Producing Fun #13: Matthew Dunstan - Game Designer

Producing Fun #13: Matthew Dunstan - Game Designer

Producing Fun is a podcast about making tabletop games from a product perspective.
Matthew Dunstan is a Prague-based game designer with more than 30 published titles to his name, including Elysium, Monumental, and the Adventure Games series from Kosmos. In this episode, we talk about how Matthew uses product thinking to make better games, the power of long-term collaborations, and the rise of “detailed familiar” themes. 

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James 00:00
Hi I'm James, and this is producing fun, a podcast about making games from a product perspective. Welcome to Producing fun. My guest this week is Matthew Dunston, a product based Australian Game Designer with more than 30 published titles to his name. Believe it or not 13 episodes in Matthew is the first ever guest who worked solely as a game designer. When I started producing fun, there were so many game design or detailed game review podcasts already, I was keen to avoid duplicating the great work they were already doing. Instead, I wanted to do something fresh. I wanted to highlight the stories of all the other people in the process, and all the amazing things they do to bring us the games we love. So why did I interview him last year? Well, Matthew is someone with a passionate interest in the product side of the business. By his own admission, the longer his career has gone on, the more naturally product orientated he finds himself exposure to working closely with many publishers and editors. Now has him considering product questions from the very beginning of his game design process. How will components and component count influence manufacturing cost? What's the marketing potential of the idea? How will the game fit into an existing product line? Indeed, he's so product orientated that when I veered off into some interesting tangent on game design, it was Matthew, not me, keeping us on track and focused on the questions that actually determine how successful a game will be in a market. This was a brilliant conversation, and a valuable opportunity to explore some really interesting trends in the industry. Its natural evolution towards various forms of the studio model, properly defined product roles in successful publishing houses, the rise of what he determines the detailed familiar, or domestic themes in game design, and the unique power of the long term collaboration. We join, just as I am in utter disbelief, about the number of games he has already had published. I've looked on BGG, and it says that you have 51 games published? Is Is that an accurate number?

That's not not to throw some shade at it. BGG to start off straightaway, can we can we trust this data? I mean, yeah, it's slightly humbly, I'll say that it's closer than I then maybe other designers in that. I mean, of course, BGG has the thing that it lists every single promo card and expansion as a separate item. And, but actually, the number is probably in the, I would say in the 30s somewhere, or, you know, sort of 30, mid 30s 40. There's, I mean, it also includes Brett, Brad Gilbert and myself. So maybe we'll talk about that later, pretty quick code is on our mind. And we did some free print and play games called the good little games, that's also counted, you know, within my amount. So that's kind of self published. So it's also slightly cheating. But yeah, it's sort of 30 to 40, I would say, as a rough game,

James 03:12
and that's 30 to 44 games, or does that study for that including kind of boxed expansions? If we leave promos out of the picture?

No, they would be full, full different games, in fact, very, I'd actually have very few expansions. I mean, I think that's the thing that often in those numbers, you'll see, designers, I guess, with that number of items on BGG often will have one or two games, which may have many expansions or many entries. But for lack or not, I haven't had many games that have had, you know, many expansions, although I do have a few games such as the adventure games, which are scenario based. So you know, there's there's five or six different adventure games listed. They're not expansions exactly, but they're all the same game systems. Similar mix of things,

James 03:56
I find that absolutely credible. So obviously, the listeners can't actually see you. But I assume you're not really a man in his 60s, he looks absolutely incredible for his age. So how have you produced that number of games, I can't quite imagine being able to design just the volume of that myself. So I'm just really curious to know, like, what part of your process just allows you to design that number of titles?

I can tell you're really just trying not to ask like, how old are you? Well, I mean, I think that's kind of the key things. What is that I started, I think I was lucky to start during my PhD studies. So, you know, I think when you're studying, it's sort of a good time to get into game design you you don't have a lot of financial pressures, you know, you don't have a day job that takes up so much time, you have a lot of flexibility, which is very important, you know, so I could travel to conventions and things on a weekday if I needed to, and that was fine. So I think that really helped. And I guess that's when I got my sort of, you know, you hear the colloquially the 10,000 hours that you have sort of put into design and things like that, and I think I could sort of build lit up at that time, when I, yeah, I didn't have pressure to make games, I could do it, if I wanted to, I was very lucky to be in a very creative environment. I was in Cambridge, we had started a design group there that at the start was just Britain myself meeting at a pub once a week, but it quickly sort of grew. And in fact, the group still is going about 10, or 11 years later, and we had a really great group of designers come through that. And the other reason, which is connected that is I collaborate on many of my games, very few of my games are solo designs, many of them are designed with with at least one other person. So that helps that the output so to speak, you know, I'd say one of my strengths probably is something like project management in a way, which I think is maybe not something that all game designers, you know, I think on a publisher side or distributor or someone in business, I think it's incredibly important, you know, to have those project management skills. But, you know, for my PhD, it's a very similar way of actually to work at a PhD, you're trying to balance or end in academia, in general, you're balancing lots of different projects, and they're all at different stages. And you have to, you have to plan your time around that. And you know, your day might consist of three or four different tasks across three or four different projects. And I think that just made me pretty well predisposed to work on lots of games at the same time, and being able to sort of keep pushing them through. So maybe I'm a bit better at that than other people. That's why I've been able to publish them. And

James 06:20
I find that's really interesting. I think something about being a formative environment where you can sort of safely explore stuff, I can see how that's a huge advantage is being able to get your sort of 10,000 hours. And as you put it quite early on, although of course, I'm sure people would say the opposite, because I want to be true, which is that without the external pressures of deadlines to go, you have to do this. Some people obviously, struggle a bit, whereas it sounds like obviously, your natural way of doing things is to be quite organised anyway, I would say maybe, in a way, a bit different to many students, perhaps that's been hugely helpful in being able to being able to produce quite a lot of that content. You mentioned,

there were sorry, there were deadlines as well. I mean, I think that the other fortunate thing of being in Europe generally is that you have session essence feel and, and it's relatively easy to go to guys like it, you know, I was privileged enough to be able to sort of be able to go there, timewise and financial worth. And actually, I'd say that was a really great deadline every year, you know, I think, for whatever reason, from the very early time of going to Essen I always wanted to go there with at least five or six different games, but no real rational reason, I wouldn't say that you make better games by trying to, you know, I'm not saying quantity is better than quality. I don't think that's true. But for whatever reason, I had a sort of some intrinsic thing of like, I must have five new games to show to publishers, every essence. And so I think that that was a good deadline to push me to finish them.

James 07:36
Yeah, I mean, that makes a tremendous amount of sense, actually, to me, even if it is somewhat arbitrary, because I think giving yourself that arbitrary deadline of this is interesting things to talk about. So you must have known from quite an early point, and that you really wanted to get into the design side of things rather than perhaps other aspects of game creation.

Absolutely. Yeah. I've never had any interest in publishing or not even particularly development, I'd say actually, actually, one of the great things when I collaborate with Brett and he's the one I've designed the most games with would have been published, you know, at least probably 20 games, I think one of the great things Brent is is good at is it's a sort of the later part of the process that I'd say getting closer to development to editing these sorts of things. And so because that's not what I naturally tend to So, so you know, those skills are particularly important, of course, no publisher and developer, so I yeah, I've never, I think I've been quite fortunate that I found my place quite quickly. And what I enjoyed, I guess the I like finding new systems, I guess, is a sort of an intel that sounds incredibly abstract intellectual, but it's about trying to discover something new that already exists out there, I suppose, you know, compared to scientific research, you know, there's there's kind of laws of the universe that are out there they exist, but we just have to kind of find them or understand them. And I sometimes I think, as a game designer, your job is to just uncover the things that already are out there, or put them in a way that people can, can enjoy them and play them. And so I enjoy that, that exploration.

James 08:55
That's very interesting. That requires does it not as sort of degree of mechanical imagination, because that's something that I see as a theme that comes up quite a few times to me is that I think about people's different starting process. And people got to throw around the idea of theme and mechanic quite casually. But actually, to me, it seems like the starting place of starting with with a very particular game theme, where you want to simulate and recreate something versus discovering almost the way that you put it discovering in nature, almost like a mechanical system that maybe exists and you're finding it strikes me as very, very divergent starting places.

