Game of the Game

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The game metaphor is, indeed, a classic one.  In life, business, and play, well, it all gets quite fuzzy where all the lines intersect.  It is a way of looking at the world in which we live and how we interpret and participate within the rules and variables that surround us.

This particular post is literally about the choice to make a game, something I and my cohorts are in the process of doing.  What you may find interesting from my experience is, how much it actually feels like playing a game in doing so.

For the last year, I have been incubating the Meta Olympia property, a sports-sci-fi property that explores Mars colonization, 60 years in the future, through a sport centric view point.  Phase 1 was a proof of concept using a sport news format where writers and artists would report on future events generated by non-deterministic simulators.

Web articles are a fun way to progressively world-build and it is a low risk, low barrier format, with the bulk of the costs going to content creation.  The drawback is, and this was always a known quantity, it isn't the best way to engaging and retain a new audience compared with other story formats that have things like main characters and intentional story arcs.  Despite these, overall feedback on the genre mash up concept has been positive, with many asked how they could get more involved into the stories or interact with the world.

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Enter Phase 2.

The second phase was always coming, pumping cash into ongoing content for a small transient audience was never going to fly, but determining what would come next wasn't so simple.  Would there need to be a complete pivot?  That felt like an unsatisfying conclusion to what was previously started.  Can it all build on the same theme?  Is it possible to make it all interconnected?  How much capacity and  freaking money would it take to operate parallel projects? 

On the client-facing side of my work, these kinds of decisions are much more straight forward.  Impartial analysis yield strategic recommendations that are served up like a menu.  It's much easier to make objective proposals with core decision points and 'would you like an appetizer to go with that direction'? 

As much as I believe this is not a passion project in the usual sense, Meta Olympia is, however, very personal because it is my 'business sandbox', an endeavour where the outcomes do not have to map to traditional business goals and, in some ways, is a test of my instincts and an experiment in small leaps of faith.

With the right amount of data and triangulation to rationalize, or perhaps the right dare, it is go time.

The Novel...

One no-brainer proposal came in from Anthony Falcone and Nimit Malavia of The RAID Studio.  After contributing to editorial content, they pitched a fiction/non-fiction story that would tell the backstory before the website started reporting about the first professional sports league on Mars.  Unleashing these two seasoned story tellers to create an original book based on the news they helped to report wasn't a big stretch.  It's a contained project that they are able to deliver with little dependency.  Even if the primary exposure from the investment comes through their commitment to the property at fan shows, this kind of endorsement is valuable even with a low probability of ROI.  Also, with an initial run of books, the business will qualify for grants on subsequent publishing projects, which could be useful for future endeavours.

The Game Changer...

I've had a personal goal of trying Kickstarter since I have been independent.  So finding an offshoot of Meta Olympia that might be worthy of an attempt was challenging... many ideas were just too big of a scope for me to undertake (like a video game or pilot for a film or episodic series) or too small to warrant using the platform.  When I narrowed on the making a board game, it became the most fit, meeting all the key criteria.

  • I have the resource pool and access to expertise to execute on it
  • I have the funds to float the concept development
  • Easy to leverage all of the assets and themes generated to date, offsetting costs
  • I can piggy-back on metaolympia.com as an open testing and engagement tool
  • Board gamers are a dedicated community, not only representing a viable market, but the type of fans I would love to have support the property in general.
  • If it tests positive, this is a top category on Kickstarter and other crowd funding platforms.  
  • There are vendors specializing in this space that would de-risk manufacturing and fulfilment.

Board games are big... so this isn't silly!  Prior to investigating this, I wasn't aware that only 1/4 of the game category pledges on Kickstarter were for computer type  games, leaving the bulk of support for traditional card and board games.  Also, compared with many of the other categories, board game campaigns track with much higher and consistent pledge volumes.  I may be jumping on the band wagon at the peak or late, but based on the encouragement of many people I have interviewed on the subject, the resurgence isn't tapering yet.

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Another motivating factor, turns out, is most of the current contributors on Meta Olympia have either 1) worked for a games company, 2) are avid board gamers, 3) regularly fund board game kickstarters, or 4) have friends that do so.  This just makes things a lot easier as the immediate network is already primed for this mandate.

It may all seem obvious to me now that this is the right play, but it wasn't apparent until it suddenly was. 

It's Your Move...

I'm a believer that you have to play the game to learn the game.  In many ways, committing to this direction was the hardest step; you can't get to the next point without taking your turn.  Naturally, there are no guarantees to what the outcome will be or how it will work out, but you have to make a move.

In designing the game, we consider things like the game mechanics, the playability, how it fits with the themes and context of the world-building, the balancing to keep it fair, and how you win.  These don't differ greatly from the day-to-day considerations we make for our careers and personal lives. Of course, it's all wrapped up in the same principles of chance and perceived sense of control that govern the way we see the world. 

How else could it be?

Coming Soon...

The Meta Olympia board game open prototypes, coming to a metaolympia.com near you!

Chris Cheung