The Usual Flak

Well it was always going to happen. Say I’m doing something and it’s (allegedly) simply a clone of Mordheim, BattleFleet Gothic, Epic, etc. I’m talking, of course, about the comments on TGN about me self-publishing. It’s a shame, really, that people don’t think further than copying GW because it shows up their lack of knowledge of the plethora of games available and the creative process in general. If I was going to copy a game (which would be dull and boring anyway, but if…) it wouldn’t be one of GWs. Most of GW’s designs are old and clunky – why would I copy that? Whilst you can still have fun playing them, they are hardly slick and well-honed. On the contrary, every time I talk to a 40K or Warhammer player they launch into a diatribe about how broken the whole thing is. Personally, I couldn’t say. All I can do is repeat what I’ve heard. I do know that I had lots of fun playing the games for many years in older editions, but the more I broadened my knowledge of what was out there the more I saw them as the old fashioned and somewhat inelegant and cumbersome beasts they are. I still like the backgrounds, I just think that the games bear little or no resemblance to them and do them a disservice.

Perhaps it’s just getting older, but I’ve got very little tolerance for slow and clunky games any more. I want things to be slick, clean and elegant. When I play a game I’d like to be thinking about my tactics and what the other players are up to, not trying to work out what the rules are actually trying to say. This, of course, is also what I aim for in my own games too.

As I have said before, copying other people’s work is just boring, so I don’t do it. However, looking at a genre and deciding that there isn’t something that really suits me in it is entirely different. In that case you’re intentionally NOT copying people as you think they’ve made mistakes. If you didn’t why not play their game? It’s already there. It would be so much easier. I’ve got way more ideas I want to work on than time to do them in, as does pretty much every creative person I know whether that be musicians, modellers, writers or whatever. Some people do copy other’s work, but within the industries I’ve worked in this is always seen as a demeaning and rubbish job, done simply for the cash (and generally because the people putting up the funding don’t want to take a risk).

Do I have a point today? Maybe.

I think what I’m talking around is that creative people would rather be creative than not. Expecting them to want to copy something is illogical and out of character. What creative people are generally trying to do is something better than what they’ve seen. They mostly look at a genre and think “nobody has really aced it here. I can do better”.

I’m also on (again) about the vast wealth of options that are out there. BGG lists 61,587 games today. Yes, you read that right, sixty thousand plus games. How many have you played or even heard of? What’s the odds that (a) GW did not do the first (or best) version of <insert whatever you like here>, and (b) there are games you would really enjoy that are just lurking out there waiting to be discovered?

Saying that a new game from me or anyone else is just a copy of X from GW is a tired and lazy comment and I really wish people would move on because frankly I’m a bit bored of it. Am I being naive? Probably. That’s what I always get told when I want things to be better – when I want people to think a bit more before they say silly things. Hey ho.

All of which actually reminds me of another thought I had about GW. I’ve kept you long enough though. I’ll write that up for tomorrow.


PS: apologies for being grumpy this morning. I’m having a series of  very annoying real world issues to deal with and you all know how that goes. I’ve now got to waste an hour writing another email explaining in words on one syllable (for the fifth time) a concept that a 6 year old could grasp. Compared to those cretins, the above complaint is trivial. 

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61 Responses to The Usual Flak

  1. Chin up, Jake. There are always going to be the idiots who want to drag you down to their level: “I haven’t written the perfect game, so *you* don’t get to do it either!”

    I’m one step ahead of you in the self-publishing stakes, having just released my first proper game, MechaWar, as the first property from One Pound Wargames. I’m actually working on a fantasy skirmish game at the moment, with a similar ethic to your vision for Eternal War. But I’m sure yours will be better, underpinned as it is by your considerable experience. Mine will be cheaper, though. 😀

    Given your plans, I’d be interested in your thoughts of Song of Blades and Heroes, given that its core system has already been adapted to a whole wealth of other settings, environments and times. For my part, I’m really excited about Eternal War. I love new games, and ones I can buy online, direct from the authors, in PDF form are my favourite sort. If they have an author whose work I already respect and trust, all the better!

