Connections as Currency

On my last blog entry, I talked about maintaining and re-establishing relationships with people and other things that you love, that you might’ve fallen out of touch with from your past.

Following up on that principle, I’d like to talk about how our relationships (friends, family, co-workers, friends-of-friends, etc.) are the real currency of our society. Now, I realize that only the best and most charitable of friends and family will be paying your rent, or buying the groceries. But that’s not the type of currency that I’m talking about, here.

It all comes back to favors. Favors given, favors received, things that we do for other people which can and will in-turn result in things done back for us. I keep up on a blog by Jamey Stegmeier, one of my modern-day heroes, and the main emphasis in that blog is creating and maintaining relationships with like-minded individuals, with the inevitable outcome that those relationships will ultimately be rewarding for everyone involved.

I’d like to talk about a personal experience of mine along these same lines. It was almost 2 months ago that Sandy Petersen invited me to meet with him and his family at his parents’ house in Provo. I got to hang out with him, his sons, and meet his wife, parents, nephews, nieces, cousins, and other family. For those of you who haven’t kept up on my blog, and have no idea who Sandy is, all you have to do is crack open any book published by Chaosium, that has to do with the Cthulhu Mythos, and the first thing you will see is his name. You can also find it on the list of credits for games like Doom, Halo Wars, and a bunch of others. Prolific guy.

While visiting with him and playing his new game that’s coming out this year, I made friends with his son, Arthur Petersen, who seemed to immediately click with me, and we shared long conversations about gaming, mythology, and various other topics of my own personal (and apparently his) interests. Arthur is a great guy.

He and I had been communicating via text and email ever since the meet-up, and I’d been talking to him about my project, Gladiators: Days of Blood and Glory. He sounded really excited about the project, and really wanted to play it with us, but circumstances looked to prevent us meeting up again before we release the game publicly. As a matter of conversation, it came about that I had offered to mail him a prototype copy of the game for him and his family to play, and he had, in turn, offered not only to play-test the game, but also to do a review video for us, and to give us a plug on their new game coming out, The Gods’ War.

This is a huge opportunity for us. The last kickstarter put out by them grossed 1.4 million, before even factoring in the later increases in pledge via the post-kickstarter pledge-manager. By my estimates based on production numbers that Arthur had shared with me, that number is probably closer to 2.5 million now. That’s thousands of backers that they already have as a diligent following, not to mention the hundreds more that they gain at events like GenCon, and others.

And just like that, Arthur, for no price other than our friendship, had agreed to do something that, while costing him nothing more than a few minutes of his time, could end up completely funding and even overfunding my project. All of those thousands of backers will get sent a link to my project, which will feature a video with Arthur in it, endorsing my game. I was immediately floored.

This is the importance of your friendships and relationships. While, in my case, this resulted in a direct monetary gain, not all that glitters is gold. Our lives and experiences are shaped by our relationships. Constantly, we have the ability to positively affect those around us in dramatic, and even life-changing ways. A few words, a few minutes of our time, a couple of favors called in can turn the course of someone’s life toward the better.

I will only briefly mention the tragedy of Robin Williams’ death, another personal hero of mine. His death, like many others of its kind, was the result of many people like you, me, or someone you know NOT taking those few simple minutes to be kind to someone who is in our thoughts. Someone whom we have not connected with in ages, or who might be wrestling with their own demons right now.

Jamey constantly reinforces that you should take 15 minutes out of each day to find someone that you know, maybe someone that you haven’t spoken with in a while, and give them a simple thank-you. The more personal, the better. If all you can manage is a Text Message, that is fine, but a letter, a card, a phone call, or even a personal visit, even just for 15 minutes, can do miracles for these relationships, and in turn those relationships could do miracles for you, just as Arthur is doing for me.

That is all for now. Comments are enabled, so please share your stories with me about personal miracles that your friends and family have done, or maybe some way that you have helped out someone you know, or a suggestion on how we can all do this for one another.

And, of course, “thank-you” to each and every one of you, my readers.

Bridging the gap

All too often in life, we find ourselves losing sight of things that are, or were once important to us — friends, co-workers, family, and even the things we do, like keeping up with a TV show or book series, maintaining a regular online blog (guilty), and keeping up with hobbies that we love.

My company, Procrastination Games, was founded because of this inherent oddity in human nature. We procrastinate all the time in life, putting so many things off for later, with the best of intentions to make them happen (eventually), until eventually it rusts and decays to the point of being unrecognizable, and is lost forever. This company was going to be one such thing. It was an idea, a dream that I and one of my best friends had, that we had talked about for years, but never took the plunge to dive in and actually do. And over time we gave up on the idea, as it was “just a silly dream from years ago.” It wasn’t until the intervention of a third party, one who had already owned and managed his own local business successfully for over 6 years, that we were able to found Procrastination Games. (And, truthfully, we put off even coming up with the name of our company until 3 months after it was “founded.”)

