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GamingIamA Game Designer, Magic the Gathering Hall of Famer, and the CEO of White Wizard Games. AMA!

Feb 14th 2017 by RobDougherty • 22 Questions • 120 Points

I  founded White Wizard Games in my garage with my best friend, and have raised over $1M on Kickstarter to fund the development of 3 games and 2 apps. Our first game, Star Realms, has won 7 Game of the Year awards. Last year I gave away $100,000.00 in the first Epic Card Game World Championship. 

I have over 20 years of industry experience spanning nearly every aspect of hobby gaming: • Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour Champion and Hall of Famer • Game Designer • White Wizard Games CEO • Designer and Co-Creator of Epic Card Game • Co-Creator of the Star Realms Deckbuilding Game • Co-Creator of the Hero Realms Deckbuilding Game • Co-Founder/Co-Designer of the Ascension Deckbuilding Game • Gary Games Inc. COO • EpicTCG CEO • Your Move Games Inc. Co-CEO • Stoneblade Entertainment Organized Play Director • Game Store Owner • Premier Tournament Organizer for WoTC and Konami • Tournament Judge (Level 3 Magic Judge) • Organized Play Designer/Consultant

I am also a dad to 7 kids and a St. Bernard. 

Ask me about running a game company, designing games, running a Kickstarter, playing professional Magic, marketing/sales distribution for games, game manufacturing, developing game apps, or .... anything :)

Here's a link to the Kickstarter that we are currently running: http://tinyurl.com/EpicDigKSiAMA

The White Wizard Games website is here: http://www.whitewizardgames.com/

My Proof: There will be a post in the Kickstarter comments on the Kickstarter page http://tinyurl.com/EpicDigKSiAMA and also on our White Wizard Games instagram https://www.instagram.com/whitewizardgames/ that I am hosting this iAMA. 

I will start answering at 4 pm EST today, February 14th, so ask away!

Q:

Hi Rob, With a lot of attention going into Hero Realms and Epic, what do you see in the future for Star Realms, both the physical game and the app? I personally am not into the fantasy theme that Hero Realms and Epic involve (although I did back them both during their kickstarters) but I love the space theme of Star Realms, and it is currently one of my favorite games. I'd like to see it continue to grow.

A:

Good news for you, we also LOVE Star Realms.

I, in fact, have a proxy deck of a future set on the table next to me. Playtest new designs is definitely the most fun part of the job!

We have more sets coming out this year. We are working on adding sets and features to the digital game. So much more Star Realms to come!


Q:

Secret Legion only makes 6 humans...

A:

The kids are more epic, but Epic Card Game is pretty awesome too!


Q:

I Love Epic and am a Day One back for the Kickstarter. Besides the app, where do you see the game heading? Set 2? New expansions? New abilities? What can you tell us?

A:

New sets of course (with some new abilities thrown in from time to time). I don't want to spoil any cards, but I can tell you we have a new set we are working on currently.
I am really looking forward to how Epic Digital, when in full release, will help grow the game. It's tutorial will show new players how to play, and the online play will mean there is always an opponent at your fingertips.

If we can grow the player base like I think we will be able to with the app, I'm looking forward to doing more and even bigger tournaments.


Q:

What do you think are the most important things you've done to ensure a successful Kickstarter campaign from start to finish? What factors do you think companies like Stoneblade missed in their kickstarters to result in failure after funding when it came to follow through?

A:

I think the keys to successful Kickstarters are: Get the word out! Great art / look/ video Don't overpromise (this can be especially dangerous on Stretch Goals) Deliver quickly Deliver quality

I think the most common failures in Kickstarter follow through come from overpromising. Promising feature they don't yet have the capacity to deliver, promising expensive material items that will end up costing more than the pledge dollars that come in, etc.


Q:

Hey Rob! Thanks for doing this!

As a father to seven kids, a store owner, a game designer... it seems like you have a ton on your plate. How involved are your children in game design/testing and running your store? Are your jobs a family function or do you find a way to keep them separate, and still spend time with the family?

Thanks again!

A:

I sold my game stores a while back, so they are no longer on my very full plate.

My family does get involved with my work. CJ (age 20) has worked the booth at my shows, plays a lot of Epic, and has done commentary and judging. Nate (10) and Maia (8) love playing Star Realms with me. Sabrina (13) is a aspiring author and wants to work on game lore. Ryan (14) and AJ (13) are more into other video games than the games I make, but they sometimes help out with playtesting and work projects. Daisy (2) isn't playtesting yet, but she is cute and loveable. Debbie is the best partner I could ask for. We raise the kids together and work together. She is WWG head of marketing and the studio manager.