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Will mine be better? That all depends on who’s deciding. I think mine will suit me very well, which is a major reason to do it. I hope that others will like it too, but nothing suits everyone, and that’s cool.

      I’ve not played the Song of… series, though I know it’s well regarded. The bits I saw of it didn’t quite allow me the flexibility and options I wanted and I’d already been working on EB for years by that point anyway, so I just ploughed on 😉

      I’m very pleased to see people like Ganesa Games doing well and would be happy to be as successful. Given the inexpensive nature of gaming in general, and coupled with the magpie nature of gamers, I don’t see why we couldn’t have quite a few of this sort of thing.

      Best of luck with MechaWar!

  2. When I saw the article go up on TTGN I had a little bet with myself as to how soon it would take somebody to make that sort of comment. I lost by the way, it was far quicker than I thought it would be. I just chuckle at those sorts of gamer though, they’re the ones missing out on trying other things and seeing games that are a bit different. In short they’re the idiots missing out, not you or I. Really we should pity them and there terribly bland tastes. 😛

    I’ve got out games like Claustrophobia before and had people say “oh its just medieval Space Hulk” and walk away. I even had somebody ask me why I was a D&D Adventure game as it was a poor clone of Warahmmaer Quest. GW has it fair share of blinkered fans, like any market dominant brand would. I’ve personally never got the whole brand loyalty thing, if something is good I’m playing it no matter what companies logo is on the front.

  3. Hum_Con says:

    There does seem to be a group of gamers who seem to think that if Games Workshop have ever produced a game that is anything even vaguely like it then no-one is allowed to do it ever. It’s stupid both because Games Workshop simply cannot claim to be the originator of every possible game genre and also because it assumes the single most important feature of any game is originality. As though only a simulation of chickens trying to catch balloons in a bucket of custard is acceptably original these days.

  4. Doug says:

    I’m partial to Penny Arcade’s assessment:
    Creating the world’s most famous sliced bread doesn’t mean you invented it or that anyone else with the same product copied you, but that won’t stop people claiming otherwise…

  5. Sometimes you’ll find the best “new” game at the back of forgotten closet or stained and buried in an old basement. That’s the most amazing thing about games. Not even including the horizon of new ones ( thank you kickstarter ) there is already so much treasure to behold.

    I like to thing we are entering a grand era of grand exploration, piracy and adventure on the high sea’s of tabletop gaming. What I am fully certain of is that if you bury some treasure, plenty of people will want to dig it up.

  6. Douglas says:

    I started Skirmish-gaming because I heard what Song of Blades and Heroes was — a table-top battle game with 4-5 figures per side and six-sided dice. This is exactly what I was looking for – a manageable hobby. But I didn’t start with SoBaH because I was initially put off by the low-production values in the publications. Instead, having been a Warhammer enthusiast in my teenage years, I bought Warhammer Historical’s ‘Legends of the High Seas’ and ‘Gladiator’, and Foundry’s ‘Tribes of Legend’ (designed by yourself of course), all of which have very high production values in the books. Having learned how to play those games, I was very interested to learn how other systems worked, so I went back to SoBaH and I think it is brilliant. However, I am always looking for new skirmish-level systems to learn, as each one I’ve played so far has had its great strengths, but also weaknesses. SoBaH is fun, fast and simple, but doesn’t take into account different kinds of weapons (at least in its early incarnations) and I’m not so keen on its rules for models interacting with scenery. Legends of the High Seas has more detail on scenery-interaction and takes into account different types of weapons, but the move-shoot-fight turn system is slow and cumbersome.