When we lose touch with these things that are dear to us, it becomes increasingly more difficult to reconnect with them, the more time that has passed since we have been involved. A lot of people say “well, the telephone works both ways, and they haven’t called me in 2 years either.” This is flawed thinking. The only reason for clinging to this statement is because you might be afraid that the person you are trying to reconnect with might be upset at you for the long period of radio darkness. And maybe they should be, the telephone works both ways, after all.

This is where the idea of bridging the gap comes in. Picking back up that brilliant project that has been collecting dust, going back to painting, horseback riding, swimming, exercising, or whatever, or even calling up your High School best friend, and catching up on ancient history. In my case today, it means getting back to writing again.

There is no easy way to bridge the gap. It is going to be awkward at first, and you will feel clumsy. The first time you pick up that paintbrush, or get back into the saddle, or hear the voice of your long lost comrade, the first few minutes will be difficult. But then this amazing thing happens — it all stops mattering. Almost immediately, those months or even years of nothing become just that: nothing. Just like riding a bicycle, you fall back into your old groove, and it feels natural once more. You and your old friend (whatever it might be) go back to being the best of friends once again, and while away the hours doing whatever it is you loved.

For me, there are a lot of things in my life that seem to have this tendency: Friends, Family, Martial Arts, Reading, Painting, and Writing (including blogging). And with each of them, I somehow seem to find my way back after letting it sit on the back burner for a while, and it’s just as amazing reconnecting as it ever was. Formerly on that list included my biggest passion: Game Design.

Ever since I was a kid, games have been in my blood. I learned to do math using dice, I learned to read out of a Dungeon Master’s Guide, and world history was only a game of Axis & Allies away. I love games, and I love what they can do for people. Most people might look at games, especially my beloved board games, and think of them as an idle waste of time, or as a “distraction,” but the truth is, there are fewer greater ways to inter-personally connect with people than with a board game.

I let my project Gladiators: Days of Blood and Glory sit on the shelf for over 2 years, doing nothing but collecting dust, and I feel bad for that. It was a big deal to me, inspired by delightful bits of my life all the way back to childhood, and I owed it to that idea to make it into a reality.

So, I hope that each of you, my readers, will take this blog as an opportunity to reconnect with something or someone (somenoun?) in your life, and go back to it. Take the plunge, stop procrastinating, and just spend a couple of hours with the noun that you love most that you’ve let fall by the wayside over the years. Don’t do it tomorrow, don’t do it later today. Do it right now. Get up from your computer, and go do it now.

Your heroes are people too

As some of you may know, I frequent BoardGameGeek.com, but mostly as a lurker rather than as a frequent poster. I have been this way when it comes to a lot of social media for a number of years, preferring to take in the available information, and weigh other people’s comments and arguments, rather than stirring the pot myself. There is one notable exception to this, and that comes in the Cthulhu Wars board game forum on BGG, and I remember the exact reason that brought me out of my shell for that community.

It all started when Green Eye Games initially announced (with a confusing lack of clarity) their ideas for packaging Cthulhu Wars, and what that would include or contain. It lit a horrible flame-war amongst many of the project’s backers, with dozens of people threatening to cancel their pledges, demanding refunds, etc. as well as the backers in the “other” camp resorting to hostility against those in the first camp, because they felt that the expectations they had were unreasonable, childish, etc.

I watched the war wage on for several days, thinking about each side’s perspective, weighing every opinion with one another, and found that many of the people involved were lacking the true grain of logic that should have been present, as it should with any discussion or debate. It wasn’t constructive, and it was continuing to devolve. Even when the project manager himself (or his family) stepped in to try to clarify or appease, it seemed only to make things worse.

Finally, I just had to put my voice out there. Rather than weigh in on the discussion that was already taking place, choosing one side or the other, I decided to start from scratch. I made a new thread that specifically quoted the initial update, and I outlined each party’s arguments and complaints, summarizing the overwhelming outcries from the public. Keeping Green Eye Games’ and Cthulhu Wars’ best interests to heart, I acted as a sort of moderator for this discussion, offering equitable “middle-ground” solutions to everyone involved, and trying to get everyone to put a positive spin on their involvement, avoiding personal attacks, or out-of-line statements.

It was a big move for me, moving from the stalwart lurker, to being the voice of $1.4M worth of backers on a forum, summarizing what (I felt) everyone wanted and needed in order to be happy. Besides, I absolutely idolize Sandy Petersen and everything he has done professionally, completely apart from what he did with Cthulhu Wars, so who was I to actually… you know… speak to him? Let alone try to offer people comfort on his behalf by making a suggestion to him. I felt that I, as a mere mortal man, had no place to stand up in front of all these people, and especially in front of the living god Petersen.

