This was far too long in coming, but in January, the Firing Squad welcomed +Brian Engard, and we discussed game design, self-publishing, and how to broaden the gaming market, among other topics. It’s about a 90-minute interview.
I interacted with Brian first as a contact about the interview with +Steve Jackson, only to discover that Brian has a ton of notches on his belt, from design work with +Leonard Balsera on Fate Core, as well as Spirit of the Century and Shadow of the Century, and Strange Tales of the Century.
He’s also self-published a very different kind of game, called Becoming, which is part improv theater, part RPG, and likely different than anything that you’ve seen before.
Give a listen!
Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Good evening and welcome to Gaming Ballistic’s Firing Squad. Tonight we are joined by Brian Engard. Game designer and marketing guy for Steve Jackson Games. Brian, welcome.
Brian Engard (Steve Jackson Games): Hi. How’s it going?
Douglas: Good. Thank you for joining me. One of the reasons why I jumped in and wanted to chat with you is because I saw your Daily Illuminator, where you talk a little about yourself and your games. I didn’t really put all the pieces together until I went and got my copy of Fate, and “Ha! There you are.” I know that Leonard was very much involved. Tell me a little bit about Fate, Shadow of the Century, Spirit of the Century, and what’s your history with Fate, Evil Hat, and Spirit of the Century?
Brian: I got started with Fate several years ago when…the story really goes back to the really early oughts where I fell in with Brennan Taylor, making the original version of Bulldogs, which was a d20 game.
Like he’d already made the game, and I wrote a psionics supplement for it – about 70,000 words – and it sold like tens of copies, and we sort of went on with our lives.
And then maybe 5 or 6 years ago I saw on Facebook that Brennan was going to do a second edition of Bulldogs with Fate. So I pitched my hat in the ring, and I was apparently the only one who responded in anything close to a reasonable time.
So he was like: “Why don’t you just co-write the book with me?”
So I wound up writing half of that book. That was sort of my introduction to Fate. I had to take sort of a crash course on Fate. I knew some stuff about it – like I’d been aware of it and knew kind of how it worked, but I hadn’t actually read a Fate book yet.
So I read pretty much all of Spirit of the Century over the course of a week, then started designing Fate stuff for Bulldogs. That came out and it was a success.
I then got onto a list of Fate designers that Fred Hicks keeps, and from that I got picked up by Steve Russell with Rite Publishing to do Demolished Ones, and then Fred started throwing me work with…he threw me some Paranet Papers stuff for the Dresden Files RPG, and he threw me some stuff from Strange Tales of the Century, and that snowballed into the Fate Core project. Now I’m involved in a lot of stuff on that project.
That’s kind of how it happened. You know . . . it happened over the course ten years.
Douglas: Tell me a little about – I’m going right off script already – for those of you who don’t know, if this is your first Firing Squad interview, I always send my guest a list of questions, and I very rarely stick to them! Although we will come back to them, of course, because they are, I think, interesting.
Fate is a little bit different than a lot of other games, I think. I interviewed Leonard, I read the book, we went though how would I do Thor in Fate Accelerated, just to get familiar with it live, and understand it – and it seems very different than, say, my game writing of choice which is GURPS, and quite different than D&D5 or Twilight 2000 to reach way back. So, how was it to get steeped in the Fate rules and mind set, and how is it the same and different than other games.
Brian: I picked it up very quickly, and I think that…there are two different components to picking up Fate. One is picking up the rules, and how to design for it, and how to play for it. Those are two different skills.
It’s possible to know how to design for Fate and not be very good at running it, and vice versa.
I had done all my designer work on Bulldogs, and I was supposed to run some games at GenCon of Bulldogs. I talked to Brennan and I was like “hey, I’ve never run this before. how do I do this?” and he came over to my house and ran a game for me, and once I’d seen it run once it clicked for me and I knew how to do it and Iv’e gotten better since then.
It’s one of those things where I had to steep myself in Fate very quickly, out of necessity. Because of that sort of trial by fire that I put myself through, I familiarized myself with how to run the game, and how to hack the game very quickly.
Now it’s like, Fate is the system I’m most comfortable designing for, because I have the most experience with it. I think it’s a more resilient system than something like D&D, that is very concerned about balance, and making sure that no single character outshines the other in combat.
Fate is more concerned with how much narrative control does each character have, and does does each player have. Because everyone sort of gets the same things that give them narrative control, it’s very easy to make sure that is sort of the sweet spot for everyone. Fate allows you to go back and revise your character a lot to make sure you’re getting what you want out of your character.
Douglas: It seems like, for example, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where you got Buffy who can slay gods, and Xander Harris who is normal, missing an eye, that Fate would handle – because it’s really about screen time and narrative control – that Fate would provide for an awful lot of fun for every character regardless of the power-o-meter.
Brian: I think that is mostly true. I think it is possible to create characters that are divergent enough that one character just outshines the others.
Douglas: Probably true in any system though.
Brian: There is this notion that Fate is like this universal system, and I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s a very flexible system, and you can apply it to a wide variety of genres, but it doesn’t handle everything equally well. You can’t just marry any setting to it and expect it to work. You’re going to have to do a lot of hacking to get it to work well, and not all settings are really suited to Fate.
There is sort of this holy grail of making a fully universal system, and I think that’s generally like a holy grail that people chase until they know better. I don’t think it’s an obtainable goal. Or at least, if it is a obtainable goal it’s not compatible with making a good game.
Douglas: That makes a lot of sense actually. I think you see that a lot – and it’s a very self-selecting example – on the GURPS forums you see people trying to hack at it and this and that and push – and some of the times the people hack the system to the point where – and I’m sometimes guilty of this even as a writer, but fortunately Sean (Punch) reins me in – you can push to the point where “Okay, great, it now handles this. No one would ever play this.” You get to the table flipping before you start rolling dice. It would just be frustrating.
Brian: I find that if you are drifting a system enough that it is no longer recognizable, or drifting a system enough that you’ve added all sorts of fiddly rules bits that slow down play, you should probably use a different rules system. There are probably better suited to what you are trying to do.
Douglas: Coming back a little bit to Fate and your game designing. How did you decide to develop an 80’s extension of Spirit of the Century?
Brian: I should clarify: That was not my choice. That was a thing Evil Hat was planning on doing from the start. They‘ve been planning Shadow Of The Century for a long time.
First they asked me to work on it, which I was thrilled to do, because it’s a really fun project, and then they asked me to step in as creative director, to make sure that the game was being steered in the right direction.
I didn’t come up with the idea of Shadow of the Century. My job is more to help people who are working on the project come up with cool ideas, and make sure deadlines are adhered to, and also to do some of the writing. Like I sort of come up with the broad strokes “This is what we are trying to do,” and we all work together to fill in the details.