    When a new skirmish ruleset comes along (particular from a designer that I respect and whose previous work I enjoy) offering fresh ideas, rather than accuse you of copying previous designers, I welcome it because I *want* to see what can be done in terms of innovation. If Eternal Battle turns out to be competely awesome, and if the time-periods I’m interested in are covered, then I may completely convert to it. Don’t be discouraged by nay-sayers, Jake — any gamer worth their salt should be welcoming your proposals.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      I am something of an omnivore when it comes to reading rules, and even though I keep trying to slim down my collection it does seem to be rather large. Mind you, I used to buy even more than I do now.

      Design is always a balance between detail and abstraction, between playability, speed and “accuracy”. Is it a better game with more differentiation? Is it more realistic? The first is personal taste and the second is somewhat debatable and hard to prove. This is why I tend to talk in terms of character or flavour of a period rather than “realism”. What do the memoirs of the time say? What do the contemporaries of these events think are important considerations and differentiations? Typically, most period accounts do not differentiate between, say, types of sword, or only break them down into one or two sub classes. Many games have far more subtle grades of distinction, and this allows a different style of game to be played, but is it right, accurate or even relevant? Who knows? Neither is right or wrong, they’re just different styles and you should play what you prefer. Interestingly, my own taste has changed quite a bit over the years. The detail I used to revel in seems now to be largely irrelevant, and to cloud the really important and interesting issues. But that’s just me.

  7. Reading your blog — even without playing anything you’ve designed although I’ve read some of the rules — I am guessing that you simply are a different kind of person than many of those attracted to miniatures gaming. Firstly, it seems to me that many tabletop gamers are very strongly kinesthetic and secondly somewhat visual; on the other hand there is less cerebral-ness or interest in abstract deep analysis than, for example in boardgame or even CCG gamers. This naturally means a certain shallowness of communication. “Yeah, I dunno about Malifaux or Warmachine, it may be these are modern or whatever but I don’t care about the models much.”

    Secondly, I guess it is kind of natural for humans for the instinct to belong to a group to outweigh any movement towards individuation. “I dunno about these strange games of yours on the Internet but Games Workshop has a store downtown and lots of people go there so it must be good.”

    If there’s any morale to the above, it’s the realization that it is impossible to change other people, better focus on those people (and information channels) that might be more receptive to your products.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Whilst you may be right and GW as McDonalds has some credibility, it would be a shame to abandon a communication medium just because some folk were like that. Gamers are (mostly) human, and as prone as any to inertia and laziness. Many will take the obvious thing on the high street and stick with it because it’s easy, as you say. However, as with McDonalds, number of customers does not necessarily guarantee the best eating / gaming experience.

      I also think you’re right that tabletop gamers are a related but different crowd to board gamers and CCG players. There’s overlap, obviously, but they are a different balance of similar traits. More visual? I’m not sure. Try selling a CCG with poor or no art and see how far it gets. I suspect, not very far. I also suspect it’s not been tried by any major company if at all. Hmmm, maybe that’s another project to experiment with.

      • Ben says:

        It goes further than the visual appeal and into genre/setting for the appeal to gamers of all types of games. Take the same game and dress it up as a WWI fighter ace game or a Star Wars spaceship battle game and you’ll attract different people based on their interests even though it’s the same game. I’ve had people refuse to play Ancient Greek-based board games but be chomping at the bit to play Cold War era board games even though there was little fundamental difference between them.

  8. tornquistd says:

    First to already be accused of copying GW is ridiculous but it bites because it throws rubbish on your product even before you produce it. I have found that people that throw rubbish are put off if you make them put up or shut up. I bet if they are asked to write and publish a game they would shut up quick or copy a GW game (not kidding I would expect it). You can put them off by asking about the games they wrote or are writing.

