Board Games – What A Way to Make A Living
By Mark Stogdill
For most of my career I worked in telecommunications; designing, building and deploying fiber and wireless networks for high capacity internet access. I now make Board and Card games. Doesn’t exactly sound like an A to B career path and looking from the outside I certainly can’t argue that point, nor do I have any particular desire to. Not all career changes are obvious from the outside. Once upon a time I was the CEO of a publicly traded telecom and worried about things like corporate filings, investor outreach, revenue projections, positive EBITDA, future growth and expansion.
I still sit on the Board of the company I founded, and in that capacity, I still worry about those things. But my 9 to 5 has changed a bit. Now I worry about making deadlines with artists, sculptors, animators, setting up a distribution network, closing out a game loop, meeting fulfilment obligations, planning a product release schedule for games 3 and 4 while we have yet to launch game 2, and so on. So not much has actually changed. Sure, the product is different, success is measured in units instead of subscribers, and the people I deal with on a daily basis have changed faces and places, but the goal remains the same. Make great products and get people interested in buying them.
People in my orbit have found my change of career to be…eh hem…interesting. Many have said “hey, it’s great, you’re doing what you love”. Well, I certainly love games and I absolutely love making them but what I do now compared to what I did before has very little to do with “doing what you love”. It’s more about applying the same level of discipline, work ethic, hopes and dreams to anything you do which falls a bit more into the “loving what you do” category than anything else, or to paraphrase Dr. Strangelove “How I learned that I’ll never ever stop worrying about things but I still love the grind”. It’s funny because making games is in fact a strange love. You have to take everything you want to see as a game player and analyze it for all the things you need as a game maker. You have to view all the things you love about games through the deconstructing lens of a manufacturer or producer. I imagine it’s a bit like how actors feel when they started out as little kids that loved movies but now, they are behind the scenes starring in one. It’s like the Wizard of Oz moment when you peek behind the curtain of something you really love but instead of taking the magic away, it becomes all the more magical.
When comparing how one industry operates to another it’s comforting to know that the basic principles of business translate more or less across industries and product lines. Marketing metrics are marketing metrics and those statistics are essentially the same whether you’re selling furniture, widgets, internet service or games. This is true of brands, too. Of course, there are many intricate and subtle differences industry to industry that can vastly impact outcomes and those shouldn’t be overlooked, but all the broad strokes are relative. You work hard, you make things, you sell them and that allows you to make more things and sell them, rinse, repeat.
When you build a fiber network you have to concern yourself with things like latency, or the delay that occurs before data can be transferred. Latency, in physical terms, is how the velocity of your system is limited by physical interactions, or friction. Nothing is done in a vacuum and when you deal with anything in reality, there is friction, and friction slows things down. Considering that we are experiencing shipment delays on our first manufactured game due to a virus outbreak, coupled with the fact it takes months or years to successfully develop and market a game people want to play, latency is a part of game-making as much as it is a part of data networks. You’re working within a friction-laden system. All the rules apply.
The similarities don’t stop there. You can draw these types of parallels between any two points if you really want to. Regardless of what it looks like on the outside, what it takes to do something worthwhile, whatever that may be, is more or less the same on the inside. So, if you want to make games, you should make games. If you want to build rockets or design the next generation 5G radio system, you should do that. Either way, if you work at it, it can be awesome.
That said, if you can make games, you should totally make games. I’m glad that I do.