Ryan interviews JT Smith about The Game Crafter. Co-founded by JT, Tavis Parker, and Jamie Vrbsky, The Game Crafter is a print-on-demand service for analog game designers to be able to prototype or even publish their own games. We cover some the new changes and services they now offer, as well as the history of how TGC came about.

JT, thanks for joining us today to talk about The Game Crafter. I would assume most our readers know or have heard of The Game Crafter. However, for those that may not, could you tell us what it is?

JT:  The Game Crafter is the best place to design your own game, or to get upgrades for your favorite games. In a nutshell, we can make custom game components, so you can design cards, boards, boxes, mats, tiles, chits, or even game pieces themselves. You can buy them for yourself, or sell them in our marketplace. This has enabled game designers around the world to bring their ideas to life. And it’s also created a thriving new market for kitting out your favorite games from mainstream publishers.

JT Smith of The Game Crafter

What is the story behind the creation of The Game Crafter?

JT:  Back in 2008 I was looking for something like The Game Crafter, but found only husks of companies who tried and failed to do it. Through quite a bit of convincing on my part, my business partners eventually agreed that we should try to take on the challenge. So we launched a small scale test in 2009 with cards, a couple of mats, and a few game pieces. We figured that if we could sell 100 games per month by the end of the first year we’d be able to at least pay for the equipment and whatnot. We sold 400 games in the first 15 days! And from there we’ve just continued to improve and evolve our capabilities.

Over the last year or two, it feels like there has been a big step in some of the things The Game Crafter offers. What new things/features were introduced in 2018 to either improve products or help designers?

JT:  That list would literally be hundreds of lines long if I enumerated everything. We released over 200 new types of game pieces alone! So instead, I’ll just enumerate a few of the big ones.

  • You can now cut any shape or size of sticker, card stock, or cardboard.
  • We introduced acrylic shapes, which allows you to design your own custom game pieces. You can choose from various colors and thickness of the material. You can cut out any shape. You can even print whatever you want on those shapes.
  • You can make your own neoprene game mats.
  • We launched a new YouTube series called The Board Game Blueprint (boardgameblueprint.org) that discusses the kinds of decisions game designers go through, shows off various conventions, and many other topics.
  • You can make foil packs of cards (think Magic: The Gathering or Pokemon), and we even make booster boxes if you want to make a whole bunch of them to put together.
  • We launched our new line of Stout boxes (small and large), which are fully printed telescoping boxes that are as high or higher quality than almost every game box on the market today.
  • Oh, and I almost forgot! You can make your very own custom printed meeples! So put your face on a meeple. Or design a meeple with your company’s logo. Or make character meeple’s for your favorite game.
Custom design meeples

That was just last year. Let’s focus on 2019, what are some things/service you are looking at either offering for the first time or upgrade, in this coming year?

JT:  In 2018 we started a complete overhaul of our web site by rolling out a new shop. We plan to continue that this year. The big goals are to simplify everything and modernize everything for the latest mobile technologies. The big thing people will notice about this is an entirely new publishing interface, which will be easier to navigate and allow more flexibility in game designs. That will take up a huge amount of our time, most of the year in fact.

That said, we still have hundreds of new game parts to release and over a dozen new customizable products coming out. But as you know I don’t share stuff about the future, because I don’t want to disappoint people if we miss a deadline or change course. That said, I can tell you for sure that we’ll be releasing a couple new stout boxes in the first part of the year.

The Game Crafter has its own take on the whole crowdfunding thing (i.e. Kickstarter or Indiegogo) called Crowd Sales. Could you tell us a little bit about that and how it works, and why it’s different than other crowdfunding sites?

JT:  Crowd Sales are a way to mass produce a game, like Kickstarter. However, instead of adding stretch goals a crowd sale makes the game cheaper. For every 10 backers, the price goes down. And all the backers, regardless of the time in which they backed,  will get the best price reached during the crowd sale. We’ve got our first crowd sale of the year coming up on January 15th for an amazing game called Desolate: https://www.thegamecrafter.com/crowdsale/desolate-insurgence

The Game Crafter also hosts a lot of board game design challenges. How many a year do you think you run and can an indie publisher use your platform to run a contest to help them find the next game they like to sign?

