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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Martin Wallace (Oct '08)
Q - # of years in the industry, # of years as a toy & game inventor?
A - I started to think seriously about game design in 1990. First game published in 1993, first Essen 1994. Essen really marks the start of my time in the 'industry'.

Q - About how many toys & games have you had published? Which is/are your favorite(s)?
A - According to BGG lots, 52 according to their list. However, lots of those are expansions or developments of an original title. I used to really like AoS [ed. - Age of Steam] but have burned out a little developing the Mayfair edition. I'm proud of Struggle of Empires but never get to play it. My favourite at the moment is a game still in development. It will be out in May/June next year. Usually by the time I've finished developing a game I'm sick of playing it, but this one still entertains me. It will be released as part of the Treefrog Line and is called Automobile. It may surprise you to know that it's about the car industry.

Q - Favorite toy or game that is not yours?
A - I think Bluff is great - one of my favourite filler games. Always up for a game of Powergrid, and for a racing game I would go for Formula Fun, (Devil take the Hindmost).

Q - What did you do before this? And how did you make the transition?
A - I used to be a substitute teacher. This was an ideal profession to aid my transition to becoming a full-time designer as I could take time off work whenever   necessary. I know that two of the Ragnar Brothers are full-time teachers, which means they never get to go to Essen as they can only take time off in the school holidays.

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 probably create around six to eight new designs each year. About three of these would end up being licensed. Now that I've started the Treefrog Line I'm in the position of publishing whatever designs I feel like and then seeing if anybody is interested in the license. An example would be Tinners' Trail. I would not have dreamed of approaching a company with a game about tin mining in Cornwall but after publishing it myself a number of companies approached me about the license.

Q - What is your process for getting toys & games seen?
A - As I've already mentioned above, I'm lucky in that I can publish my own games. This keeps my name in the gaming publics' eye and opens doors to game companies. As I seem to have a reasonable reputation it makes it more likely that another company will take a risk and publish one of my designs. Essen is also important for meeting companies. My costs are off-set by being able to sell games at the show, which makes it a doubly profitable exercise. I used to go to Nuremburg regular but have not bothered for the last few years.

Q - What is your favorite thing about the game/toy industry? Least favorite?
A - It's a small enough industry that pretty much everybody in it knows each other. It is also one that a small company can make headway in, unlike the computer games industry where you need lots of capital behind you. It's also fun designing games, seeing them from inception to production. The part about this industry that I like the least is doing the VAT returns. I hate book-keeping!

Q - Do you see any current trends in the industry?
A - I'm probably wrong but I think Chris Anderson's book 'The Long tail' gives a good idea about the future of the industry. More advanced print technology has allowed smaller companies to enter the market with excellent looking product. The internet allows these companies to reach a market they would not normally be able to do, and sell stuff via Paypal. I think this spells trouble for the medium sized companies who cannot always react so quickly to changes in public taste. I think you only have to look on BGG to see how many one-man companies are popping up all over the world.

Q - What one thing that you know now, do you wish you had known when you were starting out?
A - I wish I had been more aware of the importance of contracts. Firstly it's good to have one, and secondly, if you do have one, make sure there's a clause in there about what happens if the company goes under.

Q - If you were to give beginning inventors one bit of advice, what would it be?
A - Never risk more than you can afford to lose. I've seen lots of people publish their own games expecting people to rush up and buy them. Only later do they find out about how difficult it is to get games into distribution, ending up with a garage full of boxes.


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