Mary Russell

Years ago, I made computer games - a few of which still survive and are somewhat diverting if completely inessential - and during that period of my life, I spent a lot of time with library books about said games. In fact, the first time I read Dunnigan's Complete Wargames Handbook, it was because it was shelved between two programming books, and I was fairly irritated when I opened it up and it was primarily about some weird and unappealing cardboard things. (The second time I read it, after we had gotten into board games, I had a very different reaction!)

One of the books I borrowed from the library was about computer games for the nascent "casual market", with particular emphasis on the match-three genre. I didn't particularly like those sort of games, and neither did the guy who wrote the book. Disdain for the games, and the creative impulse in general, dripped from every page. The moral of the story was to copy what was already working for other publishers, shamelessly and cheaply, and to tart it up enough to make a quick buck.

That of course was a major turn-off, but the writer's real disdain was for the audience that played his company's games. I'm paraphrasing here, but time and again he'd say things like, The people who play these games are not looking for an intellectual challenge. They are old people who are frightened of their computers. If something in the game confuses them, they will get scared and shut down because they think they will end up with "the virus" and lose all their emails.

I no longer remember the name of the book or the author, though back when it was fresh in my memory, I looked him up and was perhaps a little too gleeful upon discovering that his company had collapsed when the match-three market did: serves you right, jerk.

And it wasn't so much that he approached his business primarily as a business, that his objective was to make money. Making money is a perfectly valid motivation for most human endeavors, as money is how we humans pay our bills, put food on our table, and buy board games. Money is, indeed, one of my primary motivators; if every game we put out was a passion project, I wouldn't design nearly as many games, we as a publisher wouldn't put out nearly as many, and we wouldn't be able to do this full-time.

But we care about every game. We take pride in the work. We respect our customers, we appreciate their trust in us, and we continually strive to earn that trust, game-by-game. It's why we try to put as much information out there as we can about the games. It's why I spend more time online convincing people not to buy a game of ours that they probably won't enjoy - we want you to be able to make an informed decision, and to choose the game that's the right fit for you.

Most publishers I've talked to and worked with feel the same way. There are a handful that don't. I once talked with a veteran designer who expressed surprise and delight that we actually played games before publishing them. A developer who used to work for another firm told me that the publisher specialized in mediocre and derivative games that no one else would touch, as he wouldn't have to pay the designers as much. I don't think that kind of attitude gets you very far in this business. The market is so small and the products so expensive that customers are very selective about who they give their money and their trust to.


  • I have to disagree that ‘making money is a perfectly valid endeavor, etc’. It’s not and here’s why – money is actually just accountancy, a record of value. Value is what happens when a human being cared about something. Either this improves the land or something off of it, or it improves the improvers or their ways of improving. We never actually work for ourselves, to ‘gain money’, but to provide something for someone else. I make shoes so that you can travel, you make bread so that I can eat. That’s how it works. The problem is we have a wrong view of it. Perhaps to do with fixation on material representations of value (gold, paper, figures). So we mistake value for a thing instead of a deed and imagine we can hold and hoard it. This creates all the distortions and clogging of our abilities to do good stuff. No thing lasts, but we imagine money, or value, does or can – and with this we create worlds of troubles. Fortunately now we have the insight and technology to see that each person may be their be their own bank and every moment of accounting (transaction) coins a new value figure between those involved. The aim of accountancy is balance (as double-entry shows), and in a living evolving system every actor is free yet all are inter-related. Without real action (that is care that actually produces improvement or maintenance for something else (the rest is just masturbation) ) there is no value.
    So ‘making money’ in order to ‘have enough’ to defend my corner, feed it, water it, is not the thing. It’s of the past now, we are just waking up to that. Economy of care is the thing, associative economics not competitive scrapping.
    So, yes, as we stand today ‘making’ money in the sense that is still normally meant is still considered a valid way of working, but it’s not the truth of how economy (“care of the house”) works.

    Jonathan Townsend

  • 7 paragraphs with no mention of dinosaurs seems like a wasted opportunity. I think Mary needs broader editing privileges.


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