The Atomic Automaton Protospiel Finale
THE ATOMIC AUTOMATON SAN JOSE PROTOSPIEL ROUNDUP
We are now at the end of my thoughts on the San Jose Protospiel. I talked about my thoughts on how it went with Trolltem Poles and Kingdoms of Immacus, and now I'm going to talk about how it went for me personally, the details of all the things that happened on my journey (sidebars and all), and how I felt it went for the company.
DAY1: Thursday, October 10th
The Lyft Experience (side bar)
My flight was set for what I thought was 2:40 p.m., but it turned out that was the return flight, and my flight really left at 2:00 p.m. In my rush, I forgot my boarding pass, which I had just printed (ugh). The Lyft driver was super nice, and we talked about airline companies, life in San Diego, and the impending changes to Lyft drivers being categorized as employees instead of contractors in California.
The Lyft driver was not too happy about the changes, as he was irritated with the government coming in and "ruining a good thing." As we got to talking a little bit more, he was telling me how the money he has been making has slowly dropped down from what he was making when he originally started, and that he isn't making a ton of money, but the 80 hours he puts in a week is covering his bills. As much as I can empathize with not wanting the government coming in and upending the way you're used to doing business., I couldn't help but think that the government didn't reduce the money you are making now and they certainly didn't tell you to work 80 hours.
Now, I don't know what is hyperbole and what is real, but I do know 80 hours of work to just cover your bills is not healthy and not sustainable. There are plenty of red flags there that are hinting that maybe Lyft shouldn't be a full-time gig. It should be a gig right? Something you do on the side to subsidize your income, but I feel this all falls into this broader issue of underemployment and the jobs available to people not being the best quality jobs. We said our goodbyes. Five stars, 20% tip.
The San Diego Airport Experience (side bar)
I'll start with saying I really don't care for airports, security, and flying. Every bounce, hiccup, and noise on the flight makes me so anxious. If I can, I'll drive 8-10 hours as opposed to flying; however, the gas prices are so insane it didn't make sense to drive this time around.
This was my first time flying solo, and once I got inside, I reprinted my boarding pass, checked my luggage, and went through security. I felt proud, I did it all by myself! Now I know it's an American past time to hate on the TSA, but I'll rant for only a second here. Their rules are so obscure with how you are supposed to put your stuff in the gray tubs. First of all, my laptop doesn't fit in them, so it hangs out, and then they try to force it in their tub. It won't fit guys, get over your stupid tubs. Secondly, I'm tired of the rude paranoia of the TSA, but I'm sure everyone else is, so moving on.
I was starving, so I went to one of my favorite fast food places - Jack in the Box. In the airport, they have these nice automated kiosks so you can place your order without having to interact with a human, that sounded like something right up my Atomic-Automaton-alley. The problem is the humans interacting with these things are dreadfully slow, the same issue happens at the self-checkout at grocery stores. Why are people so slow? WHY?! I just want my ultimate cheeseburger :(. I'm hungry.
Humans aren't as efficient as they need to be to buy their own groceries, pump their own gas, or order their own Jumbo Jacks. There was a chimp study that showed they were better than humans at memory tasks here. Though this experiment is about memory, what I gathered is yeah, humans do suck at getting things thrown at them on screens and pushing digital buttons! I think the issue with all these systems is the output requires too much input from the customer. For grocery stores, skip the bagging area warning nonsense and let the machine read the cards in the beginning of the transaction and not ask for payment type when you know it is stuck inside you machine! For picking your food, if you're going to let people customize, which drags down the whole process. Make the kiosks a ton of tethered tablets and let people drag it off to the side somewhere out of the way for other more nimble humans. I watched this lady for literally 10 minutes select and deselect through these menus upon menus to get her order done. Make it easy guys come on, we suck at this stuff.
Arrival in San Jose and the Lyft Experience Part II (side bar)
When I arrived in San Jose, I totally missed the fact that the Lyft folk don't pick you up where regular folk pick you up. This caused my Lyft driver to be a little irritated with me. I found him fortunately, loaded up my stuff, and got in the car to find it smelled horrible inside. This is the first time I've been in a Lyft where the car smelled, but it was an older car, and it definitely smelled of sun-rotted sewage. Thankfully he kept his windows down, and we talked about Northern California's utilities turning it's power off on people here. He dropped me off, I let out the breath I was holding, and ran into the Hyatt Centric where I was staying.