Douglas: I suddenly have this mental image of you standing in bunch of a front of creative people saying “Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them…” [both laugh]. I don’t know – it’s just where my mind goes.
Brian: That’s not . . . too far off the first creative director meeting I had.
Douglas: I’m a manager by profession as well, so I can sort of relate.
Brian: The team is great, and they know their stuff, and they’re doing a great job. Honestly, if I’m going to be in charge of a bunch of people they’d be it, they’re very easy to work with.
Douglas: So the pulp era and the pulp style are usually very 1920s and 1930s and tommy guns, how did that mate with the 1980s . . . and big hair?
Brian: [both laugh] So pulp is…the answer to your question is they didn’t so much as mate, as one became the other.
Shadow of the Century is a timeline advancement for Spirit of the Century. Spirit of the Century takes place in the 20s, and Shadow of the Century advances the timeline to the 80s, and that required us, in order to be faithful to the feel of the 80s, to change a lot of what was true about Spirit of the Century.
Pulp is a very optimistic genre. It’s all about . . . the heros are the ones who are ascendant, and beating back the darkness. So it’s two-fisted action, and very simple moral questions. Things are very clear-cut. You solve your problems with superscience or by punching the sapient gorilla in the nose.
The 80s are very different from that. The way that’s sort of reconciled with Shadow of the Century is that time has passed and things have gotten worse.
The Centurians are people who are born at the beginning of the Century, and live for the entire Century, and remain fairly potent though the entire Century. Some sort of magic helps them maintain their youth and their vigor.
But that said, the Shadow Centurions, who are born the day after the Centurions, they become more powerful as the century goes on, where as the Centurions grow weaker.
So in the 80s toward the end of the century, the Shadow Centurians have started to rise. The Century Club has been forced underground, and the bad guys are kind of in charge. So that’s where things are in Shadow of the Century. It’s a less optimistic game. It’s about plucky underdog heroes fighting against the Man, basically.
Whereas in Spirit of the Century the heroes had a lot of resources to draw on, and were generally well thought of and they . . . like everyone knew they were the good guys.
In shadow of the century things are much less clear. The heroes are often operating at some sort of disadvantage. Public opinion has moved against them, and they are trying to fight against an enemy that controls everything. It’s less about “Dirk Blitzmen is leading an attack on the US: we’re going to stop him and turn him aside, and the threat’s over.” And more like “Well we stopped Blitzman’s attack, but the people he was working for are still out there, and they have all these tendrils all over the country.” Even though we stopped this one attack, the US is still financially under the heel of this organization, and stuff like that.
It’s a much darker tone than Spirit of the Century is.
Douglas: That makes sense to me. I still remember – especially growing up in the 80s. I grew up in the 80s: I was in high school from 85 to 89, and I still remember growing up in the early part of the 80s and we all thought the world was going to end in some fiery nuclear cloud at any given moment. It was a complex time to grow up, hair or no hair.
That’s an interesting take, I like the waxing of the one group and the waning of the centurions.
Did that come about as part of the creative process in writing Shadow of the Century, or was that something that had already been prewritten into the history?
Brian: I think that Fred and Rob already had. I might be getting a little ahead of myself here, but they basically envisioned it as a trilogy where Spirit, Shadow, and something else that I won’t talk about.
I think when Spirit was successful, they started to think about the future of that game, and they realized that there were more games in this worked, and that there were more stories in this world that could be told that weren’t pulp stories.
The idea for this game has existed for a long time. But it’s only with the success of Fate core that Fred and Rob were really able to say “Well, we have the money to do this, so let’s do this.” So, we’re doing it.
Douglas: It’s amazing – I can see the same thing with the Avengers. A movie that makes a billion dollars all of sudden makes it pretty clear that there are going to be a lot more movies that branch off that. Nothing encourages you to diversify than success.
Tell me a little but about the demolished ones. Sort of switching into Lovecraftian Horror mode: what was your inspiration to doing that?
Brian: Steve Russell came to me, and said “I have this idea for a game, and I don’t have time to write it. I’d like to write a game that’s sort of a murder mystery, and then there’s amnesia. The players have amnesia. So they’re trying to figure out who they are as they are trying to figure out who the killer is.”
We brainstormed back and forth a bit, and it started to become clearer that we wanted it to be set in a pseudo-Victorian setting, with some Lovecraftian elements, and then we realized that we both really liked the movie Dark City, and we started to take a lot of cues from that.
And that’s kind of where the Demolished Ones came from. Amnesia + Murder Mystery + Dark City + Lovecraft + Victorian…go.
And then I went, and I wrote, and I created the Demolished Ones and that’s pretty much all it was. It was developed in tandem with Fate core and I used a lot of lessons I learned on that.
Douglas: Lovecraft is…I started to read it, and it was one of those things where I had a bit of insomnia, and I had talked to Ken Hite. I have a lot of friends who are really into it. I should really read it.
I know a reasonable amount of Lovecraft mythos, and I’ve read the Monster Hunters stuff, and it’s got all the Lovecraft woven into it, and I’ve seen some of the movies, and of course Hellboy has got all the dark ones, and it’s very clearly Mythos inspired, etc. etc. But I never read the originals.
I was having insomnia, and I really wanted to have something to read, and it’s like midnight on one of these days, and I’m not sleeping and I know that I’m going to be up for another couple of hours and not be able to sleep, and I was like “Let me try some Lovecraft.” And I start to read and I was like “Oh, no.” It’s this very complicated, deep . . . wow, that entire page was one sentence.
That’s not something I’m going to read bleary-eyed with insomnia. So I need to get back to it . . . I’ll probably take it with me on my trip to Hong Kong on Monday. It’s dark and it’s not something where you are expecting the ham-fisted heroes to wade in, and slug the monsters and walk away.
So what is it about Lovecraft and that deep, dark well that is so compelling? Because fundamentally it’s stacked against the players. The best they can do is go insane and push back the darkness for a few years.
What is it about that makes so many people that say “I really want my game to be set in . . . this!”
Brian: Well, horror in general tends to be stacked against the main characters, and I think that people enjoy horror movies, and fiction, and games, because it’s a way to explore that feeling of helplessness and that fascination with the macabre in a sort of safe setting.
If you’re playing a Call of Cthulhu game, and your character is being accosted by night gaunts and is slowly going mad, and is bleeding from several places, and things look really grim . . . you can sort of enjoy that from a distance, and step back and go on with your life afterward.
It’s a way to confront the things we’re afraid of, I think, and not actually have to deal with them in reality. I think Lovecraft is just sort of an extension of that.
