


Eadweard Muybridge was an eccentric British scientist and a pioneer in photography. He was famous in his day for his large collection of photographs of Yosemite Valley in California, and he is still known today for his work in animal locomotion. He invented the zoopraxiscope, a device for projecting motion pictures, that he used during his lectures. While he was preparing for a trip to Asia, the fair’s Fine Arts Commission invited him give his lectures on the Midway.

Muybridge Lectured on Animal Motion on the Midway

Muybridge Lectured on Animal Motion on the Midway

He spent $6,000 for the building, which he named Zoopraxigraphical Hall. He charged admission and sold his books and other merchandise. Film historians consider this the first commercial movie theater, the first place where audiences paid admission to see motion pictures. Unfortunately, his scientific lectures could not compete with all the other fun and entertaining attractions on the Midway. He made only a tiny profit ($213.43) for the entire fair.

You can watch some of his short films online in this article from the Telegraph: The world’s first films.


Thomas Edison saw the zoopraxiscope and discussed it with Muybridge in 1888. Edison did not believe projected motion pictures could be commercially viable but was apparently inspired to start work on an individual viewing device that he called a kinetoscope. Edison assigned his employee William Dickinson to work on it. (They worked with George Eastman, founder of Kodak, to develop the 35mm filmstrip for use with the kinetoscope.) They displayed a working prototype in 1891.

Thomas Edison - Kinetoscope

Thomas Edison — Kinetoscope

Edison had big plans for the kinetoscope at the World’s Fair in 1893. He planned to produce a number of them and have them prominently on display. Production delays and a nervous breakdown by Dickinson delayed that debut: they were not ready for May 1, 1893. Instead, Edison debuted the first kinetoscope in Brooklyn on May 9. Historians disagree on whether or not the kinetoscope appeared at the fair at all (reports in Scientific American seem to indicate that one kinetoscope was part of Edison’s phonograph exhibit), but it definitely wasn’t the large attraction Edison hoped to have ready.

Kinetoscope Parlor in Boston

Kinetoscope Parlor in Boston

The kinetoscope finally had a wide release in 1894. Kinetoscope parlors operated in New York, San Francisco, Paris, London, and other cities. However, its popularity soon waned as more and more people worked on projecting motion pictures for wider audiences. By 1896, Edison had focused his attention on projected motion pictures. He eventually re-purposed the name “kinetoscope” and applied it to his projection technology.

You can see clips from some of the early kinetoscope films in this PBS short documentary: The Kinetoscope (American Experience)

2 years ago 0 Comments

Eduardo Baraf on Making Games

My friend Eduardo Baraf has been making games for his entire career. He recently posted a video that’s part philosophy, part motivational speech about making games. I’ve only been doing this seriously for about four years, but what he said really resonated with me. Here’s my commentary on what stood out to me from the video.

Think Of Yourself As An Artist

You can think about making games (like making other forms of entertainment) as both a business endeavor and as an artistic endeavor. On the one hand, game makers are designing products to sell in the marketplace. On the other hand, they are creating experiences that will nourish the souls of those who experience them — as well as their own souls through the process of creating them. I see Eduardo’s advice as a call to all of us to focus on the artistic side of making games:

Being a creator — being somebody who puts their heart and soul into a product and brings it to others — is incredible. The rewards are huge, and it is so quickly dwarfs the effort. You hear how they’re playing it and enjoying it, that’s a memory that’s now a part of their lives. There is so much joy that you can get and feel from the experience of others playing your game, from the joy that they’re having.”

Making a game takes time, commitment, and effort. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate that it’s the journey, it’s the adventure. It’s the learning, exploring the design, who you’re working with, getting to know your teammates. It’s really important that you enjoy the moments of it. Games are entertainment, which is a hit-driven business. It’s really easy to have something that misses for no good reason. If you get so caught up in the end, you’re working hard, you’re working hard, and you don’t enjoy the travels, and then it’s gone.”

Making games will grow you as a person and bring joy to other people’s lives. It’s certainly wonderful when you can also make money doing those things, but never lose sight of the artistic nature of what you are doing.

Be Introspective

He calls out some really important questions to ask yourself as you make games:

  1. Skill — What is it that you are good at?
  2. Satisfaction - What is it that brings you joy in life?
  3. Objective — What are you trying to accomplish?

It’s fine if you don’t know the answers when you start. I certainly didn’t. (You can read a little about my own journey so far in my post “How I Became A Board Game Publisher.”) In many ways, I’m still exploring all of these:

You might not know, and making games is a way to learn. You might not know until your third game or your fourth game or your tenth game. Be introspective as you make games and figure it out.”

As far as your objective goes, remember that you don’t have to have the same objective as everyone else. There are lots of ways to find personal satisfaction making games:

Creating something doesn’t have to be about making a product or making money.”

Don’t sell yourself short, of course: if you want to start a business or sell your game to a publisher, then by all means work towards that. But you don’t have to take other people’s objectives and apply them to yourself: it’s perfectly fine to find your path.

