When I was in my twenties, I was pretty clueless and very stubborn (a potent combination). I confused a love of puns with a personality (in addition to being clueless and stubborn, I was also unfunny). I was adamant that a reel mower was more effective than gas or electric (I was also cheap). I was pretty sure I was a boy (still scratching my head on that one).
And I was convinced that a press-your-luck dice game about panama disease should not only exist, but should be about an hour long. This was monumentally dumb for a number of reasons, not least of which is that this game about the banana industry did not in any way engage with the actual and sordid history of the banana industry. Press-your-luck dice games can be diverting, but outwear their welcome fairly quickly, and certainly long before the hour mark. It also had too many bits – board, tiles, money – and decisions – types of bananas, where to plant them, how many ships to buy to bring them to market, how to price them – for a game where you rolled six dice every turn to see how many of your plans got ruined.
But I was convinced that this thing was gold, so I made what was for a me a reasonably fancy prototype, and we drove down to a convention to pitch it to a publisher. They weren’t particularly impressed, which, fair. They asked some very smart questions about the game – about the mismatch between the length and the mechanics, the decision space and the dice chucking – and I nodded, and I listened, and then…
Then I argued. It wasn’t a passionate argument or anything, it was more that I was trying to convince the guy with logical arguments that “no, actually, this is good and you should publish it”, and that if my argument was sound enough, he would have no reason not to publish it, and therefore would sign the game. Like I said, I was pretty clueless and stubborn.
And he was more polite than I deserved, and said, “You know, you might be right, but I’m just not feeling it.” And while the not-at-all hidden subtext to that kiss-off was “you absolutely aren’t right, please leave me alone you weird, aggravating person” - which, okay, yeah, the guy was entirely justified in that reaction – let’s pretend for a moment that he meant it literally. Let’s pretend for a moment that I was right about the game and its potential, that the game was actually the greatest thing since sliced banana, but that his response was still, “yeah, but I’m just not feeling it.” Me in my twenties probably would think that was a terrible way to run a business, and me in my twenties would’ve been dead wrong.
I tell you this story not to self-flagellate over what a doofus I was – though gosh, was I ever a doofus - but because as we put more and more years into this business, and release more and more games, we’ve become more and more convinced that “I’m just not feeling it” is not only a valid way to reject a submission, but perhaps the only valid way.
Each year we reject a fair number of submissions. Some of them are irrelevant: I don’t know why folks think we’d be a good fit for their resource conversion euro that “is sure to be a strong contender for the Spiel des Jahres”. Some of them have production demands that exceed our ability to offer the game at a competitive pricepoint. Some of them are bad.
And some of the games we reject are good – some of them, in fact, are very good. Great, even. And early on, that was enough, more than enough, for us to sign a game. We might not have been “feeling it” necessarily, but if the thing was sharply designed, made a cogent argument, was well-balanced, was interesting, was a hoot and a half when you got it on the table? We had all these reasons – all these arguments – in its favor, and in a way, we talked ourselves into publishing it. It made logical sense.
But we didn’t feel it in our gut, we weren’t excited by the thing, and invariably when it came time to release the finished game, they didn’t do as well as we or the designer had hoped. And though we put our all into every game we publish, it was harder to put that energy and effort into those titles.
Whereas with the games that grabbed us, that energy flowed more naturally, and the process was much less exhausting. The games may or may not have been hits – and there’s nothing quite as disappointing as being really, really excited about something and putting it out into the world only to be greeted with a shrug – but other than wishing it had done better for that designer, it didn’t really matter. After all, if we really cared about selling a lot of copies, we wouldn’t be doing the games we do the way we do them.These days we’re much more trusting of that gut feeling. A game could have a whole bunch of stuff going for it, could in fact be absolutely perfect, but if it doesn’t grab us – if we’re not feeling it – then we give it a pass.
This post is resonating with me in ways that I can not quite enumerate. I will try. There is a huge universe of games out there. Hollandspiele must stay true to the games that “feel” right. Those are the right games for this space. The others will find their proper homes if they have their own greatness; they won’t be lost.
Let’s be honest, we’re all idiots in our twenties. Until you have the first hand experience to counter your assumptions about the world, you are going to think you are right no matter what. The problem arises when, even after getting evidence to the contrary repeatedly, you still think that an hour long push your luck game about tropical fruit is a good idea well into your, say, forties. Or substitute any activity. All these “hold my beer” middle aged morons shoving fireworks up someone’s whatever should really step back and ask themselves what are we doing here.