Why it gained this amazing traction in the nerd community is not something I’m really clear on. Something about giant elder gods and tentacle-monsters must clearly speak to something in our psyches. I’m not sure what makes it special as opposed to other horror, any more than I’m sure what makes vampire special as well.
Douglas: Fair enough. That’s fair enough.
What do you think the Demolished Ones brings to the table that Call of Cthulhu, or Delta Green, or other Lovecraftian or Mythos based games don’t bring to the table. Or rather, rather than don’t, how does the Demolished Ones intergrate things that is unique, that other games don’t?
Brian: Demolished Ones give you a lot of player agency, but takes it away from you at the same time.
You create your character as a part of play. You get a lot of control over who you think your character is, and the story is very player-driven. It gets less and less specific as the adventure progresses, to allow for the players to come up with a variety of different solutions.
At the same time, there is a point in the story (spoiler warning!) that you find out that the things you thought about yourself . . . are not true.
All of these elements of your character that you created are actually lies, and you start learning about the truth of yourself. And even though you have a lot of control over how you tackle various obstacles that are put against you…I’m not sure there is a happy ending in the Demolished Ones.
Even if you manage to overthrow the bad guys and escape, I can’t see the characters that survive the Demolished Ones going on to live happy productive lives.
I don’t know, I’m not sure I’ve actually answered the question, but I guess it’s…um . . .
Douglas: Let me ask a question, because it sounds to me . .
Is this something where you’d play out a campaign over the course of six months, or is this something like you’d have 3 to 5 sessions, as if it were a play, for example, and then you’re done.
It almost sounds like every time you step up to it you evolve a character and tell a slightly different variation on the same story.
Brian: Yeah. The Demolished Ones has an adventure included in the book, and you’re meant to play that adventure, and that adventure takes you through creating your character, and learning more about your character, and exploring the city that you’re in.
You can certainly play beyond that, but there is nothing really in that book that…some general advice on how to move beyond the adventure in the Demolished Ones, but there is not really a lot of stuff…it’s really meant to be played as a finite story.
Douglas: It’s not “Here’s Golarion, go exploring.”
Brian: Right. You’re given a small area to explore. It’s one city, and specific things are happening in that city, and the way the adventure is structured is sort of part of the conceit of the game.
I think to sort of answer what the Demolished Ones do that a lot of other Lovecraftian fiction does not, is that Lovecraftian fiction focused on the cosmic horror of being completely helpless against these unimaginably powerful beings – and there is certainly some of that in the Demolished Ones – but the Demolished Ones is much more about personal horror.
It’s about finding out who you really are, and being horrified by it.
Basically, if you make a character for the Demolished Ones, you can be pretty sure you’re going to find out that you are a reprehensible human being within the context of that game. And finding out how you are reprehensible is part of the horror of the game.
Douglas: It’s stripping out the veneer of self-worth, and saying “When we say man is a fallen creature, let me show you just what fallen means.”
Interesting. Sounds like it would be…it could be immersive in a good way, and it could be immersive in a dangerous way for the right or wrong person.
Brian: You need the right group to play it, to buy into the idea, and be okay that they are going to learn the things they thought they knew about their characters are true.
Douglas: Not heroic escapism.
Brian: There is some amount of PvP in the Demolished Ones as well, so people have to be OK with that as well.
Douglas: Interesting. Different.
So what’s next for you and Fate, as those two are tied together – or to broaden it. What’s next in Fate-style games for you?
Brian: I can talk in generalities about…
Douglas: Nothing specific!
Brian: So there is a project that I’m working on that I will only refer to as “Secret Project R,” that is another game I’m creative director on. I’m really excited about it – there is not really a lot that I can say about it now, but keep an eye out for talk about Secret Project R, and it’s something that we are currently working on, and when we are given the go-ahead to talk about it, I have feeling it is going to be something people are really interested in.
Douglas: Okay. Fun.
You’re coming to Secret Project R, and were invited to Shadow of the Century – what makes Fate a good game to design in? You said you gave yourself a crash course, and you’re very comfortable designing in that game: what makes Fate a good game to design in, and what games are good to design in in Fate. So get the um and the yang of it.
Brian: Fate, as I’ve said, is a very flexible system – it’s not universal by any stretch of the imagination, but there is a lot you can do in Fate.
What I enjoy about designing in Fate, is coming up with ways to represent the various things that I’m trying to model in the game.
So as an example, I designed Adventure City Stories, which is the first setting that was released through the Fate Patreon, and it was sort of cyberpunk superhero setting.
The thing that I wanted to model most in that game was the fact that when superheroes clash is that it lays waste to large swaths of the environment. It causes a lot of collateral damage, and coming up with a way to model that in the game was a lot of fun. What I finally settled on was this idea of collateral damage effects.
You can make your power do something extra nifty, but the cost is destroy something nearby – something bad happens as a result. So, you can turn your regular fire blast into this enormous gout of fire, but now everything in the environment is on fire and a lot of innocents have been hurt and stuff like that.
Fate allows for a lot of that kind of…I’ve been doing developmental work on a lot of the Fate Patreon stuff that’s been coming out. I’ve been helping our new Fate authors figure out how to hack Fate, and making sure their mechanics are sound, and the variety of things I’ve seen come out of that project, is kind of staggering.
When you look at the stuff that’s in the Fate System Toolkit, and the stuff that’s in Fate Worlds 1 and 2, and the stuff that’s coming out in Fate Patreon, there are a lot of different ways to play Fate, and a variety of different settings . . . and that I think is it’s a lot of fun to design for. There are really only like 3 or 4 components to a Fate character, but there are a lot of ways you can twist those components to do something different.
Douglas: Neat. That’s cool. When you were talking about collateral damage, that reminds me of two things, and they’re both related.
One is my reaction to the movie Man of Steel, where you got clashing Kryptonians in both Metropolis and Smallville, which did not end well for Metropolis or Smallville.
The other thing is . . . I didn’t lead him there, but I had a interaction with Dean Cain – Superman from the Adventures of Lois and Clark – where he actually remarked how it was a very non-Superman thing to purposefully throw his foes through buildings, and the amount of collateral damage was very unique for a superman setting.
They sort of did it a little in Superman 2, and Christopher Reeve was like “…the people!” it was a little like Spock: “…the women!” [From the unaired pilot, The Cage.]
It was a very shocking thing, and then to have that kind of destruction was very jarring to me.
Every time I see it I kind of have the same reaction . . . I’m warming to the movie over time a little bit more, but it was tough to watch because it did not feel very Superman-y. At the time.
