Producing Fun is a podcast about making tabletop games from a product perspective.
Sophie and James run Needy Cat Games – a tabletop game studio based in Nottingham, UK. As a studio they have a nearly unique model – designing games on demand for clients with IPs, miniatures and other assets rather than pitching their work to publishers. In this conversation we talk about how the studio model works, the so-called Kickstarter treadmill, how creativity arises from well constructed project briefs and the future of the game market.
Listen on podcasting platforms: https://anchor.fm/naylorgames/episodes/Sophie-Williams–James-Hewitt—Game-Studio-e13kq4l
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Needy Cat Games website: http://www.needycatgames.com
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I'm James, and this is producing fun, a podcast about making games from a product perspective. Welcome to Producing fun. My guests this week are Sophie Williams and James Huet. Together they run needy cat games a game studio located in Nottingham here in the UK. Nearly cat games is not a publisher, James and Sophie create new games but they don't finance and market them. They also don't work like conventional game designers either. They don't go around pitching games to different companies in the hopes of being published. Rather, they create games to order based on client requests, leveraging their considerable experience working for Games Workshop, an hour range of other tabletop companies. In their day to day work, they go well beyond the traditional remit of a designer to considering usability, graphic design and component count limitations laid down by clients in their work. In some projects, they will even manage graphic designers and artists themselves completing critical tasks sits squarely with the publisher in most situations. The game studio model is still a real rarity in the world of tabletop games. But to me, it represents an interesting new development. While Kickstarter has made more generalists than ever, self published creators like myself shepherding ideas all the way from back of the envelope to shrink wrap games sitting on store shelves. This kind of specialisation is exactly the sort of thing I'm expecting to see more of in future. As Sophie and James are very honest about in this interview, there's almost no one who really has both the skills and the interest in doing every single part of this complex process. as the industry grows, and the competition for great commercially appealing games gets ever tougher, it seems natural to me that skills will increasingly divide organisations into different specialisms. Why wouldn't people who excel at design and development just want to do that, just as those who make financial bets on titles or specialise in marketing, are likely to find their own niche over time. Sophie and James's unique experience and approach give them a deep insight into making games from a more product oriented perspective than most designers. For anyone making games. This interview is densely packed with useful advice from driving creativity with a tight brief to the so called Kickstarter treadmill. And it's dangerous from when and how to integrate artists and graphic designers into the design process to a fascinating discussion on the future of the market. This is one conversation you don't want to miss. We join just as they explain what a game studio does.
So I think we're in a really unique position, I can think of up to a dozen, maybe people that I know of that do similar things to what we do.
We're not a publisher. And I think that's the thing is a lot of people think of a game studio as being someone who publishes their own games. And we don't do that.
Basically, you've got the publishers, and then there are designers and designers, they will design a game and go and pitch it to publishers. And say we'd like this, we'd like you to publish this game. And there's a back and forth there. What we do generally is we work with clients who already have an idea for a game, or they have an access to an IP, or they have a range of miniatures or something they would like to turn into a game. But they don't have that skill set. So what we do is we work with them to a brief if you work out and we create games effectively on
demand, we create games to fulfil a brief from a client, which is very different, because I think the sort of standard way is if you're like your stereotypical game designers, you will design a bunch of games. So you might design one or two games, or I've heard of people who've got 10 designs or like ready to go and they'll make excell sheets, and they'll pitch them to publishers, and they'll go to meet publisher events. And they'll try and pitch their game. And publishers are going to these events, maybe making their own games, but also going oh, well what we want is like I don't know, a game for eight to 12 year olds that uses no more than a deck of 60 cards. And a $20 dollar price point. Yeah, and only plays in 15 minutes. And they might have a very specific need. And what they're doing is they're looking out for people who fulfil their need, who also have a great product. And that is quite difficult to do because you're matching up, whatever someone's just thought of as a cool thing to make, which is completely random. Like amazing ideas came come out of that. And some amazing things are made. But if it's not exactly what you're looking for it then it's really difficult to get picked up.
We've we've both had a fair bit to do with the tabletop mentorship programme. So you know talk from last last week. Imposter Syndrome syndrome and no one knows they're doing one of my former mentees, a woman called Danielle she was telling me about how she was doing this crazy whistlestop tour. She's using all of her annual leave at work to go to every convention in the US. This is quite a big convention circuit. And she's trying to get to every single one to pitch her game everyone we're a public She was in attendance to pitch her game. I mean, she has so many games to work on. All right, fantastic games, but she just kept being told it's not quite what we need right now. And the thing is, when you think how many designers they must see, and how crowded the board games market is, generally, you realise what kind of a lightning strike.
And then I think you get people who self publish, either by just going and making the game themselves. Although a lot of people put it on Kickstarter, if you
can think of any examples James speak up
was struggling a little bit who would go something as mad as that
we sort of landed somewhere in the middle. And
we sort of looked at it and we realised for all our faults, and plugging away at things we don't really enjoy, like admin, we did realise early off the bat that we would not suit just making games, and then trying to pitch them, that wasn't going to be a thing. And also, there's no guaranteed income there. And if we were going to start something where we were quitting our jobs to do it, because you've been doing it? Well, we've both been sort of dabbling for a long time. But you've been game designing since you were like,
my first game was when I was five, I found it recently. It wasn't great. I'll give myself a little bit of leeway. He needed way more testing, the artwork was way off.
Maybe you had your five year old self hadn't really properly considered product market fit.
I think that was actually that was the key issue. Yeah. If I have the time, I'll go back and give myself a lecture. But yeah, so I think I've been learning games for a long time. And I've been doing it professionally with Games Workshop for a while, you had a really strong interest in games only, it helped me develop lots of
Yeah, well, loads of play testing and development with you on all the stuff you were doing for your own, like hobby for quite a long time. And then we were like, well, if this is something we're actually going to do, we need to have like a guaranteed income. But So originally, we were like, Oh, this will be a thing we do for a while we'll just make games for other people. While we set up systems in place so that we can self publish through Kickstarter. And that was always our sort of original concept, wasn't it? So we were just like, oh, well, we happen to have connections within the industry. And because James have been against the zone of for Games Workshop, you were like people coming up to you going, would you write as a game? So we will I will, this is a perfect like gap in the market, because actually not many people. I mean, as we said, there are people out there doing it, there's not many, where just people can walk, go up and be like, I've got this idea, will you write it? For me, that's not generally, mostly how the industry works. So we were like, This is a nice little niche for us to get comfortable, get established. And then producer again,
the first couple of years of working, we were always looking ahead, we're thinking right, we're doing this for now. But later on, we're going to get into the meat of what we're doing later. I think we've just realised actually slow down. This is what we're good at. We're good at making games for other people. And if that means that we can use that, to create space in our schedule to make a game for ourselves once in a while, then that's good. But really, the bread and butter of this job that we do, as far as Studio does, is always going to be bespoke game design for the company. Yeah. Because, as you say, it's a model that works. It supports us as a business. We're not having to gamble capital, we don't have on loads of Kickstarter and things and potentially get off that Kickstarter treadmill that you see some small companies struggling with where they they lowball a Kickstarter in order to make money, right, then they do a second Kickstarter to fund the first Kickstarter, and then you can't escape that.
That seems to be a real problem in the industry, to some extent, right amongst maybe among smaller companies. I haven't seen Siemens detailed accounts. But I do wonder a little bit if they're in a somewhat similar situation, right. Although certainly their products you could you can't argue that Siemens products are underpriced.
