On the Road

Well hello there! For the past couple of months I’ve been focusing on writing theory posts all about game design, but today I’m going to mix things up a bit and talk about some of the adventures I’ve had recently.

Shortly after the Corporate America Kickstarter concluded, I realized I needed to start getting out more and showing off the game in person. Earlier this year I went to my first convention, DunDraCon, where I had a marathon session of Corporate America games. It was a lot of fun (if pretty exhausting), and I’m really looking forward to KublaCon, which is just around the corner (even though I will be missing out on a backpacking trip to go ;_; ).

When Carey (right) isn't burning money, he's usually brewing beer.

When Carey (right) isn’t burning money, he’s usually brewing beer.

But I’m posting this from the other side of the world: Edinburgh, Scotland. I’m here to visit my brother, an up and coming brewer, but this is honestly just the icing on a very tasty cake. Before crossing the Atlantic, I stopped in New York, where my main objective was: the Different Games conference.


Different Games is a new conference all about games trying to make a difference, mostly having to do with prejudices and societal injustices. It’s also about fixing some pervasive problems in the game industry and community such as sexism, homophobia, and racism. It attracted a wonderful group of academics, independents, and industry representatives who are all committed to treat games more seriously than most people would imagine.

The Game of the Spider and the Bee... totally the sort of thing I would make!

The Game of the Spider and the Bee… totally the sort of thing I would make!

But before I get to the conference, I wanted to mention an unexpected surprise on the way to New York! It turns out that SFO has a historical board game exhibit up in one of their terminals at the moment, featuring board games from the 1860s – 1960s. It was awesome seeing so many games… I honestly had no idea how long board games have been so popular. Seeing a hundred years of board game development showed me how far games have come in terms of their themes, appearances, and mechanics. I couldn’t even believe how many games had themes similar to those that I’m likely to make! Needless to say, it was the best airport experience I’ve had in years, even rivaling the taxidermy polar bear and walruses that filled my imagination when I was a kid in Fairbanks.

But back to the main event!

It was an honor that Corporate America was accepted as one of the twenty or so games of the game arcade at Different Games. It was shown alongside many other thoughtful and playful games, such as The Budhist, a “game” about challenging both what it means to be a game and our conventional notions about success, Rainbow Bacon: El robo de los chanchos, a physical game that melds classic schoolyard games with the technology of Playstation Move controllers, and Condom Corps, a puntastic and ridiculous game about shooting condoms onto men bearing it all through windows across the street.

Players enjoy a game of CDS Mess next to Corporate America at the financial irresponsibility board game corner.

Players enjoy a game of CDS Mess next to Corporate America at the financial irresponsibility board game corner at Different Games.

When it comes to humor and attitude, Corporate America fit right in, but thematically, many of the other games addressed much different issues. But not all of them. Neocolonialism took a very similar topic (business interests hijacking governments for their own benefits) and took it to a global scale. And CDS Mess, a card game that delved into the financial crisis in much more detail and rigor than Corporate America could ever hope to do, even shared a table at the arcade! (I called it the financial irresponsibility board game corner.)

I’m happy to say that Corporate America was very well received! Not surprisingly (given the years of development and generous contributions of kickstarter supporters), the game was much more polished than many of the other games present. The hat also attracted a lot of attention (apparently I should really make them non-kickstarter exclusive… a lot of people want to buy them). Countless people came by to ask me about the game and there were plenty of smiles shared, especially when I got to explaining presidential elections in the game. Much like the Pre-GDC Board Game Night, I got lots of promises of pre-orders, though we’ll see how many people follow up.

Unfortunately, very few people actually played the game. In fact, over the course of the entire conference, we only played one truncated turn! There are a few of reasons for this (thankfully, lack of interest wasn’t one of them), and I’ve addressed some of them in recent posts.

First, the game requires too much time. Don’t get me wrong–the game is a great length for when you want to spend an evening hanging out with friends. It plays long enough for plenty of wheeling and dealing, for business empires to grow and specialize, and for alliances to form and crumble. But when it comes to a conference, where people only have an hour or two to check out all of the games in an arcade, the game requires too much of a time investment.

Second, the game is too engaging. I know, it’s tough to believe! Making your game engaging is one of the most important goals you can have as a designer. But again, in the wrong setting, when there’s a bunch of other cool stuff you want to do and check out, getting heavily invested in one game experience is too much to ask for most people. Playing Corporate America would not only occupy players’ time, it would also fully occupy their attention.

Third, the game requires too many players. This is something that came up during the Kickstarter campaign… apparently, some people prefer to play games with only two people. At Different Games, there were actually plenty of people around, and many of them were interested in the game–the challenge was finding enough people at any given time to try the game. The one time we played a turn, we barely scraped together enough players.

Finally, the social setting made it challenging for people to play the game. The arcade had something like twenty games, many of which were brighter, louder, and more immediate than Corporate America, which takes learning quite a few rules and some getting used to before really getting the swing of the game. With so much extra stimulation everywhere, Corporate America easily got drowned out.

Thankfully, even though the game was barely played, there was a lot of interest in it. The crowd at Different Games was very thoughtful, imaginative, and curious, and I had a great time talking about Corporate America, other people’s games, and whatever else happened to come up in conversations.

2013 was the first Different Games conference, but I’m sure it won’t be the last, and I look forward to seeing the event and the community grow!

I’ve Got to Ramble On

I’m writing this over the Atlantic (actually probably pretty close to where I first conceived of Corporate America!) on my way to Scotland, where I probably won’t be promoting Corporate America too much. But you can bet I’ll be playtesting!

I haven’t seen my brother Carey in over a year. He’s one of my biggest supporters and is a fantastic, enthusiastic playtester, and I can’t wait to show him what I’ve been working on since he left the US. (Spoiler: I’ve actually already playtested Codename: Fungus a couple of times and will be updating the prototype after I publish this very blog post!)

And as I explore Scotland and my prototypes, Corporate America will actually be going on a bit of an adventure of its own. Just a few weeks ago I received the great honor of being invited to include Corporate America in the UCLA Art Game Festival (it’s free, so check it out!). I’ve wanted my games included in festivals for as long as I’ve been making games, so I can’t tell you how amazing it felt to be asked to participate.

Tragically, I will be flying the other way over the ocean on the day of the festival! I really wish I could make it, both to show the world Corporate America and to see the other awesome games present, but sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.

But that won’t stop Corporate America from making an appearance without me! Some of the organizers have been kind enough to learn the rules and agree to teach festival goers how to play the game (and even bring silly hats for the president!). While the game will most likely face many of the same difficulties it did at Different Games, I can’t wait to hear about how the game does at the festival, and hope a picture or two makes its way to the Presidential Hat Tumblr.

That’s about it for the time being, but you can bet I will continue to show off Corporate America as much as I can. I’ll be at KublaCon in Burlingham, California May 24-27, and as soon as the first print run makes its way to the US, you can bet I’ll be traveling up and down the west coast showing the game off to as many stores as I can. I can’t wait!

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