How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.
How do you make great games? Play, play, play.
There is a lot of real hard work that goes into making and delivering a game. There are graphics, art, editing, rules writing, sourcing, production, shipping, sales, marketing, warehousing, reprints, invoicing, accounting, collections, and a myriad of other actions that happen on a daily basis for every game that gets made and delivered to a customer.
It is so easy for people working at a game company to realize that play is one, if not the most important, element. The problem is that play is almost always fun, and when other parts of the business are screaming at you and need your attention, play all too often feels like escaping the “real work” you need to be doing.
AEG started out as a CCG company, and making a CCG is very different from publishing boxed games. With each of our CCGs there was a whole lot of front-loaded work and play to create the game, but once we had finished the core game and published it we were then in the expansion business. Our customers and people who played the games every day were the best people to give us feedback on our games, so we would play a ton before a game came out and then as we added team members who were expert-level players we would focus on the business side of things.
The boxed board game business is very different. Certainly not as many expansions and you not only have to know what you are working on but also what everyone else out there is doing. Instead of focusing on one game, with a central theme and mechanic, you are looking at several different games and exploring different spins on game mechanics already tried in 50 other games. If you are not playing you are falling behind the curve.
AEG had an office in Ontario, California, for over 20 years. It was an amazing place and we created a lot of great games there, but about the time we started looking at doing board games AEG was embracing the idea of virtual staff. We found that many of our best creative people lived in other parts of the country or world. We are also working with a lot of freelancers, and the office was less and less the creative center for the company. Work always won out over play in the office, and a few years ago I realized we needed to embrace the virtual movement and just close down the office. It was an adjustment, but it was also liberating. A lot of the stuff we did on a daily basis just because we had an office went away, and we got to focus on the things we realized were more important.
As a virtual company we would plan and create meetups around conventions and other business travel. We learned quickly that trying to be creative AFTER an event like Gen Con was futile. So we planned summits in front of shows and would travel and visit each other when game development needed to happen. We have also mastered the use of Slack and other virtual connections, but we all knew that there was no replacing shared game experience.
So after a few years without the office, days lost leading up to conventions, trying to work in hotel lobbies and busting the budget on summits and Airbnb’s we decided we needed to try something new.
Last year we rented and opened up the Larkstone house. The Larkstone house is 100% a creative workspace. It is a 4 bedroom house in Southern California that has been set up for gaming, sleeping, and eating and more gaming. So far it has been the perfect solution for our company. Not only does it act as a central meeting place for our creative staff and our creative summits, it has opened up a completely new opportunity to invite designers and other creatives to come stay with us and collaborate on new projects.
For me it is a lot like running a gamer Airbnb. In fact, as I write this my wife is up helping me turnaround the house for the next group of guests. We will have designers in on Thursday and Friday and then a big design summit all next week with Peter McPherson, designer of Tiny Towns, our first big game of 2019.
I fully expect this will become a thing that many companies copy. But fair warning, there are a few things you must consider.
- How cool is your spouse? I mean, if you open up a gaming house, you will spend a LOT of time at the gaming house. Your spouse needs to be cool with that. I crash here when guests are in town. And as noted my lovely wife Julie makes sure that this house has a feeling of home. I just do not think it would work the same if it was a dingy gamer crash space. (So thank you, Julie).
- Cleaning the house becomes a part-time job. Changing up the beds, dishes, vacuuming, cleaning out the refrigerator all have to be done. We will occasionally bring in a service for deep cleaning, but that can’t be done every week. It can get expensive so we keep it up ourselves.
- Who do you play with? This is another challenge of running a small game company. Who can play games between 9am and 6pm on a weekday? Very few people. So most game companies work all week and then game in the evenings and on the weekends. Our solution has been to bring in a range of gamers; folks that work at night, are currently between jobs, retired, et cetera, to be on-call for gaming sessions. We are now also scheduling regular game meetups and inviting locals in to play on gaming nights and during playtest sessions.
- Last but not least, how do you keep the day-to-day work out of the house? For us, we have made the edict that it is just not a place where day-to-day work gets done. I keep a small office in the house, but it is more a command center for development. It can be used by people visiting, but everyone needs to keep their day-to-day work out of the house.
Getting an invite to Larkstone . . .
If you are a Los Angeles or Orange County local and would like to placed on our play test meet-up list, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the title [Play-Test] Larkstone Mailing List. Let us know what type of games you like to play and when you are most likely available.
If you are a So Cal game designer, we are scheduling game designer meet-ups once per month. If you would like to be included in the mailing list for a possible invite, send an email to email@example.com with the title [Larkstone Game Designer Meet-Up] along with your contact information.
At this time overnights and summits are by invitation only.