Looking at 2019 I choose to pivot

I've been working on my game “Escape the Fest!” for a very long time, in fact I've been working on this game and learning about the publishing process with tabletop games for about five years now. During that time I've learned quite a bit about business, the industry, and game design in general. “Escape the Fest!” has gone through so many different iterations that sometimes it can be hard to keep track of. The game that I've been showing to people at conventions lately is the finalized game, and I couldn't be happier with it. The game that I got to show the people at Pax Unplugged is the game that I wanted to make five years ago when I got back home from my first massive rave and on a pad of paper wrote about what a good music festival game would look like.

To me, I wanted to talk about the experience of a music festival because there's a lot of beautiful things that I have learned from the Rave community that I wanted to share.One of the core concepts that I fell in love with was this idea of ‘PLUR’ (Peace. Love. Unity. Respect.) and the community’s openness. Trying to capture the experience of a music festival into a game has been tough.

Fast forward to today, and it's finally starting to sink in that while I still would love to see “Escape the Fest!” published solely by me through crowdfunding and seeing more people play the game, I got lost in the woods of business development and a desire to just build a business. While I am still building a business, the type of business trajectory as changed to remain focused on creating media rather than providing a platform for myself and others to get their ideas out. Publishing is still very fascinating to me, but requires a lot of capital to really pull off well. Many people can get so caught up in the process that they forget their vision.  

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I think a lot of businesses, especially when starting, go through weird moments in the development. Moments where the person who's at the wheel of a business wants to pivot but the more people you have involved with your business, especially investors, the less opportunity you have to be honest with yourself and those around you. Thankfully I don’t have to report to others.

As I've been looking at the current state of the board game industry and the current state of crowdfunding with board games, specifically utilizing Kickstarter, it's becoming more and more clear to me that with the over-saturation of games in the market and the evolution of how Kickstarter works, that first-time designers and indie self-publishers have a very steep mountain to climb. I don't believe that it is insurmountable, but that being said, I needed to sit down and figure out what it is that I wanted. I now know that building a business strictly for the idea of making money is not what I want in this life. When I originally started this I wanted to share my stories and the stories of others. Publishers, specifically those in the board game industry, operate in the world of numbers and data. That's not to say that they don't have great stories that they are telling, but many times at the end of the day their main goal is to continue to grow and make money. I'm not going to fault any publisher for wanting to grow and make money, but it’s not my main drive with Foolish Panda Games.

This blog post is an alert to my readers, people who played my game, and others who have supported me throughout this time to know that I am in the midst of pivoting Foolish Panda Games. I am taking a note from other entertainment industries by becoming a studio. I was surprised to find out that there aren’t a lot of developed studios in the tabletop industry. Asmodee Games purchased various publishers in the past and turned them into studios that do really well, which is proving to be a very smart business decision, and something that other publishers should look at. On the smaller side, what I think this means for many indie developers and publishers, is that we should be looking at merging to combine our efforts to lead to greater successes in the end. This doesn't mean that I don't think that there can't be people who can successfully build a self-publishing business, but for every outlier that succeeds in crowdfunding today there are just going to become more and more people who don't make it pursuing one path to success.

If more people can come together and combine their efforts, merge their companies and create an agreed-upon path to success it will be better for the board game industry as a whole. Not too long ago Indie Boards and Cards merged with Stronghold Games to create Indie Game Studios. I have not had the opportunity to do as much research into them as I would like, but I plan on doing some to see what it is their end goal is. When you have games not able to spend even two weeks on the *brand new* game shelves at a game store these days it's hard to grab any kind of market share. I think when you add to that more people are publishing games at a higher rate, without any kind of gatekeeping whatsoever we are setting ourselves up for a 1980s video game break down to occur. I don't want that to happen and I don't believe that it should happen, I really do believe we can learn from the mistakes of other Industries.

In reading ‘The Content Trap’ by Bharat Anand I was struck by the chapter where he talks about cable companies. Bharat says cable companies are not media companies, and fall into a content trap by trying to produce and make their own content. By doing this they lose sight of the fact that they are actually infrastructure providers. Once they think of themselves in those terms it's much easier to imagine that they won't be killed by the emergence of online media. While this chapter focuses on the idea of Television dying, what really impacts me is this idea that instead of old businesses doing their best to squash new business and operations, they can take a step back and review what it is that they're doing in the first place.

So what would it look like if a publisher today consider themselves an infrastructure provider? Publishers have great connections with various distributors, manufacturers, and they have a deeper understanding of what board game customers are looking for. Once publishers understand this, then they can come to terms with the idea that they no longer have to sink money into the creation of various games, or into even arguably paying for artistic direction of games. They can spend more time hunting Studios that they can trust to develop the games that will reach the customer base that they have. I think overall this will allow for a greater increase in profits for them because they won't have to necessarily worry about so much of the upfront costs that go into game design.

With all that I would like to invite you as a reader on this site, here is where I would like to Foolish Panda Games and myself in 5 years.

First, I would like to maneuver all entertainment developments surrounding board games under a new moniker called “Chaotic Cardboard.” Chaotic Cardboard is a Facebook group that I started that solely focuses on board game memes, while the group will stay that way, anything I create that is meant to entertain or educate regarding tabletop games will be under that moniker.

Second, I want Foolish Panda Games to stay strictly focused on game design and development. I want to see Foolish Panda Games grow into a trusted game Studio that publishers can trust to handle game design from ideation, to play testing, to art direction and game designers feel they can go to in hopes of seeing their games developed and created up to the point where it is ready for manufacturing and distribution. I want Foolish Panda Games to be ‘Creator Centric’ meaning that anything a person makes, they get to hold onto and decides it’s future.

Here I am talking about reviewers and a little about the industry with Martyn Poole of Board Game Exposure.

We are in a very interesting and exciting time as many institutions are being questioned daily and the tabletop industry is not exempt. We will continue to question industry directions and hopefully we can stop for a moment, pull back and change course. Much like I am pivoting my mindset and regards to my business, I hope that other groups in the industry will pivot as well. We should all be figuring out how we define wealth, how are we bettering those around us, and how we better the human experience as a whole. These are three questions that I will continue to ask myself with every decision I make, and I hope that you join me in asking yourself those questions with every decision you make as well.

Stay foolish!


Chris MichelottiComment