Making Games Is A Lifelong Discipline

Inherent in this idea of introspection is the notion that making games can be a lifelong discipline. Eduardo doesn’t emphasize this point much, but he does mention his experience at the beginning:

I’ve been making games my entire career. 15+ years. Independent, for companies. Video games, card games, board games. Dozens and dozens of products.”

Each project is a journey, yes, but being a game maker can be a much larger journey if you want it to be.

When I first started, I had a short-term objective to make a game and run a Kickstarter campaign. (Looking back, I would say I was primarily interested in moving a couple items from my bucket list to my resume back then.) That was a perfectly reasonable objective, and I wouldn’t fault anyone who gets that far and decides to move on to other types of creative work. But I fell in love with making games, with the challenge it brings me and with the joy it brings to other people, and my objective has now shifted to something much longer-term: my goal now is to study, practice, and make relationships that will help me get better and better at making games.

Eduardo emphasizes these points a little differently, and he covers other points I didn’t include in this post. I highly recommend you check out the full video: So You Want To Make A Game

2 years ago 0 Comments

Distribution, Cash Flow, and Multiple Printings

[This is the result of a 30-minute writing study. Some version of this will probably end up being the opening of an article two or three times as long.]

— —

If you have been around the board game industry for any time at all, you’ve probably heard that a game’s MSRP should be five times (5×) it’s manufacturing cost. Yes, five times! I heard this when I first started, but I couldn’t really understand how that could be necessary. (I wasn’t making board games to get rich or anything!) I still hear from many Kickstarter project creators who question this multiplier. I think I finally have a good grasp on why this number is essential. Here’s how I would state it:

If you plan to sell your game through distribution and if you hope to sell out of your first printing and do a second one, your MSRP must be 5× your landed costs.

The best way for me to communicate this is to walk through an example. Imagine with me the following:

  • I have a game that costs me $8 each to manufacture 2,000 copies (that’s $16,000 total) and freight them to my warehouse. This is often called yourlanded cost: it is the total cost to land the games in your warehouse (or your garage, Amazon Fulfillment, or wherever you’ll store them).
  • I have $16,000 cash on hand that I’m willing to spend on this. (I’ll talk about direct sales and Kickstarter further down, but let’s keep it really simple to start.)

I set my MSRP at $40, which is 5×$8. I spend my $16,000 and (after several months) receive 2,000 copies of the game into my warehouse. If things go well, distributors will buy the games from me. They will buy the games from me for roughly $16 each (60% off MSRP) and I will have to pay to ship the games to them. (They will be buying a large quantity, so it won’t cost toomuch per copy. Let’s say roughly 50¢ a copy.)

In the first few months, let’s say I sell 1,000 games; that’s half of my inventory. I receive $16,000 from distributors, and I spend $500 shipping the games to them. Overall, I have recouped almost all of my initial $16,000 I spent. Note this carefully: if your MSRP is 5× your landed costs, you have to sell more than half of your print run just to break even.

In the next few months, let’s say I sell the other 1,000 games; that’s the rest of my inventory. I receive another $16,000 from distributors, and I spend another $500 shipping the games to them. I have now recouped my initial $16,000 and made another $15,000, which is great! (If it took less than a year from placing the order to selling through that first print run, I’ll be happy.) But note this carefully: I still haven’t made enough profit to print a second run! Even if your MSRP is 5× your landed cost, all the profits from your first printing will go towards your second printing.

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[This is the result of a 30-minute writing study. Some version of this will probably end up being the opening of an article two or three times as long. What questions or feedback do you have so far?]

2 years ago 0 Comments

How I Became A Board Game Publisher

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.


2 years ago 0 Comments

Writing: 30-Minute Studies

I really like writing, and good things have always happened when I spent time writing. My blog posts for Foxtrot Games have been well received, and I havereally enjoyed writing all the historical updates for the World’s Fair 1893Kickstarter campaign. As a liberal arts major in college, I have done a lot of writing and value good writing. I even coached other students how to improve their writing, which prompted me to think a lot about writing.

But I write really slowly. I’d like to think a big part of my slowness is that I have a high quality bar and that you can’t rush quality. I’m sure that’s true, but I also believe that focused practice with an emphasis on speed could help improve the time. I’m not really aiming to run a blog with a large audience or anything, but I want to write more for practice. I would like to learn to write faster — of course without losing my high quality bar.

I have been really inspired watching artist Beth Sobel’s “one hour studies.” (Beth is an amazing artist that I’ve been incredibly blessed to work with on my last two board games.) She spends one hour creating an illustration as part of her professional practice, and she can do some amazing work in just one hour! Here’s an example:

Beth Sobel: 1 Hour Study

This year, I will spend more time practicing my writing. Inspired by Beth’s technique, I will do 30-minute studies for writing practice this year, picking a topic and writing what I can in 30 minutes. (This is the first one of those!) I have no intention of doing it every day, but I’m currently planning to do it once or twice a week.

