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Ogres' Choice Awards 2006 (7/28/06)
Christmas Gift Guide 2005 (11/29/05)
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Interviews: Steve Jackson

Interview by Craig Robertson

To veteran gamers, Steve Jackson needs no introduction. One of the industry's most prolific and versatile designers, he also founded Steve Jackson Games, an unusually long-lived and successful firm. He has created board games (Ogre, Car Wars), card games (Illuminati, Munchkin), and roleplaying games (GURPS) that cover almost any conceivable topic. Ever since I began gaming, Steve Jackson's designs have been a large part of my experience.

Steve Jackson Games has survived two recessions, the CCG boom (and bust), a Secret Service witch-hunt, and a major accounting crisis. How did you and the company overcome obstacles which would have made a lesser company sell out to the first toy company to come along?

No toy company came along, so we had to pull out on our own . . .

You have been successfully designing games since before I rolled my first 3d6. How has the game industry changed from the early eighties to today? What do you predict for the future of the industry?

Computers have made the biggest difference - computer games as competitors for gamers' time and commitment, computers to connect us via the net, computers to put powerful layout and production tools into everyone's hands.

For the future? It's going to be easier than ever to create high-quality "fan" products, but it won't get any easier to make the jump to professional publication, because the realities of the retail market are still pretty tough.

Your company was one of the first to fully take advantage of the Internet. At what point did you decide that you needed to take the company online?

I really don't remember. I know that the moment I saw the Web, I knew that it would be big. But I didn't know HOW big.

I don't think I was alone in being surprised to hear that you would be producing an ezine supporting d20. How is D20 Weekly working out? Is there any chance we'll see d20 stats added to GURPS releases?

I'm pleased with the content of D20 Weekly. I wish we had more subscribers. No, there is no chance we will be putting d20 in GURPS books!

Wouldn't it practically double the market for some of the more general sourcebooks, such as GURPS Magic Items or GURPS Ultra-Tech?

I doubt it.

Steve Jackson Games is a household name to older gamers. Many of us, including myself, entered the hobby by playing classics like Illuminati, Ogre, and Car Wars. What is your approach to reaching the new generation of gamers who are playing Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh?

Munchkin. Chez Geek. X-Bugs. And lots of different GURPS books, including "Powered By GURPS" entries like Hellboy.

Does a younger audience affect your design process, or is it mostly a marketing consideration?

Actually, if anything, the average age of gamers has been increasing for the past decade. Young ones keep coming into the hobby, and not all the old ones quit!

Between Classic Illuminati and INWO, you have designed both stand-alone card games and CCGs. How does the design process differ between the two formats? Are there additional considerations necessary in designing a CCG?

Every game is different - or, at least, it should be. Some aren't, and lots of today's CCGs are just cookie-cutter entries. Some stand-alone card games could also work as CCGs, and vice versa. I'm afraid that the biggest difference between a stand-alone game and a CCG is designing the marketing hook to addict the CCG players to expansion packs . . .

Now that the CCG market has stabilized, it looks as though stand-alone games are making a comeback. How have the European designers (Klaus Teuber, Bruno Faidutti, and Reiner Knizia) influenced game design here in the States?

Generalizations are risky, but on the whole I think the European school of design starts with system and gameplay, while the American school starts with a theme. Both approaches work. I would never turn up my nose at a great system if it occurred to me, but my own designs always start with a theme . . . and then I think about what sort of system might support that theme. I don't know what American designers might be following the European system, but if they get good games out of it, I'm for it.

The GURPS line includes sourcebooks based on several great works, such as Terry Pratchett's Discworld and David Brin's Uplift series. What criteria do you use in choosing a licensed setting?

(1) Do I like it? There are more opportunities than we can possibly follow up. If I don't personally like a property, I keep looking. Life is too short to do something I don't want to do.

(2) Do I think it has something new to offer gamers? That one should be self-explanatory.

(3) Can we make more on it, considering the license fee, than if we just did an unlicensed book? (Sometimes I'll proceed even if the answer is no . . . but I shouldn't.)

Your Miniatures Division has created some of the most unusual miniatures designs on the market. Ogrethulhu is the first that comes to mind. How do you decide which miniatures to design and release?

Entirely too randomly. The words "That would be so cool!" enter into it more often than they should. One of the things we're working on right now is a more structured system.

I have to ask this question for the guys on groups.yahoo.com/group/SFBay_OGRE/. Will we be seeing the Ogre Mk IV? What about Chinese and Nihon forces?

Hah. I can see the Mk. IV right now. It's sitting on the miniatures table in my office where it was photographed earlier today . . . So you don't have long to wait. [Now available - ed.] Nihon and China are, I fear, farther away.

What's next for Steve Jackson Games?

(1) We'll continue with the things people are telling us they want most . . . more books for GURPS, more expansions for Munchkin and Chez Geek. (The next couple of Chez Geek expansions will be stand-alone games . . . Chez Greek and Chez Grunt . . . that can be combined with the original.) More X-Bugs.

(2) We'll develop new games along the lines of the current successes. In particular, more humorous card games. Our unworthy selves have been granted the honorable Ninja Burger card game license, and we will do our best not to shame our ancestors. Coming in March, more or less.

(3) We'll try to expand our horizons. Online GURPS, for instance. See www.sjgames.com/gurps/online . . .

Do you have plans for any more D20 Munchkin books beyond the first three?

Evil ideas. No actual plans.

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