Brian: Man of Steel is a Fate game where the player playing Superman decided he was going to use this collateral damage effect all the time, and not really care too much about the consquences. You’re right, that doesn’t feel particular Superman-y to me.
Douglas: The one thing that was interesting to me, though – and now Christopher Rice has to drink, because he transcribes all of these, and he says every time I use my verbal tick (which is to say “that’s interesting”) he has to take a shot of tequila, and one of the previous ones he said I almost killed him.
Anyways one of the interesting things about it is I think it sets up a lot of the complicated interactions that the other superheroes will have with this earth-bound god pretty well. Because the government doesn’t necessarily trust him: He’s worse than any terrorist attack that has ever happened in the history of anything.
He leveled an entire city. It wasn’t just 9/11 and the WTC and the building next to it. It was all of Downtown New York, although in this particular case, I think Metropolis bounces around somewhere between Kansas City and Delaware.
In any case, it’s easy to see where Batman vs. Superman, Bruce Wayne would look at this guy and say “He’s never setting one foot in Gotham City, ever, no way, no how.” This guy is as much a threat as any bad guy ever dreamed of being, and that’s if he sneezes at the wrong time.
Brian: Yeah, it’s kind of thing where yes, he saved the world, but he completely destroyed an entire section of Metropolis, and he clearly has the power to do that whenever he wants to, and there is nothing anyone can do to stop him that he’s doing his best. And that’s terrifying [laughs].
Douglas: Especially, it’s terrifying for governments and terrifying for a lot of the pseudo-mythical people – I actually know a bunch or have interacted with CEOs, and they wish they had the power described to all CEOs “I’m pulling all the strings, mwhahaha!” They wish that they could control things the way that a Lex Luthor or, on the good side of things the way Oliver Queen or Bruce Wayne could theoretically do it. There is an awful lot of wildcard there.
It’ll be interesting to see how well they develop that, because if they do that and drop it, it’s a waste. Because they really crushed some of the Superman mythos to tell the story in that way. If they don’t pick it up and run that football all the way to the frickin’ end zone in a satisfying way, I’m going to be pretty torqued. (I’m sure that’ll matter to a lot of people.)
If you are going to do something like that to the story you better go the whole way and make it interesting.
Okay. So. That was a digression, but it was fun: a little nerdity there.
So let’s talk more about you.
Becoming. That’s something you’ve written and self-published. So talk a little bit about the general premise of this game, which seems really interesting and different.
So tell me a little bit about what Becoming is, for those of us, including myself, who aren’t aware of the intricacies of it.
Brian: Becoming is a game in which a single hero is trying to complete a quest, and the forces arrayed against him or her are trying to tear the hero down, over time.
It’s a game about the fact that in order to save the things that you want to save, you have to give them up, and you have to change who you are on a fundamental basis.
It’s sort of the conceit of old westerns where in order to stop the barbarians you have to take up the gun, but taking up the gun makes you a barbarian.
The game achieves this by one player playing the hero, and three players playing Fates – which are a little bit like GMs – they have some of the power of GMs, but not all the powers of GMs, and everyone is competing against everyone else.
It’s an adversarial game: there is a winner at the end.
The game revolves around making bargains. So in any given scene, the Fate who was opposing the hero is going to have way more power than the hero. In order to even the odds, the hero has to make a bargain with the other two Fates, and give away pieces of himself, in order to get power so he can win the scene.
The story that this winds up creating is, basically, that there are one of two outcomes typically. One is that the falls before the end of the quest and is no longer the hero. Two is that the hero completes the hero, but is no longer recognizable as the person he once was. Most of the time when the hero completes the quest, in my experience, the hero has just a scrap or two left of what made him a hero in the first place.
That’s kind of Becoming in the nutshell.
Douglas: Sort of like Mal Reynolds in the beginning of the Serenity movie.
Brian: Right. It’s designed as a one shot and takes two to three hours to play.
Douglas: Interesting. It’s an intriguing blend of…is it a blend of roleplaying and a board game, or is it more like [coughs]. Or is like it’s a board game and you’ve got narrative style tactical choices you can make.
Brian: There are certainly some elements I borrowed from board games, but for the most part it’s a very narrative game. Like most of the game is you describing, the various people describing what’s happening and everything is resolved by a single roll. The game typically takes place over nine scenes, and in each of those nine scenes, there is one roll. So the dice get rolled nine times in the entirety of the game.
That’s kind of . . . aside from the dice rolling mechanic, the only other mechanic in the game really, is how the bargains work, and how do you slowly subvert the hero.
Douglas: Is that something like…do you have a deck of evil things you can do to the hero, or do you just sort of say….how do you come up with the things that go back and forth?
Brian: The hero has nine traits in front of him. Some of them are allies and some are strengths, and some are values, and stuff like that and these are the thing that make the hero strong.
The hero can call on these things in order to get dice in the conflict in each scene, but typically it’s not enough dice to beat the Fate that’s rolling against him. In order to get dice from those things he has to risk them.
So like failing the roll means a lot of that stuff is going to get hurt.
The way the bargaining works is that the other two Fates take on the role of tempters, and come in and say “Well this happens, and you have this choice and if you make this choice, I’ll give you these dice, but you give me this.” You put a negative trait on this ally or something like that.
Slowly over the course of the game more and more negative traits pile up on these things, and as more of them pile up, they subvert and become completely unusable to the hero, and become the reverse of what they were. Some ally dies, or becomes a painful memory or a virtue might become some sort of flaw, and basically the hero loses if he loses all of them. If that happens – whichever Fate basically did the most damage to the hero over the course of the game gets to narrate how the game closes.
Douglas: Would you say…is this game…there was a big article recently, or apparently all the Green Bay Packers are all into Settlers of Catan. Is this a game that’s going to be accessible to the non-nerd contingent? What people are going to play and enjoy this?
Brian: I think it could be. The mechanics are not super-complex…
Douglas: Let me interrupt. I’m not really thinking about the mechanics, because people will do some very complicated things with dice and games and things. Poker is not necessarily very straightforward and you have to memorize some things.
I’m actually more thinking about the same way that I think Trail of Cthulhu and all that stuff – Gumshoe mechanics are not that complicated, but I think it requires an awesome GM to tell a good story that doesn’t feel like a railroad or something that’s lost. The narrative part of this seems like it would be the hardest for people who are not immersed in acting and playacting or that sort of thing to grasp. Is there a swath of the rules or method that makes it accessible to people?
Brian: I think there are two groups, I think, that this game primarily appeals to, and would be at its best. One of them is a group that’s used to improv theater, but not necessarily used to games, and one of them is a group really steeped in indie gaming.
