The reason I titled this Chasing 1% is because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where and how I choose to improve as a Games Person, or Person What Makes Games And Sells Them. Even how you choose to phrase this is an ambiguity, and parsing out my personal challenges with expressing things in terms of I Am and the manifold layers of sin and pride around it doesn’t make it any easier. Let’s pretend I’m saying this decisively and clearly, here: I’m A Game Designer.
Recently Steve Dee penned a piece about the struggles of advancing your creative work, particularly as it pertains to the skills required to promote work versus the skills required to create work. It’s a good piece and one I’ve been chewing over for a while now, particularly because much of what we resist in these landscapes are very personal problems.
In independent fields we can all bring to mind that one person who was good at spruiking their wares but those wares were awful, the kind of person who would externalise blame when things didn’t pass a play test. Heck, even outside of creative fields, we all have anecdotes of what we’re pretty sure self-promotion looks like and it’s never pretty. It often feels rude, or unethical. I’ve had plenty of times when I’m trying to sell a product to a consumer, being honest about it, when I’ve been interrupted by Fox to clarify a point that honestly didn’t need clarification, which leaves me with a feeling of awkward ethical quandrary: Would I have been lying if I left out that information? Was it really relevant? Or was I just telling myself it wasn’t relevant in order to sell a unit?
These are not small questions and they are almost always very personal. But what I can offer about this is some tiny drop of help about one area I know is a struggle, and that’s presentation.
First things first, as a card game designer, here are four resources I use the heck out of:
These are free resources that you can use for the creation of your games. GIMP I use a lot because it’s familiar to me for designing card faces. I know that some folk swear by Scribus, or Illustrator – software you may already have. It isn’t important to me which you use, because what you should be using are the tools you’re familiar with and you can get mileage out of. I know that a deft person could use HTML code or Word or Google Docs to create fairly decent card faces for a number of purposes.
Use what you’re comfortable with, but be aware of its edges, what it can’t do. When you know what you can’t do yet, you can start looking for workarounds, or avoid making games that require those ‘can’t’ areas.
Other than that the rest of these resources can give you an enormous leap forward in producing quality looking games without busting your bump on making every individual piece yourself. You don’t have to have the skills to reinvent the wheel, after all.
But that’s just pragmatic advice. The major piece of advice I have is recognise when you could be spending effort better. A piece of advice I give students starting out with games is find the thing you want to do the least of, then design your game so you avoid it. That’s how games like Dog Bear avoid creating any art assets (until the wonderful Cass Marshall hooked me up with some from her and another artist). That’s why The Suits works without redesigning card faces.
That’s good advice for making a game and finishing it. When it comes time to sell a game, that’s when you have to start on refining a different set of skills. And refining that different set of skills is going to be, as with everything in adulthood, a do-it-yourself project.
So with that out of the way, here’s a short list of context for this advice:
- Success Is Random – Despite what we’re told about meritocracy, the idea that your product succeeds or fails based entirely on its quality is simply incorrect. You’re competing with everything, with everyone, on every day, which means you might catch a potential buyer when they’re poor, or a potential fan when they’re cranky. This is not on you. You are putting your work out there to be experienced, not filling a progress bar full of Effort at the end of which is Reward.
- With Random Events, Roll More Dice – gamers know full well the best way to see lots of crits isn’t to magic your dice somehow, it’s to roll more dice. The more chances you give yourself to randomly succeed the better. This means putting your games into a variety of fora, going to different cons, talking to and listening to a lot of different people, trying things out that ideally don’t risk you anything.
- I Am A Very Small Fish – Most of my work as a producer has been at the scale where a weekend, selling product face to face with a consumer is a good scale to work with. I do not have a sum of money to hire artists on any regular basis, I do not have a Patreon set up for same, I do not have a publisher, I do not pay for advertising. My costs are mostly in the form of getting attention and at times, giving product away.
- I Was Raised To Sell – The skillset I earned from my family growing up was one of sales, whether I was selling god or printers. Don’t mistake it: Part of why I can do what I do is because I’m familiar with convincing people on the spot to make a decision. In fact, that knowledge is part of why I want to make sure I’m respectful of people and their time – I could get people to buy things they don’t want more often than I do.