    I think your high personal standards and many years of continuous improvement searching for better game designs sets you apart from many game designers out there. It is interesting that the hobby environment has changed so much with so many choices outside GW and still people use GW to benchmark. While GW produces some figures I like all the GW rules I have are gathering dust and the variety of quality figures from non GW sources is growing at an astonishing rate. I don’t have to trash GW I just have to go with the best value and I find myself in a non GW world. However best value does include your work. 🙂

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Thanks Don. Having spent many years as the person who had to read unsolicited game submissions, I have to say that I never saw a game that was worth publishing. I can’t even remember a game that had a particularly good idea. I always found that rather sad because they were often works of some care and attention and love, even if they were not up to publishable standards. There were some truly awful efforts though, many of which were essentially copies of existing games. I remember a story from a company that shall remain nameless. They kept being sent emails form this chap who said he had a brilliant game to sell them. When it arrived it was Warhammer. Exactly. They said that this was obviously not something they were going to publish, but that they’d be happy to look at a different game if he cared to submit one. Sure enough, the chap comes back a week later with exactly the same manuscript, but with the names of the stats changed…

      • tornquistd says:

        “Having spent many years as the person who had to read unsolicited game submissions” I do not envy your experience. Thinking about it makes my head hurt.

        I did spend some time looking at free rules. You could play them but the logical challenge I like was missing. I think rules should go beyond stats or all you are doing is rolling dice and how can you get satisfaction from that? I expect game design can be very rewarding because you can be clever and design a mechanic/rule that really works which would give you that “look at what I created” satisfaction.

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Creating something that works and which people enjoy is very satisfying. I suspect any musician or painter would say the same. I also enjoy the mental puzzle and the buzz when everything drops into place and the engine begins to purr…

      • Kristian says:

        Too many “Warhammer but with a D10” around … shades of “Fantasy Heartbreaker”:

        True story: An RPG company once announced they were open to submission from the public for their second “monster manual”.
        They were inundated with descriptions of half-elves, half-dwarves, half-orcs, elf-dwarves, half-mermen, …

  9. Lee says:

    Unfortunately there will always be those that compare everything to the few things they know. “Oh, a skirmish game, must be Mordheim” or “Oh, a sports game, here comes another Blood Bowl” In spite of their complaints of what they don’t like about the existing games they play, everything else the see is measured against them and seen as unworthy copies. I suppose this makes life a bit simpler and their collections more manageable than those of us who like to try new things. Lord only knows the depths of obscure games lingering in my basement and the cost associated therein. I suppose they dont want to be bothered with learning anything new so the simplest way to excuse it is to blame the game for a lack of originality. In the end, it’s their loss.

  10. wachinayn says:

    Don’t rule out the possibility that some of these people (maybe even most) only want to cause havoc and do damage.

    At least you can find joy on knowing that there’s no thing such as bad publicity.

  11. Mike Renegar says:

    Hi Jake,
    How would one contact you if they were interested in having you design a game 🙂

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Just like that 🙂

      I’ve sent you proper contact details.

      I will eventually put up a contact page with a form, but that’s not got to the top of the to do list yet…

  12. Jez Griffin says:

    Hi Jake,
    Been looking to contact you. I contributed the painted miniatures and 30+ pages writing, painting/ modelling guides for your Foundry rule sets, Tribes and God of Battles. Couldn’t find your contact details. If you would be happy to send them me I wouldn’t mind dropping you an e-mail.
    All the best.
    Jez Griffin.

  13. Buhallin says:

    I think a lot of these impressions come because of the number of people who have only known one thing, and simply refuse to look any deeper at anything else. I’ll admit that when I first heard about Dreadball, “Blood Bowl clone” was the first thing that popped into my head – but it took all of ten seconds looking at the actual game to know that wasn’t accurate, and that thought vanished to be replaced by “Wow, I like this WAY better than Blood Bowl.” I did check out the thread on TTGN, and couldn’t help but laugh at your troll. If “miniatures sports game” is derivative all by itself, just because it’s a sports game that uses miniatures, well… I guess we’ve got more derivatives than Wall Street these days.

    There are so very many good games out there, it’s sad that so many gamers seem to have something like Stockholm Syndrome. The same ones you mention as being unhappy with the systems will often defend them to their dying breath if you dare impugn them, and refuse to take a serious look at any other systems.

