McGinnis: COO Phil Reed talks working for legendary designer Steve JacksonWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
You look across the table at your opponent. The two of you are playing a game where you are fighting your way through a perilous dungeon. Each of you holds cards in your hand depicting various spells and monsters you can play in an effort to win. So far, this sounds like it could be most any standard fantasy game. But the threats you are facing, the rules you play by, and the world the game inhabits, are a little different than one might normally expect.
Take the monster you’re facing — you kicked open the door to find a large, angry chicken is your foe. But wait, your opponent says, you’re also fighting a Floating Nose that happens to be wandering by. Luckily, you hold one of the many powerful weapons the game provides — a Chainsaw of Bloody Dismemberment, perhaps, or maybe a Singing Sword. And if the weapons you have aren’t any help, maybe you have a card that allows you to make a Convenient Addition Error and make your character stronger, anyway.
This is Munchkin, the flagship title of Steve Jackson Games. Since 1980, the company has been one of the most beloved names to gamers worldwide, thanks not just to the entertaining gameplay that can be found in a Jackson title, but also the irreverent tone toward traditional gaming tropes. Through a wide library of titles, the company has maintained that balance for over three decades.
Steve Jackson Games COO Philip Reed said that the company — and its founder, president, and editor-in-chief Jackson himself — have a fairly simple focus.
“In general, the company exists to create fun games,” Reed said. “Steve’s been doing this a long time, and since I’ve taken over as COO, it’s bought him a little bit more time to design games, which is a plus for everybody.”
Reed himself has a long history with the company, having worked freelance for Jackson for five years before beginning his tenure as COO in early 2008. But his personal experience with Jackson’s product stretches back even further.
“As a kid, I played games by Steve Jackson. Back in the ’80s, in junior high and in high school,” Reed remembered. “And I would have teachers and parents nagging me about wasting my time playing games. And it’s a funny little set up, because now I run the company.”
But though Reed is in charge of the day-to-day business operations, he is quick to stress that the company is still very much Jackson’s. “Everything we do is around Steve’s vision. He takes a lot of interest in every part of the company, which you have to, to be running it this long. Very few companies in the game industry are still running under the original management after 30 years.”
Still, despite the imprint of its founder and guiding force, Steve Jackson Games is still a company. So it’s not fun and games for Reed around the office. Well, not all fun and games, anyway.
“We don’t sit here and play games all day, for example. But there’s just the little quirks on day-to-day that remind you that you’re working in, basically, a geek field. For example, it’s not uncommon for Steve to come in and say, ‘Oh, oh, have you seen this new game?’ or ‘Have you read this web comic?’ Which, the last place I worked, there was no way the owner of the company was going to come in and start talking to me about games and web comics and geeky, stupid things happening at the moment.”
But Jackson himself is no slouch when it comes to working hard. Reed said that a big part of the company’s success lies in the effort its founder puts into making sure each title is just right before it ever ships.
“That’s another thing that Steve is really big on is taking a lot of time to proof everything, make sure it’s perfect. He’s a hardcore perfectionist. And I have some of that, but nothing to the degree that he does.”
Despite the diverse array of titles available from Steve Jackson Games, Munchkin — a wicked satire of the role playing game genre — remains far and away its flagship title. “Munchkin for 2010, 2011 was approximately 75 percent of our sales,” Reed said. “But even with that, our dice games, Zombie Dice and Cthulhu Dice were still about eight or nine percent of our sales. They’re pretty big.”
And almost every game that comes bearing Jackson’s name carries with it that wonderful sense of whimsy that makes it unique and entertaining.
“It’s another level of fun with the games where it’s not just the mechanics of playing the game, but it’s the atmosphere the game creates when you’re sitting there with your friends. It encourages that sort of behavior,” Reed said.
For more information on Steve Jackson Games, visit the company’s website at http://www.sjgames.com.