GMT Games: State of the Union (Part 1)

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As I mentioned in last month’s Customer Update, GMT is now growing at a pace that is significantly faster than ever before in our history. Although I don’t pretend to understand precisely the mix of factors behind our exploding growth, what I believe is that we are benefitting from a sort of “perfect storm”:

  • Popular games and game series’ that are standing the test of time and continuing to sell well as they age
  • A growing corps of creative and skilled designers and design teams who continue to hone their craft and bring us innovative new games
  • An increasing awareness of our games across the broader game market due to a core group of very popular strategy games as well as the increased customer reach fostered by our expansion into digital products

Of course, these synergies are leveraged by the power of the internet, and more specifically, an increasingly varied and eclectic customer base full of people who enjoy our games and are willing and able as never before to spread the good word about them online through the powerful  tools of social media, blogs, YouTube videos, and mass-gamer sites like BoardgameGeek.

GMT LogoIn this series of GMT Games State of the Union articles, I’m going to take a look at our games, our design teams, our strategies to increase our ability to embrace and foster growth, and finally the challenges that growth is bringing and how we intend to meet and overcome them. For this Part 1, then, let’s talk about our games.

The games are the product that we ultimately trade for your gaming dollars. Their quality is paramount. The designers of these games (we’ll look at them in detail in our next installment) and their teams are our capacity to continue to create future products. Because of this, they are possibly the most important cog in the GMT machine (although all of our team members are very important) because without them, we would lose the capacity to provide quality designs to our customers. And that’s really what it’s all about; putting consistently high-quality game designs on our customers’ game tables at a pace that we can handle and that meets but does not exceed our customers’ demand.

Now let’s look at the sales of our games in a bit more detail, as we examine where GMT Games stands today.

A GMT Weekend at the Warehouse with Örjan Ariander (April 2015)

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The GMT Weekend at the Warehouse offers gamers an opportunity to play their favorite games amongst the shelves of thousands of GMT games.  For me, the best part is the opportunity to meet designers and other notables that created and love the games.  Now that I am designing Liberty or Death it gives me the rare opportunity to meet face to face with those working with me.  COIN Series Developer Mike Bertucelli and I enjoyed playing head to head, trading smack talk like we have known each other for years, all the while working the kinks out of the game.   Gene Billingsley is the master facilitator, and in fifteen minutes with him I complete 6 things on my to-do list.  This year was a rare treat with Mark Simonitch and Tony Curtis in attendance.  Mark and I talked about the Republic of Texas and he gave me advice (and a deadline) on working with the artists engaged in Liberty or Death’s production: Terry Leeds and Charlie Kibler.  Tony helped me nail down piece types and colors – the final production version is going to be fantastic! But, I must say the highlight was spending time with the Bot Master – Örjan Ariander visiting from Stockholm, Sweden!

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Some of the GMT/COIN Brain Trust – Series Developer Mike Bertucelli, GMT President Gene Billingsley, Bot-Master Örjan Ariander and Liberty or Death Designer Harold Buchanan

Inside Our Digital Game Strategy (Part I)

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We’re rolling out our new Leaping Lemmings for iPad app this week, with thanks to the good people at GameTheory, who programmed the app. Thanks to all of you who have helped us by downloading the app and giving us your feedback already. To everyone else, please DO support us by downloading the app – it’s a whopping $2.99 – and let us know what you think of our latest digital product.

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While we’re thinking about the fledgling digital side of GMT, I want to give you guys an update on where we are and what we’re planning as we begin to really get rolling with our digital games. As befits a blog called “InsideGMT,”  I want give you all a look deeper inside our digital effort, basically “how Gene thinks about this stuff.” As you might imagine, that includes good, bad, even ugly, but I’m not going to hold back because I want you guys to understand the challenges we face as well as the opportunities that are before us.