Time’s up! Time to publish!


2 years ago 0 Comments

Debate: Text of the New Testament

I attended a debate last weekend at SMU with my friend Brian around the question, “Can we trust the text of the New Testament?” This debate did not center around questions about the historical accuracy of the events described in the New Testament, about inconsistencies between the different books, about how each book came to be included in the canon, about who authored each book, or about whether or not miracles really occur — none of that. The question was all about how confidently can the original texts of the New Testament be reconstructed from the existing manuscript evidence.

The two parties in the debate were Bart D. Ehrman, well-known scholar and professor at the University of North Carolina; and Daniel B. Wallace, director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. I was somewhat familiar with Ehrman’s work before the debate. I was glad to see him present in person; he was much more personable than I was expecting. (He clearly won the debate, though neither side discussed what significance their victory would hold.) It was a very enjoyable evening, hearing these scholars share the current status of the field.

6 years ago 3 Comments

Google Docs Paint Format Icon

I noticed today that Google Docs changed their icon on one of their buttons. Clicking this particular button will select the formatting for the current element; you can then click on another element and apply to it the formatting from the first element. Icon designers have long made metaphors between abstract actions and concrete actions, using images from the latter to represent the former. The metaphor for this action has long been painting – applying the formatting feels a bit like you are painting the new element with your mouse — and the icon to represent this action has long has been a paintbrush.

Here are pictures of the two icons:

 Old Icon
 New Icon

It struck me that I must no longer consciously think of the metaphor when I use the action; I now just think “paintbrush equals copy formatting.” The new icon sticks with the same metaphor, but I found it a bit jarring because it is now a paint roller instead of a paintbrush. When I didn’t find the paintbrush, only then did I think back to the metaphor and figure out that the paint roller must perform the same abstract action as the paintbrush did.

6 years ago 0 Comments

Near The End Of The World

I reviewed a book of poetry, The Throne of Psyche by Marly Youmans, for the latest issue of Mythprint. The title poem contained a retelling of the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche, and I was asked to review it because of my interest in myths. I discussed the title poem in some detail in my review, but a couple other poems really struck me (including the one I discussed last week called “The Exile’s Track”). In “Near The End Of The World,” we see artists toiling away to preserve an ancient musical tradtion — even though the world no longer appreciates the beauty of their music. Even though these singers seemed “silly” to outsiders, I suspect they found a satisfying sense of purpose in their work. This image of the final singer — I imagine a man sitting in a chair on the beach, facing the ocean, toiling as the sun sets before him — will stick with me as I continue to wrestle with how to spend my time and energy.

The poem was originally published in Unsplendid. You can read it or listen to Youmans read the poem  on YouTube on Unsplendid. I have included the full text of the poem below:

Once wrestled into place, the stones were walls
Of coastal towers where the resolute
Lit lamps and labored in the ancient way.
These were the ones afflicted by the word,
Who toiled in joy or dole because to make
The sweet sounds sing together was a gift
That couldn’t be renounced. And when the world
In turning turned away the magic sea
—Its depth, electrogenic light, and dreams—
Turning instead to shallower waters,
Mechanical romances, pixel-quests,
Most any product stuttering-fast and bright,
The singers did not yield and often said
So long as there was one for whom the word
Could conjure vision, they would not cease work.
In time a singer proved the only one
—The oceanic last—but did not stop.

How silly they look now—who gave their best
To live as none would any longer live,
Like bubbling fountains in a wilderness.

6 years ago 0 Comments

The Exiles’ Track

I reviewed a book of poetry, The Throne of Psyche by Marly Youmans, for the latest issue of Mythprint. The title poem contained a retelling of the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche, and I was asked to review it because of my interest in myths. I discussed the title poem in some detail in my review, but a couple other poems really struck me. In “The Exile’s Track,” the narrator perceives a wonder of nature that impresses upon her a narrative about its history and her relation to it. This poem seems to me to reflect the way I imagine many of the great myths coming into being — not as conscious explanations for natural phenomena, but more as intuitive insights that arise subconsciously in response to them.

The poem was originally published in storySouth, and you can listen to Youmans read the poem on YouTube. I have included the full text of the poem below.

At midnight I went down to the lake, and there
I saw the northern lights as seven swords
Of long-dead kings that glimmered in the sky.
They were as thin and cold as icicles,
Set evenly above a shoal of cloud—
The winter’s glittering eyes drew low to see,
Its glories made into one burning look.

I stepped onto the marble arrowhead
That points the way to North forevermore,
And though I stood below a canopy
Close-crowded with the bright burrs of the stars,
And though I held my love, and though our children
Were safe and sleeping at my back, I met
And knew a loneliness beyond all heal.

A silvery voice arose out of the spires,
Out of the dark’s offhanded elegance:
You gave your heart away, oh, long ago,
So there’s no help–now you must bide in frost,
And when you die, the reaper’s men will scar
The ground for your grave, or else will burn your limbs
And bury the ash in a wall of stone.

6 years ago 2 Comments