I’m relatively new to the tabletop game industry, so I thought I’d share my story about how I got here.
You may have picked up on the fact that Needy Cat Games had something to do with it! 😉
Hi Folks! So it’s been a while since I’ve posted much of anything because I’ve been super-busy. I launched my writing, editing and proofreading services towards the end of last year and have been focused on getting things off the ground. I’ve also just started designing my first game with a good friend of mine and you can read more about that here.
I signed my first editing client a few months ago and am working in earnest on their game – a project that I’m very excited about! I’ve also recently partnered with some talented local designers to work on their new projects too. More clients continue to seek me out, so I must be doing something right! 😉
Now that I’ve actually got going with all this, I thought now is as good a time as any to look back on how I got here, so that’s what this post is all about.
For nearly my entire professional career, I worked in customer services and almost all of that was in the IT industry. For the eleven years prior to June 2018, I’d been supporting computer software. This involved lots of customer interactions to help users get the most out of their systems, as well as technical elements like finding and fixing bugs, and managing/troubleshooting databases. As I’ve done several times in my career, I took a career break in 2018 to reassess my trajectory and decide if I wanted to stay the course or pivot to something different. I took a year off, which I spent indulging in my hobby of tabletop games and thinking about what to do next. The more time I spent playing tabletop games, the more rulebooks I read and the more frustrated I became at how some just don’t cut the mustard. Have you ever looked at something and thought to yourself “I could do a better job than that”? I have. I did.
That creative itch
This sparked something in me that I couldn’t shake. Around the same time I started thinking about how I would need to learn new skills to switch professions. Being around the 40 mark, that’s by no means impossible, but I decided I’d much prefer to make use of skills I already had, so I started to assess what those were and put the pieces together. I’ve always enjoyed writing and admired the diversity of the world’s languages and dialects. I’ve always relished shaping an existing product or project into something better. Working for twenty years fixing software bugs, I like to think that I normally left products in better shape than I found them!
During my year off, I spent a lot of time playing tabletop games, painting miniatures, attending board/card game events and creative workshops, as well a variety of other days out. Using nothing but strips of willow and my bare hands, I made a wicker obelisk for our garden that is taller than I am. I’d been to my first UKGE where I had my photo taken with Wrex from Mass Effect and explored all of the shows delights. I kept feeling drawn to visit a local alpaca farm just to spend time around the animals (we also have two wonderful Cockapoos btw). I’d participated in my first ever tabletop game tournaments and made loads of new friends in the process. I also created this blog just for kicks and had started writing again. I didn’t realise it at the time, but in 2018, I had experienced a creative awakening and it demanded satisfaction!
At some stage, partway through 2018, I cobbled together a half-arsed idea that I wanted to be a proofreader for tabletop games. I would examine rulebooks for errors and set them straight. I would paw over stacks of cards and spot grammatical errors and omissions. I would comb through email newsletters and Kickstarter updates, and fix ’em. Living with this idea for a while eventually reminded me of something… that I’d investigated becoming a proofreader many, many years ago, during a previous career break. The timing hadn’t been right back then, but could it be now?
A cunning plan
So, I had the faintest outline of a job description in my mind, and an industry that I was passionate about in my sights. What next? How does one ‘get into’ an industry they’re almost completely unfamiliar with, apart from in the role of a consumer/fan? It’s like waking up one day and saying to yourself. “You know what? I like listening to music, so I’m gonna be a musician”. But where do I sign? How do I start? Who’d have thought that a needy cat had the answer?
My first experience of Needy Cat Games was a friendly chat with 50% of them at Mantic Games‘ 2018 May open day. Only a few hours beforehand, I had backed Hellboy: The Board Game on Kickstarter and was pumped about it! I’d turned up at that open day on my own (another first for me!), hoping to find out more about Mantic and engage with the community. Little did I know the chap I spoke to almost the moment I stepped through the door was none other than James M. Hewitt, one of the designers of Hellboy: The Board Game! The penny dropped as to his identity only when I sat in on the Q&A hosted by Rob Burman of Mantic Games who was interviewing – you guessed it – James himself!
Considering that the role of ‘Game Designer’ in the tabletop game industry is akin to all-out frickin’ rock star/lead-singer-of-the-band kinda thing, you wouldn’t believe how down to Earth James and his partner Sophie Williams are. That morning, James and I had been waxing lyrical about Hellboy’s various incarnations, and at no point did he mention he’d designed the bloody game! Our conversation had just been a couple of blokes geeking out over a shared interest. I’ve since had the pleasure of getting to know both Sophie and James pretty well over recent months due to their outstanding contributions to the tabletop game industry, particularly in and around Nottingham.
