Hi, my name is John Zinser and I am the owner of Alderac Entertainment Group, or as most folk know us, AEG. I have been playing games since I was 13 years old and making games for 27 years.
I wanted to launch our company blog with a small series of articles to talk about where we have been and where I think AEG wants to go. I am also doing this because I have taken on a new role in my company. For the first time since starting AEG I will have the job I always thought I would do when I started the company.
I am AEG’s new Director of Development. You may be wondering how that is different than the CEO position at a small game company—and I am excited to tell you. If everything goes as planned, I will not need to focus on day-to-day business-related work items. My main focus will be on our games. I won’t be taking my hand completely off the tiller, but imagine that my life inside the company has been 80% business and 20% games. We are going to flip that and make my role at the company 80% games and 20% business. This sounds pretty good; right? I agree.
I am most excited because it is a job that I thought I would be doing when I started AEG, and I am betting that many of my peers feel the same way. You start a business doing something you love, and then end up doing less of that thing while working on your business.
My resume starts in the summer of 1977. My best friend Paul Stachel’s sister bought him the 1st Edition Dungeons and Dragons Blue Box—and our lives were changed forever. I get it. It’s easy to say you were a nerd when being a nerd was not cool, especially now that geek is chic. But I have photographic evidence of my deep and unabashed geek roots.
This photo was published in our local paper when I was in high school. Yep, that is me in the back with the skull mace in hand. (Dammit, Jim. I’m a GM, not a Cleric.)
I was my group’s main GM for five awesome years all through high school and a period of time afterwards while I was figuring out what happens next. I still have our group’s gaming briefcase. When I open it, the smell of dusty old tomes quickly takes me back to weekends at my friends’ houses and a gaming campaign that would direct me towards a great career in gaming.
Yes, that is duct tape on the bindings with dice well worn from may uses.
I’ll skip most of the nongaming stuff. I am a serial entrepreneur. I went to college, but mainly to play tennis. My first business was a small pizza place called John’s of California in Scott City, MO, and after that a place called Frisco’s in St. Louis. (I am forever grateful to the partners who taught me a lot but also invested in those start-ups.) I fell out of pizza and into golf marketing—long story—skip ahead 12 years. I am in Myrtle Beach, SC. I need business cards and go into a small print shop where I see on the counter a copy of Shadis Magazine. At that moment my past and my future collide, and somehow a year later I am partner in a small game company. And of course, I think I’m going to be a game designer . . .
I then met real game designers, math wizards, graphic artists, editors, writers, storytellers—true creative geniuses. I just could not put myself into the same universe as those talented people, and quickly realized my job was to publish and sell their products. I am reasonably good at marketing and sales, and so that is what I have done as the CEO of AEG for most of my 27 years.
The jump to this seat was an easy one for me. First, it is obvious that the skills needed to sell and market games have changed. There are no shortcuts. In the good old days we would jump on a plane, take a few distributors to dinner and then wheel and deal to sell a few cases. These days it’s social media, influencers, clicks, Twitter bombs, and yes, even blogs. (See, you can teach an old dog new tricks.) My skills have changed with the times and my heart has always been on the creative side of the business.
The basics are still the same. The creatives we work with are all so talented that we genuinely feel privileged to work with them. But we now have an idea of where we want to go and what type of games make sense for AEG. And If I can get the right people on the right projects and get out of the way, the best is yet to come.