Good news from Atlanta: it seems that all the packages of pawns arrived. Good news from the board game folks: My 250 games should be arriving in Atlanta any day now. I’m skeptical and I’ll believe it when I see it. I’m cautiously optimistic: “expecting the worst but hoping for the best.” I honestly don’t know if I will have everything together for my big premiere. It’s looking like I’ve done stuff right (at least in terms of preparations and getting things done early), but I have a continuing uneasy fear that I will have forgotten something really important, something I knew about at one point and scribbled on one of my dozens of “To Do” lists, but soon forgot about. So many little things must come together… Along with the good news about the games (allegedly) being in, there was an attached invoice for somewhat over $20,000. I barely have enough to cover that, but I also have about $4,000 in various expenses I need to come up with in the next few weeks. I’m trying not to make too big a deal of it, but Dragon*Con will really make or break it, I’m thinking. My goal is to sell 200 of the 250 games. If I can do that, I’ll come home from Atlanta not only confident that the game has potential, but also able to pay some bills right away. If I can’t sell the games, or if I’m shipping 200 games back home, I’ll… well, I don’t know. I don’t want to think about it.
Finally got a response back from two foreign game distributors, one in Germany and one on England. (I had previously e-mailed each of them twice before, I guess persistence finally paid off. They want to know what terms I’m offering, and what shipping will be. I know the terms, but had no idea what shipping a case to Europe will cost. Set about finding that out, then interrupted by a reporter from the Kansas City Star, wanting to interview me about a supposed Bigfoot body that was found in Georgia. Gave half-hour interview, then back to work. Arranged for a gaming tournament at a Santa Fe game store called GameCo; basically, I’ll provide some promo materials (posters, stickers, etc.) and some prizes (T-shirts, figurines), and in return they do a little publicity and set aside a table for people to play the game for a few hours. Gets people in, becomes an event. Got a call from the ad guy from The Onion, confirming that I’m running the quarter-page ad in the August 21 (back to school) issue of the L.A. edition. I said yes—the one with the Buddha and the chain gun. I promised him an extra-special holiday ad, but I wouldn’t tell him what the tagline is. I don’t think they will object, but it might be controversial… So far I have 30 pre-orders, I was getting one or two a day for a while there, it seems to have stopped.
I e-mailed the game folks asking for an update on the 250 games. The latest info (this shit seems to change by the hour) is that the pawns are being finished and should be on a boat sailing August 24, with an ETA of September 25. That’s 10 days later than last time I asked, but what are you gonna do? The stuff will be ready when they are ready. Actually I saw on the news that China shut down a bunch of polluting factories around Beijing for the Olympics, to help make the air cleaner. I wonder if one of those factories is making my games or pieces… if so, it’s possible that someone who won a gold medal did so with a tiny particle of soot from my plastic Midget Jesus. How cool would that be?
I borrowed dad’s truck and mailed off two final boxes of pawns. My friend in Atlanta wrote that he’d gotten the first two boxes of pawns I sent, and asked, “I hope you’ve thought about the return trip for some or all of this treasure?” I replied, “Yes, it has occurred to me that I may end up just shipping the boxes back here, but I don’t really have a choice. The 250 games are already on their way there (due in the 21st or so, last I heard), and I dunno if I’ll sell 5, 10, or 250 games, but in any event, I can’t sell the games without the pawns. I might as well have enough pawns to match the games. I’m hoping that the numbers will be on my side: if there are 30,000 people at Dragon*Con, and if just one person out of every hundred buys a game, I’ll sell out. Or, hell, I dunno, I could end up a few thousand dollars in the hole. But with a name like Balls Out, I gotta take a risk!” Saw that Russia stopped bombing Georgia, hope Lasha’s okay.
