What do you do in the industry?
My journey in the game and toy business has been a bit convoluted. I started out designing and publishing my own games back in 2002. For anyone not familiar with the world of the small publisher, it means wearing several hats. After I designed a game, I worked with illustrators and manufacturers to create it, then with distributors, sales reps, and retailers to get it to market, and, of course, with magazines and websites to advertise it. As you might imagine, that process requires a lot of time. When life interrupted, as it sometimes does, I transitioned to licensing games, and contracting out to help companies refine and playtest their products. Parallel to that work, I produced, edited and wrote for the Games for Educators newsletter and website.
As far as the industry goes, these days, I mostly write reviews. I am still designing games, and hope to get back into pitching them, but I’m currently focused more on my writing.
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
Two conversations. The first one happened with my wife. We were sitting at the dinner table talking about our days. I was working at a software company I’d help start, and she was working as a social worker in the intensive care unit of a local children’s hospital. We were both tired. Her description of her day was something along the lines of “I helped a family start dealing with the fact that their child was going to die.”
Then it was my turn, and I was like “um... I wrote a bunch of code.”
Suddenly, my work, while enjoyable, seemed a bit pointless.
The second conversation was with a friend of mine. He was complaining about not having anything to talk about with his parents, that going to visit them was always difficult. I suggested he bring a deck of cards with him. That’s when I realized just how much my family played games, and how much they tied us together. My mom and I played Cribbage for money, and had a running tally of who owed who. Thinking through my own interactions with people, I came to the belief that sharing experiences (like games) builds connections between people.
At that point, I didn’t have much choice. I loved playing games, and I felt like playing them substantially improved my life. How could I not try to bring that to other people?
(Distraction, one of Pat's games!)
What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas?
Relax! What’s the worst thing that will happen if your game gets rejected? The answer is that you’ll pitch it to someone else, or you’ll publish it yourself. Treat the person your pitching as an ally instead of an adversary. You’re working together to find which of your game designs will best fit their product line. If you only have one game design, then you’re working with them to see how it will fit. When you’re pitching, relax. Have fun. Establish a connection with the person you’re talking to. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. Either way, if you’re genuine and sincere and relaxed, you’ll almost certainly start to develop a connection with the person.
What’s your workspace setup like?
I discovered a while back that I like to have separate workspaces. My game design is done in a room with a computer and a 3x5 worktable. I’ve accumulated an odd assortment of gizmos and gadgets to help with prototyping and a ton of what most people would call junk – bits and pieces from games and craft stores that I use for brainstorming. I do my writing on my laptop, in an entirely separate space, usually on the back porch, or in chair in my bedroom. I find that if I’m writing near my game design space, I can’t keep my mind on my writing.
The same thing goes for my software development. That’s done on an entirely separate computer at a different desk. I suppose it’s a comment on my focus that I need to have the three so separate from each other, but that’s what I do.
Also, I always keep a stack of cookies nearby. Nothing keeps you on task, like the promise of a cookie!
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
I put too much emphasis on game pitches. I remember pitching a game to Tanya Thompson. She was with ThinkFun at the time, and had signed Distraction the previous year. I knew Tanya and liked her