I was doing a bit of organizing today and pulled something that represents 10 years of hope and dreams. It was a business idea that has been at various times a spark of passion, a smoldering ember, a blazing inferno and a silent ash heap. Pulling it out again brought me right back to the spark phase, but I hesitated. I had been through this ride before. I let the mania cool down and let me mind wander down the already often tread arguments and counterarguments. Realizing my brain was flushed with too many creative juices, I did the smart thing and consulted my fiancé. She said that it was maybe the time to finally put down the old flame, but to give it it's proper due in one last ride. A lot has happened in my life in recent years, both very good and very bad. It has given me an opportunity to reevaluate what is important in my life. So I thought I would give up the idea for free (that I very much still believe in) and use the opportunity to tell a story. I will try to make it entertaining and hopefully offer some food for thought. So here it goes.
Ch. 1) Beginnings
Ever since I was very small, I have been designing games. My family moved around a lot and our toys and things would often get left behind or misplaced. So it came very naturally to make up games with pencil and paper. Many of these games were simple knockoffs of existing things. For example there was a card game based loosely off of pokemon and yugioh, which quickly resulted in hyperinflation (upon losing, my brother and I would always add a couple extra 0's.). We spent hours trying to balance the game and "foiling" cards with shreds of aluminum paper. Some where more original, but complicated. There was a pirate game that had us randomly toss playmobile terrain pieces in the air to simulate island discovery (this game ended with a black eye from a particularly vigorous game), a total war-like game featuring huge cardboard game boards, elves and endless need for wood. The game that finally stuck was a turn based wargame in a similar vein to warhammer. We had no idea how to play warhammer and were extremely envious of our friends who did, so we made up our own game.
Ch.2) *THE* game
Starting from scratch, we designed tribes and unites to compete in turn based bloody mayhem. The miniatures were drawn on tiny standardized squares of cardboard and had easily reproducible, top down pictures. Our influences were vast; there were the raptors which where based on aliens, the imperials, based on Miyazaki's nausicäa, vampires based on ninjas, yakotaurs (Yak-Centaurs!) and good old fashioned US army (they never did fare very well). My brother and I had been sent off to boarding school at this time in a different country and felt very lonely (we were 12 and 13) and nothing got us through a difficult week like hanging out with grandma and developing our game. Some years passed and we both forgot about it (12-13 year olds very often discover more interesting things in life when they hit 13- 14). Feeling like Indiana Jones, I had braved my grandmothers attic and blown the dust from aged manuscripts. I had rediscovered *THE* game (it never got a formal title). I was impressed at the sophistication of the game we had developed over the years. In a natural process of mitigating fighting and stat inflation, we had come up with a "point" system that dictated the relative value of each unit. At this time, I reintroduced the game to my brother and we came up with a plan to realize it's potential.
Ch.3) *THE* idea
At this time I was 18. I had recently shocked my family when I announced that I was violently departing from my carefully prepared career path as a musician. My family are all musicians and I started Cello and Piano from the age of 4. I had had an auspicious start, participating in competitions, receiving prizes and scholarships, participating in school and youth orchestras, small chamber chamber orchestras, chamber groups, trios, quartets, choir….. the list goes on. While I still love music and play, music as a career had become a source of stress and anxiety in my life. I decided to go to university for Math and Economics, a decision I have never once regretted.
It was around this time that *THE* idea came together If we could come up with a point system, why couldn't others use it? Why couldn't there be an open source mechanics system where everyone could come up with their own ideas and play together? The experience of creating the game was a joy we wanted to share with others. With my mathematical inclination, I began to regularize the point system and iron out problems (squaring a circle came up way too often when determining radial damage..). I learned how to use adobe programs to create better and more standardized art for the little squares we were still using. I ironed out what our business plan would look like (more to follow). I learned how to use blender and Zbrush, found this too hard, made clay sculptures and 3D scanned them before editing the renders in blender, bought a 3D printer and actually printed miniatures (still pretty blobby). I created a room on Roll20 to playtest with overseas friends.
While I didn't regret my choice of pursuing math and economics, I began to struggle. My education of math had been very poor as a result of my previous musical focus and constantly moving between countries and school systems. I had mostly learned math by myself and was advanced in some areas and behind in others and never learned things in quite the "right" way, coming to conclusions that I could not describe correctly. It was also at this time the the mental health of my sister began to seriously decline. She lived in the same city that I did and I was often the only one who could help her. It became increasingly frequent that I had to ask for extensions on papers, or postponement of tests. I am extremely grateful to some professors, who could see what was happening to me without needing an explanation. Some professors could not show the same compassion and I sometimes had to miss finals and fail a class to help my sister in an emergency. I grew depressed and antisocial, but the game was still a fantastic guiding light in my life, something I had control over that would get me through, a welcome distraction from the chaos engulfing me.