  14. Kevin Wesselby says:

    HI Jake.
    Just remember there are the people who will apreciate your games because you are a good game designer.Eg gamers who enjoy the experiance of playing a good game.

    And there are people who GW plc sell Citadel(tm) minatures and associated product to.
    Although not mutualy exclusive.
    Some realise they have invested so heavily into a game system, they dont want to acknowlede the faults of thier system.OR the benifits and advantages of another system.

    So its much easier to try to dismiss something new as ‘just a poor copy of a system they know of’.
    Rather than acknoledge the ONLY way to judge a rule set is to play it.(But that would credit the system with some merit which they dare not do..)

    (And the biggest irony is GW plc best selling game WH40k, is just a poorly defined and implemented WHFB clone…)

    Remember the people that matter are the ones who WILL support your games.
    And judging by the support for DKH and DB.You have nothing to worry about….

    • Quirkworthy says:

      I’m not worried Kevin, just foolishly hoping for slightly more grown up discussions sometimes. Like I said, I get called naive for such daftness, but I prefer to think of it as optimistic. People can and do change, though less often if nobody says something about the odd behaviour in the first place. I also feel a little sad for the people who don’t know what they’re missing.

      There used to be an advert (for beer IIRC), whose tagline was the rather lovely “There’s those that know and those that don’t know. And there’s those that don’t know they don’t know”.

  15. Monkey's Blood says:

    Yikes… I feel I should apologise for the GURPS reference on the previous thread. That was meant as an aide to my understanding rather than an accusation of unoriginality.

    I assume the GW game people are referencing is WAB? As if the idea of applying one set of rules to various periods is something that was invented purely for that game, I suppose? The comparison doesn’t really hold true though, cos as far as I know you don’t get Napoleonic zombies in WAB….

    • Quirkworthy says:

      No need to apologise for mentioning GURPS at all. As I said in my introduction to the idea, it’s not something that I came up with. GURPS is a good example of that general model (though it is RPG not skirmish).

      No, not WAB. The thread in question is here:

      • Monkey's Blood says:

        Just read it. Sweet Jeevus, the internet can be a force for evil sometimes. That old penny arcade cartoon gets truer by the day.

        Anyway, in an attempt to talk about more pleasant matters, I have a query regarding Eternal Wars. How would you feel about potenitally ‘licensing’ it to other self publishers or similar (not sure if that’s the best word, but it’s the best I can think of). For example, say I come up with a nifty idea for setting I’d like to self publish but struggle a bit with rules. Would some kind of arrangement whereby I can adapt a universal tool-box style ruleset like EW for my game be reached?

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Eternal Battles, please Monkey 😉

          And yes, I can’t see any reason why not. It would be fun to develop a community around the game and the options it allows. Part of that would be people developing their own settings.

  16. Insane_Prophet says:

    I think people just naturally will tend to compare something they learn about to something they already know about, and that in most cases they’ll assume that the new thing is inferior to what they already know (because surely what they know must be the best example of something!). That can change in the right circumstances, but being open minding isn’t as easy as it should be.

    I’m not a fan of Sci-Fi (broadly) and when I first heard about Dreadball I thought, “Huh, well, I prefer fantasy and I already have Blood Bowl, so, that’s probably a pass for me”. But I kept an eye on it and the rules really are very different – yes, they’re both sports games, but both Rugby and Baseball are sports. All miniature games are miniature games. Boil things down enough and anything can be “derivative” (now there’re a loaded term for “similar-ish”) of something else.

    Frankly I have confidence that you wouldn’t want to copy something, but that, more than that, you’d be aware of the other games out there and draw on your *experience* of what you, or other people, liked about that game, and what they didn’t like. I don’t think that every new game we get is “better” than old ones, but there’s definitely a sense of progression (if not, necessarily, progress) in the games industry.

    Honestly, as a gamer, I want the people designing my games to be aware of the games that have gone before (good, bad, flawed, whatever). Whether or not the games they make will be better than the ones before, I don’t know, but at least they had knowledge to draw on.