Absolutely. Well, I think the thing is, as well as that you get trapped in it. But also, there's this huge pressure from backers, it becomes this very stressful thing of like, how do you set your stretch goals? There's now this expectation that you're always must have stretch goals. Not everyone does it? But most people do. You always have must have stretch goals, you always must have some kind of good deal for the consumer. It's not just that they're getting the game, they're getting a cool bunch of stuff with it, and costing that and planning it out. And then the realities of costs changing or just you get a slight miscalculation. And that's it, you're borrowing money from your future self. And then you're you're stuck because you've already promised the game to however many people. It's like I saw recently, I think it was last week, shipment containers from China are going for like up to 10 times their price at the moment. Because there's so few of them coming out at the moment because of everything's going on. Sometimes it's double but it can be up to 10 times. So there are lots of small companies who just can't ship their game, they just can't afford to. Unfortunately, it's just a risk that you have to take and it costs a lot and you can do it but by spending more money and that means you need more money. So as you get stuck, I think
another issue that kind of feeds into it is that a large chunk of it tabletop games industry is hobbyist led, by which I mean, no one gets into manufacturing nuts and bolts because it's the thing they want to do. I mean, designing games making games, and that tends to be a thing people get into, because they really want to do it. And so there tends to be a little bit of rose tinted glasses, optimism, around a lot of things. And so people will go, I really want to go to Kickstarter. And really what they want out of it, is they just want to have their game made and be out there being played by people. Yeah. And so they're kind of willing to go well, I don't need to make maximum profit losses out there. And so they set their margins incredibly low thinking we're gonna make profit, and then something happens, exchange rates fluctuate, border treaties, change whatever it might be. And suddenly, they're now paying 10% More than they thought they were
going to, and then the margin just can't absorb that. And as a person
by themselves, not a business, they don't have 20 grand of capital sitting around to just throw a project necessarily. And that's how these these things can happen, I think, and even when a business starts finding its feet, a lot of the time that people working, there will still be people who are first and foremost, board game hobbyists who are doing this. You're not necessarily people coming in, because let's let's face it, this is not an industry that you come into to make Mega bucks. Yes, it's
a growing industry. But it's not something that you're gonna be an overnight millionaire. Yeah,
exactly. And so I think people that are really I mean, in it for the love of it. And that means that it's easy to have, you're heartbroken, I think, and that can have financial repercussions, that could really hurt business.
That's interesting, isn't it? Because it sounds to me, then we talk about the kind of few key issues there. So there's one, there's this kind of question that a lot of people who get into it, because it's hobbyist led don't necessarily make, let's be completely honest, here, the sound is business decisions, right? The problem is partly that they're saying, Well, I'm doing this as a hobby, so I don't need to make money. And they're thinking, therefore, it's fine as margins are low. Whereas actually, that's not really that great, because you're not considering all of the different things that can come along and screw you quite badly. I mean, shipping for one for me, I can attest that right now. I think in the end, we're going to spend something like 18,000 more dollars or something on shipping than we really needed to originally, ouch, it's very painful. But it's at the same time, it's like, well, there isn't really another option, because we have to deliver it so that we can move on and do other things. That's not a cost. A lot of people are in a position to the hilarity just absorb that impact. Yeah. The second issue is one that I also found very interesting in what you're saying, which is quite calibrating a Kickstarter campaign, and things about about planning around shipment around stretch goals. Even if you just give yourself a little bit extra slack, what we're talking about there, it's like a whole set of expertise, that's really completely different to the expertise of designing games.
Yeah. And you miss judge one of those like, say you go, if my game gets another 10 grand, I'll put minis in the game, and people think that's a cool stretch. Everyone do Oh, woe betide them. And it's like putting minis in the game might cost you 15 grand, and so therefore, you've actually lost money. So you might have hit all your stretch goals and done a good chunk over as you're losing money now, because you didn't realise that just paying for a single tool was six minutes was going to cost you 8000 pounds, let alone getting them sculpted, let alone getting them concepted in the first place, let alone getting working. The tools actually works. Yeah, it just so much stuff. And you just think that you might get a quote from someone who says, Yeah, I can do that. I can do that for you. And they're trying to get your business. So they lowball the quote, and then you go back to them. And then they're like, oh, no, actually, it's sort of that that quote, didn't
include one extra minute
you've put in there now, because of another stretch goal has pushed it onto to tools rather than one, or whatever it is. And that's, that's all it takes. So you have to highly calibrate it and really think about it. And it doesn't take much to accidentally step left or right and it be wrong, or you pitch your numbers wrong. So it starts losing rather than especially
when so much of it can be guesswork, like there are very few solid figures initially, when you when you go to a manufacturer to get a quote, for example, you know, you don't know how many you need to be made don't know what the thickness they can't be, because you're planning on doing a stretch or uplift the quality of your cards, whatever it might be. So you have all these kind of it's like there's like a dark alchemy to working out, you know, a funding goal. Yeah. And then, and you know what your pledge levels are? And then and then you realise there are these weird little points. Like, for example, when we were looking at the past, we had a whole thing where the manufacturer would do quantities of 501,000, or two and a half 1000 It might be 1000 to two and a half thousand, 5000. Yeah. And if you go one copy above one of those levels, you have to pay for the next one up. And so you have these like these danger pinch points where suddenly if you do exactly 1001 copies, your margins disappear.
Yeah, because you're having to pay for two and a half thousand copies. Yeah, that like and I think it's even more dangerous because like, you might be able to squeeze that one extra game out of them by begging but like, if you're getting to like 1100 You're far too comfortably in that next bracket. And now that's it, you've made no money because you've had to pay for more than double what you wanted.
And none of this stuff is game design. You know, if you're saying I want to design games online, again, I'm gonna go to Kickstarter, you don't think about you think, Oh, I'll do a Kickstarter campaign wins, Yay, I get money, I make it right. And no, that's the start of the hard work. And then you have all this extra stuff to do.
And what we realised after all of that, as a roundabout way is we didn't want to
do any of that. It's a minefield,
it's an it's stressful, and it's we tried doing it once, and it was a nightmare. And it was it. The fact was, is that just the amount of work you'd put into the prep for that one game, we could have made another game in that
time. You know, we want to put food on the table, we've got a five year old, we've got a mortgage to pay, we are very lucky to be in a position where we can make games and get paid for it. So and so for anything to displace that time when we're doing that. It has to give a similar kind of payback. Otherwise, we can't pay the bills.
If what we're doing already works, why are we trying to eventually get to a point where we're doing what everyone else is doing? It's what we do works. And we have a nice niche. It's like a little niche.
I think we're lucky. We get to work with people who want to work with you know, we're picking and choosing, we're being we're able to turn projects down if they're not, I think we're particularly bad at doing so we're basically having a cake and eating it and just having a great time. Yeah,
it sounds like a really great model for you to be running, you get to do game design, you get a secure income from it, which is something which only generally speaking, a handful of game designers globally have something like a secure income from game design, where that their royalties are so substantial, that they're able to live off those. That's a very select club. How does it feel though, the fact that maybe you don't always get to do that many of your projects, because it's always someone else's ideas that you have to work on,
I really just wish we could do a thing that is completely 100% ours and have the ability to not daft on us chin, because when you do a project like this, you are very much designing something to brief and let's face it, nine times out of 10. People want something they recognise, they don't want kind of wacky new ideas necessarily. They want something which does a job that they recognise they want a dungeon crawler or whatever else it might be that we always get hired to do. And they want a thing where you have a bunch of heroes, every player plays a hymn or you fight against the AI deck controlled bad guys. And we've done this a few I start running out of ideas. And also the thing is, we're never happy to just do the same thing
we don't. There's definitely design DNA, what we call it like you can see if you've got all of our games, that's one another, you'd see some themes. But we make sure that they all have a different way of running a different way of playing in, you know, a different way of winning them. They've all got different strings that we're pulling on. It does get to a point where you're like, I don't want to do another dungeon crawler. Yeah, but at the same time, I'm not ragging on dungeon crawlers, because I actually I really do enjoy doing them.