But I did it anyway.

Even though the idea of trying to mediate such a catastrophic debacle of PR was intimidating, I knew that I could do it, and that I would succeed. And succeed I did. The discussions mostly stayed on-topic, and stayed constructive. It allowed everyone a way to provide more personal and more civil feedback about their concerns and wants when it came to this project (very important, considering most backers were in at least $400 deep). The discussion still raged on for about 12 pages or more, until the issue was finally resolved. Sandy made an announcement that quelled everyone’s concerns and hostilities, and everything went back to normal. And one very amazing thing happened.

The god-among-men Sandy Petersen sent me a private message on BGG, personally thanking me for the work that I had done, and keeping a level head through the crisis, encouraging and supporting a civil environment in which to discuss things with his fans and supporters. He sent that message to me.

So I responded. And he replied. And so forth, and so on. I began to take a much more active part on the forums, I got to know more of him, and of two of his sons, Lincoln and Arthur. Recently, I’ve been invited to spend time with Sandy and his sons in a town that’s only a couple of hours away from here, that they will be in due to a coincidence of circumstances. Arthur and I have already spoken about meeting up, hanging out, and possibly even playing Cthulhu Wars while they are in town.

I knew at that point in time that they were regular, normal people. Just like you, me, and every other person that we have ever looked up to and idolized. Sure, they have done amazing things, and are recognized by thousands, if not millions of people for those things. But a man is still only a man, filled with flaws, ideas, feelings, and can make mistakes and be wrong. I did two things after I read the message from Arthur with that invitation.

The first thing was, I came here to write this block about my revelation. Our heroes are our heroes for a reason, but we must accept them as they are, with all of their achievements and their shortcomings. We can and must strive to be more like those heroes, and to learn from their accomplishments and their mistakes. I know I will. You know what the second thing I did was, after reading that message?

I ran around the house and made a “squee” noise like a little girl.

Being wrong isn’t always a bad thing

About 5 years ago, I took a job at a tiny little company here in Logan, a simple part-time job that barely paid the bills. It was meant to be temporary, and probably would have been, if not for the fact that I met someone that would change the course of my life in a very real way.

Normally, you might be expecting someone to go on about how they met the love of their life, and how long they’ve been happily married. In this case, nothing quite so fairy-tale oriented. No, actually I met a young man who would become one of my best friends as years went by. We started as simple co-workers in the same dead-end job, while he worked his way up to a Master’s Degree in programming. But we had one very important thing in common: Our love of board games.

Gaming is in my blood. I was raised to be a gamer by my dad who was a gamer his entire life, everything from simple Monopoly and Stratego, up to Dungeons & Dragons, Axis & Allies, and many others. I learned to read from a “Player’s Handbook” and I learned to count from a D20. Eventually, I learned to do math from sets of 4D6, and I learned both technical writing from various game manuals, as well as fantasy fiction writing from endless D&D books. I will raise my children to be gamers, as I believe that something as simple and fun as gaming can teach very important life skills and ways of thinking. But that’s another story.

My friend, David, had an almost opposite story growing up. Despite a veritable horde of siblings, he never had anyone in his life who shared a love of gaming, but he was too intrigued and enchanted by games not to buy and play them anyway, even if he had to invent other players and play every role in the game. Eventually this would change in high school, but he was about as self-taught in games as you could be. And it changed him for the better.

In today’s age, where children aren’t even being taught cursive in the classroom anymore, we are seeing an emphasis on computers, tablets, and smartphones taking the place of pens and paper, books, and yes, even my beloved board games. Or are they?

There is just something to opening a book, feeling the pages under your fingers, smelling that “book” smell, and hearing the crisp sound of turning pages. Apart from actually eating the book, you really can stimulate almost all of your senses with one, and it does more than this, in stimulating our imaginations. For me, a board game is absolutely the same experience.

You have the same feedback in almost every aspect (you can’t tell me that new board games don’t have a distinct “smell” out of the box), and you interact with a board game on a much more dynamic level than you ever could with a book. Paper money, plastic tokens, full-color rulebooks, bi- and quad-folding boards… all of these things are interacted with and provide their own (usually positive) stimuli almost immediately, right when you begin that amazing feeling of punching the cardboard tokens out of their sheets.

Personally, I think there is a certain legacy to boardgames. I think that my great-grandchildren will probably play Stratego, people will still be passing on their heirloom Chess boards, and Monopoly will still be America’s first boardgame sweetheart. Beyond that, especially with the advent of Kickstarter, I think that there will be many more games that we pass down the generations to our children’s children, who will fall so in love with those games that they remake them for their 20th, and even 70th anniversaries.