JT:  We typically run between 4 and 6 contests per year. Almost all of them are hosted by someone not from The Game Crafter. Sometimes it is a publisher looking for a new title to publish. Sometimes it’s a member of the community who has had an idea for a new type of game that should be made. Whoever is hosting usually puts up a prize and also sets the rules and judges the contest. We provide the infrastructure for running the contest, add a bunch of our own prizes, and then ultimately print the finalists and send them to the judge for playing and final voting.

So yes, absolutely any publisher can contact us to set up a contest. They can email (jt@thegamecrafter.com) or tweet (@plainblackguy) me if they want to discuss a contest. Obviously, there is no requirement to offer a publishing deal. Just the fact that a publisher will be looking at the games and may consider publishing the winner is a great incentive for people to participate. And almost without exception, every game that has won a contest at The Game Crafter has gone on to have a successful Kickstarter or has been picked up by a publisher.

Let’s talk one more feature you guys are behind, Component.Studio for a minute. Could you share with us what is and why designers may really want to have it as a tool in their design arsenal?

JT: Component.Studio is a way to dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to generate repetitive components like cards, tiles, and tokens for your game. Think of it like Photoshop combined with Excel. You upload a spreadsheet of your components, and then design a template, and Component.Studio will automatically create all your component images for you.

After that you can export the images, export a Print and Play PDF, upload to The Game Crafter directly, or even create a digital game using Tabletop Simulator.

Component.Studio is my personal pet project at The Game Crafter. I created it years ago for my own game design needs but then decided to release it to the public in 2017. Ever since I’ve released it I’ve been adding tons of little features to make it better. And hundreds of people have signed up and started using it to design their games.

Four Tribes, designed by Jason Glover

The Game Crafter has a TON of games to buy. Anyone can put their game up on TGC, because of that some games are bad, but some are really good. Due being so many and being self-published so easily, sometimes you don’t see a lot of the bigger game reviewers covering games found on TGC.  What are some really good or great games that you would personally recommend gamers check out if they want to order something from your site?

JT: I’ve seen estimates of 4000 to 8000 new games being put on the market in 2018 alone through Kickstarter and traditional publishing channels. Not all of those titles are high quality either. I bought over 100 games in 2018 and played all but 6 of them. Only 7 of those games have made it into my long term collection. What I’m saying is that TGC or not, there are a lot of bad games in the world, so I don’t like the implication that TGC is somehow different. I know that’s a bit defensive, but I thought it was important to state that where you find a game has nothing to do with its quality.

Now, the easiest way to see a list of games on TGC that I like is to look at our staff picks: https://www.thegamecrafter.com/games?staff_pick=1

But if I have to pick my top 3 favorites (excluding my own designs) then I’d choose Village in a Box, Scarborough Fair, and Four Tribes. They are my personal favorites because they use mechanics and themes that I love. However, there are many other great games like Flip! that aren’t my cup of tea, but I can definitely see them as being more popular with more people.

The Game Designer’s Ruler

Before we go, last year you designed a gaming design ruler. What exactly is it and where did the idea come from?

JT:  The Game Designer’s Ruler is this weird idea that spiraled out of control to create something AWESOME!  I knew we were releasing the Acrylic Shapes feature that I talked about earlier, and Protospiel Madison was coming up fast. I wanted to create something that we could give away at PS Madison to promote the fact that we were releasing this feature. So it started out as just a simple ruler. Then Tavis (my business partner) said it wasn’t cool enough and that we should put templates on it for our card sizes. So I did that. Then I decided to add shapes for dice and cubes, and compass holes on the ruler. And then released a crude drawing of it to Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. I got amazing and overwhelming feedback. People really wanted this thing, and they had some ideas about other stuff we could cram into it.  16 revisions later we had the final version. We’ve since released it, giving away over 100 copies at Protospiel and then selling another 500 copies beyond that.

Here’s a video explaining most of its features:

As we wrap this up, is there anything here we haven’t covered today, that you would like our readers to know about The Game Crafter?

JT:  While we are now and will always dedicate ourselves to the needs of Game Designers and Publishers around the world, we’re opening ourselves up to new audiences all the time. We’re putting a lot of work into the world of game upgrades for your favorite games. Whether that be our giant parts library, our Board Game Candy Booth at Gen Con, or the vast selection of board game upgrade kits that our users are posting to our Game Upgrades section. We want everyone to know that The Game Crafter is here for all your gaming needs.

Speaking of Board Game Candy, we will bring Board Game Candy to Origins for the first time ever this year! See you there!

Thank you, again JT for taking time out to talk to us about The Game Crafter. 

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