Tom Vasel
United States
Homestead
Unspecified
flag msg tools
designer
Love Games, Love 'Em!!!
badge
Check out DiceTower.com!
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Interviews by an Optimist # 66 - {rJason Little}r

Tom Vasel: Tell us a bit about yourself.

Jay Little: I first started designing games, as I suspect many people in the gaming hobby do, at a very early age. In fact, I still have some of the very first prototypes I made back in 2nd or 3rd grade (my first was a roll-and-move game called Ghosts & Ghouls, where kids are trying to escape from the graveyard on Halloween). Then my older brother introduced me to D&D around 5th grade, and I was hooked on fantasy gaming for good. In high school, I got in touch with Ken Burridge of Escape Ventures at GenCon one year in Milwaukee after falling in love with their RPG Element Masters. Then I started playtesting their Gatewar RPG, and took advantage of their playtesting services with my first "official" design in 1990, Klay Warz, a monster mashing game where you craft critters out of clay and let them duke it out.

Escape Ventures liked Klay Warz enough to pay my ride and set up a half dozen sessions or so of Klay Warz at GenCon my junior and senior years of high school. The following year, I ran even more sessions of Klay Warz for Escape Ventures along with some sessions of a sci-fi RPG I had written with some buddies in college called Exodus. I still have the Dungeon Magazine featuring the Escape Ventures ad mentioning Klay Warz (issue #31, Sep/Oct 1991, p. 75). Working with Escape Ventures is when the gaming bug really bit hard.

Then the first few years of "the real world" post-college were spent working various typical 9-5 jobs, and the itch started to fade. That is, until I landed a gig as a web developer for The Sporting News in St. Louis. After several years as an HTML code monkey, I was promoted to Senior Developer and was assigned to work on the official online Strat-O-Matic Baseball and Football engines.

It was a huge project, and being so completely immersed in sports and games -- two of my favorite hobbies -- rekindled my passion for gaming. I had just wrapped up work on Strat-O-Matic when I saw that WizKids had posted an opening for a game design position on their website. I jumped at the chance to submit my resume and included details on my involvement with Strat and other personal game projects. I received a followup email by the end of the week, asking for some more information. Within another week or two, I had a lengthy phone interview, a "game design test" and
then was hired.

When I was told I'd be working on their new baseball game MLB SportsClix, I was thrilled. The only guideline I was given at first was "Baseball -- with a clicky dial!" There were no other restrictions at the start -- they wanted to keep the design process wide open to encourage new ideas. It was a great opportunity to work on a professional quality, official/licensed game with a strong marketing plan and seasoned design professionals. I can't say enough about what an incredible experience it was to work with all the great folks at WizKids during the development of MLB SportsClix. Everyone at WizKids was
friendly, creative and enthusiastic about their jobs and their games.

Lately, I've been focusing on freelance design and development work. For the last few years, I've written quite a bit for the RPG industry, especially d20 content for Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 edition for Goodman Games. I've also been asked to consult (as a playtester or design assistant) on a few different projects from some established publishers. I usually spend 4-6 hours actively working on developing new game content and material each day, not counting the time spent assembling prototypes or playtesting. My sleep schedule is a complete wreck, as sometimes that block of work comes at 1 AM... But I've got to work when the inspiration hits.

I've also been shopping around several of my personal board and cardgame designs to prospective publishers. I'm fortunate enough that at GenCon this year, I have quite a few appointments with several publishers and will be showcasing 7 or 8 different prototypes -- I'm cautiously optimistic that a few of my game designs will catch someone's eye and
get picked up. Barring that, however, I'm considering self-publishing options for a few of my games.

My experiences so far with the game industry have been incredibly positive. I've met a lot of great people face-to-face at conventions or online. The people in the industry are courteous and professional when they're treated with courtesy and professionalism -- the right attitude and good manners are essential for communication and networking in such
a close-knit, personal industry.