The Hyatt Centric Mountain View Impressions
The Hyatt Centric is this nice boutique hotel with all kinds of fancy amenities. They have a nice restaurant called Fairchild's in the lobby as well as a nice bar. The place was super nice and you could tell by the price tag for each night. Fortunately, I got a group rate from the convention, but it still was expensive (still worth it). On my floor there was this inspirational sign.
In my bedroom, there was another sign that said "if you're looking for a sign, here it is." I know that sign is probably in every room, but the two signs together made me feel a little more confident as to whether I should be there or not. I felt good about my journey, good job Hyatt! Besides the impostor syndrome, my anxiety of the unknown was really kicking in. I've always been an anxious person, but I was pretty excited to meet another designer that night. My flight to San Jose was delayed, so by the time I arrived, I only had time to shower before I met up with the designer and his wife that I would be sharing the convention table with for the weekend.
Boy was I nervous and a little awkward for like 3 minutes before my nerves calmed and the waitress brought us some drinks. I had 3 Peach Old Fashioneds, which was a mistake. I should have stuck with 2. His name was Rick and his wife's name was Mary, and I felt so lucky to have been paired with them. They had been to several conventions before, so it felt great to be around people who had some experience, and they were super nice!
Rick, Mary, and I talked about our games, what we do for our full-time jobs, and our thoughts on life, the community, and everything in between. It was a great experience, and I really left the meetup that night feeling much better about the event in general. Oh I also had some Poke nachos that were great. If you're ever out there, orders those, I enjoyed them :).
DAY 2: Friday, October 11th
Why did I have that 3rd Peach Old Fashioned!? (side bar)
I woke up with the most ungodly headache. Maybe it was exacerbated by the lack of food I had the day before, not drinking much at all anymore, or all the travel, but I haven't had a headache like that in forever. Two Excedrine, a Rockstar, and a prayer later, the headache still wouldn't budge. The view was nice though.
Playing Masters of Charms
Friday morning was slow since people had work, and I knew from the Facebook group that a lot of designers wouldn't be there. This left us with not many players to play the games, so I played Rick's game Masters of Charms. It is a set collection game where you move along the board as a gnome and collect gems. I really enjoyed it. The game has a clean aesthetic and it has some thinky meat to it. Rick asked me his thoughts, and I gave him some ideas that were floating in my head as I played, and I was surprised he implemented one immediately and started playing with the new tweak.
After playing Rick's game it became clear to me that I really enjoy the development process of games and trying to find ways to improve or sand down a game's rough edges. Rick's game was super clean, but it did trigger that feeling I get when I develop and iterate with my games. I find after my husband and I play a game, we start to pick it a part and see what can be improved on or what should be cut. Jacob has a great sense of what's fun and what's not, so his opinion has been super helpful in the tweaking process.
Playing Trolltem Poles
After Masters of Charms, we played a game of Trolltem Poles. I go over the details of this here, but the gist of it is Rick confirmed things I was already thinking about changes to the game. After the exchange with Trolltem Poles, it was clear to me I am thinking about my games in the right way, and if my gut says change something, I need to go with my gut. Now the in the weeds stuff I come up with and Jacob vetoes, he is right about that stuff. I trust the veto. The most important thing I got from playing with Rick was confirmation I wasn't a hack, I'm on the right track, and other designers are thinking the same thing I am thinking. It's really hard as a solo dev to bounce ideas off yourself, so it was so refreshing to bounce ideas off of Rick.
Attack of the Unstable Unicorn Clones
I'm just going to come out and say it, I do not like Unstable Unicorns. I played this game with my family, and what should have been a 30 minute game dragged to an hour-and-a-half slog because of all the take-that. The amount of Neigh cards is infuriating. What was more infuriating was playing other people's games that copied these mechanics, which triggered the torture from that initial Unstable Unicorn game.
Now I feel there is a place for all these games, but they are not my can of Rockstar. I know this was a thing when Cards Against Humanity came out, the market was inundated with clones trying to cash in on game's success. I'm not sure if that is what is going on here or other designers are drawn to making these games, but I got sucked into 2 of these, and I left the table screaming internally.
We Don't Want What You're Selling
Most people come to these events with a sell sheet. I had one of those, but I also had a brochure that had my mission statement and the games I was showcasing over the weekend. No matter how much I encouraged people to take them, I got weird side-eyes about the whole thing. I think people thought I was selling them something. It probably didn't help that there were vendors trying to get you to use their services, but come on guys, I don't want to take all these brochures home with me lol. It was odd, but I have plenty of brochures for the next event.