Lot of people who come from a more traditional RPG background are thrown by the amount of control they have over the scenes, and the amount of story that they have to narrate. You do have to narrate a lot in order to make the game interesting.
I think the people who do not have a proclivity for narration probably wouldn’t feel very comfortable playing the game. It’s a game that requires all four of the players to really give everything. You can’t just sort of sit back and wait for things to happen – if you do that you’re going to lose. If you are just observing, you are not going to do particularly well in the game. It works at its best when everyone has bought in, and is willing to sort of give equal voice to the characters in the story.
Douglas: It sounds to me a little bit like there is a third group who would really like, this which is writers. I could see Louis McMaster Bujold whose method of writing seems to be – and she said this herself – “What terrible thing can I do to my characters next?” and that sounds right up the alley of this game, like a mechanics-way to get to this.
Brian: And that’s actually a thing that I’ve seen happen in the games. I’ve seen the hero player deliberately lose, because they thought it was more interesting that way. And that’s really part of the intent – yes, you can win or lose, but ultimately whatever everyone’s getting is a really good story, and the only thing you win is, by winning the game, is the ability to narrate how it closes.
Brian: I do think that a group of writers who all sort of know about storycraft and what makes a interesting story would probably have a lot of fun playing this game.
Douglas: Cool. So I’d like to segue a bit into the business side of things, but still stay on Becoming, for a little bit. You decided to self-publish Becoming. Why did you go that route?
Brian: At the time it felt like something I needed to do.
I really wanted to self-publish something. I wanted to…I had this desire to bring something from concept to fruition, and be the one running the whole thing. And I wanted to run my own kickstarter.
And I learned a lot during that experience. I’ve not yet decided if I want to do it again, but I’m glad that I did it. I also think…I have a feeling that there are not a lot companies that would publish “Becoming” because it is a game that appeals to a very particular kind of person. It doesn’t have a lot of mass appeal.
Douglas: What did you learn…if you were going to advise people who were like “I’m going to write my own game, and self-publish my own game, and run my own Kickstarter.”
In your classic business school fashion: what are the three things that are awesome about that plan and what are the ten things – because [chuckles] if it were easy, everyone would do it, right? When I was in mini-B-school, they said “here’s my advice about joint ventures: Don’t.”
Probably the general advice about self-publishing is: “Don’t.”
Kickstarter, based on the amount of…some of the interesting ones you see out there is probably: “Cautious, if not don’t.”
What is it that you learned, you know, things to never do again and what are the real things that made you say “Yeah, in the end, this was the right thing to do, and here were the great things that happened because of that.”
Brian: I would say first of all don’t expect to get rich. I have made a profit on Becoming, but it’s a very, very modest profit. It’s not enough for me to quit my day job. It’s basically enough to sort of cover the costs of making the book, and have a little extra money to buy a couple of video games.
Douglas: Just enough to tempt you to do it again.
Brian: Yeah. It’s not…it hasn’t been any kind of runaway success for me. And those runaway successes are very, very rare.
The thing about kickstarter is, when you do have a runaway success, that doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to make a lot of money in profit.
Douglas: I kind of got that feeling with Ogre, which brought in almost a million dollars, but it was so huge, that I very much get the feeling that net/net Steve Jackson thought it was an awesome game, but boy that could have been a lot more profitable, if at all, than it was.
Brian: We’re really glad that we did it, but Ogre is, for the most part, a way thank the fans. It’s not really a profit device.
Douglas: It was not really meant to be, right? When you start off with hey give me five or ten or twenty thousand dollars to republish a 30 or 40 year old game into its original format, and then it explodes into almost a seven figure take. And as Steve said, it could have been a seven-figure take if they had decided to keep going, and you guys wisely considered “enough.” At some point you had to do this monster.
Brian: Fate core is the same way – it made about half a million dollars. But Fred tweeted not too long ago – maybe last week, that after all expenses and salaries had been paid, this year Evil Hat had made $400 in profit. Which is not a lot for a company to make. But it was sort of what he was shooting for, maybe a little bit better than what he was shooting for, so he’s pretty happy with it.
Even a runaway success on kickstarter can cost you a lot if you don’t plan well.
Douglas: There are two parts of profit and revenue is only one of them.
Brian: Right. There is a really good blogpost that Ryan Macklin wrote not long ago on his blog, that talks about all the things that can eat up your money or time when you are self-publishing.
For example, when I was doing Becoming, I had all of the writing written and edited, and I had most of the art, and I was ready to go to layout and I realized it didn’t have an index.
I didn’t budget for this. I have no idea how to get an index. I asked around and I got the name of an indexer and paid for an index. But it was one of those things I had just not planned for, and it was extra money that I had to spend, and extra time that I had to spend, that I didn’t realize I was going to.
You have to plan for things like, if you’re hiring freelancers, not all of them are going to get things to you on time.
Douglas: Right and even if you do they do you might not like it.
Brian: Right. You might need to do extensive revisions.
There are a lot of – not hidden costs – but costs that a lot of people don’t realize are there when it comes to writing and self-publishing a game, and doing a Kickstarter. And self-publishing in general. This applies to fiction too.
One of the things you absolutely have to realize to do is pay yourself for your own time. Because it has value, and you’re working on the project like everyone else. If you’re going to pay your editor, the person who does the writing needs to be paid too, and if that’s you then that’s you.
That’s another where I was like “I just did all this budgeting and I realized that I’m not paying myself anything,” and in fact this is going to cost me $2,000, what am I going to do?
There are a lot of costs associated with bringing a project to fruition. You need to do a lot of planning, and you need to talk to a lot of people who have done it before, so you can get their take on how to do things. And you might also get some recommendations for who to use some things.
If you just sort of go into it thinking “Oh! Kickstarter will make the money that I need, and I’ll write and get someone to edit it, and it’ll all be fine” you might wind up in the hole.
You have to be careful about that.
Douglas: That makes a lot of sense to me.
Brian: Was that three things?
Douglas: Actually, I just want to make one more comment, which is about the business, and then we’ll be talking about the business, and I wanted to ask you about the gaming market, and some of your insights – not about Steve Jackson Games – but as a marketer who does professional marketing in the roleplaying game business.
Actually, I shouldn’t say roleplaying games, it’s really for the boardgame, and the hobby games market.
But you said “Oh, Evil Hat made $400,” probably as a company. But to the point where you’ve got revenue, and you’ve got costs, and you’ve got profit. If they paid all their people, and they paid all their people something to keep them fed, and all their artists are happy, and you got a continued supply…breaking even on a hobby game like that is not a bad outcome.
Brian: That’s the thing. Evil Hat made $400 as a company in profit, but covered something like $500,000 in expenses. That includes salaries, and work for hire, and all of that stuff…
Douglas: …and distribution and advertising (if there is such a thing). There’s a lot that goes into that.
