20 April 2013 | 1 Comment
Perhaps it’s too soon to call St. Louis a hotbed of tabletop game designers and bloggers, but it’s getting close. We’ll call it a warmbed for now.
Among those connected to the board game industry in St. Louis, we have yours truly in the blogging/designing/publishing category, along with the well-read gaming/geek blogs Games with Two, Pretty Sneaky Sis, and The Newest Rant. We also have an uber-successful designer named Chris Darden, the mind behind Kickstarter juggernaut Dungeon Roll.
But we stand in the shadow of a company whose first game, Sentinels of the Multiverse, took the gaming world by storm a few years ago: Greater Than Games.
I listen to a lot of gaming podcasts, and I’ve learned a lot by listening to GTG’s Christopher Badell, who is the one who most frequently appears on the podcasts. However, I’m a business guy, so I really wanted to chat with Paul Bender, the business genius behind the company. GTG just launched a Kickstarter campaign for a new game called Galactic Strike Force, so it seemed like a good time to reach out to Paul. I really enjoyed his answers, and I hope you do too.
1. Could you introduce yourself to our readers? What is your role with Greater Than Games?
I am the Operations Director for the company, which means that I primarily manage our relationships with other businesses (game printers, shipping companies, game distributors, landlords, etc), interface with accountants, attorneys, etc to make sure we pay our taxes and otherwise don’t get into legal troubles, organize logistics for gaming conventions we attend, and run projections and create business plans so that Greater Than Games has clear short, medium, and long term goals and direction. I also help out with game design (I did much of the original writing/world concepting for Galactic Strike Force, and helped Christopher with the initial game mechanics on a trans-Atlantic flight to Germany) and shipping (we do a ton of shipping; everybody helps with that :) )
2. I’ve heard Christopher Badell say in interviews that you are the secret ingredient to Greater Than Games. Can you explain what he means by that?
Well, I don’t want to put words in his mouth or imply that he has opinions that he may not hold. However, I would suspect that he just means that he has found having someone with some entrepreneurial experience around helpful.
3. How can other indie game publishers—especially those started by individuals via Kickstarted games—get access to business acumen if they don’t have a business background?
Many things can be learned by doing, though that frequently means failing a few times before you succeed. Pro Tip: pay actual money to actual attorneys and actual accountants for their advice on legal and tax issues – while learning by failing is entirely useful, it is typically preferable to avoid learning via prison or financial ruin.
4. What advice would you give to other publishers for creating a business plan? How far ahead in the future do you plan?
I plan ahead five years. However, the plan gets much less specific more than 1 year out, as timescales like that are much harder to predict. If you are making a business plan, I would definitely recommend talking with other people in the industry so that you are aware of all of the costs and pitfalls of which you may be unaware. Learning at least the basics about how an industry works before you jump in is very important.
5. During Sentinels of the Multiverse: Shattered Timelines, you all announced that it would be your last Kickstarter campaign for that brand. I admire that approach, and I’m curious to hear more about your reasoning for doing that.
There are two reasons. The first is that Kickstarters are time-consuming and expensive to run. Not only do they require constant maintenance during the campaign, but they necessitate a ton of work after the fact to fulfill all of the orders. The second is that we really want to limit our Kickstarters to 2 or fewer per year, and to only use Kickstarter for projects where there are a lot of unknowns in terms of reception and interest.
6. What are your three favorite tabletop games not published by Greater Than Games?
Diplomacy, Pathfinder, and Carcassonne
7. Do you think Greater Than Games will someday publish games by other designers?
8. Could you recommend one board-game related book/podcast/blog/YouTube channel and one that has nothing to do with board games that all board game project creators should subscribe to?
I watch very little in the way of podcasts or YouTube channels, so I definitely couldn’t recommend one that all board game creators should subscribe to! The only two channels it looks like I am currently subscribed to are PomplamooseMusic (who do some cool music) and FyreUK (who do awesome Minecraft time-lapse videos). The fact that I just now had to look that up, however, should tell you how often I watch things on YouTube :)
However, I have a million book recommendations! Aside from being very interested in Tolkien’s mythology of Middle-Earth, I thoroughly enjoy the following authors, among others:
I also enjoy a good bit of non-fiction, especially in the popular science category (particle physics, astronomy, glacial geology, evolutionary biology, that sort of thing). In terms of internet reading, I primarily read the AP/Reuters news feeds, with a particular emphasis on international politics.
9. What are a few key elements and principles you incorporated into your project that you think future Kickstarter creators could benefit from knowing?
1) Have an established social network that you engage with on a regular basis. Traffic doesn’t just show up on your Kickstarter page by accident!
2) Definitely find someone like Christopher who is willing to do incredible work for 80+ hours per week, every week.
3) Have simple, straight-forward pledge levels (we’ve done the opposite at times, and it is absolutely awful to manage or explain to people).
Thanks Paul! If you’re interested in their latest game, check out the Galactic Strike Force Kickstarter here.