You just want the variety, right? Like, to some extent, yes. The opportunity to explore different things. I mean, that's the kind of soul of creativity, right? It's novelty.
Absolutely. But What's lovely about what he told brief, is the moment you have a brief, your job becomes easier as a game designer, because when you tell yourself and this is actually something we talk about in our game design courses, when you tell yourself you can do anything that's actually extremely intimidating, like do anything in the whole wide world. Just yeah, it's it's so big. When you start where if you said someone, right, okay, it has to fit in this size box. Well, that's actually a restriction you're like, okay, so it can't be on a giant inflatable bouncy castle. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. But that cuts off like one of those wacky ideas. And then you're like, oh, what we want is this. So using these miniatures are set in this world, and you start to give yourself challenges. And the moment you start giving yourself challenges you can problem solve. And problem solving is what leads to game design, in my opinion. The problem is, is that if you've got anything that is such an overwhelming amount of stuff, so even when you're designing games for yourself, no, I don't think so. Because we tell people write yourself a brief because even if you end up changing that prefer not doing that, it'll give you a starting point, like your first step down the road. And that is something that's lovely about our job. So we do miss the freedom but also having the restriction is the thing that makes our job
easier. Occasionally, we get a constraint on on a brief where it is hell and we bash our heads against the wall repeatedly trying to make it work. I can imagine Yeah, yeah. But at least at that point, you can go back to the client and say, Okay, this this feels like it's not working. How solid is it? Can we tweak it? Can we change it? But it is not. That gives you an interesting challenge, which yes, it lively? Well, I
think a great example is when I worked on League of infamy, there was quite a strict restriction on The amount of cards we had for like equipment. And I found that so difficult and I wrestled with it for weeks. But what actually come out the other end is a system where you sell back most of your kit, and you only keep a couple of pieces, which actually avoids that thing you get in a lot of Dungeon Crawlers where you get like equipment bloat, where you just by the time you get to the fifth dungeon, you've got everything, and you've got so much stuff, you can't even remember what all your kit does. And it's stacked underneath one another. And it becomes this thing where people don't really care about kit, because as the values you've already got everything you could get
at the end, isn't it? Yeah, level 10. You know, has anyone got a thing that will help with this? And everyone looks down this like, two page inventory? Yeah, somewhere in here. I've got some stuff.
Yeah, exactly. So. And actually, what it did was it forced me to reassess all of those easy assumptions about dungeon crawlers, and actually made me come up with a system, which I'm really proud of, which is like a way where you sell back your kit, and that can give you some more renown. And it's a thing where infamy sorry, it's a thing that actually makes the game better. But the restriction was extremely difficult. It was a real challenge for a long time.
This is the power of creative constraint, isn't it? It forces you to be creative. In fact, actually, if you have no constraints at all, all you have is a vacuum. It's so interesting that the way you say that, because I think when I think about all the kinds of projects we're working on right now, the games of which there are now probably four or five in the pipeline. With all of those, the most interesting part for me is once we've got past the very first initial concepting, it's the most enjoyable bit because I think, as you say, game design is about problem solving. That's the part where it gets exciting, right? You've got the problem to solve is where you're saying, Oh, how are we going to achieve this particular objective? Rather than just oh, what thing in general could I make? Which is just too, it's too general, it's too free? And yes, sometimes you have to renegotiate those, those elements, those constraints sometimes because they just don't work or they're just it's not workable. That is just that is life. But it's a great starting point. So on that point, then let's talk a bit more about this brace. What do you include in those design briefs and make them highly functional?
As much as possible? Yeah, basically, we will, we will interrogate the client, and get as much information as possible to the point where it's like, how many phases this form? Are there any specific components. So like, quite often people will approach us with miniatures and go, we've got a miniatures range, and we want a game for it. So here's the miniatures we want to make. You need to accommodate that. Or they'll say, We want a game that, you know, is no bigger than this, that takes this amount of time because we've noticed there's a gap in our market, or they'll they'll give us limitations, but then we'll push into the corners of that and be like, okay, so if we've got a miniatures game, do you want dice? Because that's always an assumption that all miniatures games need dice? Or how do you feel about having does it need to be six sided dice? Or can we have like bespoke tooling on the dice?
Yeah. Are you creating a starter set, which includes dice, you know, or are you just doing a book, so we look at the the physical product they want to make. So if it's a miniatures game, a lot of time, it's just a rule book. If it's a board game, we talked about things like how big it need, how big they envision the boxes being, the RRP is, the rough play account is. And I mean, we asked them to give examples of similar games. And if they haven't got the idea on that, we will come up with ourselves, and we will show it to them. And we will, a lot of the time we write our own briefs and get them to approve. Yeah.
As somebody that uses these models, and we'll do, we'll ask you a bunch of questions where that and then we come up, and we'll go away and do a load of r&d and make some decisions based on a combination of our experience, what's popular in the industry, you know, if they say they want an RRP of 70 pounds, but they want to have like 100 minis, we'll be like, Well, what does that sort of game look like? Because that's gonna be very different to a RRP of 200 pounds, because they'll want a more in depth game, which is much bigger and much grander. And, you know, what can we do for
what they've won? A game that is written for two players is very different from a game that is written for two to five players. There may be a two player experience in there in both cases, but you need to think about what what the game, what, what purpose it needs to serve. And I mean, then there are things like when we do things that are based on a licence, we talk about which aspects of the licence they want us to specifically key into. So for example, with Hellboy, it was very open, it was like they had access to the entire Hellboy range of comics. But they had already started making the miniatures they want these particular models to be in the game. And so it was like, well, we have do you want us to draw on themes and imagery from the entire run or just from that part there and that happens with a lot of things. So we did the Devil May Cry board game first input games, which faces the video game, and that was a very interesting one because the board game experience it's a multiplayer cooperative game, which the video game that never been. How do you want us to adapt that? Which parts do you want to keep? Which parts? Do you not mind changing?
Yeah, because you can't keep the complete experience because the complete experience is not multiplayer and is not
the skill in playing the different micro video game as I learned or doing research this and learn how to suck at it is carefully timed button presses and reading a situation around you and that sort of thing.
That's a single player experience. Yes. Is there a reason why they asked for a multiplayer cult version of
that? We never asked why, but I would assume it is because see, solo games don't sell as well.