Yeah, yeah, I think it is very different. I think actually, and leading into of course, what this podcast is about, I think sometimes it is a very mechanical starting point. But more and more I think in the latter part of my designing or more recently, it is product focused I mean, without saying the easy answer for this this podcast but you're looking to replicate you know, a product in the market or iterate on a on a product or you see a particular space Same type of game or experience, and more and more from the very early point, you start to pigeonhole and go, Okay, this is, you know, this is going to suit, you know, for example, these publishers or is going to suit this style of player and all those sort of questions are really kind of product questions in a way that you're trying to fit a particular demographic or you're trying to particularly, you know, a particular price point or, or type of component, things like that. And I think that, I find it a really great way to start, because actually, you sort of have the benefit of having a lot of great examples out there, you can sort of build on but you're never, you know, with themes or mechanics, if you if you took a mechanic that already exists, and just go, Okay, I'm gonna get another game with that veganism, you can have the problem of how do I make something feel new? Or how do I, but if you say, Okay, I wouldn't make a game that appeals to people who don't know, like deck building games, or something like that. There's a great library of games to build on for you to learn or to think about how, what is that space? Without you're worried about, oh, it's gonna be a carbon copy of things that come before because you're you're not trying to emulate the necessary mechanics, you're trying to emulate the sort of experience or what the players who liked those games might enjoy in it.

James 11:08
That's interesting. So actually, in some ways, I find this quite surprising, because I don't generally think of designers as being especially focused on those product questions. In fact, to the extent where I feel like a lot of people that I meet in the design world, and a lot of products themselves seem to me to suggest that they haven't come from that perspective, right? Like, there's this thing that I tend to find a lot, whereas there's some maybe re mixing going on, where people say, Oh, this game exists, I'm just going to go for it. But without knowing the consideration of the fact that, well, of course, it is just a clone of that thing. There's probably almost certainly no marketplace for it. Whereas almost that product thinking requires familiarity, but also, from the very beginning, you need to have some sort of differentiation as well. So when did you start thinking about doing things and more from the product perspective, then?

Yeah, I was gonna say, I don't think it comes from the start, I think. I mean, I can't speak for all designers, but I think designers, you know, sort of inspired to start designing. And yeah, you're not thinking about products, you're thinking about a game, it's certainly my first game. I wasn't thinking about how we would fit some product thing. I was like, I wanted to make this game, this particular mechanism. And I did, I think it comes I think it comes later in the process, I think, you know, especially, I think there's two main things in my case that have led to it. One is that, again, I've had access to sort of these bigger conventions and a lot of opportunities to pitch to publishers. And I think just naturally, when you the more times you're pitching to publishers, the closer and closer you get to that product question because of course, they're asking, they're coming in from that angle pretty much all the time, you know, that's, that's what they are, they're kind of seeing the lens through whether they want to publish a game or not. And so I think just you just can't help, but it rub off on you, when you when you have more and more of those meetings. And you sort of sense how they go, you sort of go well, okay, next time, I need to, I need to fit into what they're looking for. And of course, that means you have to concern by product. I think the other thing for myself, and I don't think it's unique, so myself is I'm a voracious reader of pretty much all media around board games. I mean, it's, it's quite bad, because I've had said, you know, a hobby and an interest into more and more of a profession. Yeah. But, you know, I think designers had differing sort of interests, or in that kind of side of things of like keeping up with what's the next new 100 games that have come out? And what's the latest game by designer x, or, you know, what's the new hotness or trend, and I think my tastes are sort of wide enough, which means that I sort of consume as much of it as possible. And I think that means you, you just have more data to sort of go on when you're when you're trying to make those those brands and users or you have a better, you're more likely to find something in all that information that kind of strikes a child somehow in that kind of, you know, the inspiration statement, you say something like, Oh, yes, I can I can I that idea, and I put it with this, and then okay, that would make a great product. So I think those sort of come together, but I think it's, I mean, if you looked at a sort of a histogram of board, game designers, the number of designs, I mean, there's a lot more designers who have made one or two games, then then lots of games, I think, and it just means I guess that for whatever reason, there are fewer designers who get to this point, because they've just had as much, you know, meetings or games published. So I don't think it's particularly innate skill of mine, I think it's just again, that if you're fortunate enough to be in a position where you can pursue this for as long as as long as I can. And you can start thinking about and I think I said, I said it quite a bit, but I guess I should just make it really, really clear is that, you know, I was in an academic career, which led me gave me a lot of flexibility and freedom, while having a lot of financial support to essentially, you know, put a lot of time and a lot of travel and a lot of work into making these games without me ever have to worry about you know, could I put a roof over my head or would I get fired for you know, taking a day off. So, you know, it's an extremely privileged position to get this point. So I think you know, it And there's many, many segments segments or the population who do not have these opportunities. So I think that just needs to be very clear.

James 15:07
Yeah, that makes total sense. I think, as you said, it's an unusual career in the sense that you genuinely have quite a lot of control over your own time, it's quite normal to go away on places like conferences and that kind of thing, as you said, and you have that financial support where it's possible to to follow this kind of thing more easily. Whereas some jobs, certainly, you've got long hours, it's very challenging to take the time out to do these sort of things. One of the things that really struck me very much during this whole process is that I don't think I can quite imagine how I would have gotten magnate done a list of standard, it's done without having taken some time during a deliberate career break where I just wasn't working for anyone else. Like there were periods where were months would go by where I had nothing to do in my life, other than various personal commitments, and magnetic there was no job to worry about. And I think like that is a is such an advantage, because I think without that just the volume of work of the design, and all of the publishing was absolutely vast. So I think having something like that makes it does make tremendous amount of sense. So from what you're saying, Do you think that is it true to say, because then, if you feel you can say this, as designers get more experienced, they get more product orientated? Is that a fair?

I think so? I think so I think if you, I suspect that publishers, when they consider designers, I think you're going to be more successful in selling your designs to publishers, if you're, I mean, I think I've got a pretty good track record, if I finish a game, that I'm able to sell it to a publisher, you know, a lot of people throw around the kind of like one out of 10, you know, sort of like one out of 10 at every stage, you know, you make 10 ideas, and then you will make one prototype or you make 10 prototypes, one will get to a final prototype, or you have 10 vital prototypes want to get published. I think I'm a bit ahead of that. And I think if you present things in an easy way for a publisher to consider them as products, and that means you've thought about it as a product, then I think, yeah, you're just increasing your odds. I mean, and that's that's kind of, I think that's the that's the name of the game for this type of being a designer, where you're you're still going around pitching your wares, and you're not being contracted out. You're not there's there's not enough certainty. So you're, you're just trying to increase your chances of being lucky, I guess.

James 17:17
Yeah, that makes complete sense. I mean, certainly, dare I say, it is almost stunningly obvious from my perspective as a publisher. Because I think now one of the things that I find so interesting and curious about this, this industry is precisely that is that so many people are doing things in ways that are not very product orientated. And they still say things to me, like I hear things all the time, like, Oh, you don't worry about theme, because the publisher will slap that on. Like, that's the kind of phrase I still hear you talked about quite a bit or, or I shouldn't be too worried about this side of it. Because you know, this the publishers problem, whether it's a final product, and I'm thinking, Oh, my God, I can't imagine picking any of these designers to work with. Because to be completely brutally honest, I'm thinking but the thing that comes to life as a box product that people buy, and if it isn't capable of being that in a compelling box, it doesn't matter. As far as the game design goes, if you want to publish it, if you want to self publish it, it's just purely a matter of self expression and artistic self expression. Go for it, do what you like, that's awesome, it really doesn't matter. But if you want to get it made by someone and sold, and theoretically make any money off it whatsoever, even if it's just 100 pound royalty check once every decade. It does strike me as kind of, sometimes I'm gonna be completely honest, and maybe a little bit tough, but kind of mad that people don't even think about it from that perspective. And yet, the reason I guess I seem a bit surprised it's kind of worth talking about this is because they'll seem to be quite uncommon, because people think I'm just this cog in the wheel at the beginning of the process that's about maybe a kind of design vision, rather than thinking about about the rest of

it. I should, I should say, at this point that because I'm sure there might be some play testers who I work with or listen to this. You know, as much as I do, try and think about this, that doesn't mean that there, I think there are many aspects of products. And I think it's important to work out which ones that you need to work out or at least present a coherent vision for and which ones publishers will naturally, themselves kind of bring to the table. Because, for example, I know for me, the theme is, I guess I didn't really talk about theme, I think I think about a setting or a group of themes, or even just a feeling that I know fits the game. And it could be one of x, you know, one of these five themes or, or I might, in fact, even in the prototype presented actually in a very generic way. But that's I think, with the knowledge of the publisher, I'm seeing a may publish games, again, with similarly generic themes. But in this case, it's not a theme LED product, I would argue like nobody's buying that game because of the theme. Yeah, they're just looking for something that actually in some ways, actually comfortable or known enough. And it's always very similar to previous games, even from the same publisher. Because that's a little signal to them that's like, Okay, this game, this view, it looks a bit like this other game, it's, I think you, you don't have to get everything right, you know design, I think I think you got to choose which which parts of that product, you're going to focus on which ones you're really going to sell it on. And that doesn't mean that they're going to be other things which you, you still say to the publisher, look, you know, there's some openness here, there's some flexibility, there's some, this is where I kind of can see it happening. And it could be like this, but you don't want to forget, as a designer, you still have a lot to I mean, the publisher has so much off for a developer so much to offer to do their product, you don't want to be inflexible or rigid. So there's, there's obviously a balance there as well.