I’m sleeping better at night… Found out that my shipment was X-rayed by Customs, they didn’t see anything interesting, so they sent it back to the warehouse, and theoretically it will be on the way to Atlanta. I’m now figuring my chances of having the games at the big premiere are better than 50/50, maybe closer to 70/30. Yes, I have 3 weeks until D-Day, but a lot of things can go wrong. I’m expecting the worst and hoping for the best. Also, found out my schedule for Dragon*Con: I’m on two panels, one “Skeptics Vs. Believers” debate, and giving three talks: lake monsters, psychic detectives, and an overview of my decade in paranormal investigation. All this is fine, but leaves me very busy, don’t know when I’m going to be promoting the PG game and doing demos— much less enjoying myself. At least my friend Chris will be there to help out.
An old friend of mine, a shrunken head collector from Toronto, said he’d buy three games. Excellent! Not sure what the shipping to Toronto will be, but I appreciate the support. I’ll send him an autographed Buddha figurine.
GOT MY FIRST PRE-ORDER! An old co-worker friend of mine, The Weasel, who occasionally did test-playing (and with whom I saw Billy Idol in a small club in Toronto in 2005), came through. Thanks Weasel!
Somebody in Malta tried to scam me. Here’s how it works: After you register your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, your name and address get put on a list. Several lists, actually, and at least one is publicly published in the official USPTO Gazette. Scammers will then put you on a list and try to get you to send them money. This one was postmarked “Luqa, Malta,” and was from something called the IBIP: “International Bureau for Intellectual Property.” For only $1,537.10, I can register my trademark with them. It is of course a bullshit scam— you don’t need to register anything, it’s already registered with the USPTO—and I’m sure they get some sucker to send them fifteen hundred bucks and ten cents. You’ll also get a few quasi-legit offers from lawyers to represent you in further dealings with the USPTO. The lawyers get your names from the same lists the scammers do. I didn’t need a lawyer, but if you do, go to a local one you trust, not some patent peddling shyster.
I got, overnight, from Hong Kong via Nevada, the sample figures that will serve as the prototypes for the pawns in the game. These are basically made of sculpted hard clay. The Limited Edition idols served as the prototypes. Those are handmade and hand-poured, and have much more detail than could be done in a mass-produced (injection molded) version. These samples were sent to me for approval, and I’m nervous about opening the package because if the samples are wrong, or really screwed up in some way, I’ll be in trouble because any changes will automatically mean a delay of anywhere from a few days to a week or two. I need it done right, but I also need it done on time, as I have made time commitments. It’s a tradeoff I hope I don’t have to make, and at first all seems fine. I look at each piece closely and carefully. They look a lot like the reference originals (Ltd. Edition idols), except that they are thicker/ squatter and they have much less detail. They resemble large, high-quality green Army men. Still, they look pretty good and overall I am impressed.
The only real problem is the generic pedestal pawn (five of the figures are human-like figures, including Jesus, Moses, etc., but the sixth piece is a pedestal with a round blank disc on top, where players can stick on symbols or photos or whatever to make their own gods). The round disc on top is three-quarters of an inch diameter, while the stickers that come with the game are (and always have been) one inch in diameter. They put the wrong size disc on top. My mind races: Can I live with it being too small? More importantly, will it still work in the game? If I send it back to be fixed, will my delivery date get pushed back 6 weeks? Is it worth it, I pondered? (In my head I could almost hear a mouse’s voice asking, “Are you pondering what I’m pondering?”)
While I weighed this decision, I looked again at the Jesus figure. When I held it in my hand all seemed fine, but when I put them in a row for comparison, I realized I may have a problem. I had a Midget Jesus. (Or, to be PC, a “little people Jesus.”)
The gods need to look big and powerful, and well, godly. Jesus, who is in fact the tallest (and arguably most pissed-off looking) god among the Ltd. Edition figurines, looked kind of small and, well, elf-like or something. He’s mad as hell and got a cross raised above his head, ready to smack some Righteousness into an infidel. Alone the big JC wasn’t bad, but lined up next to the Big Bad Buddha and a Cranky Moses, Jesus looked like the runt of the litter. I gradually figured out what happened: the sculptor had kept the figures all in the same vertical scale. So that meant that the top of Jesus’s raised arms was the same height as, say, Kali’s head. So the sculptor shrunk the entire Jesus figure. All the figures are proportional to each other except Midget Jesus.