Okay. glendo. So you can include more minis, because you can be like, to how many players? So here's more player minis you know,
as it happened, we included a set of solo play roles in the end, so you can play it solo. But it's still a very different experience. But yeah, absolutely. That that is one of the things that we often ask like now, especially when we briefed that one, about four years ago, we were just one of the first projects was done. Now we are much more detailed and exactly what we what we want and why. And
yeah, times it's just because the client wants to
Yes, but we will offer the therapist will say, Why do you want to use dice? What Why are dice the right thing? And if it's just because they've only ever played games with dice, we will then show that we've actually I think that we've shown clients other games and played them through a couple of rounds. Back in the days we have meetings in our office, we often get a game out and play through a couple of rounds of things. So how about this? And you can sort of see the brain ticking over. So actually, we don't need to have a thing. We thought we could do this instead. Yeah. And
I think some of it is just assumptions like we all do it, we all make assumptions. Like if I say to you describe a board game, we all come up with a picture in our head. And that's what people are seeing. So we will interrogate assumptions to make sure that they're there for the right reasons. If someone says, there has to be no more than 120 cards in the game, because they've done the costing, and they don't want it to be more than that. Because then it changes the amount that it takes to produce. Fair enough. If they've just picked that because it sounds like the sort of number that you should have in a game, then that's not a good enough. We're not if they say it is at the end of the day, they're the client. But like,
yeah, classic one is that yeah, I say the way cards are made for games is, you know, a certain number of cards that and size will fit on the card sheet printers, one sheet and the cards are cut out. So actually, the exact number of cards don't really matter. It's it's bands, you know, if you over 64 Poker sized cards, it's a second sheet, if you have 70 Poker sized cards, or 90 poker size cards is generally gonna be the same cost of manufacture, because they're just cutting out one big sheet and throwing away the rest of recycle the rest. Yeah. And that's a client might not know that they assume well, I played my mistakes, and they had a deck of however many cards. So I'm going to suggest that is number of cards, you have miscarried
Exactly, so we just interrogate every detail we can. And sometimes people are very loose, and then we will go and decide limitations for the starting brief. And we will decide what the product should look like before we start. Or sometimes clients are extremely specific about what they want. And then that's a joy, because it's really easy to like, be like, Okay, this is the starting point. That's cool. As we always say to the clients, as well as that, sometimes things will grow, you know, you'll get to a point where like, this game is different to the one we first started making. And then that's a point of checking in with the client and making sure they're happy with it. But sometimes it's actually just a case of of keeping them up to date, and then being happy with the process. And then I sort of mutually agreeing, oh, actually, this would be better as for players rather than up to five or actually, this is much better as a two player experience. So whatever it is, that becomes a dialogue. But the starting point is so key for the development.
So given that starting point, and then I'm going to ask you a slightly broader question based on that before we move on to more parts of the process. Because there are things here, I'm really interested to find out more about what does product mean to you,
when we talk about the products in our process is the finished items sold on the shelf. So usually a a game in a box with all the different pieces shrink wrapped and complete and sold as it is. And that is like that's the that's the end point. Yeah, process. I think if you got anything other than that,
no, I would say it's really interesting because we always well, not always, but we quite confidently talk to clients about the fact that we do try and consider product limitations as in, we can't have the box bigger than fitting on a colored shelf, because then it won't sell as well. Or we you know, so don't make a board that's like, you know, three foot by three foot and doesn't fold up very well, because that just isn't going to be marketable. And we try and consider a lot of those like physical limitations as well as the conceptual ones of what is the game. But it's really interesting to be challenged because we also don't do graphic design or art or any of those elements we don't we don't talk to the manufacturers about the 3d plastic trays that go in the box at the end. None of that is to do with us. So even though we consider those elements it's actually not we don't take it from concept to final product. We very much take it from concept to final game. Yeah, with us. considerations there needs and then pass it on to the client and they go away and make the game,
it will be nice it was that clean cut. What we always tried to push to get like some elements of graphic design layout, you know, miniatures, we're trying to get that done during the process, because invariably, otherwise, you will try to get something laid out. And we're quite good at avoiding this now. But there have certainly been times when a graphic designer has gone Oh, we just can't fit them as much text onto a card, or actually, that board is not going to fit in the box or something. And that can cause issues. And we have to go back and rework things accordingly. But I think we're getting better.
You're not directly working with the artists and the graphic designers for the company, you're giving them and then they're managing that part of the process. Yes,
but by default, that's the way it works. As we work with some smaller clients, they might not have access to those things. So we will then either help them find freelancers and manage those freelancers, or we will suggest people let them deal with it. But if we're working with people that have either got in house artists, don't worry about Mantic games and steam, fortunately, have complete in house design teams, we just give them the files and step back.
And they will come back to us as well. Because whenever a graphic designer is let loose on like, I don't know, a character card, they might want to change the icons, because we just use default icons, like if it's defence, we might just put a shield on there, and we get it off of off the internet. And we're not, because we're not using that as a final product, it is a placeholder. So then they might come around and go, I've redesigned the icon, and I've put it in a different place on the card. And they will come back to us and just be like, What do you think of this? And most of the time, we're like, Yes, fine. But we might also say things like are Be aware that these cards are held in someone's hand to try and avoid putting things in the bottom in the bottom left hand corner or the bottom light or make sure that you don't put all of your your icons on the far left side of the card. Because then there'll be really hard to see if you're holding them in like a hand of cards, and stuff like that. We might be like, Oh, no, the text is really too small for people to be able to read that quickly in a game. So you're going to have to make that bigger. And so we'll give them some feedback. And that we're happy to have that back and forward. But we very much designed the game with the expectation, most of the time that people will take that away and make it into a product.
We have had situations where if you do right now where we're working with artists, the client is paying for the artists you're managing, because he's got a whole background in management. Yeah, I
was gonna ask about that. Yeah,
yeah, yeah. So I used to manage artists in a previous life. So that's why, so heres the thing. But again, that's a service that we offer, like that is a thing. You know, when we discuss fees, we can say, well, we have the capacity to manage artists for freelancers and graphic designers. If that's something you want to opt in, to pay us to do, but it's not a default part of what we do. It's just it's a it's an option.
Is it easier or harder for you generally to have the more limited role in the process? Where you are secondary distance from the art and graphic design? Is that is that the easier version of the process? Or is it the way when you actually have a bit more control is easier?
Yes, is far easier.
Both ways like not having to manage it is lovely not having to actually have the pressure of doing that is great. But also losing the control can mean things happen that I've certainly had experiences, even for larger clients, even when I was working in games, workshop, things where I've handed something over and stepped away from it. And then for whatever reason, I haven't seen it until it's like the proofs are ready. Oh, no, they misunderstood what that thing supposed to be. Can that can be quite well, they've changed something deliberately. And it's not a change that I would have made myself. But that can suck. What I like to try to do is when we do a handover, we try to get the graphic designers artists to play the game, so that they know what the context is for the things they do.
Yeah, absolutely. And we always try and foster a positive relationship so that we are there if there's, if they get something done three months after we've handed it over, because they're working on the graphic design or whatever, we do encourage them to send it to us just so we can get an eye over it. Because there's also there'll be just like silly misunderstandings, like your use of purple icon. Because you just will i Oh, that's a cool icon for a blood drop or something. And then they'll read that and go, oh, there's a purple dice in the game. So that must be a representation of the dice. Yeah. Well, it needs to be purple as an example. Yeah. It wasn't anyone's fault that that happened because it was both of us approached it in a completely logical way. Just completely different sides. So it was just a misinterpretation of like, oh, that icon does not represent that thing. We didn't even notice that it was a weird colour. We were just like, oh, that's a cool icon to use as a placeholder, but obviously a graphic designer or an artist might be very sensitive. To the colours and shapes that you're using, where we don't necessarily think about that in the process. So having a collaborative experience is always easiest, whether that's us managing it, or someone else managing it, but we can have that collaboration, even if it's months down the line. And we always say, I know we've started working on this sufficiently that if you send us proofs through, we will check them through, we'll have a quick look. That doesn't mean we'll go through line by line, because that's a completely different job, though, you know, editing and all of that. But we will quickly cast our over it to make sure there's nothing that stands out on there'll be just weird decisions, where they're about like, putting wounds when tokens on a character, rather than taking wound tokens off. Well, stuff like that. And it can totally change the meaning of how you write a rule. And the graphic designers just got this looks cooler, maybe. But they won't necessarily understand the nuance of a rule or the way Something's written. So we always like to check those things.
