10 Questions

Each month in the Inventor Newsletter I ask 10 Questions of an established inventor or game company. The results are posted below and will be updated monthly.

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Mike Selinker, Lone Shark Games (Dec '07)
Q - # of years in the industry, # of years as a toy & game inventor?
A - My first game was "So You Want to Be the Pharoah" (sic), a roll-and-move game I invented for my 6th grade history class. That, um, hasn't been published yet. But the point at which I started getting paid for my games was just before I entered college, and I pretty much put myself through school by writing games and RPG modules. That was about 20 years ago. Now I have my own design studio with several brilliant friends and colleagues, and we work for pretty much everybody.

Q - About how many toys & games have you had published? Which is/are your favorite(s)?
A - I was on a panel with James Ernest and Reiner Knizia, and I noted that between us, we'd designed 520 games: Reiner had 400, James had 100, and I'd had 20. But that ignores all the games I've helped make better, as a creative director or developer. So it's closer to 50 or 60. I have lots of favorites: word games like Alpha Blitz and Unspeakable Words, war games like Axis Allies Revised and Risk Godstorm, board games like Gloria Mundi and Stonehenge, RPGs like Marvel Super Heroes and 3rd Edition D&D. It depends on who I want to be that day.

Q - Favorite toy or game that is not yours?
A - I play a lot of poker and Guitar Hero, but in terms of proprietary table games, I'd say Bohnanza, Set, and Scrabble in some order.   I play other people's games more than I play mine, because I always want to work on my own games, and I don't feel that way about those of others.

Q - What did you do before this? And how did you make the transition?
A - There really wasn't anything before this for me, as I started publishing puzzles and games in high school. But for a time, I split my attention between being a game and puzzle guy, and a serious political consultant and investigative journalist in Chicago. I maintained that balance for about ten years, and then "retired" to be a full-time game designer shortly before I turned 30.

Q - In a typical year... how many toy & game ideas do you prototype? how many presentations do you make? how many get licensed?
A - I'd say about a dozen, usually with a partner like Teeuwynn Woodruff or James Ernest. Nearly everything we do gets published.

Q - What is your process for getting toys & games seen?
A - Lone Shark Games, Inc. is a design studio where I and my colleagues have existing accounts with many game companies, and they're happy when we have something new to show them. We have the advantage of something like 60 or 70 years of publishing games between us, so a whole lot of people know us and want us to work for them.

Q - What is your favorite thing about the game/toy industry? Least favorite?
A - My favorite thing is hearing people say "It must be fun to play games all day." Instead of launching into a diatribe about how it's hard work and there's complex business you have to conduct, I just say, "Yup." My least favorite thing is trying to get games that have been accepted and playtested out the door. It seems overly difficult to just print and market a game, and since that's the step I have the least control over, it's the one that frustrates me the most.

Q - Do you see any current trends in the industry?
A - Well, it's all overlapping. My company creates games, puzzles, events, and promotions, and various employers want all kinds of things. So it's not uncommon for a board game company to want an online promotion, or a puzzle magazine to want to publish games, or whatever. So becoming skilled in all those fields has been important to us. Unless you're the best at any one thing, you need to be good at lots of things.

Q - What one thing that you know now, do you wish you had known when you were starting out?
A - That my American Express card gives me 5% off on all Kinko's orders. Really, when you do as much prototyping and printing as I do, that can add up. (Actually, I haven't made too many mistakes in my career. But I think it's my willingness to try anything crazy that makes it less likely that those crazy things will be mistakes.)

Q - If you were to give beginning inventors one bit of advice, what would it be?
A - Stop working alone. Find people who are as smart as you, or preferably even smarter, and harness their creative energy along with your own. I've created few games by myself, and so I've gotten to work on everything. Because the more everyone contributes, the more insane ideas you'll be able to try out, and the better off your games will be.


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