(My) Start Up

Last night I finished Season 1 of StartUp from Gimlet Media. It's a wonderful podcast that focuses on the beginnings of Gimlet Media, founded by Alex Blumberg, who is known for his work on This American Life and Planet Money. I think it's wonderful and very inspirational. Every time I listen to it I think "you gotta go do something, Grant!" I realized that I am.

Josh and I are very deep into the business side of Hocus Poker. We're still finalizing spell balance and nitpicking some of our rules, but we find ourselves entrenched in PR plans, launch plans, finalizing contracts with artists and manufacturers, discussing alternate revenue sources, post-launch support, and the beautiful nitty gritty of project management. I'm very excited and nervous about the next few months, but the cool thing is, with every tough debate and decision, Josh and I emerge a stronger partnership and our product improves.

I look to heroes and great studios as inspiration for what we're doing. In video games, it's difficult not to think about the polish of a Blizzard Game (or the sales that come with it), or the democratically run genius of Valve. I think of my day job studio, Maxis, which stands out to me as a weird studio with soulful games.

In tabletop, I'm deeply drawn to design driven companies. I'm a massive fan boy of Plaid Hat and Portal Games. I look to Academy Games and am still so thankful of Uwe and Gunter Eickert for testing and critiquing two of my designs. I also look up to Stronghold Games. It's amazing to me how Buonocore has grown that company and put in so much effort and time while still holding a day job.

Every good company should have a secret power, something they do better than anyone else. Every good company should also have a code, or set of values that define their mission. This answers the question of why they deserve to stand out in the market.

I wanted to think on that for Hyperbole Games.

My situation is somewhat interesting. It's not unique, or even peculiar, but it's interesting. I have a super good day job that pays well and keeps me happy. I don't want, or need, board games to pay the bills. Nor do I want that pressure as I move towards having children in the next few years. This means my needs for my studio are far less about money and far more about the output for output's sake. I think that's a cool place to be. My biggest frustration working for a large company is that I always have to work within someone else's terms or framework. That's corporate life. With Hyperbole, I always wanted to do things the right way. I'm not a control freak. It doesn't have to be my way. But, I want it to be right.

Plaid Hat Games clearly proclaims their ingredients for a great game on their site. You can read them here. But, I'll type them below:

  1. A great game is fun.
  2. A great game creates an opportunity for you to make interesting, engaging, and challenging decisions that affect the outcome of the game in your favor.
  3. A great game allows you to directly engage the other players at the table.
  4. A great game is thematic.
  5. A great game is unique.
  6. A great game is pretty.

I love these goals and I love how strictly Plaid Hat has adhered to them. If you listen to their podcast, you know how important brand and identity is to Colby. I know, as a consumer, he will only publish games that he loves and that fit these core tenets. That is so powerful to me as a consumer. I'm not the only one! Look at how successful his pre-orders have been, particularly with Mice and Mystics and Dead of Winter.

Portal Games stands firmly behind "Board Games that Tell Stories." That is a simple statement with so much weight behind it. When Ignacy signed York last year, he said: "This is not yet a game. It needs more heart." That is what they are doing. If you play Robinson, or their euro Legacy, or even an abstract like Theseus, you will see stories that emerge as a result of the rich settings and great player decisions.

What will be the code of Hyperbole Games? What will I stand behind? I'm going to take a shot at this.

  1. Hyperbole Games is a designer driven studio. We will publish games that exist because we had to make them. We will design games that we want to create and play because they will be a blast.
  2. Our games are distinctly beautiful. We will work with our favorite artists to craft distinctive components and bring our games alive.
  3. We publish games that we can do best ourselves. We will still seek publishing partners for designs that need them. If it has our label, though, it's because it is a game we needed to do in house. This means our games will probably be a little weird, more niche, and more at home with small print runs.
  4. Our games are developed extensively. This is important, especially we live in an age where barriers to entry are being removed and it's sometimes far too easy to put a game out prematurely. I did this with Farmageddon in 2011 on The Game Crafter. I won't do it again.
  5. We strive to have a wonderful relationship with our customers. Manufacturing glitches happen - we want to replace your parts, no questions asked. If you have a rules question, we'll be there. We want to end every interaction with a happier customer.
  6. We will always make things more metal. 

Josh put it this way: In the end, we want to release the best games we possibly can, with the best value for the customer, and not chasing trends or easy sales. That is a tough standard, but one we think is best.

What do you think? What are your core tenets? Which companies inspire you?

Thanks for reading!

Comments

I believe that quality leads to money. Josh and I will hopefully break even on Hocus. We'll hopefully break even on Landfall. But, we'll also hopefully have people who trust us as designers, trust us as a publisher, and get excited about what else we provide. We see this as an investment in our future. Great service and delivery will lead to great revenue in the future.

Thanks for sharing Mr. Rodiek! I love how similar this is to the list I came up with for Lagniappe Games. I especially commend your value of quality of product and customer experience over sales / money. We share that but for slightly different reasons. While I don't have an awesome day job that I love, I do want to sell games the "right" way.

As always, the explanation of your perspective gives me food for thought :-)

Good start on your core tenets, may need to edit them down a little. I like how simple and straight forward the ones from Plaid Hat are. But then I guess that is what you have in bold.

And I love Start Up podcast. You should talk to them sometime as they are looking to talk to other people starting up.

The bold is the simple version. Non bold is the elaborate explanation. For what it's worth, what Plaid Hat does (on their site) is similar. I just typed their "bold" portion here. Thanks for reading!