Brian: Everyone who needed to get paid got paid. With a bit of money left over.
Douglas: You say “Oh, look, they didn’t make any profit,” but there are a lot of very wealthy people working in non-profit industries.
Brian: That’s the thing, when you’re…running a Kickstarter – if you plan on just paying yourself out of profits for the Kickstarter, you need to be okay with the fact that you might not get any money. In fact you might lose money.
If you want to be guaranteed to walk away with some money to pay your bills with, you need to pay yourself for your work. You need to figure what you value your time at, and budget that into the Kickstarter.
Douglas: That’s fair. That’s one of the reasons why I say to myself that the only way I would ever do this as a profession would be to win the lottery and start a hobby company. A vanity company, where I would do this where I would be able to make an “endowed chair” and pay myself and pay the people who would work for me and whatever. There would be no way that I could…I suppose that I could be that talented, but if that were true, I’d already be making money in the business, I suppose.
I don’t think that I’m going to suddenly sell a hundred thousand copies of GURPS Technical Grappling any time soon. Or whatever that would take.
Brian: And actually, the other thing about self-publishing, and in particular in things like Kickstarter where you are asking people to pay for something before you get it: Be realistic about your timeline. Then add a buffer.
Like I backed a number of Kickstarters where they had a very optimistic projection about when they were going to get the final product to someone, and they just blew that by a number of months or years.
Douglas: Then you feel the wrath of Erik Tenkar.
Brian: Right. People will react in one of two ways to that: they will get really angry and start ranting on your kickstarter message boards, and everything will start to look really negative there, or they’ll forget about you. That’s almost worse.
It’s being unrealistic about your timeline, and overpromising and under-delivering things to people, is a really good way to burn goodwill. If you plan on doing a second Kickstarter, you are not doing yourself any favors.
Douglas: right. My job is technology research and development and deployment. The general rule is okay “Write down your timeline, multiply that timeline by 1.5, minimum, and you will probably only be a little late.” You might be a little late, you could be a lot late. We had case where its true of expenses as well. What do you think you need, and by the way, you probably need more.
Brian: There’s always something unexpected. The thing is, if you plan for more expenses than you actually need, and more time than you actually need, and you wind up under-budget and on time . . . then everyone is happy. So why NOT do that?
Douglas: So talking a little about the gaming market – what would your…somewhere between professional knowledge and professional guess. What would you say is the overall size of the tabletop roleplaying – not computers or World of Warcraft and stuff – but the tabletop roleplaying market these days…
Brian: It’s very small. I’m not sure I’d be able to guess at a specific number, but in comparison to even something like hobby board games, it’s very very small.
I know for example as healthy and successful as D&D is right now, it only makes a fraction of what Magic the Gathering makes.
Douglas: Right, and Steve alluded to that as well.
Brian: That’s pretty typical. Like Becoming…I consider Becoming a pretty successful game. It made a profit for me. I sold through my entire first print run, and I’m still selling stuff on Drive Thru. I sold maybe 300 copies of that game.
Douglas: Okay. Interesting. That makes me feel a little bit better about my book.
Brian: If you can sell 300 copies of a self-published indie game, you are doing pretty well.
Douglas: That makes sense. That’s consistent with things like Tim Shorts – I don’t know if you know if you’ve ever seen Gothridge Manor, a zine that he publishes. It’s gone through six iteratins, or six or seven issues and it’s OSR or D&D friendly, and it’s usually a small adventure and a couple of things and yeah I bet he only goes through a couple hundred copies.
And it’s very well done and he gets some cool people to contribute to it, but it’s amazingly small. It’s amazing how small some of this really is.
Brian: Just on the RPG market, there are the people who publish the game, and get maybe like the tens of people to buy their game, and there are people like me who sell a couple hundred, and the really successful indie designers, who might have a kickstarter that grosses $500,000 like Evil Hat, and then you have the Paizos and Wizards of the Coasts of the world, who are paying multiple salaries . . .
Douglas: And can have a hierarchy
Brian: . . . and have a very recognizable brand, and stuff like that. Even between these tiers within the RPG market, there are orders of magnitude.
Douglas: What would you say…if you were to hazard a guess, D&D5, do you think that’s 10 or 100 thousand or a million – I doubt it’s a million . . . but it could be. How many copies of the PHB do you think were sold?
Brian: The PHB topped the best seller charts for non-fiction books for like a week and I would imagine it would have to sell a lot to do that.
Douglas: One would think.
Brian: I mean, Fifth Edition is an incredibly, incredibly popular book by RPG standards. I would probably guess in the 100s of thousands. You’re right, probably not a million. Maybe 400-500 thousand?
Douglas: What do you think the challenges are in treating with the RPG/tabletop market as a whole? What challenges do you face when addressing the gaming market?
Brian: Oh, man, there are a bunch. So one is that it has never been easier to self-publish, but it is very difficult to get noticed.
A lot of people are self-publishing precisely because it is so easy to do these days. And that’s great, and that means there is a lot of really cool stuff out there. But a lot of it doesn’t get noticed. It’s hard to stand out in a crowd.
Another thing is I think that fans of hobby games have a skewed perspective of how big gaming organizations are. I remember seeing a tweet a while ago that “If Wizards of the Coast didn’t have a 50-man playtesting department running the numbers on Fifth edition 8-hours a day, then they were failing.” And I was like . . . I think they probably have two or three people in their playtesting department. I think that’s a really skewed idea.
Douglas: I’d bet they have a couple of people wearing a couple of hats.
Brian: Yeah, I mean I know at Steve Jackson Games I know our playtester coordinator is also the Munchkin Hireling – so he does both jobs.
I think most game companies look to outside help for playtesting, they recruit people from the outside, because you get fresh ideas that way. Because these companies just aren’t that big. Steve Jackson Games is only about 40 people. That’s another challenge.
And then, the hobby game market is very resistant to change. There are a lot of manifestations of that.
One is that people react very strongly when they perceive canon being messed with. That’s a big challenge for designers who want to do something different with their property. I tend to think that designers care a lot less about canon than fans do.
You also see that resistance to change manifesting in the fact that, like, sexism and racism are still huge problems in this industry. Like I can count on the fingers on two hands the number of female game designers that I know, and the reason is they are frequently forced out of the industry. That’s a big challenge too, it makes it very difficult to make things that cater to audiences other than white men, because people get angry about that.
There are a number of challenges – I think they are all surmountable challenges – I think that we can move past them, and we will move past them, but that doesn’t make them any less true.