James 20:36
Oh, it makes total sense. I guess what it sounds like it's more like, and I think what this is, what the that makes sense to me is is Have you considered the question of theming. I mean, certainly the exact opposite problem of a designer who has decided in advance what printer you're going to use, and exactly what the who's gonna be doing the sculpting for the coat for their miniatures or things like that would be an equal sized problem. Because inevitably, as a publisher, you have to make all sorts of compromised decisions all the time. And actually your vision for it might be quite different to the designers, very specifics. But it is that element, it seems like it's really crucial to have considered the question of those things. So like, Oh, here's some theme possibilities of what would fit and why I guess. Or indeed, when you're actually doing something completely abstracted, where you've said, well, actually, no, it shouldn't be highly abstract and not be very themed at all for these very good reasons. So I think that's really great, then. So let's, let's run on that a little bit. Because I think this is this is going to be so useful for the designers out there who are looking to pitch things is because it seems that increasingly, your firstly, your very considerable experience, my limited experience with this is how important nailing these products elements are, in terms of like the level that you need to go to as a designer, and the levels where you maybe really don't need to be involved, like manufacturing, for example. So maybe if we drill into those because that because you said, I think you said something so true that when you said, products is a broad term, because the thing I'm finding all the time in conversations with people is that the definition even if this is really different. So for some people, the definition is really literally physical box. So they think about it purely in terms of things like the cover art, maybe, and then the packaging, and some of the physical components. But they're not even really considering which are critical for me things like the overall game experience, which for me is absolutely vital in terms of product. So if we if we start with theme then so question of theme, what else can we say are your most important product considerations that you're thinking about as a designer,

I thinking in terms of product as a relative thing, compared to the other products a publisher has made. So I think of it as a sort of a continuation of of a product line. So that is the one driver that you're always going to think about when you pitch to a publisher, like why am I pitching to this publisher. I mean, sometimes you just want to work with a publisher, because they're fantastic, and you might but but of course, the best way to ensure success is to have a game which can they can see will fit in their line as a product. I think this goes across things like theme or play account or player demographic or game laying. So there's, there's all sorts of different publishers sort of define their product lines in different ways. You know, they're sometimes, you know, you can think of plan B and the the sort of bezel and the next move, you know, there's sort of, there are a lot of rigid rules, right. And for them, it's, you know, they have to have some sort of tactility. And, you know, the kind of actual manufacturer is very important, I would say the kind of the level of the game is very important in terms of the kind of the rules overhead or you know, it has to be very brief and, and the fact that actually, it is very frustrating, I think your point about it is sort of almost purposefully abstract. So that for them is very important for the product line. But, you know, you could then swing over to say, you know, look out or Cosmos, you know, the two player lines? Well, they're driven, I would say primarily by the Play account that, you know, they have such a diverse range of themes, you know, yes, they do have to fit a certain kind of price point and box size. But even within that there's a lot of variation. But the thing is driving is really like this is this very specific audience and you have to your product that's in that product line. So I think you have to understand, if I'm pitching to this publisher, how can I make the case that my game fits in what their fits in with what they're doing? And how can they connect it to their other games? Because of course, a publisher, I mean, you're a publisher? I'm not so yeah, I mean, they're trying to build an audience who can sort of go like, Oh, I loved your game X that this publisher just did, oh, I'm definitely gonna buy the next one. You don't want to disappoint them when they buy that next game, if possible. And that's a point of product line. So you have to think about how you're going to satisfy the next people in line, I guess. Yeah,

James 24:37
I mean, that makes tremendous amount of sense. I think it's really interesting. You say how they define them differently. Because I think that's very true. It isn't just the case of there's a kind of uniform structure for how to even think about your products consistently because he those are really good examples. Another one that occurred to me was something like level 99 games. Their games are quite different. But again, they all have this more thematic kind of video game tie in kind of I'd like it's a certain feeling thematic feeling that they all have in common, which I think is a kind another good example, within that kind of a product line fit, what else do you have to think about? I mean, this is surely something about component count must be something that you consider, right.

Yeah, I think generally price point, then you start thinking about well, I mean, because we're still driven by physical products, and publishers tend to make games in the same kind of strata, if they, you know, they have their kind of $20 boxes, they're, they're $40 boxes, they, you know, so yeah, I think there's, there's a natural concern to, to think about the price where they go, I guess the probably the key question all that is just does the game experience match the price you're going to sell it for? Because there's no, of course, there's no one price point, there are many games that have made it all up or down the spectrum? Yeah, it's just that you have to make sure that there is a fit between the game the audience and the amount of money that people are willing to pay for the game. If those things are all working together, then you will, then you'll have hopefully a chance of successful product. But of course, if you if you have something that's out of kilter, if you have a very light game at a very high price point, then you have an audience that might love that kind of like game, but they're never going to spend that amount of money on a game or, or vice versa, you might have a very, very thinkI very strategically rich small card game for $10. But, but actually, the you know, that maybe the honest man isn't going to see that. I mean, they're not as much as we make fun about, you know, lots of empty box, you know, empty space in boxes. I mean, that's part of that, kind of, like, blinking of leading players towards the products that they there's over them, like it or not, box sizes, sort of is one of the things that helps people get a sense of like, what style of game it is.

James 26:40
Yeah, I think that's a crucial thing. And I think, and obviously, there are some sound reasons for wanting to shrink boxes in general to the more to the size, where they're adequate for them components for both environmentally, I think that's, that's one good reason for it. And just because it's just kind of takes up extra space, you don't want to spend I mean, I think particularly, you know, particularly probably slightly less in North America, because I see loads of massive games rooms that people have, because I guess the space, particularly outside of the coastal cities is like way more plentiful. But in Europe, Japan, in loads other places like Spain has a real premium, certainly, you know, here in London, and definitely is and and so there's more space, but as you said, like it or not, it does have interesting signal. And this is a question I'd like to dig into a little bit, because I think this is a really interesting question. Because what that signal is, doesn't necessarily seem to be entirely dependent on exactly complexity. Although that's kind of correlated with it. It's something about because it's easy, both have a number of components themselves. So for example, there seem to be some miniatures games that are quite successful, that are much bigger and heavier looking than some Euro games, even though they're actually simpler. And then the other end of the scale, obviously, you can get some quite funny little smaller games, sometimes. That's, I would say that's less common than the other way around. What is it that makes an experience tied to like a price point?

I would think about what does the publisher so on the back of the box, you know, what are they highlighting, you know, because I'm sure in those miniatures games, they're definitely highlighting the miniatures on the back of the box, right, and they won't be talking very much about the gameplay. And of course, on the flip side, you could think of a, you know, I don't know, a strategic Euro, you know, 60 to 90 minutes or something that, that may highlight a mechanical point, or, you know, on the back of the arrow and might very highlight the designers bio, because that's, that's something that, you know, I know, this designer makes games of this type and, and that's what they're really trying to define the audience by, you know, Stephen builders may be a really good example of, you could basically put his name on a box and nothing else, and you would get exactly the right audience for the game, pretty much. So then, of course, that has nothing to do with box size, or art or theme or bonus. So it's, again, it's like, what is the kind of I think the driving the selective part of product is gonna be different for different audiences. I think the one I'm actually more interested in is the ball sort of lighter, casual audience to games, because I think there is more variants there, and the types of games that they might enjoy, usually, because members of veterans have just played fewer games. So they're actually I think, more willing to take a chance on new things or be surprised or play something sort of, outside of what you might think, you know, a casual, inexperienced gamer would play. And I think there's a lot of, I actually think that's the big audience where there's a lot of growth, there's a lot of opportunity, because, you know, there are just more I would say, there are more people in that category than there are in the kind of entrenched, you know, Euro gamers or you know, miniatures, miniatures game and so, that that is more fascinating, because it's kind of a bit more unknowable that there's less there's less of a certainty of saying like, Oh, yeah, I need to put X on the back of the box or I need to have this type of theme and that will reach the vegan and you see it, I think in the because, of course, if companies could do it, they would win this We'll just hours every year or something. Yeah, I can't. Yeah, it's very difficult to do that. But I think that's why, for me, it's actually quite fascinating to see that. And how do you signal to those audiences that this thing that you don't really know, and maybe isn't exactly like what you've had before? It's still going to be for you, you're still going to enjoy this?

