One of the things that I wanted to do at Gen Con this year was to delve beneath the surface of a game company. There were so many companies that make games I enjoy that I was suffering from analysis paralysis. Luckily, I was provided some direction from the guys on Funnybooks. If you listen to the podcasts here on Ideology of Madness, then you are aware that the guys are fans of a few game systems. One of them happens to be Atomic Robo which is made by Evil Hat and powered by their Fate system.
Luckily, Evil Hat was doing a seminar entitled Under the Hat where they would talk about the business of Evil Hat. The panel at the seminar consisted of the key players at Evil Hat:
Chris Hanrahan – Business Director
Rob Donoghue – Brain Trust
Sean Nittner -Project Manager
Carrie Harris – Marketing Manager
Out of the gate, it was interesting to learn that the hardest part for Fred Hicks, founding member of Evil Hat, was defining the roles of these various people. He pointed out that he is very much a hands-on person and has difficulty putting responsibilities into other people’s hands. Not that he doesn’t think they can not do it, Just that he could do it and should. The thing that he ran up against, especially with the Fate Core Kickstarter, was that there was too much for him to do. With so much going on, defining these roles made it easier for him to hand over responsibilities which in turn allowed Evil Hat to function even better.
Despite this growth, Evil Hat wants to continue to be a company with way more ideas than they have the capability of producing. This didn’t make sense but Fred went on to elaborate. If you consistently up production, a company can easily reach a point where they are struggling for ideas to get made. This also makes the company dependent on each item in the production pipeline being good. When you have more ideas than production capability, you can roll around ideas for a much longer time and aren’t so heavily vested in any one idea in particular. If one turns out to be something beyond what you are capable of doing, it is a simple mater of ending it and moving on to the next idea. This allows them to ensure what does go into production is going to be awesome.
As a company, Evil Hat is strongly vested in gaming. They move forward with an eye towards fixing the things that frustrated them in the industry. Rob Donoghue stated it succinctly. Evil Hat is idealistic yet cynical. They want to do things that are good for the community. The thing is that these things they do also tend to be good for the company. On this point they point out their price point on Fate Core. At $25, the book is inexpensive. They wanted to make a game book that poor college kids could afford to pick up. The idealism shines through with them striving to make their books more accessible. The cynicism shows up in that this makes it so that more people will buy books because they are cheaper. When you have to choose between so many different options with your entertainment dollar, You are going to choose based on price.
Partnerships and excellent customer service are also key parts of Evil Hat’s business plan. All these ideas are a good thing but it means that there are going to be things that they decided are great ideas but not something that they are good at doing. The Fate coins that came up during the Fate Core Kickstarter are one such thing. The answer to this dilemma was partnering with some that was good at this, Campaign Coins. They developed a strong relationship with the people at Campaign Coins so that they could create a product that both companies would be proud of and a great idea found a home. The relationship was built by Evil Hat’s firm belief in giving excellent customer service even if you aren’t a customer. The idealistic cynicism comes into play once again. They always want to do their best for you even if you aren’t a customer because you never know when you might become one.
Looking towards the future, Evil Hat have set their sites on several different things. Of particular interest to me was the discussion of diversity. They want a healthy and robust gaming community and that means more people in the community. They want their products to be something that anyone can pick up and see themselves in it. This means making some art direction changes. Fred pointed out that Spirit of the Century ended up being a book filled with white dudes and that Evil Hat is making a conscious effort to change this. An Art Direction bible has been created that calls for a broader cross section of the population to show up in the art of their books. Evil Hat has also put out a call for more diverse crowd in their artists and art direction as well. They have discovered that there are a lot of women self-disqualifying themselves from working for Evil Hat and are struggling to fix this issue.
Also Going forward they are looking at the Apocalypse World engine for future game development. The games that have came out using this system are fun and easy to learn and fits into their goals of growing the community. To execute this requires a skill set once againe outside of their purview and they are going to be partnering with Adam Koebel, Dungeon World designer, to bring this idea to fruition.
All in all, I was very impressed with the people of Evil Hat. They were open, honest ,and really easy to talk to. Heck, I even got to speak a little to Rob Donoghue about the Sorcer in 5E and squeed a little bit. The direction they are charting with Evil Hat sounds exciting and I can not wait to see what is next from this great company.
I should point out that any errors in reporting on this seminar are my own. I was scribbling furiously throughout and am sure I may have gotten some things down wrong.