Douglas: Fair enough. It seems at least from – maybe chatter – and this is tough. The thing also, and that you alluded to a little bit, is that you’ve got a fairly, maybe ossified or little bit…there is a GURPS advantage that I’m blanking on here. The group is a bit insular. Hidebound is the word I’m looking for.
I think there is a couple things. One is the perception is the games are bigger than they are and just to pick on GURPS because I’m in the forums all the time, and I write for it and whatever. How many times is the same conversation going to happen? “Steve Jackson Games needs to start publishing adventures.”
- Take a universal system, with a small following, that can do any genre, and you’re going to write an adventure – unless you are writing for Dungeon Fantasy (which is the only thing that really has traction, which is widespread) you’re writing for five people. You’re writing “Oh, I would really like to publish my campaign.”
Brian: That’s the thing: the companies are small because the audiences are small. There are incredibly vocal people out there, who want their particular need to be served and, it should be, but companies exist to make money. They have to be able to pay their employees to do these things.
There are…I can tell you right now that the people on the GURPS team want nothing more than to give GURPS fans what they want.
Douglas: I know all of them, so yeah. That’s very, very true.
Brian: Ultimately, if GURPS isn’t making money then [throws up hands] what do you do? You have to produce the things that make money, in order to support the brand.
So if you have something that’s wildly successful like Munchkin, say, that just keeps on selling, that allows you to pursue some of those passion projects a little bit with less risk – but you still have to pick and choose.
And like I said, there are only 40 people in the company, and maybe 10 or 15 of those are creative staff. So there are only so many people to do the work.
Douglas: It’s a little bit stronger of tooth to tail ratio as in the military, where in the military you frequently got 10 people supporting one trigger puller. It’s sort of that way. You got four or five to one.
Sometimes, it seems, and you hear a bit about it and a lot of pretty popular games like board games and tabletop games – not necessarily roleplaying games all the time, but do you think that there is a bit of a board game or tabletop game renaissance going on? Or is just kind of maybe the same people, retweeting to the same crowd the same information, so it just looks bigger because we have the opportunity to be a lot more vocal about the things that we like.
Brian: I think there is a little bit of both. I think in terms of content, I’m seeing a lot more interesting stuff lately than I did ten years ago. I feel like my needs as a gamer are being served a lot more thoroughly than they ever have in the past.
In that sense, yes, I think there is a tabletop renaissance going on. But I do think that the nature of social media, and Internet forums, and all of these ways of communicating with the communities that exist around these games tend to create echo chambers.
I know this happens to me too, with the people that I follow on Twitter are all talking about the same games, and then I’m flabbergasted when no one is playing these games. I’m like: “Where are all the indie games?” It’s because I’m talking to the same 30 or 40 people who all have the same interests I do.
Douglas: Right. If they were that popular they wouldn’t be indie, they would be the Man [chuckles].
Brian: I think that that echo chamber effect, which has really existed since the Internet started, has a way of amplifying perception with the size of these things beyond what is true. But that doesn’t mean that the quality of the content is not there, and we may think…I think we are seeing better games these days than we have in a long time, like in the last five to ten years.
I’m really excited to be a gamer, because I’m seeing new things every day. I’m seeing things that challenge my assumptions, as a gamer, in really cool ways.
Douglas: So one more market question that I want to throw out and is maybe the last thing we’ll talk about.
I recently came across the statistic that “Fantasy Sports” (football, basketball, etc.) – people who will get together, obsess over stats, follow through on the stats over the long – call it a plot arc – it lasts for a certain number of games, and they interact vocally, frequently, and passionately with a broad community and shared experience.
Forty million people play or are involved with Fantasy Sports and they each spend a bit more than $100 a year on that hobby. That’s a 4 billion dollar market.
How do we convert or capture that kind of revenue in RPGland? I have to figure the overall gaming market including Piazo, including Wizards of the Coast, and probably the next ten or twenty companies maybe a sum to a fraction of those two. And the sum of it doesn’t even touch Magic the Gathering.
How do we convert . . . How do we look at…the fantasy sports – the people that do fantasy sports. In a way they are natural gamers, I’d almost say that they’re natural GURPS gamers because of the obsession with the stats and the numbers and whatever.
And that’s not a slam on GURPS and stuff. It’s a big market. It’s 4 billion dollars right? That’s a chunk of change that could support a lot of creative thought, a lot of direction. How do we convert/capture and tap in that kind of popularity?
Douglas: I guess if you knew that…
Brian: Lenny Balsera and I have had a number of conversations about this very topic.
The thing about fantasy sports, is it is tapping into something they’re already interested in. The people who are interested in fantasy sports are already watching football or basketball or whatever. Playing their fantasy football league is not like an additional level of effort beyond just watching those games.
The second thing is in most of those cases, there is the potential to make them money. Which is not something that is typically the case in tabletop games. Third…
Douglas: Whoever levels up first gets the $100 pool.
The third thing is it’s very easy. Fantasy sports are very easy to track. There are apps on the internet that do it for you.
The same cannot be said of tabletop gaming. Certainly there are games that are very simple, but there are also games that are very, very complex, and that scare people away.
There are themes that are very accessible, and themes that are not. One of the most…one of my favorite games…one that I think is very easy to play, and is very strategically complex, and just a lot of fun, is Ticket to Ride, but for years I resisted playing it, because I was like “Why would I play a game about trains? I’m not interested in trains.” Then I played and it was “Oh, I see. Now I understand why I want to play a game about trains.”
That hesitation exists in the non-gaming market, like, a hundredfold. It’s like . . . a lot of gaming/geek culture is starting to become more normalized with the Lord of the Rings movies, the Hobbit movies, and all the Marvel movies, and all these very nerdy pursuits becoming mainstream.
I think we are getting to the point where more people might start coming into the hobby, because they are like “Oh, I really want to…” – and this is a really bad example because the Marvel Heroic RPG doesn’t exist anymore, except in out of print books that you hunt down somewhere – but like “…I’ve seen the Avengers, I really like the Avengers, I want more Avengers-y stuff, here is this game you can play that’s easy to play, and allows you to play the Avengers and continue their adventures.”
That, I think, is how we tap into that market. We find something they are already interested in, and give them a way to keep enjoying that thing, in a way that doesn’t tax them or scare them away.
Because the simple fact of the matter is not everyone has the wherewithal to game. I know my parents would play some games. Like they would play Trivial Pursuit and Cards Against Humanity. I just found out over the Chirstmas Break that they owned a Cards Against Humanity set: That blew my mind. But if I sit something down like Munchkin in front of them they don’t understand.