James 30:16
I mean, that's really fascinating question, because I think I think I'm completely with you. But it seems to be that that's entirely where the growth is, because the growth of this is not going to come from a small number of hobbyists who already own massive numbers of games, it's all going to come and it is coming from people who are a bit more casual, because that for me, and that's wonderful, because the reason why this this renaissance is going on is because more people are discovering that modern board games are great. No surprise, the most successful ones aren't heavy Euro games, they are they are considerably lighter. I think it's really single point about the idea that there's also almost interestingly, this is almost a more interesting space, in the sense that that, as you said, people have less clear taste. And I don't know why like is is heavy economic URIs, something that's really specific kind of banded idea. They haven't got like a specific taste yet, in a way that kind of connoisseur kind of begins to know what their taste is, that it's that it's broader. How do you personally go about trying to approach that? Like, if you're trying to solve that problem, we're trying to come up with games that more fit in that kind of casual gamer? I think gateway is not quite the right word. But it's kind of in that in that ballpark? How do you go about doing that?

There's a couple of different ways one is emulation, I would say. So sometimes I look at a game that I think is really successful in that space. And I'll try and sort of understand what what is it that people are enjoying that game and and then I would try and make a game that maybe hues a little bit closer to that. And that it's not, I suppose it's sitting in that space where maybe the signals are much more clear, like you could put it in a similar sized box, you can have similar kinds of components, similar themes. And it's easier for for a person who maybe only owns that game to go like, Oh, yeah, I can see this one. But yeah, I'll give this a try. And, and they won't be sort of surprised. But I think the other ways taking inspiration from outside of the board game space. And I mean, of course, you know, great examples micro macro. That one was really Jr's and the crew, I would say, because you know, things like trick taking isn't really thought of in the hobby. I mean, there are a lot of people love trick to games, don't get me wrong, that it's not, it's considered a little, it's kind of a slightly different sphere, I guess from from the hobby game industry. So I actually like, you know, some of my success, especially in recently developing more sort of narrative games that often come from the digital space. So I've played digital games, or they've been certain aspects of digital games, that casual audiences as well might be very familiar with, because you know, they might be more digital games, or for whatever reason, things have been advertised better in the digital space, it's a bigger market. And I've heard of it. And so they might be more open to that kind of thing. If you give them the pitch through the digital world, like, you know, I, for the adventure games, we always say it's like the old point and click PC adventure adventure games. And that is a point of residence for a lot of people, even if they haven't really played board games, or they wouldn't consider it, but they're interested in and want to try it out. So you can think of it like that to come in sort of a different a different sort of touch touch point. I think, I guess the other thing that we're seeing a lot of rise on this theme, especially themes, which are sort of I would say it's the it's the kind of detailed familiar, I don't really know how I'd love to come up with a good term for it. But basically, it's the, it's kind of the wingspan effect, I would say, which is I think, I think there are a lot of very realistic themes that are familiar to people firstly, so that they can kind of connect with them in their real life, but also that they don't necessarily know a lot about or that they're kind of, there's enough curiosity or detail in that topic that they can kind of explore and they can feel like that they can. And of course, we expand doesn't need a particular way, there's more detail, but you know, sort of look at games like I don't know, Calico, or like, Patchwork, possibly patchwork is the kind of world switch, if you sort of talk to people about the theme. Yeah, we all know what cross stitches or eating or cooking or whatever, but not so many people like would be considered themselves experts, but they're very open to sort of like being in that kind of space. And in fact, might be quite interested to kind of, you know, have a kind of introduction to that or to kind of explore it in some way through again, or maybe not like making myself so clear. But no, it's yeah, sorry.

James 34:29
You're gonna say, oh, yeah, I was just gonna say no, I think I know exactly what you mean. It strikes me that quite a lot of these themes in particular maybe are in some senses detailed, familiar. I like I think it's going and getting in that that grasping at what that is, I know you mean, a lot of them are quite domestic in some sense as well. They're about things that are very common in ordinary life. When historically when we think about so much about board games, they tend to be quite fantastical so on the Euro side, tend to be somewhat historical. I would say mostly a lot about settings in the past whether it'd be about knights were Whether it be about the Renaissance as always seem to be internally popular about being merchants or the Renaissance. But and then on the the more kind of was once called America trash, I feel like that time has faded now for pretty good reasons. Kind of games tend to be like science fictiony, or fantasy battles. And a lot of this stuff like someone wingspan is such a perfect example something which is actually hugely popular. I remember reading, probably about 10 years ago that bird watching was the number one hobby in Britain, something like that. So actually hugely widespread, really super familiar, like compared to people who are like massive nerds for a particular science fiction franchise, probably much bigger, nationally has an audience that you can then bring in again, theme to the strategy we don't think about, which is weird, because they've they're actually things that are hugely popular and familiar to people. And suddenly, that's, that's starting to connect with people in a rather new way. So yeah, that deep, detailed, familiar, I like that. I think there's something there's something in there as an unsaved once

and they want some fidelity there. It's also I think, I guess, when I think about it, it's not just a coat of paint. I think a lot of these games are really nailing a real a deep appreciation for the theme that they're or the world that rabbiting. Yeah, like, whether it's bird watching, or whether you think of like parks, for example, people who like national parks, and that kind of, there's a lot of work that goes in from the publisher side, or from the designer side, or both, to really express that theme in a meaningful way that, you know, resonates with the desired audience. And that's, you can't do that by just slapping a coat of paint over something, you know, even if you have the most, you know, another one I sort of think about is dream house or dream home from the rebel, you know, I think they absolutely nailed this kind of, you know, it was aspirational part of moving somewhere, or, you know, the kind of, you know, cartoon s thing, and they match that with, with how you, it's a very aspirational way of building a house, you know, it's fairly easy, you know, I get to put the things together that I want, and there's a lot of character there. And but it's all those little details, all those little touches that come together to give that experience to give that, you know, Marathon scene or whatever sort of feeling.

James 37:11
Yeah, it is a little bit like me, as I'm saying, isn't it like I think that's, that's also a kind of good term, I just want to think about film quite a bit, because that was a huge interest of mine, at one point want to be a film director. So film compared to that sort of thing. I think, like a lot of sense of the economy's on sand, I guess, as you said, it's just like, it's the construction, that gives the effect. So this, this is really as I hear you talk about that level of interest in how the theme on product will hang together. Because do that even be thinking in those terms, even if you're not, you're definitely dictating the publisher, but you're kind of coming to them with this is how I see this can go down, is quite extensively deep in terms of thinking about particularly how theme comes to life, because I'm with you there this this element seems really critical is that the idea of you know, painting it on is never going to yield the same results. Something as you said, nice, detailed, familiar games, were actually you're capturing something about the feel of the experience. So the home one, I think seems like a particularly strong example of all the ones that you've said, of like, I'm creating something, there's an aesthetic quality to it. Like I get to arrange things like I would in real life. And I get to have that experience of a rather ritzy, maybe nice kind of like rather Deluxe environment and they go wouldn't quite build for myself, personally, in my own home for valcambi or for sorts of reasons. But I can create it there. Which is yeah, it's very intriguing as a kind of approach. So you would say probably, you're increasingly trying to think to that level when you're designing something. Well, yeah,

I think Well, I see it as that's where the in the really concretely capitalist way of thinking that's where the trend is, I would say like, I think people who play games have now been shown that this is possible. There are examples of games, which can do such a great service to something that I think you're exactly right, that it's both familiar, and also aspirational in some way that you feel like it's sort of possible. So because you have those examples, then you kind of it ups the bar for what you have to be able to deliver or, or rather, you know, you can certainly, I'd say you can definitely get games, you might be able to get a game published, but it's not going to do very well. Because if it's if it's not firing on all the cylinders, because we're just just like, I would say, and just the overall quality of art or components, the the kind of the bar has shifted in the last year or five or 10 years or whatever. So even if you're able to make something even go to publish it that the consumers are expecting something different, they're expecting more, and I think they're expecting more as well and the experience and I think maybe it also generally just speaks to something in the zeitgeist, I guess in terms of like, I guess comfort or the need for the I think your point about it being domestic and us looking to something closer to ourselves that that makes us comfortable or at ease because we sort of don't have control. Now this is just often the pop psychology I guess, but I think that games have not spoken to that. Feeling very often they haven't they haven't, you know, they haven't been thought of as meditative, for example. And now we have, you know, a gentle rain from Kevin Wilson, for example, and exercise, which is basically described as, as a meditation, you know, the playing of a game situation, I think we're going to see more and more thinking in this this way that as you said, it's going to bring new people into playing board games.

