I’ve decided to do lots more interviews of my customers, other people in various (related) parts of my industry, and more.
Today, we’ll talk to my oldest customer, dearest to my heart: my husband. (A running joke is our house is: “get in the kitchen and make me a website, woman”.)
Some people may know him from Skippy’s List fame: The 213 things Skippy is no longer allowed to do in the U.S. Army.
Others know him from his company, WeaselPants Productions, LLC that made the run-away indie tabletop game, Redshirts.
He’s been making games his whole life, and during our marriage, even went to college to learn to make video games and spent time in the video game industry.
Currently, he’s working on a Kickstarter campaign for second and third editions of Redshirts.
Here is Jonathan Schwarz, aka Skippy’s story.
Tell me about your gaming background. From childhood to professional.
Well, when I was in first grade we had this big board game about monkeys on boats. It was horrible, so I started making new rules to fix it. As I got older I discovered D&D and console games. (Note from Janice: D&D means Dungeons and Dragons, a fantasy role-playing game that is great for the imagination, or even learning to act.) I constantly made up my own mechanics for table-top games. This progressed gradually until I realized that one game I owned had so many house rules that I had essentially made a new game out of it.
When I was looking for colleges when I was leaving the Army, I found one that had a game art program. That’s the point that it hit me that games were something I could do for a living. Since formal video game training was very new at that point, I hopped schools a few times until I found a program that worked: the SMU Guildhall. After graduating I managed to get into the video game field for a few years. The hours and pay were bad, but on the other hand I really enjoyed the work. Eventually the company I was working for went spectacularly out of business. Since I had been working on table top games in my spare time, I was able to use some of that to scare up an investor and go into publishing.
How well do most table top games do, and how well did your first game do in comparison?
The average game sells about three to four hundred units over its lifetime. But that average includes the fact that most table top games tank.
A successful game sells one to two thousand units over its lifetime.
My very first table top game was a card game called Please Don’t Wake Dagon. It was licensed off of a web comic and the publisher made a small test run, that sold out quickly. Just in time for the publisher to lose the license. So that one sold maybe a few hundred copies, if that.
My second game, Redshirts, which is the first one that I published myself has sold around 10,000 copies, and is currently being printed for the third time. So we’re doing pretty good with that one.
What project is happening right now?
Right now my company is running a Kickstarter campaign to print two expansions for Redshirts. Combined, these will nearly double the size of the game. So far we have reached our funding goal, and we are not even halfway through the campaign.
Redshirts is a rather warped game where the goal is to be the first starship captain to get your own crew killed. You do that by sending them on missions they are not trained for, take away vital equipment at the last second, and occasionally just shoot them in the back and shove them out an airlock. (Note from Janice: if you are not familiar with Star Trek, especially the original series in the 60’s, the enlisted guys in red shirts always died in episodes. It’s a running joke among sci-fi fans. This game has no relation to Star Trek, nor is it endorsed by the parent company. The game Redshirts makes jokes about all sci-fi and fantasy franchises).
What advice to you have for newbie indie tabletop game companies/individuals?
Do your homework. The Internet has opened up an entire universe of useful information in this field. Join GAMA, and go to trade shows. Join online game design communities. Test your products until you hate them, and then test some more. Don’t skimp on art or production values. Learn graphic design and technical writing.
How useful has social media been for you in the Kickstarter endeavor?
Very. Facebook is the number three source for backers to my campaign. Previous customers from Kickstarter are the number one. If I could be bothered to figure out Twitter enough to build a following, that would probably be a big source of backers as well.
Do you have any major Do’s and Don’ts for people who want to make games?
Practice. Just design constantly, and try out new games whenever you can. Remember that theme and art will make people buy your game more than mechanics, but mechanics will make them keep playing it and get their friends to buy it.
Don’t hoard your ideas. Don’t worry that somebody will “take your really cool idea and steal it”. I guarantee anyone else in the industry already has more ideas than they can use.
And grow a thick skin, because some of your ideas won’t work out well, and even if it’s the best idea on the planet somebody is going to hate it.
What do you tell people when they come to you with a game idea?
“Lalalalala I can’t hear you!”
Seriously, I have gigabytes of games in various states of design, and a production backlog that could take years to clear. I am not unique in this respect.
Basically: game ideas have no value. Everybody already has more than they can use. If you have an idea that you want to see made into a game, ain’t nobody gonna make that game but you. Or just wait three years. Someone else probably had the same idea and is already making the prototype.
Any last thoughts on your industry, background, or the projects in progress?
If you are reading this, please go to our Kickstarter page and give us all of your money.
Anything your fans should be looking forward to?
Well, once we ship the Redshirts expansions, we’re going to start prepping our next title. It’s called Rocky Road Warriors. It’s a game about cute and fluffy cartoon animals having a post-apocalyptic highway duel over the last ice cream truck in the wasteland. It’ll be a good family game.
Janice: Thank you Skippy. Everyone: pitch in and keep the $$ coming for Kickstarter, because that means you get MORE goodies in the expansion and it gives him that much more he needs to get Rocky Road Warriors moving!