Douglas: I get that. It’s funny…it’s not funny to me, someone can laugh at this. But I…for the better part of six months, if not a year, I had D&D5 on my wishlist. Because I knew it was going to be big, and I had started to play D&D type games, like Swords and Wizardry.
I need to participate in the broader hobby that’s more than GURPS. I had this on my wishlist forever and christmas came and went. My birthday came and went. I did get it, but I didn’t get it from my parents.
I am technically a gaming professional, I have a reasonably popular blog, I’ve been published 8 or 10 times, I have a book of my own. I do all this gaming journalism . . . and not once in the last 30 years have my parents got me a gaming book. It’s like come on. Really?
My inlaws stepped up to the task. That’s not a sob story, but it tells the reluctance of a large swath of the people to even dip their toes in that culture.
Brian: Part of it I think is because there has been so much stigma to it in the past.
Part of it is, I think, our fault: Gamers in general are very elitist about their hobby. They don’t like letting other people into it. There are a lot of people who would rather sneer at non-gamers, and push them away from the hobby, then welcome them into it.
I think in order to get the hobby to a healthier place, and a more accepted place, and a place where it can really start making money and serving everyone’s needs, we all have to be ambassadors for gaming. We all have to people who go out and say “Hey do you want to learn this, I’ll teach you. Don’t worry about it, I’ll only teach you the stuff you need to learn off the bat. We’ll tackle the rest as we come to it. No one is going to laugh at you. We’re going to take it easy.”
We need to share our enthusiasm, and show people why we are enthusiastic about these things, and we need to do it in a way that doesn’t scare them off, and do it in a way that doesn’t make them feel like they are being talked down to, or being sneered at. Gamers are in general, bad at it.
Douglas: I remember seeing a couple surveys kicking around – and I won’t necessarily give them high points for sound methodology. People are like “Gamers must be a cut above intelligence, interest, diversity, or depth of mind.” The surveys I have run into have basically suggested that that’s a crock. The cross section of gamers is just a small cross section of normal people. You have some intelligent people and some not so intelligent people.
Brian: I think where gamers excel is self-congratulatory patting on the back. I think that a large part of that comes from the fact that there was such a stigma. Gamers were, until fairly recently, outcasts, and bullied, and picked on, and in some cases that’s still the case. I think that that sort of elitist attitude is a self-defense mechanism, but it is one we need to overcome if we are going to make the hobby into something everyone can enjoy.
The way you stop the bullying is by being an elitist is to get the bullies to enjoy the same things you do [laughes].
Douglas: That’s the thing. There is a sort of self-perpetuation to it.
Maybe instead of saying “Gee, how do we tap into the fantasy sports market?” we say “What are the traits in fantasy sports that support a 4 billion dollar market?”
If I show up and say “I’m a Minnesota Vikings fan,” other than the Packers fans, who will mock me ruthlessly (though there is a general back and forth there), they’ll say “Oh, I’m a football fan, did you watch the game?” “Yes, I did.”
Brian: I used to live right outside of Philly, and there was thing where if you were a Phillies fan or an Nagles you had immediate acceptance no matter to what bar you went.
Douglas: What part did you live? I grew up there.
Brian: Fairless Hills.
Douglas: Oh! I went to school there. I went to Pennsbury High School! Look at that! That’s awesome. Did you go to high school there? Grow up there?
Brian: No, I moved there after college. I lived there before I worked in the gaming industry.
But yeah, that’s the kind of thing we need to foster. If someone walks into a game store, we need to not be like “Oh, who is this person? Does he or she really know how to game?” We need to be like “Welcome friend! Let me show you what’s going on here.”
We need to embrace people with open arms into the hobby, because that’s the only way the hobby will grow and stay healthy.
Douglas: When I was in grad school I worked at a bicycle store. I worked there because I was always in the bicycle store, because I was into cycling at the time, and they offered me a job as a retail sales guy, because even as a nonemployee I was selling more than their sales guys because I was so into it, and passionate about it.
The thing is, you’d have some people come into the store and I’d say “well what kind of bike do you ride already?” Some would come in and say “Well I ride a Kestrel” And at the time that was one of the only monocoque super carbon fiber awesome thing, and it’s still beautiful to look at. But if someone comes in saying they are riding a Trek 5000 or a Kestrel or whatever, you talk to them in a certain way.
But sometimes you go in, and people come in, and you ask what kind of bike do they ride, and they say “a green one.” You can’t say “Oh, well I’m not talking to you.” “It’s well, okay, when you go out, what do you do, do you jump over curbs, or do you just go back and forth, and are your interested in ever doing X.” “Oh, I’m never going to be riding for sport.” Oh, okay.
There are ways of approaching someone who may not know what’s going on.
You have to figure, though, that one of the things that gaming isn’t is terribly visible. You got these isolated conventions and hole in the wall stores and the thing that Fantasy Football has going for it is frickin’ Monday Night Football – the US shuts down when the Superbowl runs.
Even if it’s Dungeons and Dragons, you don’t have the Superbowl of D&D. But you do have the World Series of Poker. Which you would not think is something that would draw big crowds.
Brian: The video game industry has managed to normalize itself. They managed to take something that was once the domain of nerds, and turn it into something that anyone can do and most people do.
There are so many XBOXs out there, even for people who only play Madden when it comes out. Those people are still legitimate gamers who enjoy their hobby.
Even in video games, there is this tendency – if you got the guy who only has his XBOX to play Madden, a lot of people look down on that guy.
And that is the most toxic horseshit. The quickest way to kill your hobby is to be elitist about it. If you are saying you must be this nerdy to be in this hobby, if you are setting standards for who can participate in your hobby, then you are going to kill your hobby. It will never reach the kind of acceptance that you want it to reach. You only get accepted by accepting other people.
Douglas: You’ll never reach the kind of critical mass that gets the Larry Corriea (or John Scalzi to get both sides of that). Those guys are both awesome writers, and they tell great stories . . . and you want those guys writing your stuff.
Until it’s that big, and has the market where you can say “This is not only something I want to do, it’s worth the opportunity cost.” You’re never going to attract the kind of talent that makes awesome self-perpetuating. You may get lucky, but it’s never going to be like “Oh, you know, this is where I’m gong to go to flex my creative muscles, and it will be welcomed.” Right now, it’s “I’m going to go flex my creative muscles and I’ll sell 100 copies.”
You’re never going to get the mass-market appeal that draws talent from other than the people who are really into it.
Okay. Cool. In terms of anything you’d like to say as a parting shot. I always let my guests have the last word. Anything that you want to drop off into the ether here?
Brian: Yeah. In the immortal words of Ted Theodore Roosevelt and Bill S. Preston Esquire “Be Excellent to each other.”
Douglas: Alright. Alright. Thanks a lot.