Ch.4) *THE* business plan
The business plan of *THE* game is roughly this: Start a subscription website that contains databases of community and administrator generated content (3D miniature models, point system, rules etc.). content would be open source (minus subscription) and free to use, allowing the company to focus mostly on creative and not at all production logistics (materials, facilities, production, shipping, warehousing, retails etc.) as miniature production would be distributed between online 3D printing services (eg. Shapeways), 3D print shops and users personal 3D printers. All the savings could go directly to the consumer. Additionally, partnerships with 3D printing services and producers would be possible. A "creature creator" in a similar vein to the EA/ Maxis title "Spore" would enable users to upload their own miniatures, creating a community. The game itself would be faster and easier to play as well as cheaper than competition. Ideally, it would be the "Killer App" of 3D printing technology, putting a 3D printer in every home and moving the technology forwards.
This was all well and good, but putting the dream into reality was much harder than I had anticipated, both due to personal and industry reasons. My brother had since parted from the venture leaving me without a creative partner. Finding people with the skill sets you need with only an equity promise was difficult, and the process irked me (am I a confident CEO or am I a fellow garage hacker?). The several incubators I tried to access locally always ended with a referral to someone who was not at all what I needed (fellow young entrepreneurs with promising mobile applications are the exact wrong people to ask to start something new). The demands of university and my family situation began to increasingly stretch my attention and I gave up with the idea after the tenth suggestion to find a small group of highly skilled experts who I knew since childbirth and will work for free.
My sister died 2 months ago, although it feels like it was yesterday. I have been struggling to put my life back in order. Covid, social unrest and economic crisis have made this more difficult but it has given me time to reflect. I have been thinking of what kind of hopes and dreams she had which will now never bear fruit. I have also inevitably though of how short life really is and how limited the time with which we have to do something meaningful really is. For this reason, I have decided to give up my idea for free. Today I dusted off the binder with all of my materials for the game for what felt like the 100th time and felt that same old spark. I talked with a good friend about what he thought I should do with the idea and what he said sounded too much like the old incubator party line. There is some truth in this however. While this idea was important to me, I have begun to realize that there are only so many things I can devote all of my energy and passions towards and this idea might not be the one. I have decided that there are more impactful projects in math and economics which I need to engage in, not to mention starting a family with my soon to be wife! I still make board games for my friends and family and have lots of fun doing so. There are a couple thoughts I would like to provoke in this story.
Ch.6) Moving forwards
The first one is a no-brainer. Please, everyone be kind to one-another and be generous in giving chances. This stems partly from thinking about my sister and the current social unrest, but also from my experiences making this idea. You never know what insanely great ideas are bubbling in peoples heads and sometimes all you need to do is extend a small olive branch. Maybe those people have just had a bad card of hands dealt and just need a small show of good faith. Be kind to one-another sounds rhetorical, but it is definitely not. Being kind in our perceived age of duplicity and cut-throat behavior takes a large amount of courage and is much needed if we want to build up social trust again. Social trust sounds equally banal, but it is important at every level of society, from a smile at your local grocery clerk to a handshake deal between business partners. I think I have been somewhat stymied moving forward with my business plan in assuming that everyone was out to steal my idea, and although I am letting go of it, I hope that this fear of being Zuckerberged would never have come true. Secondly, on giving chances; I have not done a great deal of research on the good will of the reddit startup community, but I believe in reddit and in these types of communities in general. I often experienced a kind of "thunk" when it came to moving forward when I felt stopped by a great gatekeeping barrier. I hope that communities such as this one can do some good in mitigating the difficulty of creating a startup and de-risking it. I hope this not for my sake, but for would be entrepreneurs in general. A society where people with good ideas can make it without risking complete financial and mental ruin would overall be a better one (this includes people who are so often asked to join startups of uncertain prospects with only dubious equity to show for it). We are all obsessed with chasing unicorns that more modest ideas can fall by the wayside. My final not is to really REALLY sit down with your idea and ask yourself what you would give up for it. Even if you don't have to give up everything, you should still consider whether you are prepared to do so. My self analysis was that I was perhaps too hesitant and distracted. I'm not even sure that my idea was good, even though I have had many exuberant "sit-downs". In the end I think that I was not willing to spend my last life drops on this particular project, even if I was optimistic. There will always be other important projects or important life decisions. Ask yourself if you could only pick one, would this be it?
Thank you for reading, if anyone has questions about the project or would like to take it over, I am happy to oblige. I hope this finds everyone well and that you find something in the story. Please excuse any grammar.