Q:

I get frustrated talking about game design casually because it seems to always turn into "marketability" and "return on investment" ideas. Is there no room for game design purely as a creative pursuit? Is no one actually interested in that?

Follow up, do you think it's as weird as I do that a plurality of people who self-identify as gamers seem extremely concerned with "the market" and "business moves" with regards to game companies and creators?

A:

I am, in fact, one of those geeks who cared about designing for love of the games. I built the games I wanted to play. I had a lot of loved-by-fans-but-not-so-profitable games before my first "hit" games (Ascension then Star Realms).

On the follow up: A lot of people love games and make them out of passion. They try to find publishers, or they self publish. The ones who do well often correlate with those who are good at business and think/talk about things like "the market" and "business moves". So I think you see a lot of that from game companies because that is often what it takes to stay in business and make more games.


Q:

Any advice for those of us doing game design as a hobby in a state with no major games industry? I help run a club here in Arkansas.

How do you feel about sites like The Game Crafter? What should someone who uses a site like that regularly start to do in order to "find their audience"?

A:

One of the great things about designing games is you can do it literally anywhere as long as you have a least a few friends to test with. If your friends really love what you make you can travel to some conventions and show your game to players you don't know. If they don't love it, keep working on it. If they do love it you can try and find a publisher or do it yourself on Kickstarter or the like.


Q:

Hi Rob, My GF and I love Epic are are looking forward to the app. My question is will the next expansion be a "big box" like the original and introduce new mechanics or will it be the four packs? Either way I am pumped and looking forward to it.

A:

The next set for Epic will be 4 packs, like Tyrants and Uprising. We are very happy with the base set and think that is a great place for new players to start. We will introduce a new keyword mechanic in coming sets.


Q:

What did you learn from Star Realms (and its expansions) that directly impacted Hero Realms?

It seems that there were some changes to make base/champion abilities easier to understand and raise the general power level of cards, but I'm wondering if there was anything specific.

A:

Star Realms got a lot of things right. So with the Hero Realms base game we were looking to give you a new feel while keeping the great aspects of Star Realms. The playtesting and balancing process we developed for Star Realms served us well with Hero Realms. We also addressed the most common Star Realms complaints by giving Hero Realms easier score cards and a sturdier box.


Q:

Definitely agreed that the score cards and box are better, and thank you for answering!

I have a couple more specific observations, if you'd like to respond...

My friends and I have noticed that Hero Realms games tend to take longer than Star Realms games, occasionally to a fault. The base game has a bit less scrap and a bit more healing than either of the Star Realms base sets. Additionally, throwing in the heroes (particularly the defensive heroes, like the Cleric) seem to slow the game down even more. We've run into cases where many turns will pass without anyone buying anything or noticeably affecting their opponent's life total.

Was this intentional, to give players more time to hone their decks, or is it just a consequence of making certain strategies (scrapping, healing, champions) more or less reliable? Were there any other mechanical changes made intentionally?

A:

Hero Realms is about heroes, so there are more champions in Hero Realms than there are bases in Star Realms. This means it is easier to get a lot of guys in play which can lead to longer games. To combat this the other cards tend to be a bit more powerful for their cost than ships are in Star Realms. So, you can defend yourself better, but you can also hit harder faster. So the pacing is different than Star Realm, and we were happy with that. It gives players a different feel when playing the different games.


Q:

Steve Walsh here (came to your neck of the woods three years ago as part of the Star Realms Kickstarter)- I'm so excited to see WWG's success! I want to start out by saying thank you again for the opportunity- it was a blast!

Two questions:

1- You mentioned sometime that people's perception of a "successful" CCG/TCG is one that "stands the test of time" so to speak, however you don't believe that to be necessarily true. Could you elaborate on how you as a game producer/designer/developer see success?

2- Have you won the rubber match?

A:

Hey Steve! We loved having you as a guest Wizard!

1) Yes, CCGs/TCGs are judged differently than normal games. If a normal game sells a bunch of units, they can print more or an expansion later (even years later) with no problem at all. A CCG/TCG however needs to be in print constantly or it is "dead". There are two different measures of success I put on my games: do people have fun playing them and do they make money. I have had some games that players love, but didn't make any profit, but I am still consider those games successful. Obviously you need some of the profitable ones in there too if you want to eat...

2) I win all matches! :)


Q:

Hi Rob. With the introduction of Hero Realms character packs and the future boss and campaign, in conjunction with Star Realms multi-faction, mission, and gambits, there has been two different paths that Star Realms and Hero Realms seem to be taking. Will Star Realms and Hero Realms continue to go down different paths to keep their play experiences unique or will you be overlapping some or all of these unique differences? So far I like how they are different but would enjoy seeing some overlap, for example also having boss decks or campaigns in Star Realms.