So my question, then, would be the if you could control more of the process, where actually you're the one who organises for the graphic design and art to happen, and everyone's happy to pay for the extra cost for that service? Would you in general prefer to work that way,
we have a very busy schedule as it is. And I think as long as we could manage it, so that we had oversight with them. And we had enough time to do that without it becoming our full time job. Because it can be a very intensive thing to do, especially if you've got multiple artists and designers. It can be a thing where it just eats your entire week up. Oh,
sure. Oh, yeah. It's a huge problem. Right? Like, this is another one of those things that you know, people don't think I've got a game on Kickstarter, don't think about. That's a much bigger part of the process in the game design develop.
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yes. This is the thing designing the game. Don't get me wrong. It takes time. But it's the easy part. It's the part that is most
game made. So yeah.
But yeah, I think if we have the ability to match, I mean, we've always said, but we would love kneecap to grow a little bit, we'd love that. Guess what, we've got a small office, we've currently got a small office, but slightly bigger than small office with half dozen people eventually, maybe, and have an in house designer in house artists, you know, those sorts of things, where we've got a good working relationship with them, we know how they work, we trust them. And then we can kind of manage them in that sort of way, that would be lovely.
Yeah, to that point, I have one or two people creatives. And doing that would be amazing. And then you could get them involved in the early stages of the game design. And that's when you start getting really interesting things because we sort of build ourselves is sort of like a catchphrase, although we don't even know the exact meaning of it. As we go. We our theme first designers. Because we really want like the theme of a game to be baked into the design of it. So it's not just you make a game devoid of theme, and then pop something on top. And then that's you just change some words to other words, and you make the art of that theme. So like in Hellboy, it was really important to us that when you used Hellboy in the game, Hellboy the board game, he felt like he was punching things like Hellboy would punch them. That was really important. And like key to the whole development of the core game system was, how do you make it so that Hellboy can punch stuff super hard? How do you make it so that Liz can also use flame stuff, and it feel really threatening and dangerous for her to do that? And
I think more than that, I think, you know, what is the structure of a Hellboy story? What sort of stories does it tell? You know, all that then making sure that is in there from the start? Yeah, I know, from playing magnets. The theme is absolutely baked into every element of that game. Yeah, yes.
Yeah. In fact, I was sat here, when you played it, I'm in the same spot that when you were amazing. And I just thought, you know, it's, it's a game that it puts you in the shoes of, you know, a property developer. And that's what we always try to do we try to put the player in the shoes. It's not, we don't be wrong. We have a lot of love from abstract games. We play a lot of Euro games. Yeah, we got a lot of games where the theme sometimes feels like an afterthought. But that's not what we like making.
Yeah. And I think that when you can get that collaboration where like the artist gets a chance to play very early versions of the graphic designer does. Not only do they get inspiration to do that kind of you need the early thoughts to just sit in the back of your head so that while you're standing in the shower, so that you can be like, Aha, there's an idea. And if you don't have that rumination time, I think you kind of rushed that process a bit. So getting that early exposure is really good. But also sometimes they just come up with really insightful stuff, because they're like, ah, because this is, I don't know, insert theme here, because it's a dungeon crawler, it'd be really cool if and they'll come up with something completely different that you can bake into the game at a really early stage. And that always always ends being a better product. It always does when everyone is bought into that from an early stage and you're all kind of having a bit of a hand in every stage you do tend to get a better product of the other end, but it's so difficult to do that because Because when we're making a game, and it gets handed over, we're making another game. And so we'll have a look at the game and give feedback on it. But it's not like we're there the whole process while they're creating the arm for graphic design, we might be playtesting a game while another game is being written. So that games
is a constant pipeline. Yeah, yeah,
I can imagine it's a it's a lot of projects. Because if you're a publisher, obviously, you're if you're doing the whole lot, as I'm doing it later games, where we're doing the design, the development, then the briefing into artists, and then all the way up to production line, the only bits we're not doing actually physically making the product, if you've got all that to do, you're always gonna have small number of projects, given the same size team. So obviously, you're gonna have a more of a kind of a throughput. I'm really into this question of kind of what the platonic ideal version of needy cat games looks like, in the sense of your description of this having a small office, because it sounds a little bit to me, like, the role you start doing is like the role of Product Management. One of the interesting things that I found in the board game industry is this is a term people don't really use very much in board games, really, but in software is massive. And it's like, it's such a critical role in any software company to be the product manager, because in that situation, you're the person who decides what the objectives are, what the product should do, what it's going to be. And you shepherd it all the way from initial inception to delivery and maybe including even even some extent of the marketing, at least, around the devising of the marketing strategy. Well, certainly about board games is how cut up the processes. So you've got like the public, the designers who are coming to ideas, and maybe there is no market for their idea, but there'll be pitching it all over the place, you know, all the time. Your approach seems to me to be unusually holistic, compared to maybe a lot of the industry, because you're doing some of the freelance art management at times, with some clients, the smaller ones, generally, you're helping the actual, the original people come up with ideas to actually tighten their ideas a lot, because you're saying you're writing the briefs to go back to them to say, do this. Yeah, exactly. Really important stuff early on, like play accounts, things like that. And box size, materials, limitations, maybe even eventually manufacturing costs or something you might consider. And so you're doing quite a lot of that, and just want to have some of that some of that is and the reason I asked the question about product is because I'm always very interested, see what people think about that. Because my definition is a little bit different. To me, the product is the totality of the box, the experience at the table, the price point and the marketing channel, I think about it as the entire experience that I would exchange money for, because I feel like so many of what makes them most game financially successful is that they deliver on a particular kind of experience for people, right, like how gloomhaven was probably monetarily successful, because it was the first game that actually made you feel like you were playing one of those long form RPG video games.
Yeah, yeah, going back to the original thing, you're saying about WhatsApps platonic ideal was the thing we'd like to get to I think we've been doing some work with some other designers and developers, we've got a small team of just freelance game designers who we who we know and we network really well. It's a network team. But it's people that if somebody approaches us with a game idea, and we don't have capacity, we can farm out to them. And we kind of we do it through us, the people have come to us, because they trust us to do a good job. And so we will work with that freelance to make sure it's up to scratch and it hits all the points in the brief. And we will use our experience to make sure it's as polished as it can be. But what I would like, I'd like to develop that what Yeah, I think the ideal would be if we had a situation where we are, as you say, managing the product. But then we have a game designer, a game developer, an artist, an illustrator, you know, then we partner with a manufacturer or something. And we all have someone on the team who does all that stuff. Yeah, that that kind of is where I'd love to be because that is where we have the freedom to dig in and get involved all stages of the process to a degree but not have the obligation of doing all ourselves. Because I think we're both people that would get bored of doing just one part of it all the time.
Yeah, I think that's one of the reasons why we wanted to be self employed in the first place was just doing the same job day in day out for the rest of my life. You know, nine to five was just not on the cards for
certainly this. This
is always changing. Yes. Always changing. We get so many different people approaching us for games. And we do occasionally do other little bits as well. We'll do like rules reviews. And
we have a podcast we've done the the game design courses we've we've run the industry networking group that we do, which is nothing, which is it's kind of expanded since lockdown, which is interesting. We've got people further afield now. But yeah, yeah, that was that was originally just because we were sick of going to shows and seeing colleagues in the industry, people that we knew in the industry, chatting and chatting them for five minutes in a real rush then going away and carrying on working, not seeing them again to the next show and then realising that they lived five minutes away from us. So we just thought All those little get togethers and that's now 300 people. I
think it's more than that. I think it's
more now. And we just offer, you know, support and things. And it's the thing that we did, because it seemed like a good idea. And it's one more thing we've done it, we've been very keen to just try out different things. Yes.
