Friday, 20 September 2013

A Peek Behind the Curtain

I have two consecutive days off from the "day job," which is pretty rare. So, in honor of the event, I'm going to start the day with a blog. I lead an exciting life, no? Yesterday was also the 25th anniversary of the release of "A Little Respect," so I may be rocking out to Erasure today. It's hard not to be happy when you're listening to Erasure.... I can see by a quick scan of the blog that I've promised to write a bit about SoulJar Games as a group, an endeavor, and (shall I say it?) a movement.

Okay. That was a little pretentious.

SoulJar Games grew organically out of our work processes for the past year. I "met" Alyssa Faden while working as the line editor for Nystul's Infinite Dungeon (yes, that book is coming out via D3 Adventures). Alyssa drew the maps, so I ended up working closely with her on the design. Eventually, she asked me to line edit her miniature boardgame, Torn Armor. In the meantime, I'd reconnected with jim pinto at GenCon and I was editing/writing little pieces of King For a Day and Solomon's Guild. He, in the meantime, was doing layout work for, you guessed it, Alyssa Faden.

When I acquired the rights to Cairn, I saw it as an opportunity to start my own game company. This was something I'd avoided for 12 years. I didn't want to run a company. I wanted to make games. Unfortunately, in this business, there isn't much of a promotion ladder from where I used to stand. I had been a line developer for one of the largest game companies (Decipher), and I was making a top salary. The only other people who could offer me a comparable salary was Wizards of the Coast, and there was no way I was going back there. So my options were go back to freelancing or starting my own company. See above, "I didn't want to run a company."

But with Cairn, fate had presented me with an opportunity that was too good to pass up. Besides, I'd spent three months working on it, and I'd be damned if it didn't see the light of day. So SoulJar Games was born. Once everything was in place, I asked Alyssa, jim, and Jack Cull (who'd worked with me on Torn Armor) to join in. See, we'd talked about how much fun it would be to work on something together... All three of them jumped at the chance.

As I say, this has been an organic process, and we've fallen into our roles naturally. Alyssa has a day job as a manager at some computer-type place (I really don't know; I never pay attention when she starts talking about it), so she knows about managing people and budgets. So she's the brains of the operation (God help us). She keeps us focused, manages the "message," and takes care of the business side (mostly by asking questions I'd never think of). It's terrific to have someone who can handle this.

Pinto wears many hats, mostly because he has a big head. (And I'm sorry jim, I know you like to lower case your name, but I'm not violating the rules of grammar for anyone). He does the graphic design. He writes. He designs. He also knows the business end. So, while I know about the mechanics of putting a book together -- word counts, page counts, signatures, binding, covers, paper stock -- jim knows actual print buying (something I've never done). We were talking about GenCon 2014, and jim popped out all kinds of statistics that helped us make decisions. So, jim is sort of the Ombudsman of the company.

Jack Cull. I'm not sure what he does. He keeps Alyssa's wine glass full. This is an important job, since Alyssa becomes cranky when she's not properly liquored up. Conversely, too much and she becomes the Hunter S. Thompson of the hobby games industry (which means she pulls out a shotgun and starts randomly shooting things). He's also our Secretary when we hold meetings because we made him. Oh, and he's also a terrific writer who turns out great stuff quickly. It's going to be nice to have someone like that on staff. In the corporate culture we've evolved, Jack serves as the "canary in the coal mine" -- he tells us what's good and what's not-so-good.

We're four people on two coasts living in three cities, so getting this to work is a telecommuting challenge. First, we're on Facebook all the time. If jim needs something, we get a message. When Jack has an idea, we get a message. Since everyone checks Facebook 15 times a day, it's never long before someone replies. This way, we can address something quickly. Facebook also lets you create groups, and we use this functionality on a per-project basis. So we have a group for *redacted* where all the ideas for that game go. There's one for Cairn art. And one for general business. If we all vote to pursue an idea, it gets a group. Third, we hold regular Skype meetings where we discuss various and sundry things. We also laugh a lot.

And I can see I've skipped over the corporate structure. There are four principals to the company, and each of us gets an equal say. We're partners, and we vote on everything. In fact, this is in large part why we're in daily contact. We've already decided on a production schedule for the rest of the year, and have a slate of games we're planning. We all submitted ideas, then voted on which ones made us the most excited. The decision to go to GenCon was voted on. Nothing is decided until all four of us vote. Simple majority wins. So far, we've been unanimous on everything.

We've started attracting a stable of freelancers who we really want to work with (and who fit in with our cracked personalities). You can see that with Jeff Laubenstein, Alberto Tavira Espinar, James Silverstein, and Mark Quire. They're part of the SoulJar Games family, and they'll always have a place with us (as long as they keep turning stuff in on time -- why are you reading this?! Get back to WORK!).

I'm joking.

Wait, no I'm not.

Seriously, get back to work.

So that's a bit more about SoulJar Games and how it all works. We're four people who really want to work together to produce the kinds of games we want to play (and aren't necessarily seeing out there). Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get ready for the Skype meeting tonight. Which means making sure Jack has enough wine for Alyssa and I have something to rant about.

Have a question? Please, feel free to ask.

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