Side note: Star Realms and Hero Realms are my favorite card games of all time.

A:

Thanks for playing, I love to hear it when people are having fun with the games we make.

We wont force them apart, but some mechanics fit better with a fantasy theme and other with a Sci-fi theme.


Q:

Are there any plans to resolve some of the discrepancies between Star Realms' digital and paper versions? (In my opinion the most egregious being discarding on your opponent's turn in the app).

I understand that these rarely-but-sometimes-relevant nuances were natural corners to cut when you were rushing to get the first app out the door, but leaving them there years later makes me worry – not just about how seriously WWG takes the digital game, but also how many cool mechanics are being left out of the paper game expansions because they don't fit naturally into the relatively rigid model it follows now.

Love both games, just to be clear :)

A:

The discrepancies between the Star Realms digital and paper versions were intentional. In the alpha of the Star Realms app, you had to wait for your opponent to choose a card to discard every time you made them discard. You had to manually activate every ally ability (like Blob Fighter's card draw). While those things flowed well in the physical game they made the app clunky. So, we did some modifications to how the digital game worked to improve the flow of the game and the play experience got WAY better. I was willing to accept these difference between the physical and digital so that both games could be at their best.


Q:

Many Epic events are on the East Coast and not all that accessible to us living out west (Denver, specifically). Do you have any plans to expand your live tournament presence?

A:

There will, of course, be event in app on Epic Digital. As Epic Digital grows the player base we will look to expand physical events.


Q:

Heya Rob! Thanks for doing this! You can respond to either or both questions.

As a game designer did you initially start out with the goal of doing it professionally, or as a hobby turned professional?

Do you have recommendations for aspiring gaming media people? Are there good ways to approach developers for interviews or information regarding up and coming projects?

A:

I started out as a hobbies. As a kid I designed games for fun.

I don't know a lot about being a successful media person. I tend to contact press who are on trade show press list (like Origins/gencon, etc.) so I would suggest going to those shows a press and getting yourself on their mailing list. Once you are there plenty of game designers/ companies would love to talk to you about their stuff.


Q:

How did you get into Game design?

I am a Magic player as well and a board game player. Game design is something that is very interesting to me. I've done a lot of reading on it, but I have no training in it (I studied mechanical engineering in college). Do you need training/ education or can you just like fly by the seat of your pants? Do you just like call a publisher/ printer and make a presentation or something?

A:

Well, I studied electrical engineering, so no, you don't need a specific education in game design. :)

I tinkered with game design all my life. I decided I wanted to self publish so I started with a modest project, Double Sided Tokens (token cards as a MTG accessory). Through that I learned how to hire and work with artist and graphic designers to create the card art, box and pack images, printers to make them, distributors and game stores to sell them.


Q:

What's the worst game you like to play? What's the best game that you don't like?

A:

Worst game I like to play: Army of Darkness app. I've played through it more than once. Best game I don't like: Chess. I like games that have a lot of skill in them, but still a small element of luck. I like to be able to way the odds and take chances. I like a chance to loose to a lesser player and to beat a greater one. Chess, while clearly one of the greatest games in history, feels way to predetermined to me.


Q:

Hey Rob thanks for doing this. My wife, friends, and I have really enjoyed Star Realms, Hero Realms, and Epic. However, the one thing we miss is the "collection" factor that we go to MTG and Pokemon for.

Are there any plans in the works for a collectible card game?

A:

I currently don't have plans to do a collectable game.

Recently I've been trying to focus on games that give a massive amount of play for a relatively small number of dollars.


Q:

Why do game designers do AMAs?

A:

Exposure for our games of course. And perhaps a bit of narcissism. :)


Q:

Hi, Rob. Have you designed the Hero Realms card for the first Legend tournament winner yet? And have you decided in what type of expansion it will be included?

A:

Not yet. We are finishing up the expand campaign deck and the boss decks now. His card will be in the following expansion.


Q:

How old are your kids? Do they show some interest in designing games when they are grown up? What's their favorite game you have designed?

A:

Daisy (2), Maia (8), Nate (10), AJ (13), Sabrina (13), Ryan (14) and CJ (20). CJ loves Epic but the younger kids prefer Star Realms.


Q:

what are youre thoughts on the situation in venezuela?

A:

I am afraid I was unaware of situation in Venezuela. One of the draw backs of spending so much time working and having 7 kids.