There is Not the Line Between You and the Rest of the Industry that You Think There is
There is one thing that continues to be re-enforced for me over and over as I travel along and grow in experience in the table top industry and that thing can be summed up in a simple phrase:
There is not the line between you and the Pros that you think there is.
Strictly speaking that might not be true, you might believe that there is no line and that you’re as good as anyone out there, but I think that if that is the case you’re probably in the minority. Generally, creators in the tabletop industry are beset with a sense of imposter syndrome and the belief that somewhere out there there’s a gate keeper to being a ‘proper’ professional designer. I’ve not seen all corners of the industry, but I do think I’ve seen enough to tell you that it really isn’t true.
I think part of the sense of imposter syndrome comes from the fact that by and large game design is a self-taught process, there are a few courses, books and similar, but many of the more serious courses focus on the more lucrative field of digital game design. Even then, game design is full of self-publishing, freelance work and independent companies. There are very few markers to tell a game designer that they are ‘legitimate’ professionals. Making a full time living from game design is rare, as is winning awards, and there’s not exactly a union or governing body available, I’ve worked on the Osprey Games’ best seller, Gaslands. Gaslands is a huge hit by anyone’s standards with sales in the tens of thousands, it’s been featured on the TV show South Park and has won the UKGE People’s Choice and Judge’s Choice award. I also have two successfully funded Kickstarters to my name. Neither I nor the lead designer of Gaslands, Mike Hutchinson are full time professional game designers.
This divide, or lack of it, can come up when looking at promoting your designs. If you’re anything like me there are podcasts that you’re a fan of an have wondered about getting onto. I’m not at all forward when it comes to such self-promotion, in fact I never considered daring to ask to be featured on a podcast until I saw another designer that I knew personally and considered a peer turning up on some of them, I’ve since asked and been welcomed onto every podcast I’ve reached out to. In turn, Mike and I were at a convention where a podcaster nervously approached us for an interview, afraid that we were too big of a deal to want to sit down and talk to him.
I should take a moment to say that there is a difference here between the professional in attitude and set-up. The individuals I have worked with have always been professional, serious and respectful of their craft and industry. The line I am drawing is that there is not the intimidating line of organisation and individual that you might have assumed there to be. Almost every organisation that you think separates you from an individual in our industry is not what you might think it to be if you examine it. Major publishers are often groups of a handful of people working from home or collections of free lancers and part timers.
I have repeatedly interacted with publishers, convention organisers, distributors, retailers and games journalists, always expecting that this time I’d see behind the curtain to find the ‘real’ pros. I don’t know quite what I expect this to be, but its somewhere between a suit wearing business man and a clip board carrying technician, someone with rules and schedules, requirements and categories. I keep finding more people largely indistinguishable from myself. Sometimes in a slightly larger group, sometimes selling a few more units or making a few more dollars, but almost never in a manner that shows I’ve finally found the line that needs to be crossed to find the ‘big time’ or the ‘real thing’.
The point is that our industry is tiny and the line between amateur hobbyist and professional creator so blurred as to be practically meaningless. Whoever you’re thinking of pitching something to, or approaching for an interview for your podcast, or offering your content for their blog, is pretty much in the same position as you. You’re not going to suddenly know that you are a real pro, and you’re not going to find someone who undeniably is or has made it.
If you think you’ve got something, go with it. You’re can’t be an imposter, there’s no one to impersonate.
Have you ever felt like you were overshooting yourself approaching someone for advice? How did it turn out? Have you ever felt like you were an imposter when offering your advice or creations for someone else?