Designer Meet and Greet
In the evening, there was a designer meet and greet at a nearby restaurant. We came a little late, and missed most people, but I did get to meet Kevin, who is one person behind the game Banshee. The game is hard to search for unfortunately, but the link should help. I didn't get to play Banshee unfortunately, but I did watch it in action and go over the rulebook. Kevin was nice enough to let me take a pen to it and give some editorial suggestions. The game is interesting, and definitely worth a look. I had a big beer, which really helped
Closing up Shop
Once closing time came along, Jacob and I packed up shop and went to dinner with Rick and Mary. We had Japanese food, but for the life of me I forget the name of the place. Anywho, we talked about the day, games, and some politics, which usually ends badly, but it was all good. We called it a night, and I spent a few hours before bed contemplating Trolltem Poles, gaming, my life choices, and all my insecurities. My headache finally went away.
DAY 3: Saturday, October 12th
Let's Get Rolling
With the headache gone, I was ready to start the day off fresh. The day before Rick started out the day, so I started out the day on Saturday. Some Kingdoms of Immacus was played and Trolltem Poles with some tweaks and everything went well. It was then time to move on and play some other designer's games.
Lean in, Sandberg Style
With each game I played, the advice I frequently gave designers was to lean in to their strengths. I felt like I was stuck on repeat, but it was the best advice I could give. The designers had solid designs, and they let noise get in the way of the things they were doing so well. You have this great theme and you even have your art, but your card frame doesn't reflect your theme, lean into your theme. You have this great mechanism but this noise doesn't add anything, lean into your mechanism. You have this fantasy vibe but you are shoehorning sci-fi lean in to what the game wants to be. Whatever the troubles, leaning in seemed to be the answer. I'm not sure if there is this fear of alienating people or not realizing the game needs that extra 10%, but it was a common thing I saw.
Teaching is Tiring
I didn't realize how tiring the teaching process was, and I found myself itching for swaps with my design partner. Since this was my first rodeo, I didn't feel too bad about cutting my table time down a little bit, and it was a good decision as I was able to interact with people without feeling exhausted. I do think I need an assistant for these events as sometimes I needed another body to round out player counts etc. It is also helpful for food and bathroom breaks. By the end of Saturday, I was beat, and I felt good about where Trolltem Poles was at. I knew what needed to be tweak, and another day of playtesting wouldn't change that.
Last Design Supper
This was the last full night I had with my table designer buddy, so my husband, Rick, his wife, and I went out to dinner. It was really nice, and we discussed gaming, the industry, and how the partners of designers cope with our eccentricities. After two days at the event, it became clear that the industry is stratifying even at the ground level. You have your hobbyists, your indie devs, and your triple A studios. Without naming names, there are also these professional shovelware companies, but I don't know where you put them on the spectrum. I know everyone likes to speculate on the board game bubble bursting, but I'm not so sure a burst will happen.
Not to speculate too much on this, but I feel the hobbyists will drop off once they realize the dev process isn't a get-rich-quick scheme. By hobbyist I don't mean people who work on games on the side of their day job, but tourists, who aren't really interested in game design, production, or running a board game company in general. Especially now that the bar seems to get higher every year, it will be less likely tourists will want to spend the time and energy on board games, leaving more space for real hobbyists, indie devs, and the triple A folk.
DAY 4: Sunday, October 13th
Diving Into New Waters
Jacob and I decided to spend most of this day playing other designer's games. We got several games in, and it was refreshing to see other designer's approaches to design, art, and mechanics, and to put on my developer hat and offer any constructive advice I was able to muster. There was one game in particular that I wanted to sign immediately if Atomic Automaton was in a place to take on another project, but this was not the time. Overall, every designer who took the effort to be at the event had a game that could be a commercial product if they followed the game through to the end, and I'm excited to see what happens to these projects.
Jacob, Rick, and Mary all had flights out before the event ended, so we packed up, said our goodbyes, and I stuck around to finish up the night solo. I was sad to see everyone go, but it felt like a good conclusion to the night to be with my thoughts. I played one more game before the event closed up and called it a wrap.
Day 5: Monday, October 14th
The Fun Ends and the Reflection Begins
I packed up all my stuff in the hotel, got some food, checked out, and made my way to the airport. As I checked into my flight, it turned out upgrading to first class was cheaper than checking my luggage, so I upgraded and enjoyed a nice first-class flight along with some complimentary champagne.
So here are my final thoughts on the event and my personal experience with the whole thing.
