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. The whole team at ThinkFun was about as welcoming and friendly as you can imagine. The moment I started pitching, Tanya, though, I suddenly became nervous and awkward and insecure. Everything felt difficult.
It was a real wake-up call for me. If I turned into that guy when I was pitching a friend, how bad must I have been when I was pitching to people I didn’t know? It changed my whole approach.
How do you jumpstart your creativity when you find yourself stalled on a project?
It depends a great deal on the nature of what is blocking me. I’m a proponent of switching projects and coming back to the problem. I find that often an answer or idea will come to me while I’m working on something else. Similarly, distracting myself with something physical (soccer, basketball, ping pong, whatever) often brings an idea or two. When that doesn’t work, I use an old writer’s trick: write down everything you can think of that might have something to do with the problem.
For example, let’s say you’re working on a game and you need an interesting random element. The old standbys are cards and dice. What about throwing fingers, where on the count of three, everyone throws out one, two, or three fingers? Generally, that’s an idea that won’t work, but I find that including things like that in the list helps me stretch out in new directions.
What are you working on now?
These days, my professional focus is primarily on my writing. I still write game reviews, and am still designing games, but I’ve stepped away from pitching them. One year (probably in 2020 or 2021), I’m going to call all my old contacts and be like “look what I have!” - and hope that some get published. The specific game that I’m working on right now is a cooperative game for two to five players, themed around the world in The Boy With The Sword (www.dragon-run.com/theboywiththesword.php). That’s one that I may just publish myself. We’ll see.