James 40:23
I think it's fascinating. I think it's important to speculate on these things anyway, because I think even if you as you say is different, come on, this sort of thing is basically impossible to prove. Yeah. But nonetheless, I think is worth considering if you're serious about thinking that way games are going. So I think this is this is really fascinating. The next thing I'd like to talk about a little bit about your relationship with publishers, then and obviously, where you can give me practical example, I think that's really cool. Let's say you've got a game, you've already considered a lot of this kind of thing upfront. And you've picked something and someone has, the publisher said, it's great. I really love this, I want to sign you. Practically speaking, once that process has begun. As a designer, what tends to be your involvement now in the process? Are you mostly done at this point? Are you quite quite in there with the publisher and how specifically you kind of workshopping things with them to get it to the final hurdle?

It really, really depends on the publisher, I think, I think I realised that there's more responsibility on my side to try and be as involved as possible, in that I have no sort of responsibility. But if I want to gauge the speed, I can't just sit back and sort of, it's not about not trusting a publisher, but it's about applying, you know, an extra set of eyes at every point in order to maximise the thing we're going to make together. So the more I can devote to that process, there's a chance that I will be able to contribute. Now, it really does depend on how the publisher works there. And it just it's, you know, basic things like communication, and even things like timelines, even language barriers can be different. You know, if you're working with publishers, who aren't native English speakers, unfortunately, I'm a very lazy native English speaker, it doesn't speak any foreign languages, which, which is on me, because obviously, the position I've worked with, or at least bilingual, you know, many times. So, you know, I try to be as bold as I can. And I think I again, realise that I can't, I can't blame anyone but myself, if I'm not if I'm not trying to do that. Now, of course, there are some times when it's just not possible. And a publisher doesn't work like that, and they will, and you just have to go, Okay, well, but that comes down to I would say, that's the decision, when you sign that contract, you have to be happy with how you, you know, you're going to work with that publisher. And I think, I would say to a lot of designers, especially, you know, don't have as much experience, you know, at that point where they offer you a contract. That's the point when you definitely should ask questions about the product, how do they? What's their vision for the game? How do they envision, you know, deadlines and timelines of the project? How do they envision that they're going to share progress on the game and ask for your feedback, you know, academically understand, and I was there too, when you're, when you're offered a contract, you're like, wow, it's I get to publish a game? Where do I sign kind of thing. But to realise, much like any other kind of negotiation in life, and for jobs, or otherwise, like, you have a lot of power in that moment, the moment they say they want to publish your game, like they want that game, there's no problem with saying asking these questions, these are not really saying I don't want to work with you necessarily. They're just, it helps to set out a good way that you might want to work together. And if you don't know, they'll publish that, well, it might help you even make the decision whether you want to publish with that publisher or not. Because if they can't tell you, well, we don't know how we're going to work on the game, or we don't know, we don't have a product vision for the game, you know, sometimes that you hope that a publisher sees who is this going to be forwarded, they have ideas of what they're going to do with art or components or, and you need to have those conversations. I think, once you've signed, hopefully, like all these concerns about how involved you're going to be you've kind of been able to consider them at that point. And then you can you can work in, in a meaningful way. After that. Yeah, it's, I can talk about a few specific examples just to show the kind of breadth because, you know, we're still a fairly boutique industry that, you know, public was working in many different ways. Yeah. Monuments, also, monuments was a large Kickstarter, you're probably the largest game ever designed civilization kind of game, lots of minis on Kickstarter, and did all these sort of things. But I originally, you know, I pitched the game as a as a card only game effectively. And yeah, and fun forge had this amazing vision for the game, which was part of the kind of initial conversation that they had this vision for a much bigger world to get into get lost in and figures and tiles and things. But that meant that I was much much more involved with the game in the kind of after the signing stage, because they came into that saying, you know, this is our vision, but we need you to also work with us to get there because that we need to make sure that the mechanisms how the game works, needs to match that vision. We need to you know, all those assets need to be in harmony and the final product. So I was much much more involved in that kind of developing that and sort of holding the gameplay on Long with their kind of more creative kind of concerns or thematic visions sort of things. Although, of course, on the other side, sometimes you'll work with publishers. Sorry, not on the other side. Another example is that, you know, I've been really lucky to work with a few very established publishers, such as days, wandering Space Cowboys, both, you know, and in those companies very well established editors and product managers. And one thing I'll point to is, is in face cowboys, so those, especially outside the French speaking world, I don't think it's as widely known, but you know, these are the founders of Asmodee, effectively, you know, these are the, you know, the folks that the Senate has been a, you know, 2030 years ago, as very small publisher. And, you know, once as they became what it is, you know, they set up their own kind of thing to make the games they want to make, but actually, you know, each each of the folks there has a real talent for something. And actually, when you make a game with them, you very quickly, they're very open to collaboration, very open to feedback, but actually, you get such a benefit from their expertise, especially say, of one political Philip Moray, who I don't think is very well known outside of the French speaking world, but he is one of the, you know, the main people that Space Cowboys was asked for, and he's a product manager, you know, he's his talent is product, you know, in terms of, you know, managing, you know, costs, managing artists, thinking about components, thinking about UX, that is his he has a talent for that. And it's been honed over many decades. And I think if you were looking at any of Space Cowboys games, I think you see that you don't necessarily know it, because I think it's something that when done well is very intuitive. It's not necessarily, but you will see in all of their games is always a little touch, which is just, you know, like the chips in splendour, like they didn't have to be focused. I

James 46:48
was going to say that straightaway. That was what I was thinking as well. Yeah,

exactly. I think that's fit. That's Philippe, I'm pretty sure. Although it may have been a group group decision. You'll have everyone one time, but yeah, well,

James 47:00
he will be Oh, God, I'd love to Yeah, be faster, or the,

you know, in illicium, which was the game we made with them, he was the one who managed the eight honours. So each artist did one God. And that's a really defining feature in that game, because, you know, you have a Dex, and you're gonna choose five to mix together. And each of them has their own real theme. And he was the one who thought, let's get eight separate artists to really give their own style to that thing, and more. And he managed all of that, and made that work. And also, you know, they're all usually have amazing inserts, you know, like, Blackfeet isn't like a skull and bones and the insert, like, Elysium has this great, sort of, like, Greek temple. So I guess, the point about working with publishers was that sometimes you also, you just better I mean, you sort of lucked out as a designer, that it's not that you take a back seat, but it's that you, you're really, really fortunate to work with people who have and it doesn't have to only be the people have had decades of experience. There are also some very, you know, publishers who haven't been around for very long, I think of people like Keymaster, for example, who did parks, I'd very, very much like to make a game with them, because I think they also understand product very well. And you can see that sometimes for the background, the company's big potato games, I think it's a really nice examples. Well, they, as I understand they came from, not from really the game space, I think maybe more from the events or advertising kind of space into games. And again, I think you can see how they conceive a product. So I'd say to designers, like, look for the you know, the best way to do it is for you also to be involved, but to partner up with people who have complementary skill sets and who have a knack for that kind of thing. Impossible.

James 48:27
Yeah, well, I guess that's something and it's something which you can see. And then as you said, like it is it by its nature. Often it's subtle, like it's not something that's like a single obvious thing. But it's something that comes across in the final product design out of interest in Space Cowboys, is his job product manager, is that his title or something else?

I mean, I think it may now be something even more senior than that, because I'd been there for years, effectively one of the dodos to hit it, he might be head of studio now. But that that right, okay, sort of what we did as Vinay would have been a product manager. Of course, even the word Product Manager is a bit tricky, because sometimes that can really mean something close as a project manager. Because if you think of products as games, and each project is a game, then you can also kind of be a project manager. So like within that job, there's lots of diversity, but his his skill, I think, is the actual creation of the product and the things that go into that, but also good at the kind of organisational stuff as well.

James 49:22
That's interestingly, that's not a thing unique to games, I think, is a confusion because that's very much the case in software, which is where I came from my background is obviously being a product manager in software. And the difference between projects and product managers, there isn't always clear because some product managers are not really given much in the way of true autonomy to decide the vision of the product, and therefore they're really just project managers. And most product managers have to do some project management. It's very rare that you get to be the visionary and you aren't also doing quite well project management as well. That's that's you really lucked out if you're that person, but that's very rare that companies have those roles. So that's, that's super cool, because that's the first time I've heard of any other company doing that. That's exactly what I would do. If we got to a point, hopefully, maybe in the future where we're scaled enough that we need more than me to do that, then a product manager is exactly the kind of person I would have. Because cuz I think because just think considering it from that perspective, that's a way of partly making sure that's the case by framing the role like that.

