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Stephen Glenn Interview

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zaiga
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Joined: 12/31/1969

Here's my interview with Stephen Glenn. This interview is also downloadable in Word-format from the download section, buton the forum it is perhaps a bit more accessible. Also, it allows people to comment on it. Here it is:

What do you do when you are not designing or playing games?

I teach high school English at an alternative school in Norfolk, Virginia. I'm also married with a 7-yr old daughter and a 9-yr old son.

When did you become interested in playing games? Could you tell us a little bit about your history as a gamer?

I've been interested in games since I was a kid. Dungeons and Dragons was a big favorite when I was in middle school. My drama group caught the Trivial Pursuit bug in high school and we played that alot. That was in the early 80s when Trivial Pursuit was huge. I fell out of gaming for about ten years after high school, not going back until I read an article about Magic:The Gathering in the early 90s. That, in a round-a-bout way, led to my discovery of Settlers of Catan and the wonders of German gaming.

Why did you want to design your own games?

Probably a combination of (a) being a naturally creative person and (b) rarely having anyone to game with. I'm hugely jealous of these folks who regularly post weekly session reports of all the great games they've played. At first I was lucky to play once a month. These days I only get the opportunity to play at game conventions. Every so often I can play with my kids, but they prefer video games.

What type of games do you usually design? What does a typical "Stephen Glenn" design look like?

These days I'm mostly interested in designing strategy, family games. That typically means nothing that lasts more than 90 minutes, allows for a reasonable amount of decision-making, and can be enjoyed by kids (8+) and their parents. And when I say "enjoy" I mean "ENJOY". I don't mean that the kids love it and the parents merely tolerate it. Jerry Seinfeld once joked that NOTHING is really fun for the whole family. I think that the kinds of games I like to play and design might prove him wrong on that.

Are there certain types of games that you wouldn't design?

Only those that I didn't feel I was capable of designing, like a big, complex wargame or a role-playing system. I don't have the patience or the resources to invest in something that heavy.

How much time do you spend on game design in a week?

Not nearly enough time. I have a full time job and a full time family. Plus, not having immediate access to gamers means I don't have access to playtesters. I have many ideas that are just sitting around waiting to be playtested.

What do you think makes a good game? Do you have a design philosophy you want to share with us?

I'm afraid my definition of a good game won't be very helpful. I think a good game needs to be fun. The problem is that fun is many different things to many different people. Some people have fun playing games with little or no decision-making. Others can have fun staring at a board for a half hour trying to figure out their best move. Obviously, other people find their fun at some point between those two extremes. Fun is something you can neither pinpoint nor deny. That's why reviews are so important.

You are one of the organizers of Protospiel. What is Protospiel?

Protospiel is an annual convention for game designers, amateur and professional.

When will the next Protospiel be?

Honestly, the dates for Protospiel IV have not been determined. The
organizers should have something decided in the next few weeks. It
will most likely be sometime in July 2004.

Editor’s note. Visit Protospiel’s website at: http://protospiel.home.att.net/

Two of your games (The Birds & The Bees and Jet Set) did well in the
Hippodice competition, another game (Assembly Line) won the Simultaneous Movement contest. Do you think entering design competitions helps you become a better game designer?

Perhaps in the sense of completion -- that you've taken an idea and turned it into a playable game. That's a big step for amateur designers. Entering competitions also proves a commitment to your craft, which can help boost your confidence.

Do you think your successful entries in the Hippodice competition helped you gain recognition with publishers?

Absolutely. It never hurts to have your name associated with something successful.

Do you have some advice for people who want to enter a design competition such as the Hippodice competition?

Just some nuts 'n' bolts advice: Follow all the contest rules to the letter. Send it in on time. Have someone proofread your rules. Don't give the judges any excuse to evaluate your game on anything other than its own merit.

This year your first design was published: Balloon Cup by Kosmos. Where did the idea for Balloon Cup come from?

Balloon Cup was originally called Pinata, and it was conceived shortly after my daughter's 5th birthday party, in which she had a Pikachu pinata. Kosmos decided to change the theme of the game to Balloon Racing. Hence, Balloon Cup.

How did you get Kosmos to publish your design?

I don't know if it's accurate to say that I "got" them to do anything. I am very familiar with their two-player line, and I had designed a cardgame that I thought would fit in well. I mailed the prototype to Kosmos and they kept it for several months before they even hinted that they liked it. After that we worked jointly on some problems they saw with the game. By June of 2002, they had decided to publish it.

Do you have any advice for designers who want to get their design published?

Get to know people. Be an asset to the hobby. Build a name and a reputation. Play lots of games. When you're in a slump, keep designing games, even if they are bad ones. Keep working. Keep learning. Never quit.

Has the publication of Balloon Cup made you a rich man?

Not yet.

Balloon Cup has gotten quite a number of good reviews. Also, Balloon Cup was nominated for the prestigious Spiel des Jahres. How does all this praise make you feel?

I'll quote Arthur Bach: "It feels terrific."

Of course, there were also a number of people who didn't like Balloon Cup or who gave it a bad review. How do you handle such criticism?