Definitely. It's like during lockdown, I made some demo boards for long war games, terrain, because I have that skill set. And so when asked us Do you know anyone who makes all games, terrain demo boards? And we were like, No, I can make them.
It was actually it was it was alarmingly long time during those few things. Oh, we'll go and have a look. I went and looked around. No, no one does. And then he said, Sophie, don't, don't you do that? I do. Yeah. You sort of realised
Jane that down, it's just another string to a bone, another income stream. And so that was the thing that we do. And occasionally I do them now as an extra little bonus. So we're very open to just giving lots of different things to try, which I think is really key when you're in a small businesses, not to shut down opportunities too early not to go my company just does this one thing, because that's the one thing I'm interested in is worth exploring around that. Because actually, sometimes you find weird little foibles, that you're actually quite good at Little weird things. But you can be like, oh, oh, this
is a thing that people want to pay me to do. Amazing. I think even in my 5-10 years time, wherever needy guy is, I would still like to have the freedom to do that. And that's what I crave. I think I need that variety. Yeah, function. You
almost like that kind of the Google concept is never they have a sort of 10% time or 20% time to work on non job related projects. Yeah, probably because they know that actually, a lot of quite creative people who actually would get very bored if they weren't able to do things that are a bit different, right? Because this isn't just a nine to five in the sense of like, I'm, I have interest outside of work, and it's just about paying for me to live. There are almost infinite better options, and then games for that if we're completely honest. tabletop games. Yeah, comparatively small industry, high levels of uncertainty competing with other people who were happy to do it for love and not get paid. Not an ideal situation, if you want to make piles of money.
We've certainly seen a few people come into the industry saying, I'm gonna, you know, leverage this this industry that is growing industry and make loads of money off it. And it's always you're not going to be here in two years. Oh, yeah. And sure enough, they always tend to disappear. It
demands a lot of passion to push through. Because there's one it is still quite a young engine. It's been around for a long time. But in terms of the way it's growing, the speed, it's growing at it most of the industry is very new, like there's a lot like Kickstarter still only been around for a decade. Yeah. Not a long time,
crowdfunding has remade this industry and the industry that is now it's not what it was 10 years ago. In this current format, it's still very much in line adolescent phase. I think they're nothing is certain? Well,
if we talk about board games, because I think industry thing is that there's this interesting division, I think, is not always clear between tabletop war games, as pioneered really primarily by Games Workshop, and the broader board game universe is that the broader board game universe is really young, right? Because actually, before the 1990s even the idea of there being a kind of connoisseurship amongst hobby games didn't really exist. Absolutely. Yeah. Like there's miniatures collecting before that. But um, you know, for example, I think even Games Workshop's most famous product, which is probably 140,000. Right. And that is 92, 91?
I think. Yeah, I think right about there somewhere. Yeah, absolutely. It's the sort of thing where, before that point, board games were a thing you had in a cupboard at home. And when you went around to your Nana's house, and on a rainy Sunday, you play a board game, or they'd come out on Christmas or New Year. In the UK, we've always had a strong culture of that sort of board game and like parlour games and that sort of thing. But as you say, it wasn't really until 10-20 years ago that people started being interested in hobbyist board games.
So you know, I remember many years ago, we used to visit a collector games and reading a lot. What I was so shocked with was they had all these board games in which I was really excited about, but then they started doing like luxury board games like luxury, Scrabble, and luxury, Trivial Pursuit. And the thought of anyone being interested in having a deluxe fancy monopoly set with like proper, nice, chunky wooden pieces on a nice wooden board has been engraved. I just can't imagine anyone when I was in the 80s playing my broken monopoly said that the missing half is better than anyone would have cared about that. Now they're probably obviously worse people who cared about that, but the fact that that's come up so recently, is like,
there have always been like high quality like knock on effects, but it's the the general quality shipped has moved towards that. Generally, people want nice games where it's not just a thin flimsy piece of cereal board. It's like it's nice, chunky cardboard and the components that are nice to move around. round you know, again, it's
the experience the experience playing the game, not just about the game outcome or the game story, but the the physical experience you have while playing the game. But splendour, we've got a game spender, and it's fantastic, but it's got like poker chips in it, and just physically holding the poker chips. They're so chunky and heavy. They got such a nice sound to them. And it's like, that's part of the pleasure of playing the game.
Yeah, completely. Well, where does all that mean that we're going then? Can this quality element just drift ever upwards? What what does that mean for the future?
I think we're starting to see the rumblings of a split. Because there's a lot of talk happening, a lot of discourse happening around the subject of games starting to price people out, where the push for quality and luxury experience is making board games quite inaccessible to people without, you know, a large amount disposable income. So I think as the push for quality goes on, and I think and that is driven by, for example, I was saying earlier, Kickstarter, you know, you want to have things for your stretch goals and make your game as nice as it could possibly be. But then that affects the retail price. I think as that goes on, we're going to see more of a marketing, budget board games, there were there was a company still going I remember, there's a company called cheapass games. Now basically, they were sold. They're sort of like paper envelopes. And they were designed to be played with existing game clients you had so assumed you would have access to dice counters, playing pieces of some kind. Yeah. And you would buy it dirt cheap. And this is like the early days of the Internet, really. So they were they were mainly sort of conventions and things. And actually the equipment was now that that's where the bits, the printed Play Market. Now, basically, there was a whole it was a rebellion against board games becoming more sort of luxury, and people were paying for the same, you know, how many different types of people do you really need? The answer is lots. But you know, there was that kind of pushback against that. And I think we will see more of it. And I think what's interesting is you're seeing the rise of print and play games, where you get to gone into it and find dozens and roll and write games you can download. Yeah, free things like drive
thru RPG and stuff like that as well, I think yeah, really is testament to the fact that people don't care about buying a fancy robot necessarily, you
know, yeah, I think there's gonna be that split, you're gonna have the luxury market, then you're gonna have the budget market, you're gonna have the things that fall in between the two. I mean, certainly, we're seeing the budget. And when you look at things like the custom made board, game tables, board, game furniture and things, there are people who have enough disposable income, they want to have a really classy hobby, they want to be able to have a lovely gaming room that you go into it, it's an experience, then there are other people who will people at university or college or at school, who maybe just want to just play games, because games are cool. And there is everything in that spectrum in between the two.
I think what we'll get is more games that fulfil more niches, because I think it's where lots of people are like, Oh, it's a crowded market. It's not. It's not always growing so quickly. I've heard people being like, Oh, well, there's already so many kick starters out this month. Like how and I do agree that Kickstarter, I think is getting crowded. And you have to stand out you are that's the thing, but I don't think we'll see a drop in games being made. I think we'll just see games fulfilling different niches, like you'll get more games that are similar to yours. 150 pound price point games, but being sold at 25. Where it's all bits of paper, and it's very low cost. Experience. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And you'll see people who are like, well, I want and like the cool for miniatures and games. Well, that pushes the price up, but then you're going to get people who want those same experiences, but maybe are okay with chips.
Because gloom Haven is basically, it is very rare to see a game like gloom Haven with mostly card studies. You know, that is a thing where I know loads of people who say, I love the idea of it. I won't play it. I like niches. Yeah, that's great. That would be I don't want to think how much would cost every miniature. Yeah,
it would be hundreds and hundreds. Yeah, right. It would be like buying the complete pledge for Kingdom death monster. Right? It would be like that. But like all of it for one pledge for gloom Haven because there are something like 30 or so monsters, there are something like 10 of each of the chips of the monsters. So that's already 300 additional miniatures?