You see, James and Sophie have their own company called Needy Cat Games, and they have obviously discovered the secret to human cloning! I’m joking, of course, but these two are so unbelievably busy, I just don’t know how they do it! You can read all about their background on their own website and blog – which I highly recommend by the way, because it touches on the subject I want to address in this article. That of humble beginnings.
Just call it NTIC
Sophie and James run the Nottingham Tabletop Industry Collective, which you can find on Facebook by clicking that link. The collective organises regular breakfast gatherings and evening socials in Nottingham, where anyone who is already a part of the tabletop game industry, or anyone who is seeking to get into the tabletop game industry, can attend and network away to their heart’s content with like-minded folk. Did you notice the important part of that sentence? It’s this: “or anyone who is seeking to get into the tabletop game industry”. Boooooom! This was the key for me. This was my way in.
My impostor syndrome was strong that first Wednesday morning of August. I’d decided to attend the collective’s industry breakfast. I was just going to turn up and say. “Hi! My name is Simon and I’m just starting as a freelance writer, editor and proofreader for the tabletop industry.” A refined and expert plan, right? Well as it happens, it was all I needed. This group is so welcoming that I felt right at home almost immediately. With a focus on inclusivity and pushing each other up – opposed to shunning newbies, attending the industry breakfast is like a big, warm hug from the entire tabletop industry. I had come to the right place!
I met so many diverse and interesting people that morning, I was instantly addicted and I’ve endeavoured to attend every one since – although life obviously gets in the way every now and again! I met game designers, graphic designers and RPG writers, as well as an established writer/editor/proofreader, which was perfect, as I could quiz them with some burning questions. James and Sophie make sure to greet any newcomers, as well as share their time fairly amongst all attendees. They’re eminently approachable, as was everyone else there. I’ve found that like most networking events, you can either talk to the people you’re seated near or you can do the rounds. These events offer a very relaxed environment conducive to either approach. There are also plenty of cups of tea and cooked breakfasts involved, as these events are currently hosted bright and early at the Roebuck Inn Wetherspoons in the centre of Nottingham.
Attending this first networking event had given me the confidence boost I needed to take things to the next level. I had instantly gained a support network of other individuals working in the tabletop industry, so I rejigged this website a bit and launched my freelance services. It didn’t take long to get some enquiries and quickly land what has become a real passion project for me. My first client’s enthusiasm is clear throughout the materials and it’s contagious. It’s too early in development for me to be able to say what the project is, but it happens to be based upon some historical events I was already somewhat familiar with. It was a strange coincidence this client had contacted me and still feels like fate had a hand in it. I’ll be sure to post more about the project when I can, but for now you’ll just have to watch this space.
More more more
In addition to designing games for third parties like Mantic Games, developing their own games to launch under their own brand, and running the Tabletop Industry Collective, Needy Cat Games also publish a podcast called ‘Finding Games’. This has been a fascinating window into how people got into the tabletop industry and it’s funny to know that almost everybody has had a fairly bizarre trajectory. Most have played tabletop games as a kid, left them behind for a decade or two, before returning to them BIG TIME. This has made me realise that I am not alone in my mid-life
crisis creative awakening. A lot of other people have gone through a similar thing and a lot of them have ended up in the tabletop game industry.
The podcast series involves Sophie interviewing people within the tabletop game industry, starting with the awesome Annie Norman of Bad Quiddo Games, who just happens to share office space with Needy Cat! Annie is a force to be reckoned with and has brought the largest selection of realistic female miniatures to the world. I’ve met Annie at various shows as a customer, and I’ve since met her at the industry breakfasts. It’s been great to be able to chat with her about her experiences of the industry. Her story is just one of those you’ll find on your favourite podcast app, and all the stories focus on how each individual ‘found games’ and made them their business. Here’s episode one.
I sat here writing the majority of this post the night before the January Industry Breakfast, and I couldn’t wait to get there in the morning in the hopes of meeting new people and reconnecting with those I’ve met there before. I’ve never been much of a morning person, but this is definitely the best start to the day I’ve found in 40-ish years!
I can happily report that it was another great morning and that I’m now looking forward to the next one. Maybe I’ll see you there. 🙂