The Life of a Game Designer – Part 1: Who do I think I am?

Epiphanies, revelations, and racks of self-doubt; all in the space of an hour.

A little over a year ago, I started this blog on a dare. One day, I was purposely over-complaining that I couldn’t find any good reviews for board games to buy our kids for Christmas. My wife, Diane, refused to take the bait and pretended to ignore me. “Uh hunh. That’s nice. Why don’t you do something about it,” she quipped back. Okay, okay, we’ll see about that.

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Never dare an Irishman to do something stupid. You never know what will happen.

The next day, I had my response, “So, Honey, we bought a website.” Now the past year has been great fun, and I’ve enjoyed it immensely, but frankly it is a lot of work for a hobby. But I did help some friends with a few game purchase ideas and my Dungeons & Dragons stuff is weirdly popular in Europe, so that’s cool. But this is never going to be a real money maker, so what am I going to be when I grow up?

The problem is that I’m already grown and still have no idea what I want to be. I’m 50 years old and completely lost. But I have a good career that I hate, a great wife and kids that I love, and a pretty good everything else. In other words, a better than average, middle-class life. Who am I to expect more?

But I do. I need more. Maybe I’m greedy and selfish, but I need more… something. I’ve just had no idea what or how to get it. Until about a month ago.

So, I’ve been writing my reviews, posting my RPG diaries, and making fun of myself, fellow gamers, and Wil Wheaton, but I’ve been doing it in a vacuum. I went to a few conventions and met some new gamers, but I didn’t step outside my comfort zone. Then I went to PAX Unplugged.

I promised myself that I would network and promote the website. I brought 50 business cards and vowed to distribute them all. I may have crumpled a few up and thrown them at people’s heads as they walked by, but I got rid of them all. And I met some greaty independent game designers and even got a few free games which I now feel obligated to review quickly. Soon, I promise.

I also went to a bunch of panel discussions. Some were frivolous, some were decent, but one really struck a chord with me. The Resources that Changed My Game Design Life. I went solely for academic purpose, to listen to a few designers and maybe learn a little about how a game is created. The information was pretty good; companies that will make your prototype, websites and podcasts you should follow, and a brief debate between selling your idea to a publisher, starting a Kickstarter campaign, and self-publishing. But more important than the info presented were the people presenting it.

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Jess, Liz, Gwen, Nicole, and Gwen. Five awesome people who took and hour and changed my life forever.

They were nobodies. And I mean that in the nicest possible way. There was nothing special about them. They weren’t geniuses, or entitled millionaires. They were just five women who happened to like games, came up with an idea for one, and made it work. They took something they loved, and made it their career. Which is exactly what we always tell our children, yet never seem to do for ourselves. I was awed.

That night, I didn’t sleep a wink. I tossed and turned, thinking tumultuous thoughts throughout. I’d never considered a life in game design. I was content as a consumer who satisfied his artistic yearnings with his trivial little website. I’d never had any ideas for new games or anything like that. I wouldn’t know where to begin. And the worse, who the hell was I to think I deserved anything better than I got.

You have to understand that I have always been maliciously self-destructive to my creative life. But we’ll have plenty of time to analyze that precious gem later.

But tonight, I was not to be deterred. I woke at 4am with four different game ideas in my head and a tentative name for a game design company. I grabbed some scraps of paper and frantically wrote it all down before I forgot. I checked to see if the domain name for the company was available and it was, so I bought that too.

One game is a resource management game involving clocks. One is a territory game involving lumberjacks and beavers. Another is an asymmetrical game about prison life. The last is a rapid-fire trick taking game,

The last game sprang to my head whole cloth, like a perfect Beatles song. It is a simple card game, nothing as grandiose as the others, but it uses a combination of mechanics that I’ve never seen before that makes this game unique. I think. And it fits with a bunch of different themes, which might turn it into its own franchise? Maybe. I don’t know.

Now I’m terrified. I don’t know who to talk to because I’m afraid that someone will steal my ideas, because I’m narcissistic enough to think that my ideas are awesome. And I’m terrified that I’m going to fail, because I’m self-loathing enough to know that my ideas are shit. I don’t even want to share the company name before I check to see if I need to copyright it first. Or list it is as an LLC. Or even know what an LLC is. I don’t know anything!

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This is all I’m willing to share right now.

I don’t know where any of this will go. I don’t know if it will succeed or fail. I don’t even know who I am anymore. But I will find out and I will try to write it all down.

Now I just have to tell my wife that we just started a brand-new career? Future? Life?

3 thoughts on “The Life of a Game Designer – Part 1: Who do I think I am?

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