Early Efforts – In Search of Good Partners

First off, I think it’s important, in business as well as in life, to understand what you do well and where you could use some help. At GMT, what we do well, due to  some outstanding teams of designers, developers, testers, artists, and support staff, is designing and producing  boardgames that our customers enjoy playing. That’s our core competency and, over 24 years, has become our identity in the game marketplace. Every person we bring onboard to work with us – from those early days of “just Jewel and me,” to bringing on Rodger and later Mark, Tony, and Andy, and all of the designers and their teams – every one of them brings their considerable skills to the GMT family for the purpose of helping us continue to create games that bring enjoyment to our customers.

What Do You Want to Know About Falling Sky?

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NoRetreatItaly-TabVolko and Andrew Ruhnke, the designers of Falling Sky our newest COIN Series game to hit the P500 list, are preparing an article for you guys that gives you a look inside the design. Gallic Wars COIN AvailForces (Rome)In what is a first for InsideGMT, they’ve asked me to involve you guys in the process of article creation.

Volko and Andrew want to tailor their article to give you the information you’re most interested in. To facilitate that, we are requesting that you guys give us your questions, input, and comments in advance.

So here’s your chance to help shape the Falling Sky article. Please leave us a comment with your questions, suggestions, and curiosities about the game.

Thanks much for helping Volko and Andrew craft a Falling Sky article that will give you the information that most interests you!

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What Does it Take to Have Your Game Accepted by GMT? (Part II)

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As I noted last time, I asked Andy Lewis for his input after he got home from WBC, and he sent me enough good information that I wanted to just devote a whole section to Andy’s view and process. I’ll add a part III later with some more specifics, especially about designing games for existing GMT systems. – Gene

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Andy Lewis, VP of Acquisitions & Development

Andy Lewis, VP of Acquisitions & Development

Sorry for being away during the first part. I do want to give you guys some information about how I look at design submissions, because. as Gene noted in Part I,  my process is a little different than his.

Regarding where I can best evaluate your submissions: Yes, I would like to see your game at a convention, but my useful time at them is limited. You see, WBC is my main vacation for the year – yes it is a working vacation – so you need to arrange something for Monday or Tuesday otherwise I’ll look if I have free time. Just please be aware the zombie stare doesn’t mean I’m uninterested; I’m just exhausted from gaming all week. Prezcon in February is another option, but I run the booth there 10-6 so again zombie stares will come with the review. The best opportunity is at GMT East in March in White Plains. I am the host and run the “store” there, but have more free time and less zombie stares.

Mass Shipping Day at GMT HQ

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Deb and Letitia

Deb and Letitia

At last, today is the day we ship 2,100+ copies of Fire in the Lake and 1,200+ copies of Won by the Sword to our P500 customers. Oh, and mounted maps for four different games, as well! So I thought I’d give you guys a brief glimpse at the mix of organization and chaos that is our warehouse on “mass ship day.”

Elizabeth and Savannah

Elizabeth and Savannah

Everything starts with the office ladies, who have prepared and organized orders and shipping labels in advance of the big day. Without the hard work of these ladies, ship day would be a disaster.

What Does it Take to Have Your Game Accepted by GMT? (Part I)

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Hi everyone!

We got a bunch of feedback and questions in response to the “Anatomy of a Game Design: The Gallic Wars” article that encouraged us to give you guys more insight into how we accept new game designs. Some of the questions came from existing or  aspiring designers or friends of guys with a pet design project, some from customers  just looking for a deeper understanding of our processes. I hope this article will be beneficial to all of you.

More than an Idea:

Before I get into the details, I should say clearly that “We do not accept game IDEAS.” There are many creative people in the gaming world, and frankly, ideas are a-dime-a-dozen. So we generally won’t even look at a “design proposal” that doesn’t include a functioning prototype, at least not from a new designer. If you want us to accept your game, take the time to build a prototype, then test and refine it. It doesn’t have to be perfect when you bring it to us, but it does have to be an actual functioning game, with rules and pieces.

The Gatekeepers:

So, once you have a prototype, to whom do you submit a game if you want GMT to evaluate it?