I hadn’t really thought of that problem, though in retrospect I guess I could have seen it coming. The Chinese sculptor—I think his name is Lee Ho Fook—didn’t really make an error, so I couldn’t blame him, in fact he probably did the right thing in terms of packaging. I was in no mood to lay blame or hurl accusations of stupidity or incompetence at anyone (myself). Spilled milk, etc. The question was, how bad is it? Will I get angry calls and letters from Christians who are upset that Jesus looks like a jockey? Would those sorts of people even play the game in the first place? Will it look weird?
I realized with a resigned sigh that changing the Jesus would require an entire re-sculpt. I’d have to go back to the artist, have him draw Jesus so that his hands are below his shoulders, then go back to my sculptor, Lasha, and have him do a whole new sculpt, then— No. I decided I’d have to live with it, at least for the first production run. Maybe I can fix it in the second run. Or, if I get any complaints, I’ll suggest he or she buy the Limited Edition idols, where Jesus is actually taller than the rest of the gods. Midget Jesus or no, the game must go on. So I e-mailed them and gave approval. One mile stone passed. Better than a kidney stone, I guess.
I sent e-mails to Web sites who might want to carry Playing Gods. I got my first official question about the Arab “NotMoe” figure from one of the buyers: “We are interested in your game, but will there be a Muslim figure? We don’t want to offend any Muslims.”
Yeah, I’ll bet you don’t.
I knew this issue would come up sooner or later. Here was my response: “I understand your concern, and I’ve certainly given the issue much thought. The game is not meant to offend anyone, though sometimes people find satire offensive (note the current flap over the Obama cartoon on the New Yorker cover).
Islam forbids the depiction of either Allah or the prophet Mohammed. To avoid any offense, we have a sticker with a star and crescent that can be affixed to a round disc to symbolize Islam in the game. (Other stickers represent other religions as well.)
Neither Allah nor Mohammed is mentioned anywhere in the game, rules, cards, Web site, or anywhere else. While we do have a generic Arab figure, it is unspecified and ambiguous, with its face covered, and could be anyone from a mullah to a sheikh. I showed the figure to two Muslims, and neither had a problem with it as long as it was not identified as Mohammed, which is certainly is not!”
I don’t know whether that satisfied them or not, I guess I’ll find out when I contact them to see if they want to order…I’m sure some people will be offended, though that’s not really my intention. I am very much aware that there is some danger in putting out this game. It is meant as a humorous satire, and fundamentalists of all stripes are not known for their sense of humor, nor their refined sense of the nuances of satire. I have tried to make the Muslim figure as inoffensive and generic as possible (you should see the designs I rejected!). On the other hand, I see no reason why Muslims should be spared criticism, any more than Christians, Buddhists, Jews, or anyone else.
Welcome to a blog about Playing Gods: The Board Game of Divine Domination. It is the world’s first satirical board game of religious warfare. If you don’t know about the game, the best place to check it out is of course the Web site: www.PlayingGods.com. This is more of a behind-the scenes look at the process of inventing a board game, producing it, and marketing it. As I write this, I am only a few weeks away from its World Premiere, a month away from actually getting the game in stock, and about two months away from its official “street date.”
This is my first blog. I have always resisted doing a blog, for several reasons, including: 1) it seems pretentious; many bloggers seem to think that their personal thoughts on the minutiae of life are pure literary gold and must be of interest to others; 2) I don’t really have the time to write or update a blog regularly; and 3) what little time I do have to write should really be spent on writing for money to keep the lights on, instead of for free for my own amusement, or that of a handful of literary voyeurs.
Most of these reasons not to write a blog are quite valid, but it’s also true that I have been asked by several people who are fascinated by the game. They wonder how a regular (or kinda regular) person actually creates and markets a board game more or less by himself. In truth, I have no idea, and in some ways I’m figuring it out as I go along.
One thing that won’t really be reflected here is the hours. The board game is done on my own time; I have a part-time job, which leaves me with a little more time than most people have, but that’s mostly filled up with writing columns. Working from 8 in the morning until 11 o’clock at night is typical for me, and has been since March 2007 or so. I’m not complaining (nor bragging) about the 14 or 15 hours days, just being honest about the time commitment in case you’re wondering. I am doing this basically by myself; I have gotten help from various wonderful people (especially regarding the Web site and graphics work) and supporters, for which I am very grateful, but I am the only one who deals with marketing, starting a small business, distribution, creating ads, flyers, tournaments, orders, e-mails, Paypal issues, Web questions, setting terms, mailing flyers, and so on. I’m risking my parent’s money (and much of my own) and I’m determined to do all I can to make the game succeed, or at least break even.
To be honest, I never really wanted to be a businessman. Some people get a massive hard-on over business and negotiation and the art of the deal; I don’t. I can do it, and am doing it, but I consider myself more of an inventor. It gradually dawns on me that the reality of the situation is that it’s my game, and if I don’t do it, no one else will. I don’t have the money to hire someone else to do it, and it’s clear that Parker Brothers and Hasbro won’t be offering to buy me out. Fair enough.
So here it is… I’m not quite sure what people may find interesting or useful, but I hope this may provide some insights. Feel free to drop me a line or offer feedback.
This is very much a work in progress. I’ve never done this before, and though I believe in my idea and the game, I don’t know how it will be received. Some people love it, others will refuse to play it on principle. I could be successful, or I could wind up deep in debt, with a storage space full of thousands of unsold games. I might get death threats, and/or people might get the satire. I don’t know, but I’ll keep you updated as I can.
What Has Come Before (The background)
I sent out letters with my business plan to friends, family, and other potential investors. I had done a lot of research on board games and the industry and costs and target audiences, and I was asking folks for anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 to help cover my expected expenses of about $50,000. I don’t have anywhere near that kind of money, and was hoping that friends of the family might be willing to loan me (at reasonable interest rate) some money to help my dreams take flight. I included color flyers, little figurines, and everything. I wasn’t expecting much, and that’s what I got. In the end, I didn’t get a dime from anyone other than my parents and one Christian friend (thanks JCat!). I had already spent about $10,000 over the years on graphics, artists, prototypes, and so on, and borrowed about $40,000 from my parents.
After much anguish and searching, and many stops and starts, I found a fairly reputable game manufacturer. (They are really a middleman between me and a Chinese printer and manufacturer.) That in and of itself was a fucking nightmare; one game manufacturer actually lost my prototype, and didn’t own up to it for weeks and months, ignoring e-mails and calls.
I decided that the game’s World Premiere will be at this huge event called Dragon*Con, in Atlanta. I was a guest presenter there last year, and will be returning this year as well. It’s got 35,000 people, from Goths to nerds to B-list celebrities to fantasy and sci-fi authors. Oh, and a whole Gaming track. I figure that this is a crowd that would dig Playing Gods, and not be offended at all. I had originally been told (and therefore expected) that I’d have the games in time, as the typical production run is 3 months including shipping. I got contradictory answers about whether the games would or would not be in on time. One day I’m told all should be fine, the games will be in before Dragon*Con (D*C), the next day I’m told, well, what I meant to say is that they might be in a week after that… I have literally gotten three different answers in one week, which makes planning very difficult. I need to know whether I will or will not have any games to sell at my World Premiere; this is not a minor issue.
I won’t go into the tortuous history behind it, but as of July 1 this was the situation: My run of 5,000 board games could NOT be done in time for D*C. But, due to quick thinking and lots of begging, I COULD have the first 250 games pulled off the factory line and shipped directly to Atlanta. These games would be complete—with the very significant exception that they would not have any of the pawns / idols / god figurines. Having 250 games (even without pawns) at the World Premiere is better than having zero games, but this also meant that I had to figure out how to get 250 sets of the pawns to Atlanta on time, so that I’d have complete games to sell. I ended up having 250 sets of the Limited Edition, hand-cast figures made locally. They cost me nearly $3 each, instead of the regular pawns which will be made in China for 20 cents each, and I’d end up paying about $500 to send them to Atlanta. I would end up cutting the profit on my games in half, but at least I’d have 250 games to show and sell at Dragon*Con. Or at least that’s the plan…
Enough of the backstory… I’ll pick up my journal / blog entries on July 1: