Empire Building – Part 1

Excuse the domineering title. I’m not seeking to create my own continent-spanning oligarchy; well, not a physical one at least. The title stems from the frequent conversations that Toma and I hold as we discuss next steps or project particulars. We often joke – I use joke lightly, as we’re both really quite serious – that we’re both seeking world domination through the gaming medium and its myriad forms: RPG’s, CCG’s, board games et al.


Although we say it with humour, we are certainly seeking to establish Red Scar as a credible worldwide publisher. If you’ve followed my blog since its inception you’ll know that I’ve experienced a fair amount  of success in a relatively short time. Inspired by Jim Zub and his Zub Tales, this series of posts will be written with the intent to hopefully pass on some of our experiences as we move from milestone to milestone – NB: By ‘our experiences’ I refer to Toma, myself and Red Scar.


This first piece is written with the intent to guide you through our initial first steps along the road to forming Red Scar. It begins with me deciding to pick up my keyboard and write, and ends with me presenting my pitch to Toma and creating our dynamic partnership. Some of the topics presented here will most certainly have been covered before, and probably to a more insightful degree. I’d ask that you bear with me though, as I’m not seeking to rehash any over-cooked topics, but to hopefully provide an insight into our journey and perhaps provide some inspiration along the way. You’ll also enjoy the opportunity to read about our progression from Toma‘s view of the world; which doesn’t mean from his native Canada, but from his position as Senior Art Director and, indeed, as founder of his very own Vulcan Design Forge. Toma‘s insight to our inaugural steps can be found following my own literary ramble.Having broken my journey down into appropriate steps it goes without saying that it must begin somewhere.


The Catalyst: Idioms are there for a reason and most people can apply any number to their lives so far. Two that I would personally apply to my situation are ‘Everything happens for a reason’, and ‘It’s never too late to start something new’. In the late summer of 2014 Network Rail announced that they would be upgrading the semaphore signalling currently used to control train movements in Cornwall, UK. The plan was to upgrade the infrastructure so that future requirements could be met for ERTMS. You may have noticed the use of ‘was’ in the previous sentence. This is because another of my favourite quotes can be applied here, that of the more commonly known version of Helmuth Von Moltke‘s original words: no plan survives first contact with the enemy. That, however, is another story. Not everyone will have experienced such a clearly defined catalyst of course, but I’m sure that reviewing past experience will provide a link, no matter how tenuous, to that one moment where you chose to forge a career in the writing or gaming industry.

Me at the 'day job' during a train derailment in 2014. The first time I've ever signalled trains 'wrong-road'.

Me at the ‘day job’ during a train derailment in 2014. The first time I’ve ever signalled trains ‘wrong-road’.

The resignalling announcement provided a catalyst for me to re-evaluate exactly what I’d like to do with my life, where I’d like to be and, perhaps most importantly for me, what I would like to pass on to my children. I decided to take to my writing more seriously, which leads me on to the next subject.


The idea: It may sound simple, but again, everything has to start somewhere. I chose to tackle writing on two fronts, though one has currently taken a back seat whilst my time is filled with the necessary steps involved in running a business. Initially I decided to forge ahead with the novel I’ve been writing for quite some time, alongside seeking help for the game concept I had adapted and written for my gaming group. Two ideas then, both fully fomented, yet both in different writing arenas.


It’s clearly worth taking time to evaluate your idea. My ideas sometimes take flight as I follow my thought processes through, yet while the final concept may be incredible to me I, also want other people to be passionate about it.


I’m going to suggest something that may seem anathema to a budding writer or game developer here: this doesn’t have to be a solo process. The initial concept will undoubtedly be all your own, but I highly recommend approaching friends and family to discuss your idea. You’ll be able to gauge initial responses and will certainly gather a few ideas to include that you hadn’t already considered. Those are the only people I’d approach at this stage however. While the gaming industry is fairly small and close knit, and isn’t exactly cut-throat, the last thing you want to be doing is delivering your idea to somebody else only to have them pitch and develop it. NB: You’ll notice the previous sentence occludes any mention of the writing industry from an authors point of view. While I do intend to get back to my novel when time allows, my present experience has only involved the gaming industry; the rest of this post will be written to reflect that.


Research: Make sure you do your research! I’m not a fan of the term ‘USP’s’, or Unique Selling Points. It feels gimmicky, is bandied around far too much and, in my opinion at least, is probably best applied to other industries. We write, we create games. Think of the uncounted number of words and stories that have been written over the centuries, alongside the almost equally diverse number of games and settings that have been created. If you’re thinking about creating something, the chances are that it has already seen the light of day in some form. I’d go so far as to say that you could spend half of your lifetime trying to create something that is truly ‘unique’. But don’t let that put you off! We all draw inspiration from any number of sources; that’s life. So long as you’re honest with yourself and others you should take that inspiration and go crazy with it! But always, always do your research: has your idea been done before (most likely), what – if anything – makes your idea different, what can be done to make your idea stand out, will your idea appeal (based on products already ‘out there’); these are just some of the questions you should be answering during your research.


It would also be prudent to begin some form of playtest at this stage. We’ll cover playtesting more later, but it should be an ongoing process that begins as early as possible. I had already unleashed my idea on my regular group, to a warm and rapt reception I might add. Having taken your idea beyond its inception and carried out some research it’s now time to think about the team you would like to assemble.


The first pitch: I don’t mean to a publishing company by this, not just yet anyway. This means pitching your idea to the team you would like around you. There are plenty of places and people to use as a platform for your idea, though I personally chose freelanced.com at the outset; you’ll find my initial job post on my profile landing page. Now it’s worth noting that you don’t have to reveal the whole project here, a surreptitious post seeking interested parties is enough. I was overwhelmed by the response I received! My inbox rapidly filled with warm enquiries about the project I hand in mind, though most wished me well once it became apparent that I was looking to create a team with a license appeal in mind. I’m fairly certain the fact that I didn’t have any upfront funds also made up their minds! This, though, leads me to another of my favourite idioms: ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get!’. There’s no need to be boorish or crass, but a politely posed question to the right people will often yield unexpected results. I was astounded to find a response from Toma within a a few days of posting my freelanced advert. The conversation went something along these lines:


T: ‘Hi, sounds very interesting, what’s it all about?’
M: ‘Hey! Thanks for responding! Um, I’ve checked out your portfolio and love your artwork, it’s awesome! Based on that, though, I don’t think you’ll want to be involved in what I have in mind.’
T: ‘Uh, ok?!? Listen, I’m always open to new ideas. Why don’t you shoot it to me and I’ll see if I can help?’


So began a great working relationship and budding friendship, and it wouldn’t be long before I took the step to register Red Scar as a limited company; but I’ll be sure to cover that in part 2. Which brings me neatly to the end of my version of events for this first part. My one man army had now become a two-person unstoppable juggernaut (well, actually three, but I’ll leave that till next time), over to Toma….


It’s true, all jokes aside, that despite the coincidental nature of our union we are both 100% invested in Red Scar and it’s success on this stage that we all know and love: gaming. It is with this humble account that we will share keys of success we hope to impart to you through the next few weeks, and months, as our journey unfolds.


So, inevitably, we have to talk about getting started. But where to begin? Where did we begin?


Well, how exactly was it coincidental? Marc‘s already talked about his unlikely posting, and my even more surprising response considering my experience and training. So I won’t bore you with that. Throughout these missives I’d like to make an attempt at sharing an opposing perspective, so to speak, to pull the veil and reveal that wily wizard of oz at his machine. Because there really is always something that makes it tic – you just have to find what.


So in truth the coincidence wasn’t all that great. Firstly, I had already been on the track I picked for myself – new entrepreneur, recent small business owner, launching my art outsource “studio” subsequent to some government funding and a series of ineffectual business courses. Nonetheless, it left me with a concrete plan of how I’d effectively make this business viable. And illustration, specifically in the realm of rpg, was at the inception of the business.


How does this factor in with Marc‘s post? Simply put, I had been trolling, waiting for just the kind of post Marc baited me with. Oh, I had assuredly come across many a post like it, and like all good business decisions, each post had to be weighed out as to it’s potential. What did made Marc different? In truth, nothing. In fact, you might have classed him as the worst possible business decision – a dreamer, gaming for his entire life, wistful at the thought of one day turning his years of joyous table top carousing into an award winning career in the field of rpg. LMAO! Right, an easy bypass. For you, not for me.


I am a passionate person who believes in story and the power it has. I love all things story, that’s why a good part of my adolescence and early twenties revolved around gaming. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to be Sun Tzu about making it a career. And when in business, know your goal, and decide what you are prepared to lose to get there. All I was giving Marc was time. I know, a precious commodity – first lesson is work with what you have – of which I had plenty then, maybe not so now!


The reality was the project Marc baited me with, the one I tested him on, turned out not to be what has propelled Red Scar so far so quickly, at least not directly. What it did do was provide me with the opening to see what there was, if anything, outside of his shared enthusiasm and passion for story and gaming that Marc could offer to the growth of my, and subsequently our, business.


The details of which are for another post, suffice to say that Marc had already started making connections and opening doors, that at the time might not have opened as wide were it not for my involvement. But that’s why I was there; remember that I had been trolling, for quite some time in fact as it was part of my business plan, to connect and gain access to a widely growing segment of the indy gaming market – but I’m getting ahead of myself, again subject for another time. It just turned out I stuck with Marc long enough, at my own cost, to see just what might come of it. Enter Red Scar.


Though I realise this rambling may have worked hard to prove that it had nothing to do with coincidence, however it’s important to understand that coincidence it was; one can never know what alchemical pot-pourri lays behind any given situation. The fact is that it all depends on your preparedness to jump on that synchronicity of elements when it’s presented to you, and above all, to know to listen to that little voice that says: go on, take a leap, trust me…


On that note, look forward to the next instalment of our world domination master-plan! In the meantime, we’d love to hear tales of your own misadventures, or indeed your own thoughts and comments on this post, so please feel free to respond 🙂