I’ve just realized that this week is the twenty-fifth anniversary of me starting full-time professional work as a game designer.
I can’t now remember exactly what the date was, but some time in early September 1985, just before my 18th birthday, I moved down to Southampton and set up Undying King Games. I’ve been in various other games businesses since, and done other stuff for a living as well of course, but UKG has persisted throughout as the badge of identity for my self-employed game gubbins of whatever variety.
Back in that misty autumn of 25 years since, it was postal gaming, also known as PBM. I was working with Sloth Enterprises, an established PBM business, designing a role-playing game that became The Enchiridion. PBM had good economics for new businesses, because customers paid in advance. The usual practice was to charge for a startup which included rules, setup, and the first few turns. That brought in some money, which you lived off while you were feverishly writing the actual game, trying to stay ahead of the customers. I don’t think I have any of the docs any more1, or if I do they’re buried in deep archive, but iirc The Enchiridion was £5 for rules, setup and three turns. Further turns were then £1.50. Not a lot of money, but then I was paying £30 per week to rent a bedsit in Southampton’s salubrious red-light district, and living on tins of beans and bacon offcuts from Safeways. And beer, at pubs like the New Inn on Bevois Valley Road, was less than a pound a pint.
The Enchiridion was an unusual game at that time, because unlike other PBM RPGs it had a closed end – it finished when certain in-game conditions were met – and offered a cash prize to the most successful players. Sloth Enterprises marketed it for me to their existing customer base, and in return took a slice of the income. I’d set it up like this because I only had a year working at it, before going to university. As it turned out, it didn’t get finished in time, so Sloth had to take it over and run the closing stages themselves.
I have a vague memory that a similarly young (although probably not similarly foolish) watervole may have been placed in the game as a reviewer, for Flagship magazine. It was certainly at some point during that period that I first met her (she was already running her own PBM, the renowned Delenda est Carthago), and started writing for the magazine myself.
To be honest, The Enchiridion was not a brilliant game – it had some good ideas, but the design constraints worked against it, and also there were lots of areas where I didn’t really know what I was doing. Some of the subsequent things have been much better, particularly after 1995 when I went back to doing game stuff full time. I’m sure it would have been very nice to have had a big hit or made a name as a designer; but as it is, 25 years of enjoying myself, and of helping however many hundreds or thousands of people create happy gaming memories, has been a pretty excellent way of spending time. Thanks to all of you who’ve supported me along the way!
1 Life Before Internet! All the docs were prepared on an IBM electric typewriter, which had a correction ribbon – a vital feature. And then printed by offset litho.