Finally, I can't overstate how important BoardGameGeek has been to my personal and professional life. Not only has BGG put me in touch with a lot of great gamers who have graciously helped playtest many of my game prototypes, I've made dozens of friends who share my passion for gaming and game design, which keeps me enthusiastic and excited about what I do for a living. BGG established a thriving community where members can
become active participants in the gaming culture and really help convey a lot about themselves via their contributions. I don't know how many times I've been in conversation with a gaming contact or publisher, then mention that they can learn more about me, my gaming preferences and opinions by checking out my profile on BoardGameGeek -- just to hear back from them saying "Oh, you're Ynnen? Cool. I just read your latest GeekList!"

Tom Vasel: What do you think about the collectability aspect of SportsClix?

Jay Little: I think there's room in the collectable game market for sports games, as it's a relatively untouched niche within an incredibly large market. Other than MLB Showdown by WOTC and MLB SportsClix from WizKids, there aren't many collectable sports games available to a sport-crazy American public that have endured. And the lasting appeal of Strat-O-Matic, which could arguably be classified as collectable (over
time if not within a season, as avid Strat players continue to gobble up new rosters each year), proves that a well designed sports game can retain a loyal following.

While traditional collectors, casual players or tournament players of fantasy or sci-fi themed collectable games may seek to collect for very different reasons, sports adds a new consideration to collecting: a pre-existing sports fan base.

Unlike many other collectable games, having game pieces that represent individual, recognizable athletes taps into the passion and enthusiasm the general public already has for sports. This eliminates the challenge of conveying a novel theme or setting to distinguish a collectable game might otherwise need to break through the clutter.

If a person is a big Albert Pujols fan, he's more likely to want Albert Pujols-related gear, posters, merchandise and collectables -- and MLB SportsClix is another such item that can be collected. Or if a person is a gung ho Yankees fan, he can enjoy collecting MLB SportsClix figures from the Yankees roster. As such, I think sports-themed pieces offer
collectable appeal both in and out of the context of their game utility. The same could easily be said of NFL or NASCAR items -- sports with even more rabid fans than baseball.

I think for people who are sports fans first and foremost, SportsClix is an intriguing concept that may pique their interest with the visual appeal of the game, and the quick playing simulation style game experience. And everyone I've ever sat down to watch sports with loves to "armchair manage." That's one of my favorite things about sports
games -- putting those managerial decisions (who to put on the roster, when to steal a base, when to lay down the bunt) into the hands of the fan. SportsClix' collectability definitely taps into that.

Finally, since the typical sports fan may not have as many other games in his collection competing for playing time as an avid boardgamer, I personally think these sports fans are the key marketing target for SportsClix and other collectable sports games.

Tom Vasel: Why do you think there are so few sports-themed games on the market today?

Jay Little: While it may sound contradictory to my earlier response (that there's room in the market), I have to say that there's far too much competition for sports games. But it doesn't come from the boardgame industry.

Sports videogames provide incredibly stiff competition for sports boardgames. In addition to competing for a player's money, they also compete for a player's time. It can be difficult to justify spending $30 for a sports boardgame when you need to read the rules to understand how this particular game's mechanics portray a specific sport, set things up, find an opponent and then finally play the game.

By comparison, sports on the Xbox and Playstation 2, for example, provide a much more accessible means to get your sports fix. For $30 you can buy a sports game, which is likely a sequel to a popular license, lowering the amount of time needing to learn the different buttons/commands. If you don't have an opponent to square off against on
the couch, you can easily log on to a game server with your broadband connection and find a player somewhere.

Before there was such an accessible computer alternative, I think people were willing to invest more time and energy into learning a game that captured the feel and flavor of their favorite sport -- such as with Strat-O-Matic Baseball. For gamers weaned on that sort of game, a videogame version may not be as appealing as another boardgame version. But for younger gamers who have always had access to a videogame version of virtually any sport -- no matter how obscure -- it's asking an awful lot of their attention span and twitch reflexes to sit still long enough to try a boardgame.

