When I was 17, I designed a collectible card game. Nevermind the fact that I’d never designed any other kind of card game, and nevermind the fact that collectible card games cost millions of dollars to publish and are only ever designed internally by large companies, most of which are formed exclusively to publish collectible card games; I’d made a collectible card game, and in my teenage brain it should naturally follow that a company with millions of dollars would appear out of nowhere to publish it. When no such company appeared, I presumed that publishing a collectible card game couldn’t be that hard anyway, and tried to convince every vaguely-artistic friend I had to do art for it, assuring them that they would get paid a percentage of whatever the game made whenever it got published. When, inexplicably, nobody would do art for it, I sat down to all of the art for this 300+ card game myself, and got about two-thirds of the way through before I finally came to the realization that I was being stupid, and there was just no possible way that this game would ever get published; I would never have the money to do it, and nobody with the money to do it would ever have any reason to be interested.
I had a falling-out with my goth roommate about that time, and since my brain was still in card-game-making mode I naturally turned the experience into Gother Than Thou. Gother, almost entirely by accident, was the exact opposite of the collectible card game I’d spent the last three years trying to make; there were only 55 cards, all of the art was simple black & white photographs of my friends (many of which were cleaned up and otherwise manipulated by a friend who lived in the closet under my stairs, and was doing the photo manipulation for his rent — really), and although the collectible card game had had ten 8 1/2 x 11 pages of rules, the rules to Gother were stupidly simple and almost an afterthought, and more people bought it to laugh at the silly pictures and card names than to actually try to play the game.
Gother did extremely well for something so simple, so low-budget, and so lacking in any kind of corporate clout or marketing (although my having friends at the local tabletop game distribution company certainly gave it a huge boost). Riding on its coat-tails, I designed and published a few other games that didn’t do as well, which I attribute equally to their not being as pretty as Gother, and the fact that the entire tabletop games industry was in the process of going bankrupt. Looking back, it’s obvious that my collectible card game never would’ve amounted to anything because I was trying to break in to the industry at the top, and the primary reason that Gother succeeded was because it was coming at the game industry from the very bottom, focusing significantly more on “neat visuals” and humor than on actual gameplay; Gother was, simply put, a “casual card game”.
And this is where I realized that I’m being stupid again. Now, ten years after I gave up on my collectible card game and started designing Gother Than Thou, I’m finally coming to the realization that all this time that I’ve been trying to break into the video game industry I’ve been trying, once again, the break in at the top, when I should be trying to break in at the bottom. Season Stacker, Sketchy, the commercial version of Pretty Pretty Bang Bang, (not to mention the dozens of games that aren’t complete enough to toss up online and are languishing on my hard drive,) every single one of these I began, thinking “this will be the big hit game that will break me into the video game industry”, gradually became despondent and overwhelmed by the enormity of what I was trying to accomplish, eventually gave up, and wondered what had gone wrong.
You’ve probably figured out by now what when wrong. I totally failed to learn from past experience (primarily because I only discovered the lesson of that past experience in retrospect), and have been spending all this time trying to make the video game equivalent of that collectible card game, when I should have been making the video game equivalent of Gother Than Thou, the casual card game. What I should be doing (DUH!) is making casual games.
Of course, casual games aren’t going to make me a millionaire — Gother Than Thou never did well enough that I could leave my day job, although it did pay for a semester of college and the down payment on my house — but they can actually make me a little money, and more importantly get me a toehold in the industry, unlike the fallow pile of half-finished overly-ambitious games I’ve amassed over the years. And hopefully, just as all the research and dabbling that I did for the collectible card game helped me design and publish Gother and the rest of the card games I made, the years I’ve wasted trying to make “core” video games will give me a leg up and some fresh ideas when I start making casual video games.
At the moment, although I’m invigorated by this epiphany, I’m a little burnt out on video games, but in a week or two, armed with the mighty power of The 2006 Casual Games Whitepaper, I’m going to sit down and pound out some casual games the likes of which the world has never seen (I promise no match-3 games), and I’ll write all about it here so you can follow along if you’re so inclined.
I’ll continue to write about other peoples’ non-casual games too, though; Inverted Castle is not going to turn into a casual games blog. And although I now see that casual games are what I should be doing, “core” games are still where most of my passions lie, so I’ll probably be uncontrollably compelled to squeeze out a few half-finished, malformed core games in between the casual ones, and once I’ve laid a good solid foundation of casual games, maybe I’ll finally have the resources, experience, and perspective to make a few good core games as well.