Yeah, the other the other one that comes to mind is conco, games and Prospero because I think, if you want to think about delineating player roles, I mean, I think they are, you know, a fantastic model for that. In terms of product managers, and designers, and illustrators, and testers, they everyone has roles within that company, and they all work together on a project. So yeah, that also probably be great for you, you should should get one of them on.

James 50:44
I would love to, I think this is something I really love to do, and maybe introduce to people who have Yeah, particularly the role of product manager already in a publishing company would be actually brilliant person to bring on and it's something that yeah, I generally don't hear of it, the title use very much. So I think that's really cool. On that note, and in terms of how things fit together, this is a really good point talk about I think, your collaboration and how you work with other designers. Because, obviously, we've talked a lot about we've used words like vision, we've talked about a lot of you personally involved in things, but I can always, always the first thing I think of when you're working with other people, and you've you've published pretty much every one of these titles with at least one other collaborator, it's very easy to talk about vision when it's like a single visionary having thoughts about how things should fit together. But if you're designing something even quite early on with someone else, they're not just coming on later, as a developer to tweak a few things in the process. How does that work in terms of having a coherent vision and hammering that out together? And I'm really curious to know about how your regular collaborations

work? Yeah, I think, at the basis of all of that is some sort of underlying sort of trust or understanding that you kind of are on the same page, almost like irrespective of the project, or irrespective of the game, I think you tend to make more games with a few people then then one game with lots and lots and lots of people, because there is something about, you know, like a friendship or a or any sort of partnership, you fall into a trust with each other that even in a very early point of the project where maybe one, you know that always at the end of the project, it's going to be more one person's head than the other, I just, I don't believe that ideas can be simultaneously worked on, especially at the early stage. You know, I always think when you have a first you there has to be one person or make the first prototype, that at least that's my viewpoint. And of course, at that point, it is purely in one person's head. And of course, the other person kind of say, oh, yeah, that's what I'm thinking. But actually, until it really exists, and you kind of play it, they might not even know what it is. Or you might not even be thinking about the same thing, you might think you know, what you think about but like, when you have a good working relationship, there's sort of a trust that even if I don't really understand that the start, I know, we're going to build it towards something that we're both happy with. And then there's even as sort of an internal kind of pitching process in that, you know, one side will kind of pitch to the other and say, like, oh, this this, whatever idea is sort of sound like something you might be interested in working on, you know, is it the kind of, and you're kind of sounding each other out, but it is something that fits. And I think, you know, once you get past that first point, you have a kind of a working prototype, then then it's, I think, I think, to be honest, it's just so much more about the relationship than it is about the game. Ultimately, like the fact that, that I publish games with people speaks more to them as CO designers, as people to work with, then about the game itself. Because that ultimately, I think, is what determines whether a game gets finished or not, you can have a fantastic idea that you're both working on. But if you can't figure out a way to kind of work together in a productive way or find, you know, there's not one way but if you can't pay in a way, then you know, you're not gonna finish a game. So I think it's sort of teasing out from each other. What what do you bring to the process? How does it how do you bounce off each other so that you're always bouncing towards the finish line, rather than bouncing back towards the start or something. And there are people that I tried to work with who I you know, kind of friends in real life or acquaintances, I get along very well with them. And it just doesn't work for whatever reason. And it's sometimes hard to really point to exactly what's lacking or what I think difference is actually quite important. I think some I think it's very, very hard to design a game with somebody who's very similar to because then you're not really gaining much from working together you already have the same bases covered I mentioned earlier. We're good bread he has he's fantastic at this sort of editorial binding comes from kind of book publishing actually and I think he's a he's a fantastic place has a very there was a thing that went around in the Cambridge group that you know, your has your game being played tested by Brett Yeah, because it's very, can be very blunt in his feedback, but

he that he has a very sort of questioning mind and he will question even like the most basic assumptions of the game that like why are you doing it that way? Of course, that's incredibly valuable to to improve upon a game and I know I can rely on that when I'm working with him. The flip side of that is he's not very good at necessarily coming up with new ideas when I said that, you know, I'm very plugged into like board game media and I like once again, reds very different. He doesn't really like keeping up with things he doesn't like not on Twitter, for example, with this other is the CIO actually I bring something to the table and I have a much either bigger boat to sort of draw from and I actually most of the games are usually my ideas first. And that's, that's how we work together. And that's, that's our kind of complementary talents. But that's just for us. Another example is with Dave Neal, who I've made some narrative games, we've just had these echoes games published by Robins Berger that just come out, which are audio mystery games. But Dave is also known for he designed the latest, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective box, oh, cool. The new the new one, there was a new box, basically, because obviously, the ones they publish are rolled up. And so he's, he's a writer, really, I mean, he also was a good designer, but his strength is narrative and constructing narrative. And so the way we work together very much is that I usually have a mechanical kind of way to sort of think about, like, how do we put a little twist in this to make a new narrative game? And he kind of sort of take that kind of skeleton or that structure? And then how do I tell a compelling story with those constraints? Or how do I tell a compelling story with the way that I'm going to reveal new parts of that story? You know, because of course, in games, you're you're always kind of experimenting with how a story is going to be told it's a you know, is it linear is fragmented isn't isn't a mystery, as you know, there's things and he has a fantastic talent, sort of take that, that traditional writers, you know, narrative mind and, and be able to kind of, meld it over this sort of weird skeleton of game mechanics, that, that that gives those games and things. So yeah, that's, that's an earlier so yeah, again, a different a different set of ways to think about things, a different set of skills is vitally important.

James 56:38
Yeah, that I find that that's really, really cool, I think to hear a little bit more about about that. So it sounds like to me, you're sort of thinking about your more often the one that sounds like how coming up with initial ideas, maybe maybe not so much in the narrative ones, but certainly when it comes to the most of the games that you work on. And then you, for example, you talk to someone like Brett because you feel like it's it might be a match for him, you'd have this kind of internal pitching process. And then at any given point, it sounds like there's generally someone is taking the lead in the process. So it's like I'm driving towards a prototype, and then someone else is responding to that to what's been created. So there's a kind of like, and there's sometimes there's it swapped, so sometimes will Brett then say make another prototype version back to you? Or will it? Like will it operate like that? Sometimes?

Yeah, actually, there's there's a few definite, I guess, milestones that we don't talk about myself, but I guess you could think of them as milestones with with Brad, is that he also fantastic kind of graphic designer thinks about it very good about information design, I think he has a very, so I mean, one example. So listeners might know about Snowdonia, it's sort of a Game by Tony Boyle. Oh, yes, yeah. And one feature is that the track goes around the edge of the board. And the the action spaces are there's there's a workplace, we get in there actually spaces, sort of numbered lettered a through to F or G, with the idea that, you know, a results before the results will see. And actually Brett's contribution in the playtesting event is just a play tester was to realise that if you, you know, even just how you arrange the action spaces in this kind of following the track around the board just helped the flow of how people thought of how does the game work, you know, and it was the order of things that and of course, in retrospect is just, it sounds obvious, but it wasn't like that initially, and has a knack for sort of being able to, you know, simplify things visually think about how information is presented, which is really important, really important to the prototyping process. And when you're pitching to a publisher, because you know, that just like a big gap in trying to sell a game to a consumer, is that gap in the rules, you know, like, how do they understand the rules? That's also the gap. When you're pitching to a publisher? It's like, how do they understand how to play your prototype effectively. And so the same tricks, the better you can put that into the prototype, and you're just giving yourself a better chance. And so there's always a point in the prototype process where I've been making the prototype from the start. And there'll be a point where it's either settled enough or it's necessary enough that Brett will kind of take over and then he'll be taking over the prototype, at least, like the file making, like maybe I'll be won't be on the content or the or the lead, but he'll be handling the kind of actual, like, how do you make the PDF or put things in Illustrator or whatever. And another point is also the rules. So Brett, is there's always a point where I may have written some rules initially, or, or they're just being spoken. But then there's a point where they sort of codified and again, Brett, he's also extremely talented rules, right? Again, I think is very directly connected with his experience in book publishing. thinks it's just very good at writing that kind of that, you know, I'm not sure if you can remember if you had the rules, right or on the on the on the podcast as yet, but it's a very specific skill set anyway, and he's very, very good at it.