Precisely. And what we'll say is a tangent clearly, but I think that putting miniatures in as a default isn't always a good thing. Because yeah, of course, if you want like miniatures, but you can do a lot more with standees. You know, if you've got like a legacy, I think the thing that was the charter stone. It's a legacy of Euro civilization building game that has a whole box of cards you draw from so certainly unlock new cards, bring them in, and some of those little card sized punchboard Things which bring new components into the game, and you can have standees on those. There's a lot of stuff you can do that miniatures can't get away with. It will be interesting to see people veer away from miniatures.
I really wanted to come back to this question about your view. In the market and whether or not it's too saturated, because this is what I hear is the default thing people say, I think it's much more common to believe that the market is sort of saturated, that it's already fun to there are already too many games, for example, than to say the reverse. I think it's a really interesting, quite controversial statement in many ways that you said, and I'm really interested exploring that because I have a sense of the same thing. But I guess there are two ways in which markets can grow, right. So we actually know from the objective data that still growing so it can't be saturated in the sense that something like the average European growth rate is something like 5%. And in China, recently, I saw that the growth rate was 19%, or 20%, in market size every year, so as probably Asia becomes the more and more centre of all of this, that's going to become the really huge market. And there's still an absolute monster amount of growth left there. The question, I guess, that one might have, though, is the number of different games is a slightly different metric. So we've talked about Kickstarter might be saturated, what do we think about the number of different games being released?
I really do think that the industry is massively growing, because there are so few people who still play board games as a like habitual thing, right? How many people do you know? Yeah, you probably as your friendship group, if you know, some people who are because you're into board games, you have surrounded yourself with people who are into board games. But actually, beyond that circle, how many of your friends and family every weekend go play a board game? And actually, that number of people, the people who play games sort of casually, but still regularly? I think that's the group that are growing massively, more and more people are like, Oh, well, we've got nothing better to do. I'll take my parents to the local boardgame cafe. And we'll spend an hour or two playing Ticket to Ride. And that is a huge market that is, I think, almost untapped. And actually a lot of the hobby, the hobby board game world as it is very niche, and pushes down on niches, there's put more miniatures in let's make it a more difficult dungeon. Let's go and make it more challenging without escape room games. Let's go in dig down into this really, really deep lore about Lord of the Rings, or whatever it is. We're actually I think, the untapped market is that the casual gamer who plays with their family, who gets more and more people involved that way? What games are they playing? Where are those games going to lead? And it's really interesting to see, like, if you ever go to a game or a board game cafe, on a Saturday afternoon, like we've got a couple local, obviously, current situation excuse but before everything sort of went bad as it were, you used to see whole families, people who clearly are not board gamers, playing like Ticket to Ride and Clank and, you know, like, I'm trying to think of some of the standard ones that they were always playing with, but also
their beak tan then usually a monopoly out some Yeah. But you'd have a variety of different thing is, like you say, it's like, if you take a snapshot of the current audience for board games, if if that were not to grow, then yeah, maybe we're reaching a saturation point. But the fact is, is growing massively, you know, pushing into the market. Last year, running up to the Kickstarter around, we had a marketing intern from the University she was wonderful. She was, I think, a master student in marketing, and the university paid for her to come and do marketing for us. And she was from Pakistan, exactly where but she was saying, like, she had just started hearing about board games, becoming a scene out there. And she was taking back all this information. And like, she was saying, there is definitely an emerging scene. And so I think it's pushing into new markets. But I think also type two that is, you're seeing more voices creating. Yes. So I don't know how familiar you are with nib card games in Africa. Oh, yes, I've heard this. Yep. ACN, I want to say is it Nigeria somewhere, my mother or my geography terrible, but they set up a small board game convention. And honestly, about five years ago or so. And they started having a village, the board game convention, and then load of important board games that get people to come and play. And now they are producing their own board games. They have a board games Cafe, which is really popular. And they get what's really interesting is you look at the games, and the themes. And the gameplay are very different to what you see, in games that produced in this country or in Europe or America. There's one of the guys come on out design course, designs games, he over in India, and he has a whole bunch of games, he did a showcase on his YouTube channel. I'll put the link in the show notes. It was a showcase of Indian design board games. And again, the themes are so dramatically different. And whereas there's always been so India and Africa have always featured heavily in western board games. Now you're getting voiced by people that actually have an authentic voice to make those games.
Absolutely. And then from there from a very specific perspective. Yeah, often have not read perspective.
There's the whole thing about colonialism in discussion itself, and also
he Even, like, and you're looking at these these new emerging worlds. And it sounds really cool to be like emerging markets. But there are new, whole new worlds of what board game design even means and how it works. Like that convention you mentioned, there is like a whole culture now like there's a, there's a whole, like indie game designs, see this, there were people like make their own games of whatever they've got on their house. And there's like a whole culture of it now, where there's a new and more and more people just making games for as a hobby. And you just think this is the direction of games conveniency. You
should try and get Casey on here. He runs nickel games, because I'm sure he would have some fascinating insights.
That sounds like an absolutely fascinating conversation. Well, I have to say this entire conversation has also been incredibly fascinating. And I'm finding it very inspirational, actually, because I think it's really interesting to meditate on those larger questions of markets. I'm really aware, though, that we are rapidly running out of time. So what I would like to do is actually go to some listener questions next. Obviously, I think you've mentioned before as you run these tabletop design workshops, so he had a question about how you're switching to online workshops has changed your approach. He asked what things are easier online, and which ones are kind of easier face to face.
We used to do workshops in person, we used to run a series of three, like full day seminars, which were in person they were, I think that 12 people's maximum eight in each one. Yeah, I've been 15 is not much I'm had a buffet, it was a nice kind of full day event. And we always ran in the morning was theory in the afternoon was practical work. So they would do stuff based on the stuff we've done in there in the theory session. Moving online, obviously change that quite a bit. For a start, we were able to have more people coming down, we still have to keep keep the the events to at 30. I think so. But because you don't have to physically come people into a room, that's, that's a bit easier.
And we immediately we start breaking it up more, because the thing is, is we were very aware of when we did it in person that people would be travelling to attend them. So the last thing you want is to do, well, we decided we didn't want to do like, Let's do six hour long sessions, because then that means people have to travel or they're just not going to do it. So we made it these big long day events, they actually meant that we could make the sessions themselves a little bit more manageable by just breaking them up into smaller chunks, and also
more coherent. So initially, the three things one was just about kind of the very first steps getting an idea out of your head and onto paper and onto the table and playing a game. Then we talked to them in the middle one about refining your idea. And the third was about kind of manufacturing and production, that sort of thing. And part two in the middle had kind of a lot more to it really the whole point of old versus developing and refining. Again, it's a massive subject. But we felt the need to make the days quite dramatic. So when we moved to online, we went with a six part a six hour long seminars, we ran it weekly. And Part one is still about getting the ideas out you hadn't today or part six still about what happens at the end. But parts two to five had room to breathe so we could spread out that middle part of the process. It's the same information delivered in a different format.
but I think it's probably a bit more accessible, especially for people can't sit and concentrate for hours at a time. Because even us at the end of the day, we were just shattered. So it was quite an intensive experience. I think the thing that makes it difficult, though, is not being with people in the room when because we used to put people like we warned them that we were going to do it, we did tell people you're going to be put on the spot. But we used to put people on the spot after we done the first theory session and be like, right, okay, now make again, and people will be like, what made you get over like don't do your thing you've had your heart set on for the last 10 years, don't do the main idea. Make something completely new up. See, you know, it's a bunch of scrap paper, there's a big theme of like the initial getting out your head is just scrappy, don't commit to it. Don't put too much effort into it for the moment out of your head that it exists, then you can change it and make it better. If it's never comes out your head if you never write it down. And you you try to theorise the whole thing before you make it, which is what a lot of people do is their first stumbling block, and it doesn't exist. So it's not a game and you can't make it better. So we did this whole thing but being physically in the room with people you could be like, just right there is like
the equivalent of the practical sessions in the online courses. We have almost a homework assignment like you can go away and do this thing before we look at an excellent but of course we're not in the room a will say make sure you do it because so many people came out of that first session saying oh my god, I hadn't realised that if I just give myself permission to make something that might be a bit naff, but it's complete communities playable. It's such a liberating feeling. So many people got so much out of that process
games they made were fantastic. every single game had clever ideas. Every single game had great potential. You know? Yes. They weren't finished? Yes, they were clunky, because they were first ideas. But oh my goodness, the stuff that we saw, we were like, This is so inspirational.