Andy Lewis, VP of Acquisitions & Development

Andy Lewis, VP of Acquisitions & Development

Andy Lewis and I do virtually all of the new game evaluation and approval here at GMT. Andy lives in Delaware and gives up most of his vacation time to attend several large East Coast Conventions each year, including WBC, where he is on the board. I live in California, and run a couple of GMT Weekends at the Warehouse here at our HQ each year (April and October). I also attend the Consimworld Expo in Tempe, AZ, and occasionally conventions in LA or SF. So between us, we have at least half a dozen  opportunities per year to talk to designers and evaluate new games at a multi-day convention. For new designers, it usually takes one of us playing a physical copy of the game – often at one of those conventions – before we are willing to accept a game to add to our P500 list. There are rare cases when this isn’t true, and that’s usually because either Tony or Mark (who play a LOT of games and whose opinions Andy and I totally trust) have seen the game and know the designer and recommend we accept the game (This happened recently, actually, when Mark saw the Gallipoli 1915 game at a convention, was impressed, and came back and made the case to us to accept the game. Hey, if Mark likes it, I’m in!)

Happy 18th Birthday, Luke!

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Those of you who have been to a GMT Weekend at the Warehouse know that the Billingsley kids have been involved with GMT for most of their lives. Samantha, our oldest, was born six months after I created the first version of Silver Bayonet in 1990. Rachel came along two years later, and Luke in 1996. All of them worked at GMT during summers and sometimes on weekends from very early ages, and all have done virtually every job in the warehouse and many of the jobs  in the front office. Many of you have received packing slips signed by one of the Billingsley kids dating back to the late 1990s. They all grew up with GMT as the “family business” and are about as “Inside GMT” as you can get. Even now, they stay plugged into what’s going on with GMT (they watched the TS Kickstarter campaign with great interest this summer) and continue to offer good suggestions and feedback on how we’re running the business.  Most of all, though, they all PLAY our games!

They’ve played a bunch of our games over the years, starting with a road trip with the girls about 15 years ago to meet Reiner Knizia in a San Francisco hotel and play games all day when Andy and I were first looking at some of his games. And they are fiercely competitive (must be from their mom’s side of the family! 🙂 ) Samantha owns family bragging rights as the only sibling to have, partnered with dad, won Mike Lam’s ACES Down in Flames tournament. The other two have made valiant attempts, but so far 2nd place is the best finish for Rachel and Luke. Besides Down in Flames, the girls mostly like our more Euro titles – we STILL take Ivanhoe with us on every family vacation. Rachel plays a mean game of Labyrinth, though, and reminded me just last week that she beat me the last time we played. Luke, though, likes both Euros and (thank you, Lord!) WARGAMES! He and I have played a lot of games of Combat Commander over the years, and he’s had a friendly grudge match going with John Leggat over various Combat Commander battlefields for years now (John, you have been a tremendous positive influence on Luke over the years. Thank you!). He also likes Labyrinth and the COIN series games, and this year discovered he liked to play Chess, so we’ve had some fun over the chessboard, as well.

My "little playtester" got big!

My “little playtester” got big!

This summer, in between a lot of travelling, Luke has been helping me get Mr. President ready to hand off to the test teams. I always knew he was a good gamer, but this summer he has really impressed me with his attention to detail. He has an editor’s eye and reminds me of Volko in terms of organization and detail skills (that’s about the highest praise I can give), so he has been very valuable to me with his work on Mr President this summer.

Falling Sky: Anatomy of a P500 Addition

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On  a day when we added three new games to our P500 list, I wanted to post something here on our blog to advertise the additions. But the more I thought about it, adding a “We just added three new games to the P500 list!” post here, after we’ve already posted information on all three games across all of our social media and in today’s Customer E-Mail Update, seemed a little redundant and not really in keeping with our “InsideGMT” theme for this blog. So I thought I’d try something a little different – a post about our process, and how one of these three games came to the P500 list.  So here goes. I hope you guys find this interesting.