James 59:41
So we had Paul Grogan on

of course, sorry, I listened even listen to that. Yeah. So

James 59:47
yeah, absolutely. And it was, but it was great talking to her about the editing about person for precisely that reason. Like and I think you're completely right. It's like such an incredibly it's incredibly important part of the process for creating something interesting which can which can really work like that. So that's fascinating because it's almost like the role that Brett takes is almost more like, what it sounds like. Anyways, it kind of is almost like a mega developer. In some ways. He's sort of like he's so involved in a way that some developers often aren't, they're more looking at a more narrow slice of it. Like he's thinking more broadly about a whole thing about UX about rules about like everything. But as you said, it's like, it's more of that part of the process, where he's responding, enhancing and clarifying, and all of those things that take it from you and your initial concept into something that becomes and your and your initial design and mechanical ideas and giving it breathing it full life into it. That's really cool. It almost sounds a little bit like the way that you work together is a little bit more like a game studio. In some ways. When I spoke to Sofia and James from MIDI cat games, it was really interesting, what because I wanted to talk for hours, how much the industry seems to almost be evolving that direction. Because if you are a publisher, I know I'd be thinking very straight, simple, simple. If a designer comes to me, and they've thought about all of this stuff already, and they've really thought about it, and you've got, you know, it's like a draft version, because I'm picturing yourself and Brett were, together, you've taken it that it's mechanically satisfying. It's it's it's a great game experience. It's well laid out from a UX point of view, the rules make sense, it's tight, it says all those things. So much easier for me, because I was really thinking great. I've my job is done, the rest of it now becomes more about finance and marketing and production design. When it comes to the art execution rather than that side of it, the more that I know that the project, I can be more sure that this project is going to be a winner because I get to see it complete. Before I started, the better. So do you think this kind of more studio approach is going to become more than norm? I don't know.

I would hope so I did it. I think I think I'm very, very fortunate that Brett's still happy to work with me, like I bring as much to the partnership season because I think you're right actually like he's actually feeling you know, if you thought about filling roles in a studio, he's, he's, he's wearing a lot of hats. And he's, you know, very tight. I think your point about the rules is very sad. There are many publishers who will not only take Brett's rules pretty much, you know, or will even he will effectively be editing them with the publisher, because he I think the other thing, you know, that we should forget, it's still, you know, we're both involved in the actual game and the gameplay and a lot of it is is convincing Brett that he enjoys the game or that it's because it's not it's not we do sort of have different tastes or at least different like tendencies, I would say like where you sort of fall back on it and design and and the really great thing and, you know, earlier sort of talking about aiming for this sort of slightly more casual market. Great thing about designing was bred is that yeah, he will he'll tell you like this, this is just too complicated. Why do I care about this? So, you know, you can't just you know, much like, you know, Euro game as you can just sort of go like, Oh, here are these goals? Like, yes, you should care about them, because they give you points, obviously. But you know, Brett will sort of throw those assumptions out the window. So I think that the studio, I mean, it's just shown to be better, isn't it? I mean, it's just you look at the quality of games coming again from Prospero and Hunger Games, I think it's just a fantastic example. You've got team Kodama in France. So that's Antoine Bowser, Ludovic on Blanc, Rivera, and current and LeBron, they may draft a source together, for example. It's they're they're they're much more similar design studio, I would say that, you know, but between them, they've got lots of different experiences with with publishers and things to think about. So yeah, I think it's, it's a great model, I guess the only sided downside is that maybe that the financial side of it, or the kind of the feasibility of it, I'm not sure if it's completely ironed out. But you can sort of understand this is how I can set it up. And it can work, you know, we don't have enough data points to sort of go like, Oh, this is this off the shelf way to set up the studio and make sure you're, you're you're going to be able to sort because of course, like when you design co design, you're having your royalties, you know, effectively. And I always think that that's, that's worthwhile because I think that I'm getting more than double the number of games finished than I do having the royalties, if that makes sense. Like, I'm sort of, you know, the sum is greater than the parts or something, when you talk about studios with, you know, three or four people or whatever. I mean, that's great. But I guess, maybe the professionalism in the industry, or things about how things are paid, or those kind of structures haven't quite evolved to support that, I think, or at least from my kind of very limited view, because obviously don't see it from the kind of Publisher financial point. So

James 1:04:30
that's a really interesting, interesting point, because it does strike me that the vast majority of these different studios also work very differently. So like, for example, your collaboration with Brett is really interesting. It's quite it's very different how Sophia and James work even though they both fit in that kind of broad studio universe in terms of a way of operating with very different models. So even even just that is obviously far from settled. So in any in any sense of what the best way and then probably it's one of the things that probably never will be It will be a little bit different between because people are different. So they're going to have different ways of working. I think in the knowledge industry particularly, that is likely to continue being the case. Because actually there's there's always like basically no costs or lack of standardisation, between those different ways of working, it's just about finding that the way that works for you. I mean, I think it's really interesting I think about so for all the games that I'm working at the moment are, as is often the case with startup publishers, all developed, have very strong in and of myself and Jaya in them. So we at the moment that this second one that I'm working on learning is going to be the first time we have anyone else really involved in the process, any great degree at the design stage. And actually, the next two after that, if all goes to plan, we'll be back to just Jaya and myself really driving almost all of us that development. So we're we're also a bit like a studio model as well. It's just that we're also the publisher at the same time and doing all of those pieces. So yeah, I think it's really fascinating that the whole the royalties thing, I do wonder about how this will fall out sustainably, I suspect the answer is brutally, that it will be either a fewer number of games, or a smaller number of more and more high selling games, with the royalties divided effectively by being bigger chunks, by each being a chunk bit of a bigger pie. Because I think that marketing is going to become more and more important in terms of marketing spend to make games successful. Because I think anyway, there's no way that the market could remain the shape that it is at the moment where there's still like a very large number of moderately well selling games, whereas I think it's gonna go more long tail in the sense, it's gonna, it's gonna be more classic and internet distribution, where you have a smaller number, a fairly small number of very, very successful games and a very large number of games that are not commercially successful at all. And that's kind of how it already is, as I understand it. But I think it's going to get more pronounced because I don't think it would be sustainable any other way. And then I would guess the successful studios would be sustainable in that model. Precisely because a pretty big pie even divided four or five ways is pretty good. Compared to a, you know, being one designer, and you have 100% of something close to nothing, which is not good. And I can see completely why. Because you said for you personally, it completely makes sense to say, Well, I'm getting so many games made and you are getting an enormous number of games made. And some of those are being really, really successful means that it totally makes sense to divided up between more than one person. That's really cool that that really answers actually one of the listener questions we had this week, which from Alex, and he wanted to know about why the collaborations have been so successful. And I think to me, the way you describe it, I think all of that speaks to why that, that sounds like that works from certainly all of my experience looking not just in games, but way beyond games in terms of collaboration of products in general, before, you know, before I got into this industry. So I've got one of the listener questions I want to get in before we have to draw to a close today. So and that's how do you get yourself into a mindset to sit down and design and not procrastinate, because you are hugely productive? So that's Mike asked that question. I'd be really curious to know what your answer to that is.