Tomorrow, assuming everything goes well I’ll go into the philosophical struggle of ‘What goes into a game’ and ways to work on getting people to engage with your games and why you’re not bad for wanting that attention.
Sometimes when you’re thinking of something to say, you’ll have a single sentence slip past your lips that needs a lot of unpacking to make sense, and even then it won’t:
I – it’s not just me, it never has been just me. I’ve always had help and dealt with people pushing me to try things. Even the things I think I own and the things I made believing they were mine, I’ve been told, repeatedly, aren’t really good enough, aren’t up to the standards, aren’t things I should be proud of because who cares if a game got done fast or a book got finished it’s not that good, it’s not something you did it’s something other people did as well, and none of these games are about me, they’re about trying to express something of my friends, because my friends are worth being the subject of stories
Don’t – always be sure to keep things away from what you do do, deny what you know isn’t true, be careful about positive claims because they can be disproven. If someone says what you do is great you don’t have to back that up, but you can say hey look okay you don’t have to go that far
Make – none of it is making, it’s all just bringing stuff together, it’s all just seeing other games and other ideas and struggling to fit them together, that’s not making anything, I just cobble things together and hope that nobody notices the crack or has the same problem I do of not being able to have fun when I’m in the grip of that miserable anhedonia did I do this right, did I make this fun, is this game good fuck if I know, but everyone else is laughing and enjoying themselves
Art – oh god the complex synthesis and definition of if I’m making art or if a game is a design or what does that mean or is it more in the broader sense of creating things that people around you have to value or is it about the notion that all art is manipulation I don’t know if I can handle the weight of that or is it about the graphics I work with in the creation of my games because if I don’t put that artist forward more I’ll be seen as an arsehole oh god oh god oh god.
There’s a lot to be said and I don’t quite have words for it yet.
More on this later, on the practical and pragmatic mindset shift of how to sell games.
Just a minor thing as I reshape this blog a little. I’ve come to the painful consideration that no, I am not in fact about to start a new hotbed of great community spaces and rather, my blog here is better used as a place to write longer-form media, serve as some kind of useful reference space, and generally, be used as an essay place, rather than a Place You Go For Daily Updates.
I’ve got a tumblr now, primarily as a useful way to share art and designs with people who share them further on. Content here will be posted there, but the content here, ideally, will be more focused on thoughtfully produced and curated work, longer form creative stuff.
I also post now on the Invincible Ink blog, so if you’re looking for commentary/discussion of my games, that’s a place to go.
Finally, I shut down the Comments section of this website. Those of you who did comment, it’s not a mark against you – it’s just that odds are good you can contact me in other ways (and there’ll be a contact page a-coming soon), and of the thousands and thousands of spam comments, roughly four a year were actually people who wanted to offer input.
Rrrreal quick rundown before I get going: If you like the look of, or want to play Invisible Sun, great, go knock yourself out, they have a kickstarter and everything. This isn’t for or about you, you don’t need to stress about it. I’m not mad at you for having money. I’m not mad at you for liking a thing. Go forth, be blessed, be joyous, have good time. And now, into the mud.
Hey, did you like my The Suits designs? Would you like them on your phone? Well, I made these wallpaper-sized versions of the images. And I made sure to avoid the logo, and didn’t put any watermark on them, because I’m hoping that this won’t come back and bite me on the ass later! Either way, if you’d like one of these pictures available on your phone regularly, well here they are!
Hypothetically, your vote means something. Yeah, I know, that’s a cracking start, like, real hopeful and inspiring, especially now you have to choose between an actual active fascist, racist bigot and, I dunno, Dracula or something, but hypothetically, hypothetically, your vote means something. The good news is it kinda doesn’t mean anything.
Lemme explain. Continue reading
This is a brief overview of the idea of Paper Genocide and is mostly meant to be a crash course for folk who don’t know about this stuff. If you want to learn more, there’s an official .org site, Paper Genocide, and I was first introduced to the topic by The Dollop. Also, this is a topic that’s going to talk about a lot of racism and power structure stuff, so it might be heavy, so feel free to bail out.