By way of background, all of our designers and design teams know that I routinely add games to our P500 list near the end of each month, to coincide with the release of our Customer E-Mail Update. So as games get close to “ready” for the P500 list, there’s a lot of preparatory conversation back and forth with those designers and teams about whether their game is going to be ready for the list this month. For the games that are going to be ready, the designer or team sends me text for the P500 writeup and an exact component list. I then send the component list to Tony Curtis, who figures out the retail and P500 price points for those components, and the text  to Rodger MacGowan or my daughter Rachel Billingsley, who use it to make cool banners for each of the new P500 games. Meanwhile, I create the P500 page itself on our website. This all usually happens about a week before we launch the new P500s near month-end, but there have been times when a writeup came in at the 11th hour and we decided to go with it, when Rodger and Tony did REALLY quick turns to help get the game ready for launch. (It’s always nice to work with professionals – guys who stay cool when things get hectic.)

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So let’s talk about how we came to add  Falling Sky to the list today. Usually, I know about games in development for months, sometimes years, before they go on our P500 list. But Volko REALLY surprised me with this one. About a month ago, as I was on a long drive home from Stanford Medical Center (fun with shoulders and back!), Volko called and told me, rather casually, that he had a new game in the COIN series, and that it was almost ready for P500!! What?!?! That was stunning but awesome news to me, as Volko and I had just a couple months back laid out an overall strategic plan for the next couple years of COIN P500 additions, and I thought I had a good handle on what was coming. But an ANCIENTS COIN series game!?! Oh, MAN!!!!  (Given that about half of our customer base loves ancient games, the “sales guy” part of me was drooling at  the potential appeal of COIN doing Ancients.) Wow! It was a bonus that Volko said it was a co-design with his son Andrew, a young man I think very highly of, and one of the savviest COIN series players I’ve met. I think this father-son design team approach is just really cool. And I love seeing younger designers cutting their teeth in the hobby, especially with games that say “GMT” on the box.

So, after discussing all the details and weighing pros and cons (ok, there weren’t that many cons!), we decided to move Falling Sky to the front of the COIN series line and move back a couple other games that we thought we’d be adding later this summer (At least one of those you’ll probably still see on the list later this year.)  The rest of the process went smoothly, and the rest of our team was as excited as I was to see this evolution in the COIN series.

Why do I want this game on our P500 list? OK, beyond the “doh! Volko!” aspect, I think this period is PERFECT for COIN! Also, I think that this is going to open up some potential COIN co-designers’ minds to other non-modern possibilities for the COIN series and that we may see some applications of this system to periods and situations that Volko and I never envisioned when we first discussed the possibility of this series several years ago.

If you’d like to read more information about Falling Sky  or place a P500 order, please visit our Falling Sky P500 page. Thanks!

Enjoy the games!

Gene

 

Welcome to the InsideGMT blog!

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Hello Everyone!

Welcome to our new InsideGMT blog! The purpose of this blog is to get you guys more current information on the projects our designers are working on, and to give you more peeks “behind the curtain” at the people and products that make up GMT Games.

So, several times a week, you’ll see a mix of posts from me about various happenings InsideGMT, Guest blogs from our designers on various projects, interviews with GMT team members, and general news. We’ll also utilize this blog’s “Upcoming Events” feature to keep you guys informed about which shows and game conventions our team members will be attending. And we’re going to do our best to give you more frequent updates on progress with our P500 designs from designer and developer updates as well.

I want to invite you guys to get involved with this blog. Feel free to leave comments about things  you’d like to see in future blog posts as well as your general feedback to what we post. If there’s a feature you’d like to see us add to the blog, feel free to suggest it. And if some of you would like to send me Guest blogs to post with your perspective on GMT or one of our games or any aspect of our operations, feel free, and I’ll work them into the general posting plan.

I hope that you find this InsideGMT blog will enhance your enjoyment of GMT Games and draw you closer to the “Circle of Friends” who create and produce them. I look forward to reading your feedback. Until next time….

Enjoy the games!

Gene