In the Land of Purell, Shake People's Hands (side bar)
There was hand sanitizer everywhere at the event, including my table, so there was no excuse not to shake someone's hand. I'm super neurotic, and I still managed to shake everyone's hand who took the time to play my game and give me feedback (spoiler alert, I didn't get sick). If you are adverse to this cultural interaction, find a way to pre and post Purell with a handshake as to not insult someone or wash your hands afterwards! I'm a biochemist, germs you're going to get from a handshake are not going to seep through your palms I promise you. They are going to make you sick if you start playing with your eyeballs or lick them after you shake that person's hand.
Despite the study mentioned here, most people I know are not slathering their palms with E. coli. Futhermore, fist bumping still transferred bacteria, just not as much, meaning the best way to avoid germs is avoiding all human interaction. Then there is the hygiene hypothesis stating that maybe this being clean stuff isn't all that good for us. Every day I surround myself with people who don't wash their hands after using the restroom and for kicks on the weekends, I work with kids that are sick, sneeze and cough at me, and pick their nose, and I manage to avoid their diseases by not breathing deeply after a violent sneeze and washing my hands. The cold-hard-facts of it all is unless you are wearing a face mask and a clean suit, which you can get here, (thanks Amazon) you're going to be exposed to germs, viruses, bacteria, etc. Of course you want to minimize this, but I promise you, the people making the most noise about this nonsense are the same people who are not wearing face masks and clean suits. Instead, they choose to go this weird germ elitist route where they don't want to be exposed to the source of it all and target the creature that has feelings and insecurities. Now of course there are always exceptions to this like compromised immune systems etc. but by now ya'll should know I'm talking about the normal distribution when I bring up things like this.
Shaking hands is what we do to signify a welcoming interaction or relationship, and if you can't manage a handshake or make up some excuse as to why you don't want to, then you're being rude. Jerking back and then realizing you messed up and then deciding to fist bump is not a good save, just saying lol. If you went anywhere else in the world and refused to greet someone in the culturally approved way because of some quirk, you'd be rude, don't be rude.
Don't Give Me a Questionnaire
Some designers gave me a questionnaire at the end of their game, which really boxed in any insight I could give. They would have questions about what they were most concerned about, but not the issues that I noticed being the most glaring things that needed to be addressed. Mainly these were mechanics-driven questions, but designers needed help with meshing theme, addressing art direction, or finding out who their market was. The best advice I can give designers is to watch your players, see what they are confused about or where they are struggling - watch their expressions. After the game you can ask them leading questions, but leave the questions open-ended to create a dialog about the game. Finally, end it with asking if there was anything not covered they want to talk about. Take the insight that is valuable and ditch the rest.
Cutting Through the Noise
I really wasn't feeling the board-gaming-community-as-extended-family vibe everyone talks about from the designers/event veterans, but this was my first dip into the waters. No one was rude, just apathetic/disinterested. Perhaps my view was tainted by the great connection I had with Rick and his wife, but I had to pry conversation out of designers, and no one besides Rick and one other person at the event that was not a player asked me about who I was, what I was showing, or what I was even doing there at the event. I was literally mid-sentence with another designer as another person walked up, asked the designer how he was doing, and then said designer walked away from me to continue this conversation with the other person. I didn't even get to finish my sentence. What was that? And this was a reoccurring thing. The majority of the times I tried to initiate with a designer, I felt dismissed or outright ignored. Then I realized there were some well established cliques among the locals.
Now it makes sense to stick to what you know, but as an outsider coming in, I didn't feel very welcomed. However, not to put the blame on the other designers, I really feel the set up of the event was very casual and informal, which is nice to an extent, but it didn't give me as a newcomer what I needed from the event. I wanted to see a welcome ceremony or a getting to know you mixture or something the night before or in the morning before the event started. There was a designer dinner, but it was smack dab in the busiest time of the night. I would definitely like to offer some suggestions for future events, but as of today, I have yet to see anything from the organizer as far as a thank you for being there and throwing money at the event (a community manager said something, but this was after designers had already thanked the event on Facebook) or a survey for improvements. I think the organizers did a great job with hosting, food, handing out games, and making it a fun event, but there is nothing wrong with a little more formalization and encouraging designers to support one another. Like I said, that's just noise from what was a fantastic event.
Moving Forward for Atomic Automaton
Like I said, I feel this event was not only great for my games and myself, but it was great for the company as well. Now that the Protospiel is behind me, it's time to focus on finishing up some loose ends on the business side of things. Aside from that, I want to work primarily on web development and company exposure by putting myself out there and talking about what I am doing. I've started the process on Instagram, and I'm trying to share more art and what I am doing. Though I was never really secretive about anything, I am definitely making the effort to say hi to folk online, helping other designers, and participating in a game designer mentorship program to help others. It's important to me to help other people since rising tides lift all boats.