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
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
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
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
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
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
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.