If the criticism is honest and fair, how can I fault the critic? As I implied earlier, fun is very subjective. Not everyone is going to enjoy every game. That's why reviews are so important. If they are fair and honest and informative, they offer much more to the reader than just the author's opinion. I've read bad reviews of games that I knew I'd personally enjoy just due to the description.

Plenary Games is currently developing your Hippodice entry "Jet Set". When will it come out?

Angela Gaalema, my publisher, has hopes that it will be out by the end of this year.

Could you tell us a little bit more about "Jet Set"?

It's a card-drafting, set collecting game. It's a very simple mechanism. You're trying to visit the most popular international tourist traps, with bonuses based on the modes of transportation you use to get to them.

Are there any other of your designs we can expect to see in the future?

Currently I have two games being evaluated by publishers. I've also got some other games ready to start sending to publishers that I'm very excited about.

Thanks Stephen Glenn for this interview!

IngredientX
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Joined: 07/26/2008
Stephen Glenn Interview

This is a great interview. I love hearing about games from the designer's point of view. Unfortunately, I haven't played Balloon Cup yet, but I know it'll float (ha) into my life sooner or later.

Stephen: if you move to Bergen County, NJ, you'll have at least one more playtester! :)

jwarrend
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Joined: 08/03/2008
Stephen Glenn Interview

Interesting interview, particularly given that the interviewer didn't really care for Balloon Cup too much!

I found it interesting that Glenn doesn't have access to playtesters, yet is submitting several games to publishers. I'd be interested in hearing more about that. Is he really that good? Or can he really get enough playtesting in during the conventions he attends to say a game is "ready to go"? And how much "done" does a publisher expect the game to be?

This is all stuff that goes beyond the scope of the interview, but I think they're very important questions for someone who's interested in licensing the game; at what point should one submit? How flawless will a publisher expect the game to be upon receipt, and how much development work will they expect to have to put in? Perhaps someone who's in the know on these issues could chime in...

Thanks for the interview!

-Jeff

Scurra
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Joined: 09/11/2008
Stephen Glenn Interview

That's a good point about playtesting - I'm worried that some of my designs have been overtested (although that certainly wasn't true of my comp entry ;)

But sometimes you can just look at a design, play it a couple of times, fix the most egregious errors and have a perfectly fine design. The trick is realising when even more tweaking just won't fix it...

Anonymous
Interview

jwarrend wrote:
I found it interesting that Glenn doesn't have access to playtesters, yet is submitting several games to publishers. I'd be interested in hearing more about that.
--
I send prototypes out to gaming groups. No, it's not an ideal situation, but it's better than nothing. It's also pure blind-playtesting, which is always a great way to test rulesets for leaks, etc.

Also, I like to describe the games I've had success with as "not having too many moving parts." In other words, I can cover ALOT of ground playing them against myself. A two-player game, like Balloon Cup, is especially easy to playtest alone. One of my good friends, and a personal hero, is Kris Burm, designer of the Gipf series. He has told me that the majority of his playtesting is done against himself. Then he'll show the game to his playtesters.
--
And how much "done" does a publisher expect the game to be?
--
I think it has to (a) be playable, and (b) have what one publisher calls "the spark of life", that elusive, mystical quality that sets your game apart from all others. A publisher will almost certainly change your game once you submit it. Development happens. If you've playtested your game thoroughly and you believe in it, then it's probably ready to go. Put yourself in the publisher's seat and honestly ask yourself if you'd be willing to invest money in this design. Ask yourself why a gamer would want to add your game to a shelf already bursting with games.
--
How flawless will a publisher expect the game to be upon receipt, and how much development work will they expect to have to put in?
--
They don't expect it to be flawless, but they want the game to work and to be fun. It also must be affordable to produce and have sales potential. If your game fits these criteria better than any other game they're considering for their current program, then you'll probably hear from them.
The worst thing they can do is send you a rejection notice. I've submitted at least five games to Ravensburger in the last few years and have received five rejection notices. A rejection doesn't necessarily mean that a game is bad (but it could). It just means that it's not necessarily what they're looking for at that moment. I think a good publisher will tell you why a game was rejected. And when a publisher rejects your design, it doesn't mean they never want to hear from you again. It means try again. Don't quit. Learn more. Get better. If you want to improve, you will. Let me repeat that: IF YOU WANT TO IMPROVE, YOU WILL. Period. Since I started designing (about five years ago) I've definitely noticed improvements in myself each passing year. Designing games is fun. Just keep doing it. Doing is learning.

Anonymous
Random Number Generators

I noticed some folks have a d20 next to their names, and others a d12.

I have a flipped coin. I can't help the feeling that I'm being slighted somehow. :lol:

FastLearner
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Re: Random Number Generators

Snoop wrote:
I noticed some folks have a d20 next to their names, and others a d12.

I have a flipped coin. I can't help the feeling that I'm being slighted somehow. :lol:
It's just a post count thing. That's why mods have loaded dice. :)

IngredientX
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Joined: 07/26/2008
Stephen Glenn Interview

Scurra wrote:
That's a good point about playtesting - I'm worried that some of my designs have been overtested

There's a problem some of us wouldn't mind having! :roll:

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