I think you can appear to be very productive in the board game industry. But that doesn't relate to hours worked. I would say firstly, because as you said, it's a knowledge industry, right? Not that I think you have a probably a bit of knowledge. I haven't heard that term that much. But it makes sense. In that, you know, an actual, you know, person hours to make a game, there's not very much if you think about it in terms of what you're potentially able to earn from it. It's not like I'm, you know, actually asked us Antoine buzzer once, almost the first time I met him actually, he had just recently gone full time. At that point, I think it was I don't know how many years after seven wonders was but I said how are you more productive since you went full time? And he said, No, I do about the same amount of work. Because, you know, I used to be much more efficient, I really get into the spare time I had. And now that I have all this time I just procrastinate a bit more. And in terms of I think, I think deadlines definitely help in terms of, but I think this question is probably aimed a lot more at the kind of early part of game design because I think it's, it's a little bit easier when you have a game that's kind of on the go to kind of keep going with it. There's lots of you know, like, you've got a play test and another time or you're going to pitch it or you've got to make the rules there's there's lots of little kind of tick boxy things that can help you give that sense of forward progress or momentum. And I guess you could look at the progress light for those those tasks, but they're, they're at least fairly well defined. And usually they're, they're exactly what you want us to be there. They're kind of like, you know, small enough chunks that you can kind of understand that do and but when you kind of have to like come up with a game as this big, you know, amorphous thing that of course, you're going to procrastinate because how do you even How do you even bite off a chunk of that? How do you you and I think all the techniques that people talk about in in making achievable goals I think applied to how do you not procrastinate at that point? How do you break it down to like, I've just got to get this first prototype done, or I'm just going to get 20 cards of this done or if it's so horrible. How do I get five cards done this morning? Or you know, you know, there was a game where I knew I had to make About 60 cards and, and I couldn't use my normal tricks of like, you know, I make 20. And then I tripled them all and make the deck out of that or something, I knew there had to be different. And I knew I needed to take the time, even at the start to try and you know, because the game experience kind of hinged on these cards being different. So I literally had to force myself once every morning, I just do for lifeguards, because that's I hated it. And I and I, you know, it wasn't fun. It wasn't, but but I found, you know, just breaking up those small chunks that I could, you know, and I found some sort of, I'm a bit of a creature of kind of habit or schedule, like I, you know, I got up about the same time every day. And I and I did that. So I think that's one thing, it's sort of that getting in the mind space, I guess it's it's planning how you're going to get the time or how you're going to, you know, I don't really know where my head's going to be, but at least I can kind of put myself in front of my desk and, and give myself a close enough goal that I might work towards it. It just doesn't happen. And I think that I'd actually say the flip side of this point is to just be a bit easier on yourself. I mean, I think it's I mean, it's it's not just in games, right? There's the internet, social media, and blah, blah, blah, there's all these examples of like, oh, designer X is doing, you know, they're, they're releasing another game or publisher, so they've just sold X copies of this, and now they're coming out with the next, you know, amazing thing. And it's this sort of barrage, and, you know, you just don't see all of the many, many years of work and, you know, delays and, you know, you know, as a publisher, you know, you're maybe just sitting around for a year, just waiting for your game you get on a boat or something, you know, it's not Yeah, or whatever, you know. So, as a designer, you can feel very much like, oh, my gosh, I'm just wasting my time, you know, like, Oh, look at all these things happening. But you don't see that. I'm sure. Majority designers procrastinate just as much as anybody else. And I think just being a bit kinder to yourself in that, I think is actually the most valuable thing, you know, you get to the end of the day and say, Look, I've made the best of the day I could, it's over, I'm okay with that. I think my thinking would be as if you're able to sort of be able to do that. I think, game designing, however it's going to fit into your life is the most sustainable thing, because you can sort of live with it, regardless of whether you finish a game or not, you kind of find that the the enjoyable part. And except that procrastination and time wasting is is part of it. And I don't think anyone really comes up with a new game when they're attentively writing a rule set or or doing this sort of heavy analytical task or sweating at the table trying to do something, it just comes from so many random other places that you don't you don't need to work 100% of the time, you know, to get there. So, yeah. A bit of a ramble, I guess.

James 1:12:44
No, I think I think it makes a lot of sense. I actually think that that time to be open with not doing something specific is so important. Because as you said, like I think it's it's the procrastination is along for the ride. To some extent, I remember reading a really interesting article by a guy called Tim Harford, who's the undercover economist, from the ft. And he writes some interesting things. And it was a piece about creativity from his book messy, which is really, really good, I think conservative creativity, that showed that the people who are the most likely to be distracted, or on average, are the most creative. So there is that thing, where it's sort of an inevitable part of being the kind of person that gets to be distracted. And the frustrating thing was, was that the people who are most productive, who also creative with the people who tended towards being distracted a lot, who were able to bring themselves back on focus again when they needed to. And it wasn't about not being distracted. I'm not procrastinating. Sometimes it was very much about how you kind of just keep it under control of it. Yeah. And I think that makes a huge amount sense. Yeah, and

it just to go on to that a little bit. I think it's finding, I think there is one thing I could definitely say that it maybe is a little directive is it's finding, I think everyone has some Yeah, way that puts you in this sort of, sort of distracted yet. It's also talked about, you know, the two sides of the brain, you've upkeep one side, so we're happy to let the other one kind of think of it. And so, for me, I know and I now know it very well is if I need to go for a walk, I need to walk around a blog, I will walk the same route, I've always walked basically, wherever I am staying, I always know a route. And I will do that same route or one or two routes. And I just know that somewhere along that if I do it enough time I'm going to solve the problem or I'm going to think of the thing or I'm going to and of course that's not the same for everyone. Sometimes it might be you know, you know that if you're in your favourite chair or something and a cup of tea or people's brains work in different ways to do that. But I think if you know, if you could somehow, you know, test experiment with yourself to find that. It's not about a mindset, I guess it's about some combination of activity or place that gives you that that is retracted and it's in the it's hard to be away from the theatre. I can't be listening to music. I mean, I think I sometimes wonder about having an iPhone actually is it was bad When I you know, I had to be on a train or a bus and I couldn't really do anything, you know, if I, you know, if I if I didn't want to, like put an effort and like read something, for example, as as amazing as podcasts are, I'm not going to think about a new game when I'm listening to a podcast. That's it. I'm not distracted. I'm attentively listening. So, you know, it's not taking my phone out when I'm on the metro and trying to remember that if I can, and maybe I'm going to have a chance to, like, have something in the five minutes awaiting something or, but yeah, that all took off. We're going for a walk where I'm not listening to anything. I don't have any digital things. You know, I have some internal monologue that's going but it's almost like a not exactly meditative. But it's not sort of attentively thinking it's just sort of churning over things. So yeah, if I find your way, I guess would be the sort of, what does it says very global something,

James 1:15:48
anyway? Yeah, completely? No, I think it's about doing that. And I think that's really an interesting point about not always being able to be attentive, I think this thing about boredom, being actually really important is definitely something which is underrated. And I don't think it's just over. It's not just us already going, Oh, back in the old days, things were better. Or you could meet these kids with their smartphones or something like that. But, but I think they I think there is something much more material there. Because certainly when it comes to more literary stuff that I used to be more interested in, right in doing sort of writing short stories or things, I haven't done that such a long time. And I think partly because I am no longer just sitting there and just thinking up stories and thinking about a narrative in my head on a train somewhere doing nothing. And I think that's the impact of that socially, is something that I think we're not even going to understand yet. It's going to take some time for us to realise it. So I think it's good to be getting on that early and thinking Hang on a minute, that might have been an advantage to that boredom that we're there just by alleviating it all the time. We're probably missing out on something. You know, I feel like so much of almost everything about human nature is like that, to some extent, like there's a reason why it's the way that it is. And it's not completely arbitrary, which is really critical. Awesome. Well, this is this has been absolutely fantastic. I really enjoyed chance to get stuck into the product questions. What should we be looking forward from

you coming soon? Yeah, so I guess the very few things is that there are these new echoes, audio mysteries for Roethlisberger. There are the audio. Yeah. So they they use in an app which in which you have cards and your the app will scan a card and then play out a sort of an audio memory that it surrounds that object. And you have to use those fragments as audio fragments to determine the kind of order of objects in the story. I'm really happy with that. And this is CO design with David Neil. It's just been released in German, I think it should be available in English soon. It'll be definitely very widely available from September, but you can probably get it from few places even now. And I guess a second thing is I have a Kickstarter for a game called the gardens section kind of, weirdly, personally, we're talking about sort of specific themes. I think this is a really great example. It's because it's with growl games. They're an Australian publisher. I'm Australian as well, though maybe people don't know that. But this is both a place where both from Sydney originally, and it's a place at the city botanic gardens that we both know well. And they've taken a game that we pitched as a as a sort of a stately Victorian garden game for at night, and have really strongly given it a sense of place, and a sense of history and lots of beautiful, wonderful details. We've developed a little bit more with them. So that game is coming to Kickstarter in August. But if you you can look on my Twitter feed, I think I've definitely shared details you can sign up and to be notified for when that Kickstarter will go live. So yeah, those are the main things.

James 1:18:30
Fantastic. I will keep an eye on those the idea of integrating audio, these kind of things more into board games. So cool. I'm always fascinated by like that, that sort of new media side of it, and how that all kind of interacts is something I think that there's so much more yet to be done with that. That's really cool. And yes, thank thanks again, so much for joining me, was brilliant dive into that. And hopefully people typically will find it really interesting from a perspective of as designers what to be thinking about, I think when they're when they're approaching publishers who you know, are looking at some of these products. So that's really great. Thank you so much again, thank you Joe's producing fun is produced by nailing games. If you enjoyed the show, follow us on Spotify, Stitcher or other major podcasting platforms. Remember, producing fun is also a product and it thrives on feedback. So please leave a review wherever possible, or simply send me your feedback directly. You can message me on Twitter at Noah James and write me an email James at Nayla Until next time.


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