Mary Russell

I've written often about how our model and our niche audience gives me an incredible amount of creative freedom. I can do aggressively weird and interesting things without the financial repercussions that usually accommodate being weird and interesting.  It's such a rare gift for a designer and publisher to have, so much so that I think that freedom also comes with a sort of a responsibility to exercise it as often and as fully as possible.

I remember reading something George Lucas said back in the late nineties or early aughts, that after he was done with his prequel trilogy, he would start making small, personal films, ala his THX 1138. Lucas went into the new millennium fabulously rich, made the new Star Wars films on his own dime, and then got even richer. He absolutely had the financial resources and freedom to make those small, personal films he wished he could do - but, as of this writing, he's never made them. At least, as far as we know. Maybe he has, but he doesn't show them to anybody but his closest friends, and years from now, we're going to open a vault and find dozens of weird experimental films. That's actually a really lovely thought, pushing the idea of a small, personal film to its ultimate if most solipsistic form.

Lucas has that freedom because he has a tremendous amount of money, while our freedom is a function of the way our model eliminates financial risk. Our profit margin is ridiculously slender, but if we put out x number of titles a year and sell y of each, we're able to keep the lights on and make a living making weird and sometimes inscrutable games for a small but appreciative audience. And over the last couple of years, we've grown that audience, slowly and organically, finding more and more people who want to buy what we're selling. 

Or, rather, they're finding us. You're finding us. We're not out there trying to convert "mainstream" gamers to our weird little cult; we're not trying to reach a broader audience that likely wouldn't enjoy our kinds of games in the first place. We'd rather sell a handful of games to a handful of people who enjoy them than sell a bunch of games to a bunch of people who wouldn't. And we'd rather make the games we do for the audience we have than make a different sort of game to try and attract a larger audience.

Table Battles has been a huge hit for us, and is probably the game of ours that has the widest possible appeal, but it's still a really weird game. I would be terrified to have ten thousand copies of that out in the world, because I don't think there are ten thousand people who are going to really enjoy it, and I don't need eight or nine thousand people slagging on the game online, potentially deterring those folks who would enjoy it from seeking it out. Nor would I want to sand off its edges to try and win converts; I would feel like I had sacrificed something integral to the experience in doing so. 

Now, there's a danger with that approach. You can get too insular, too closed off. One of the hoariest chestnuts around is the idea that wargames are dying (they're not) and that they're dying because for decades and decades, publishers catered to a shrinking, aging, dying audience with increasingly complicated monster games that alienated potential newcomers. I think the shrinking of the market had a lot more to do with new hobbies and mediums developing in the early eighties, as well as different and evolving attitudes toward direct conflict and warfare in games. And the resurgence and growth of board games in general has led to a resurgence and growth of wargaming.

Such growth, in fact, that there is room for specialization, for weird little companies like ours. We exist off to the side of the industry proper, and we're able to thrive there. Well-meaning folks sometimes approach us wanting to partner up, to bring our games to a wider audience, to allow us to grow into something that looks more like a traditional publisher. They naturally assume that the goal of any business is to get continually bigger and bigger, with a wider and wider reach, making more and more money. 

And we're really just not interested in that, to be honest. We're happy in our little corner. We want it to grow, of course, but we want it to grow at a rate that we can control, and in a way that allows us to do what we want to do, the way we want to do it.

1 comment

  • I’m new here, and very much enjoying your weird games!


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