    Keep doing what you’re doing – you can’t win everyone over, but there’ll always be one or two surprised people. In the end, you probably do as much as you can for change and the rest is out of your hands. I saw a lot of people pledging for Dreadball who’d been dismissive of it until they learned more about it, and then they put money down for it. To me, that says you’re doing your own part to open people up – it’s just a slow process and one that’ll never be “finished”!

    • Quirkworthy says:

      It has indeed been interesting to see people changing their minds when they’ve actually looked at DB properly. Nice when that happens.

      And I will keep doing this designing lark. I’d be doing it whether anyone bought them or not, to be honest. They tend to get more polished when they have a proper release – if they’re just for my own amusement then I’ve always got an other one to be moving onto so I tend to get on with that. The design fun part of the process is nearly always front loaded. The graft is at the end 😉

  17. Kristian says:

    You are more patient that I. I’d rather have the “Mac vs PC” argument. (Or for the more technically advanced, the “My flavour of Linux vs Your flavour of Linux”.)

  18. Gamers are by their very nature very hypocritical and possesive of “Their Games”. Any time you besmirch the memory of their Holy Grail you are a heathen of the worst kind but any time it suits thir fancy plagarism is A-OK!
    Lets take a couple examples shall we? I ask like I need permission, you will either delete this post or read it and smirk…
    Dominion hit the market and there was much rejoicing, it was heralded as the coming of a brand new way to play board games, and there was much rejoicing!
    AEG created a spiritual succesor we shall call Thunderstone, and pundits swarmed it as a hethenistic theft of the precious Dominion. It was called a clone and some even went as far as to say not a good clone. Yet anyone with a touch of common sense will tell you it was far from a clone it added new game play ideas, a theme and more.
    Now lets look at another example.
    Wings of War is/was a fun game that many enjoyed. The new FFG Star Wars game painted a new coat of paint on all that was Wings of War and yet it is flying off the shelves like it was involved in a fire sale.

    The moral of the story? You as a designer cannot win but you can continue to produce great games and those of us with our sanity intact will continue to be customers. If you (and by you I mean all game designers) create fun games that I find either, different enough from the past or fixes what was broken with another game, then you have a sale.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      It is true that a little bit of marketing goes a long way and that love for a game can be somewhat random. A very good example is the series of games that goes Battle Cry, Command & Colours: Ancients, Memoir 44 and Battlelore. They are all, essentially, the same game. However, they all do variably well. Personally, I detest M44 and find C&CA the best game. That’s very much not the order that sales went.

      And all designed by the same guy.

      • Donner says:

        Just curious Jake – what made you detest M44?

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Detest? It’s a strong word, but oddly it’s how I feel. The game really rubbed me up the wrong way.

          It’s supposedly a WWII themed game, but has zip to do with WWII realities. Popularising twaddle really annoys me, plus wasting a great opportunity to do some positive educating. It was especially annoying as the theme was heavily pushed as its main selling point and yet was utterly irrelevant to the game. If I’d been a veteran I’d have been less than impressed. As it was I felt insulted.

          I have no problem with taking an existing mechanic and re-theming it, but let’s make the theme actually make sense, eh. Battle Cry is nothing like ACW tactics either, but that’s sold like Risk, so it’s exactly what you are led to expect. When I got M44 it was a long way from what I felt I’d been sold.

    • On the other hand: Thunderstone really has some design issues and X-Wing really improved heavily on WoG.

  19. Chris says:

    Jakes making better versions of Mordenhiem, Necromunda and Man of War? Cool! Sorry have I missed something? 🙂

  20. Monkey's Blood says:

    Had to stick this down here due to the reply limit…

    Where the heck have I got Eternal Wars from? Blimey, I’m getting worse. Getting my kids names mixed up is one thing but getting games systems names wrong is unforgivable…

  21. Poor old Joke. Still, you got your comeback with a remake of XCOM, right?

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