Well, at my usual furious pace, I am managing to post my wrap-up of UKGE almost two weeks after the event. (My vague and half-hearted excuse, and the single downside to the event, was that I contracted Covid-19 from it and am at the time of writing still testing positive – though I am very lucky in that I suffered almost no symptoms at all).
Let me share my main takeaway as someone knocking on the door of the industry – it’s an incredibly friendly place. Everyone I met was generous with their time and advice. They showed a real enthusiasm for Cubyria, and were very forthcoming with tips on how to navigate the waters of production and marketing and bring it to life. They also brought useful warnings, which were the ultimate reason I didn’t launch the Kickstarter yet – my economic projections missed a bunch of costs that I should have known about. My nearest neighbors were also newbies trying to get a start for their games, and though we were ostensibly competitors it didn’t feel that way at all. We shared notes. Check out Pyramology, Ulandi Wars, Full Sauna and Dominotion.
I’ve had a bit of a flirtation with the video game industry and I can say that even from my distant vantage point I heard plenty of stories about the exploitation of the doe-eyed hopefuls who appear at the door every year. There’s a cottage industry of ‘colleges’ in the U.S. which churn out junior programmers and digital artists and send them to the AAA game studios, where they grind 80-hour weeks for low pay until they burn out and are replaced by a fresh batch of recruits. I don’t want to blast an industry I don’t know well — of course there is a vibrant indie scene and some creators really do manage to push through and get noticed — but it’s not a secret that among the big names the grind is simply expected. I once heard directly from the mouth of a very highly placed producer at a AAA studio that he was excited to take his first weekend off in a year. The man had no family.
Let me offer my canned sociological explanation for why the tabletop games industry is different (or at least, by all appearances it is — I suppose I could still discover that Ravensburger has a bunch of artists chained in a basement somewhere). It’s because the industry is the perfect size. There aren’t billions floating around; no one chooses tabletop games if their primary motivation is to be rich. On the other hand, it is big enough that there is room to earn a living. This makes everyone’s reason for being part of it relatively pure – if you don’t love games, you’re likely to pass right over and go to an industry where there is more money or jobs. We’re too small to exploit anyone, but big enough to support a vibrant community of producers and customers.
There are plenty of products that everyone buys out of necessity rather than pleasure. We hold our noses and choose one of ten identical bank accounts, or insurance policies, or we pour petrol into our tanks when we’d really rather not. But no one is obligated to ever buy a game. Everyone in the world of tabletop games, from the designers, publishers, retailers and consumers, are here because we want to be. And this gives us something to talk about and to enjoy all together. It gives us a culture.
I may yet be a doe-eyed dreamer, and if all my hopes come crashing down through betrayal or some undiscovered grift in the industry, I’ll be sure to let you know. For the time being, I will enjoy the buzz of pleasure from spending a weekend in the company of like-minded friends. Generous people, all sharing our enthusiasm for something we all share, and encouraging each other to make more of it, and make it better.