Dave has always been an optimist at worst, and a dreamer at best. For me, I’ve always been a cynic at worst, and a realist at best. Remember that awful job that he and I shared? At the time, I thought it was one of the worst decisions I could’ve made in life. This job was so tedious and boring, that Dave and I passed the time by talking about board games. We would discuss different game rules, game genres, and game mechanics. On our breaks and lunches we would play card games and board games… and then eventually (out of nothing more than sheer boredom of course, for me) we began to write and develop games.

We would put those imagined mechanics to the test, we would convince other bored co-workers to draw us crappy pictures as artwork for “our games” that we were inventing. We, sitting next to each other, going through the absolutely mindless repetitions of our jobs, would play-test these games for hours a day, refining and tweaking. We would write rulebooks and FAQs for them, we would scribble and cut out Index Cards, we would bring graph paper and design boards and player mats. It was basically our think-tank, since our minimum wage job didn’t require “thinking” of any kind after having done it for a couple of years.

We got more serious about it, and began playtesting outside of work regularly, setting up a Thursday “test night” that we would put these games through, and revise, revise, revise. For me it was just harmless fun, something to do because I loved games, and I loved entertaining the thought of making my own games to fill a niche on my game shelves. If there was something I wanted and didn’t have, I could just invent it and play it with my friends who were all too willing to “help playtest.”

I thought that it would never go anywhere, and after a few years, Dave and I left that job. I got a much better job with a well-paying telecommunications company, and he graduated and got a great job designing software. For about 2 years, our ideas sat on the shelves gathering dust, and I never gave them another thought. That chapter of my life had closed. At least, until two things happened.

Thing one: After having heard many cool things about kickstarter, and having been shown (by Dave, of course) one of the most phenomenal kickstarters ever to have happened, I decided to back it. It was still in the early days since launch, so I got in on one of the lower levels (which, for this kickstarter was a pretty penny). Then as the launch got close to ending, Dave decided to go in on it with me, and we doubled our pledge to get a few of the expansions that were being advertised. As a side note: after a couple of months, I ended up buying out his share, and upping my pledge all the way to the highest level. Sandy and his company were all too happy to oblige, and allow me to give them more money.

Thing two: Another co-worker of mine at my new job was already an entrepreneur of sorts. He had his own business here in Cache Valley, and had been running it successfully for over 5 years. With degrees in Physics and Accounting, I thought he was a smart kid, and after going over the numbers for his business (which he cheerfully discussed) I knew that he was.

In a surprising turn of events, someone offered to buy out his business for an extremely healthy chunk of change. Now, for most people this would be a great opportunity to pay off their house, their car, or buy a brand new computer (or 10 of them). However, for my friend here, he already owned his car, was already half way paid off on his house, and had developed one of the most extensive networks of cutting-edge computers I’ve never had the pleasure of even laying a finger on. He wanted to take his newly acquired money and do the smart thing: reinvest.

For the first time in over 2 years, I thought back to the old prototype that Dave and I had come up with, and the gears in my head started turning. I had never thought that my old game could ever be something, or go somewhere. I never thought that it could be published, or that anyone would find an interest in it. But I just went for it.

“Hey Ryan, you’re into board games, right?”

“Love them. Why?”

“My friend and I fully developed and tested a really great game about 2 years ago. We never did anything with it because we never had start-up capital. You said you wanted a crazy investment, and I have a crazy idea. What if we kickstart this game?”

“Sure. I’ll be over Friday and we can play. If I like it, we’ll talk.”

He was over Friday. I had to re-learn some of the old rules, and at the time our rulebook was in excess of 30 pages (brevity was never our strongsuit), but I managed to get off a fairly decent demo of the game for him. After a lot of good laughs and some great historical discussion about Ancient Rome (the setting for the game) he said the greatest two words to me I’ve ever heard. “I’m in.”

And just like that, we had funding. We formed our own company, and suddenly we had deadlines, projects, revisions, art design, manufacturers, etc. Almost overnight this game went from being an idea that I thought would never go anywhere to becoming a very real part of my life, and soon, the lives of hundreds, hopefully even thousands of people.

I’ve learned a lot over these past 5 years, but one of the things that, as a cynic, has been the most valuable lesson is to never give up on something that you love. I love playing, designing, and creating games. I will hopefully always love it. And I did myself the disservice of giving up way too soon on a project that had way too much heart to ignore. I should’ve taken a page out of Dave’s book long, long ago, and kept trying.

And, here we are, with one project in the process of getting finished up and ready to push out the door via kickstarter, and several others in the wings ready to follow those same footsteps. It’s been an amazing journey so far, and it’s only just begun. I’ll be documenting my progress here as I go along, and I hope you’ll join me on this journey.

 

Best wishes,

—Tony Stockseth