So for the sports model to work in the gaming industry, it needs to compete with videogames as much as other boardgames. In my opinion, to attract casual fans, it needs to have top notch graphics and components, be easy to learn, offer enough depth that it can scale or adapt to their accepted level of difficulty, and probably play pretty briskly. Diehard gamers don't need the extra flash and sizzle. If the game is solid, fun and provides the depth of experience they want, they'll play it. The success of Strat-O-Matic proves that.

The other consideration is the legal aspect of trying to make a game for an official league. Working with the NFL, MLB, NBA or other professional leagues, and their players' associations, can be a nightmare for a small game developer. Dealing with all the issues of licensing player names, team names, official logo use and requiring league approval for anything with the league's name on it is a daunting task. The additional costs involved (both financially and in terms of time and talent) for an officially licensed game pretty much restricts them to larger publishers or publishers willing to take significant risk on the chance the license may attract a large number of customers.

Tom Vasel: But what about designer games that use a sports theme, why not see any of them?

Jay Little: I think it's a combination of factors. First, a lot of the mechanics and game elements found in popular designer games don't have a good application in a sports game. It's hard to find a good way to incorporate bidding, tile placement, set collection, role selection or
similar concepts into the sports framework. The types of decisions in sports are compelling, but don't fit neatly into many established game mechanics.

Then there are also the thematic expectations of the target audience. With many designer games, the theme can help add depth or flavor to a game experience, but may not require "authenticity" for the game to be enjoyed. A designer game trying to sell itself as a game of Renaissance court intrigue, building a colony in the tropics or currying the favor of ancient Egyptian gods has a distinct advantage over a game with a sports license -- nobody has firsthand experience of the former themes to form a comparison.

And even secondhand knowledge of those topics, due to research or personal interest, pales in comparison to the average person's sports knowledge. Sports games don't have that luxury. You don't even have to be a sports fanatic to tell something's off. Because of the lofty status of sports in our culture (particularly here in the US), people have far more exposure to sports than these other themes, and as such can immediately judge for themselves whether or not a game "feels" right in that regard.

I think another factor is the commitment required. I don't know how important "accuracy" is to a game like Tigris & Euphrates, for example. Sure, depicting the map accurately is important, but the number of leaders, the tile mix, the action sequence, the scoring system -- all those decisions are arbitrary constructions developed to ensure the end product provides the game experience the designer wants, not to accurately depict the ebb and flow of conflict in the cradle of civilization. While some knowledge or quick reading on the time period or region may be useful, you don't need the depth of knowledge sports
demand.

Sports have more quantifiable statistics, so it's easier to determine if a game based on these statistics accurately represents the theme. You have less "wiggle room" to modify things for the sake of the gameplay experience. For example, a baseball game where the winner isn't determined by the most runs scored wouldn't feel like a baseball game.
Neither would a game with final scores in the 40s. Since a portion of the component mix and certain rules pre-exist, developing a game system that encompasses all of these pre-existing conditions requires a great deal of creativity, research, playtesting and work, preferably by people who know sports inside and out.

I also think that sports may tend to be too niche for an increasingly global gaming market. Pro football is huge in the United States, as long as you're talking about the NFL. But that probably wouldn't appeal to folks in Europe, who prefer their football played on the pitch. Since the popularity of different sports tends to be fragmented around the
world, I think it creates a significant barrier to marketing. Especially when proven themes like pirates, fantasy adventure or ancient cultures cut through these barriers.

Finally, despite being an enormous sports fan, I don't think many sports are terribly elegant. Despite the seeming simplicity of baseball, the official rulebook for Major League Baseball is longer and more detailed than any old school Avalon Hill product you'll run across. Sports in progress can be elegant. Playing sports can be elegant. Breaking sports down into their core components, sifting through the minutiae and
learning every single nuance involved in the game is not.