So that is a shame. We can't have that in the online. Cool. Yeah, yeah, that must be challenging.
Because what you do get is you get people going, right? So here's my, this is the thing I've been working on for 10 years, and I'm thinking this or this and the other, you have the Foreign Service, I will just make it and then I will not until I've worked out how this stage was, you know, I just make it, you were in a room, I would tell you to put that aside, and I'd put a piece of paper in front of you and make you draw a box. Right, that's your brain. Right now, let's get something in there. But you can't do that online. So that is the one thing that I think you lose. But apart from that, I actually think it is a bit more digestible. And I think
the training is that we were much bigger on the ongoing support. So we invite all the attendees to our Discord server, we've got a room locked just for them. And they if they need any ongoing support questions wherever we're there for them. And there's a whole, like, lovely community stream of game designers who are really supportive of each other as a result of it. So yeah, it's not quite the same, but I think it still works really well.
What do you do to cut loose when you've had a stressful game design related issue?
It was actually about a month ago, or whenever it was important, dated, quite specifically, we'd had a really, really tough day, a couple of tough meetings,
very mentally challenging. When we say tough, we mean, like, you know, those days where you feel like your brains falling out your ears, and you're just like, I've just used all my brainpower.
And so if you just said, I wish we'd go to the pub, and they just open I was like, we can go to the pub. And so we did, we went and we sat outside and very cautiously looking around at everyone suspiciously and given context. But we didn't, it was quite nice, we had a couple of drinks. One thing that's interesting is because we live together as well, it can be hard to switch off, especially if you've had a rough day. Like to not take that home is difficult.
That must be very, very challenging. Also, because I can imagine if it's a particular issue, both of you really care about, you're going to instantly be like, Oh, I just had this idea about this. And you're thinking this might be time when you almost really want to segment it a bit and not talk about work. I mean, do you have some kind of no Shop Talk rule? How does that work? We try and have
we're not strict on it these days. And we use a lot stricter, because we used to just work all the time, and do late nights as often as we could or go in early or one of us would go in early while the other one, two minutes for them to catch up. And it was, but we've actually very much got a quite strict like nine to five. And from Monday to Friday working schedule. We don't we try really hard not to pick in meetings around that. Obviously, there are issues with American people in America and stuff. But that's relatively we do have things where we're now a bit more conscious. So one might go, I've got a great idea I need to tell you so it's out my brain. And then I'll say the idea and then we'll have a quick chat about it. I'll be like, right, I'm going to write that down and then we're going to we're going to put on the shelf again.
We often are things like if so robot fight club is going on kicked off last year that started when we decided we're both exhausted, let's go out and get some sushi. So we went out and got a bite to eat. And just because nothing of anything else. Oh, you're not we can make immediate back on to work conversation. And that happens so much.
Oh, god. Yeah, so
we are a lot. And we are a lot better than we were. When we go to the pub. It's it's less about needing a drink and more about changing the setting. So it's about getting out of the office and getting out of the house. Because you have people occasionally seeing other people like is difficult though, because the last week I've had a really tricky, challenging day. I desperately want to see my friends. But the last thing I want to do is play a board game. Yeah.
Definitely. A board game plan. Yes. Oh, I bet no. Soon as you start designing games, I'm sure you know, you've noticed you now can't switch off. You can't not see the production quality of the game or like oh, how do we make that component or whatever it might be?
Like I remember there was one Christmas where we were like, Oh, we're just going to play like a family thing. And someone has a thing called trial blings of monopoly. And it was like a three tiered knockoff version it was clearly achieved caching and someone had it we will find we'll just play it because it's not to do with work. And I was getting really annoyed because it was just really boring. And I was just sitting there going well the the sides of the board are only eight long instead of 10 that you know we get a monopoly so when you're running two days the average is seven so you just landing in the same places in the board every time like
I picked it apart. Yeah really mean? Oh, we couldn't I couldn't not really be
But it's just the fact that was like well, if they did a single dice roll or different decided days this would be a problem. But like you immediately start thinking about these things. So it is tricky, but it for us is changing of situation. We're very, very, very lucky as well. That we have Have a park literally five minutes walk from our office. So when we're getting really stressed, like with the thought, the way that we're thinking is getting a bit overwhelming, or we've got too much work and gave a stressed out, we go for a walk. And going just again, changing the scenario changing the place, we are able to just walk around a park is so good to reset and to de stress and having a dog now we have an office dog called Rosie. And she forces us to get out of the office on a regular basis. And we'll take Rosie for a big long walk. And when we come back for a reset, so that really helps.
Fantastic. So you've got Rosie, so make sure that you take walks regularly. I mean, I think that's that's probably great advice for anyone to be honest, in terms of I think distressing and going for a walk in a green space is pretty much fantastic. I
think every time you get a dog, you know, that's the other way.
The other one, we're forced to take the walk as well, isn't it? That's the advantage. So I guess we got to the wrap up then. So what should we be looking for from you is everything that we should want to look out for for maybe cat games coming soon.
So I'm currently working on a game called myth and goal for blacklist games that is a it's like a fantasy sports game based kind of thing. It's, it's an interesting one because it's springing from a set of miniatures they're making which can be used in games of bloodbowl. But by being a popular games, workshop game, third party miniatures being a big thing for that. So our challenge was to make a game that use miniatures that are compatible with bloodbowl. But for my own personal benefit, having worked on people was nothing like it is very different. It's more about team management.
It's really the I'm really excited about it, because it sort of forces you to think about the flow of the game and looking after your players and switching this players out when they get exhausted and things rather than it just being about individual players taking hits or whatever. It's a really interesting take on the genre that we've got. There's some stuff we can't talk about. Every game I work on is what I'm not allowed to talk about in this release
Yeah, absolutely. But also, I mean, actually one thing that is quite cool. Sophie has been making set gaming tables for a while. As she started putting up on tick tock, I think she's young and relevant. Things are actually quite a nice little hobby community on there people with big into board games and things. And you're about to start making a new board. Should we live stream? Yes,
I'm gonna be making a playable board and I'm going to be live streaming on Tik Tok. And Sophie makes terrain so you can come and check me out. It's like,
yeah, so there we go. That's kind of that's as much as we can really talk about now. Obviously, our game design course is available at needycatgames.com/tickets. We've got quite a few things what the game is online, which is the six hour online version of the one that we did originally. That's mainly fantastic, because I have a massive lockdown bit. That's good. And then also I did one a few months ago, which goes more into sort of miniatures, war games and things, which is the thing that's quite close to my heart. So yeah, those are all up there. People can check us out.
More things coming hopefully in that regard as well. Yeah.
I suppose indeed. Oh, well, thank you so much again, for joining me. It's been really fascinating. I hope we get another chance to conversation about the industry sometime soon.
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