Welcome to an interview for the series Game Credits Who’s Who (#GameCreditsWW). Ever read the credits page of a game you enjoy and wonder about the various positions listed? Would you like to work in the game industry someday but are not sure how some of the positions work? This Monday series will take a personal look into those positions and introduce you to real people doing those very jobs in the game industry. This week, let me introduce you to David Miller, Maker style game designer and publisher.
Tell us a little about yourself and what you do as a Maker style game designer and publisher.
I’ve been a high school teacher, service center manager, firefighter, paramedic, college professor, geologist, and an eLearning developer but those are jobs I’ve done, that’s not who I am. I love teaching, serving others, and sharing. Making games is a lot safer than firefighting and a wonderful way to be creative and share something fun. Life’s stressful enough as it is and if one of these tiny light games gives someone a chance to relax for a moment, then I’m happy. In addition to sharing with others, making games allows others to share with me. Every week someone posts a pic or tweets out how much fun they’ve had with our games and that’s awesome. The games become a shared connection and wonderful online friendships have sprung from them.
This weekend, one of our troops emailed to let me know that the game they backed and the four donation copies I sent along with it were being used daily. That kind of thing really inspires me.
How did you become a Maker style game designer and publisher?
I wanted to develop a big box game after being inspired by a Mythbuster’s zombie episode. That game about 75% done. I like getting things lined up so I started looking into game manufacturers and was disappointed to find limited options here in the States. While I do have issues with work conditions for some overseas manufacturers, I was equally concerned about the amount of control I had over manufacturing and delivery. So I started looking into the possibility of doing production myself. The biggest reason offshore production is so inexpensive is that a great deal of the work, from gluing printed box art onto cardboard to counting/bagging components, is done by hand. I don’t have an aversion to doing menial, repetitive tasks nor do I have an issue with spending many hours pulling together something I love. However, I don’t have the equipment or space to build my own game boxes so I started looking for alternatives to boxes and discovered gripper jars – those large plastic jars you can buy bulk nuts in. That exploration led to US manufactured mint tins. I shelved the zombie game. for now, and started looking at what could be created for the mint tin form factor. I didn’t try to adapt the zombie game and approached new game development with what could fit in a mint tin. Mint Tin Pirates and Mint Tin Aliens came from that and it was natural to go to Kickstarter with them.
Share with us some of your recent projects.
Mint Tin Mini Apocalypse came about during the Mint Tin Pirates and Mint Tin Aliens Kickstarter when Kate tossed an empty Altoids Mini container onto a table. She challenged me to make a game in it! I would never have thought of building a game to fit in that container. Mainly because I want something in each to be created by me. I tend to think of custom cards. But it was too late, by the next day the base game was laid out. By the next week, the game was very close to what it is today. But what to do for that true maker touch?
Labels are a huge pain for Mint Tin Pirates and Mint Tin Aliens and I thought a home embossed lid might be nice. I designed a pair of 3D plates and had them printed in stainless steel by Shapeways (after 4 plastic prototypes). I could have had the US tin manufacturer emboss the tins but those quantities seemed huge at a minimum of 10,000. Plus it would have added a dollar to each game’s price. Even though the purchase of an arbor press was involved, I didn’t mind the prospect of pressing each lid by hand. Of course, my desire to be as US made as possible resulted in a purchase of an arbor press made in the US. It cost 10 times more but it’s incredibly precise and will last forever. Even after pressing 4,000 tins for that Kickstarter and another thousand since, I still find it almost therapeutic. I love putting real physical labor into this labor of love. =)
What is your greatest frustration or pet peeve as a Maker style game designer and publisher?
That there aren’t more American suppliers and more American game manufacturers. It’s a complex economic issue but it’s a shame.
Another is the thought that “real” games need to be distributed via retail stores. I love our local friendly local game shop but American business models favor the publisher to game distributor to game store flow. Several generations back, store owners dealt directly with people making the product. They may have dozens or hundreds of “vendors”. We see a return to dealing with actual producers with the “grown locally” movement and I’d love to see that with games. If this could be done 50 years ago, then it seems like it would be easy to do today (hmm, computers?). I understand it’s a longer process to order games from 5 dozen individuals rather than 3 distributors but you also get games you’d never see otherwise.
I’m not a store owner but if we can inspect 44,000 meeples, 20,000 dice, 8,000 cubes. press 4,000 tins, home print, cut, and fold 4,000 instructions in two months, and then package and ship them to 45 countries (while working full-time), surely sending out an email once a month requesting a dozen games and dealing with that invoice is a possibility.
The source for all things Mint Tin Games is http://subQuark.com and Twitter and Facebook links are on each page. Thanks for the opportunity to share my rambling thoughts and share what we do – it’s deeply satisfying to make games at home. And a shout out to a big name game “guru” who says maker movement isn’t scalable – we’ve shipped 6,500 games in the last year and a half. Plus we help employ dozens of Americans by using US suppliers. In fact, we just spent a few nights making 200 Mint Tin Pirates, 180 Mint Tin Aliens, and 340 Mint Tin Mini Apocalypse for a local game conference. Not bad for a dining table operation!