I think the hallmark (or at least, aspiration) of a true designer game is elegance. Striving for that seamless blending of rules, mechanics, strategies, scoring and gameplay so the entire experience feels effortless. Comparatively, the underlying complexity of popular sports puts it at a disadvantage for more widespread use as a theme in designer games.

Tom Vasel: Do you think that the model for "Clix" could be applied to other sports games?

Jay Little: I certainly do. The click dial works well with several very different genres -- as seen by the success of HeroClix, MechWarrior and MageKnight. The click dial also showed its flexibility with slightly modified applications in Crimson Skies and Shadowrun Duels. Throw in the dial innovations developed for MLB SportsClix, and it's apparent there
are a variety of approaches to using a click dial in a game.

But even if not tied specifically to the WizKids click dial, I think a "dynamic range" model is a natural fit for sports. Regardless of the physical component (a dial like WizKids, the attribute sliders in the Lord of the Rings Table Top battle game or some yet-to-be-developed structure), a game element that can be adjusted on the fly during the
course of the game and provide a quick visual reference to changing attributes would help capture the dynamic feel of sports.

Dynamic range games primarily focused on combat generally start units at their maximum health, with attributes eroding over time as units take damage or exert themselves. It could be argued that athletes also start a game out at maximum health, and erode over time to represent fatigue. But sports has a wonderful ebb and flow that goes beyond pure physical exhaustion and exertion.

A football player may get pumped up an extra notch by sacking the quarterback. A rousing speech by the coach at half time can inspire a basketball team to reach new heights. Hitting a two run homer on an 0-2 count to take the lead and get your starting pitcher off the hook might pump up the rest of the baseball team. Taking a quick breather and sitting on the bench for a few shifts can energize a hockey player for a final push at the end of the period.

Of all the sports, though, I think racing could really provide an exciting gameplay experience with a dynamic range model. Imagine being able to mix and match units representing different race cars with different drivers to build your "dream team" -- each with a unique set of abilities. The dynamic range attributes for the car could represent
suspension, braking and tires, which deplete over the course of a race but can be repaired with a pit stop. The attributes for a driver could be control, stamina and reflexes, modifying different situational "driving checks" when trying to pass another player, hit a corner just right and so on.

I'm a big fan of Formula De, and despite the ability to customize a car and choose from so many different tracks, I think there could be a few more ways to personalize the experience, and put more pre-race and in-race decision making in the hands of the players. A dynamic range model taking advantage of the popularity of racing could provide a deeper and more compelling experience than any other game on the market
that I can think of.

Tom Vasel: What games influenced your design of SportsClix the most? And what games/designers have had the biggest impact on you?

Jay Little: The single biggest game influence on MLB SportsClix was Strat-O-Matic Baseball. While the influence may not be easy to see on the surface, it's definitely there. I had just wrapped up the lengthy online conversion of Strat Baseball for The Sporting News when I started working on MLB SportsClix for WizKids. And on the complete opposite end
of the spectrum, the MVP Baseball video game for XBox was also a large influence. Since the goal was to develop something in the middle of these two extremes -- detailed and statistically-derived for hard core players, yet quick playing and easy to get into for casual players -- it made sense to look at what each type of game experience offered. Fantasy sports also played a role.

Eventually, it all boiled down to what sorts of decisions people like to make about their fictional team, and what actions they take. Setting lineups, drafting players, evaluating talent, making managerial decisions, smack talking... Each of these baseball games handles these events differently. So each influenced the game design of MLB SportsClix
until we felt we had a product that offered engaging gameplay and decisions that addressed a wide variety of player interests.

Of all the existing clicky games at the time, Mage Knight Dungeons was the one I borrowed from the most. MK Dungeons had a discrete area where the game was played (ie, the playing field), and the heroes' dials went up and down frequently during play (hot and cold streaks), a more dynamic range of stats than in Mage Knight or HeroClix, based on different in-game event triggers.

As for other designs, it's generally the game itself -- or a mechanic -- that really piques my interest more than an individual designer. I'd say the single most impressive and influential element for me is game elegance. Even games with high levels of interaction and difficult decisions can be elegant in the simplicity of the rules and ideas underlying those decisions. I'd say Wallenstein is an excellent example of this elegance at work. Lots of dynamic, shifting events and situations, but a very teachable/playable game experience you can enjoy from the very start.

Other games that have sparked my imagination and gotten my game design juices flowing include For Sale, Geschenkt, El Grande, RK's Samurai, Santiago, Ingenious and La Citta. There's just something about being able to convey maximum boardgaming "oomph" in minimal rules and restrictions that really appeals to me. As such, most of my own game designs tend to focus on a single hook or mechanic, and I try to explore
that once facet within the gameplay experience while keeping rules simple and accessible.

Tom Vasel: What would be your advice for fledgling designers?

Jay Little: My best advice? Stock up on Patience and Gumption. You'll need near limitless amounts of both.

Most of my experience has been in the RPG industry, although over the years I have managed to expand my boardgaming contacts as well, in the hopes of delving further into this part of the gaming industry. I've been happy shopping my ideas around to different game companies, attending numerous conventions, asking lots of questions and keeping my chin up. While I don't have much advice to offer for folks wishing to go solo and self-publish, I can offer a bit of advice for those wishing to contact established publishers.

1) Don't take rejection personally. If you do, you're sunk. It's that simple. Your submission or email is likely one of dozens received, and the filtering process can be quite arbitrary.

2) Keep preliminary communications professional, courteous and objective. The gaming community is fairly small, despite the geographic separation. Don't bad mouth people, overly rely on slang or swear in jest. People talk, word travels and you'd be amazed how many people know each other.

3) Keep a detailed contact journal. I have a diary dating back to 2001 when I first started sending out game submission requests, filling out NDAs or otherwise trying to integrate myself into the industry. Keeping meticulous notes helps you track your contacts, quickly catch up on who knows what, and see which people, places and things have had the best
responses.

4) Know the companies and products. Spend time at their websites, reviewing their games, reading their submission guidelines. Make sure you have the right person you need to contact (no quicker way to get dismissed than to send something to the wrong person). And you have no idea how embarrassing it can be to say "Oh yeah, I love your games, especially GAME TITLE X" ... to which they say "We don't publish GAME
TITLE X... That's PUBLISHER Y's game."

5) Allow for adequate time. I don't have a rule of thumb by any means, but several designers I've contacted insist on needing at least 3-4 months to review a proposal once they've received it. You have to keep in mind that they have their own game projects and likely a dozen or more other game ideas in the playtest queue from prospective designers
like yourself.

5B) Tied to the timeframe, in your discussions, plainly ask when a good time to follow up is. If they do not provide a time, indicate when you will follow up so you've got it written down for your diary. For example, "Thanks for taking the time to review GAME TITLE X. From our previous discussion, I know it may be a month or more until you can give
it your full attention. With that in mind, if I haven't heard from you by the middle of April, I'll touch base with you then."

6) Keep your commitments. If you say you'll send something out by the weekend, do it. If you say you're going to respond by a certain time, make sure you do. Failing to make a deadline is a sure way to distance yourself from a potential publisher.

7) The devil's in the details. Remember, you're potentially 'competing' with hundreds of other prospective designers that you don't even know. Every positive may not stick out -- but better than a negative that sticks out like a sore thumb. That means check your grammar and spelling, doublecheck the spelling of your contact's name if it's
unusual, print things out (like letters or prototypes) neatly and as professionally as possible, and always put your best foot forward.

8) Never give up, never surrender. Tim Allen's character from Galaxy Quest was right about this, at least. It may take a long time to get a response, several meetings at conventions to get remembered, or numerous emails to set up a telephone call to discuss your ideas. As long as you're courteous, determined and respectful, you'll eventually
make some progress.

Tom Vasel: What games have you found to be inventive and refreshing over the past couple of years?

Jay Little: Some recent games have grabbed my interest based on gameplay, while others have been more about a gimmick or certain mechanic.

Gloom/Hecatomb: Using clear plastic cards to develop stackable game effects in a clever, visually engaging way. I think we'll see more creative uses of the actual physical components involved in the game shortly.

Heroscape: For the stackable, connectable terrain. I can't believe it took this long for someone to develop such a great system of build-your-own terrain. I use it for other games more than Heroscape, but what an accomplishment.

Wallenstein: The elegance of the combat tower. I love virtually everything about Wallenstein, but combat resolution, and the anticipation that builds up when dropping troops into the combat tower, is incredible.

For Sale: The seamless transition/relationship between the bidding portion in the first half and the secret drafting portion of the second half. For Sale is a landmark in game design elegance and decision integration, wrapped up in a 10-15 minute game.

Santiago: The great blend of bribing and bidding, and the fluctuation in the value of each over the course of the game. These two simple dynamics keep the game engaging and player interaction high, on top of the other decision making involved.

Blokus: A fabulous game that is as visually engaging as it is mentally stimulating. Immediately accessible gameplay, phenomenal production. The balance of simplicity and depth reminds me of very classic, time-tested games like Pente, Go and Othello.

Werewolf: I know the game is quite old, but its recent resurgence, especially as moderated Forum or Play-By-Post sessions, shows that games centered around social interaction are still going strong, and with the right group of people, nearly any game can be a fun experience.

Tom Vasel: You have a pretty strong online presence with your notable "geeklists" at www.boardgamegeek.com, etc. How important is the internet to board gaming, and what is in the future?

Jay Little: The internet is an incredibly important resource for boardgaming -- for players and designers alike. The internet provides a format to develop a rich community full of gamers from all corners of the world. Since boardgame design is truly a worldwide endeavor, with notable games and designers from many different countries, the internet allows access to games, designers, enthusiasts and information that would be incredibly hard to come across otherwise.

I think game publishers that tap into the internet are doing a great service for their customers. Being able to log on to a publisher's site and download rules or errata, or play a full web version of a new game, really helps personalize the hobby. Online game services like BrettSpielWelt, where visitors can play dozens of different board and
card games via a web interface, track stats and invest themselves in a persistent online community of gamers, helps generate interest for the hobby and encourages socialization among a wide variety of gamers. Online gaming communities and game stores allow a level of "comparison shopping" and information gathering unmatched by local brick and mortar stores.

BoardGameGeek.com is my virtual home away from home. As a freelancer who works out of a home office, BGG provides an important social outlet for me during the work week. Instead of standing around the water cooler talking about football, I get to read forums, GeekLists, session reports, game reviews and strategy articles geared toward games. Aside from the personal interest, these are incredibly important resources to
me as a freelance developer -- I can see what sort of mechanics or themes people take to, develop industry contacts, keep up with current trends in game design and learn about new products to keep an eye on.

I certainly think these trends will continue. The internet is a great way to expose more prospective gamers to the hobby, keep them informed about their hobby, and keep them flush with games! And the impact that an online gaming community like BoardGameGeek.com can have on the hobby are just now starting to be realized -- BGG has been involved with some great marketing programs for new games, developed contests to generate interest and tap into an existing audience base and is even being
referenced by some publishers to help promote their games (ie, Z-Man Games prominently displays that Primordial Soup is highly rated by BoardGameGeek.com on the product packaging).

I also think the internet is a great way to let small- and self publishers be more competitive in the gaming market. A solid web presence can be more affordable than convention space or ads in trade magazines, and still help a publisher get the word out about their games. It also helps put publishers in closer contact with the end user,
allowing publishers to generate more interest in a product or personalize service in a way that larger companies may not be able to.

Tom Vasel: Do you think that there are too many games and game companies right now? Is the market growing enough to support them all?

Jay Little: As an avid collector, as well as an enthusiastic gamer, I don't think you can ever really have too many games (in your collection or on the market). Let me qualify that -- you can never have too many *good* games. However, I do think there are a few too many companies willing to produce any sort of game, just to get one to market and try to tap into the rapid growth of the gaming community. So for every great game we run
across, there are ten more that don't seem ready for the gaming marketplace.

This is a tough position to be in. I think that there are so many different companies and products vying for attention (and money) that new publishers risk turning off potential customers if their initial products don't pique interest right away. A gamer disappointed with a publisher's first game may not be willing to explore other titles from that publisher, given the poor first impression.

With so many established publishers pumping out games at ever increasing rates, I can see why a small publisher might be tempted to get some designs to market in an attempt to secure a foothold or generate some name recognition. But they really need to make sure it's a solid game. The more intelligent and resourceful the gaming community becomes, the more easily gamers can recognize (and then avoid) poor games.

But it's definitely worth sifting through so many games. Sure, there are bound to be more games that don't appeal to a certain segment of gamers, or that come across as poorly designed and produced products. But then there are also quite a few real gems that we might never otherwise have seen if small or new publishers didn't accept the risk in the first place. A few titles that come to mind over the last few years that fall into this category for me would be Who Stole Ed's Pants (Eight Foot Llama), Battlestations (Gorilla Games), Duel of Ages (Venatic Games), Pizza Box Football (On The Line) and Ideology: War of Ideas (Z-Man Games). So from that regard, I'm certainly glad as many publishers are bringing new games to the market.

I do think there are enough gamers with enough disposable income to support more and more game titles, but I think gamers are also becoming much more savvy about investing in games. With so much information available at their finger tips, consumers are exposed to far less risk than they once were -- you can research a new game, read reviews,
download rules and be so much better informed that I think it's easier now to filter through available games and find ones that are more likely to be popular with the buyer. Fewer duds, happier gamers, more money left to spend on other games that interest them.

In fact, I've seen my own gaming purchase behavior change substantially over the last few years due to the information available online. While I used to wander into a hobby store and buy games based almost solely on the information on the gamebox, I am far less likely to purchase games on a whim. Just a few years ago, probably a good 2/3rds of my gaming purchases were on a whim, whereas now I probably only purchase about 10%
of my games without doing substantial research, visiting publisher websites, or looking for information on BoardGameGeek.com.

Tom Vasel: What do you see in your future as a designer?

Jay Little: That's a tough question to answer, as I'm trying to temper optimism with realism. The last several months have been a whirlwind of activity, and this was one of the best GenCons ever from a freelance designer perspective. I've made a lot of industry contacts and have been able to demo several of my game designs to established publishers.

In the short term, I'll definitely continue writing RPG content (primarily Dungeons & Dragons) since I have a track record and a growing portfolio of work to leverage -- plus it's a lot of fun writing adventures and supplements. But over the next year, I'm cautiously
optimistic that 2 or 3 of my card/boardgame designs will be picked up by game publishers.

I'm also in negotiations to develop a few products for certain publishers -- games a publisher has had sitting on the "back burner" for a while that they'd like to see someone work on for a while as they focus on other projects. While these sorts of contracts may not be for my original concepts, these projects are a great way to establish a rapport with a publisher and showcase some of my design talents, which could lead to some of my own games getting more attention down the road.

I have 9 games right now that have full prototypes and rules sets ready for demonstration and review, and another 7 projects undergoing rules revisions and fine tuning before being developed into playable prototypes. I'm very pleased with the playtesting feedback and initial response to these prototypes and have been working hard developing the
contacts and relationships with publishers necessary to showcase these designs.

Long term, depending on the response to several of the more "publishable" designs (in terms of printing costs), I'm considering some self-publishing options. I've been discussing a variety of different innovative publishing concepts with other freelancers and publishers, to see if there are some untapped means to share the risk involved with
publishing games while leveraging the growing online gaming communities like BoardGameGeek.com.

Tom Vasel: How do you balance RPGs, collectible games, and board games? Don't the first two categories demand a great deal of time or money?

Jay Little: I don't know if I could say I've found a "balance" among all these games. Yes, RPGs and collectible games do demand a lot of time and money. I'm not quite as heavy into collectible games as I once was (at least, not past initial "test drives" of new systems), but I purchase (and play) a lot of role playing games.

While my wife may curl up with a good mystery or fantasy novel, I curl up with a rulebook or new role playing game for my reading fix. And I've been playing RPGs for so long that they have become second nature for me. Once I get a feel for mechanics and nuances, the rest is all based on the creativity and inspiration of the players -- and I'm fortunate to play with some wonderful RPGers.

While my wife would probably argue I'm obsessed with games in general, gaming is the single most important social/psychological outlet for me after family. And it's the only hobby I truly pursue with passion. I don't play golf, tinker with hot rods, booze it up with my friends or go nuts buying the latest gizmos -- so there aren't any other vices competing for my time, attention or cash. I'm also lucky to have a large group of savvy gamers that I get to game with on a regular basis, with a wide range of interests. My schedule is flexible to accommodate odd times or last-minute pick up sessions, which also helps a great deal.

But when it's all said and done, my wife's understanding is the single biggest factor in how I get to spend so much time immersed in games -- playing, reading, writing, designing, buying. While she doesn't fully /share/ my enthusiasm for gaming, she does fully /support/ my enthusiasm. She's incredible.

Tom Vasel: Jason, thanks for your very detailed responses and your contributions to gaming as a whole. Do you have any final words for our readers?

Jay Little: I guess my parting shot would be to encourage people to get more involved with the gaming hobby.

Find an online gaming community (like BoardGameGeek.com) and write a review, answer someone's rules questions or upload a player aid to a favorite game. Start a gaming blog and keep a gaming diary. Visit your local hobby store and see when they have table time to demo games -- and either sit in on a demo for a new game you're interested in, or agree to demo a game for others. Give a new game you've never tried a shot. Plan a gaming night with some co-workers. Introduce a game to Grandma, a
nephew or your cousin.

There are a lot of opportunities to share gaming experience and expertise with others. With more people learning about this hobby each day, I think the active gaming community can play a significant role in fostering interest and retaining enthusiastic gamers. And the more people who enjoy and participate in the hobby, the more games we'll see, the more content we'll have available -- it's a win-win situation.

It's been a real treat, Tom -- I've really enjoyed the interview. Keep up the great work!

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games."
www.tomvasel.com

3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jay Little
United States
Eden Prairie
Minnesota
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Karate Chop!
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Wow... My wife was right -- I really am longwinded!!

Well, as I mentioned to Tom at the start of the interview, when I start talking about games and gaming, it's hard to stop... Hopefully it was an interesting read to those of you who stuck it out and actually made it through the whole thing.

And for those of you who just want the bullet points, feel free to post or message me and I'll do my best to answer.

Overall, though, I think I can sum up most of my experience in the gaming industry with the key insight gleaned by some great folks I've gotten to work with. While each person has had his own way of phrasing it, it all comes down to the following:

People will remember you for being especially helpful and friendly, or for being just a little bit of a jerk... How do you want to be remembered?
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Derrick Wildstar
msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb

Just stumbled onto this interview (and it's respective series).

I recall seeing Sportsclix as I was introduced to Heroclix back in the day. It looked cool on paper, but apparently it didn't have much staying power. This interview makes some fair points on the reasons that may have been.

Thanks Tom Vasel for providing a series with an Optimistic title if not theme. I appreciate what you do for the hobby!
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
R S
United States
Salem
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
This has to be some sort of record for a thread necro.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls