Board Game Quest: Starting with the obvious first question of an interview, what is your role at Mayday Games?
Ryan Bruns: I am the President of Mayday Games. I handle our convention plans in North America, communicate with wholesalers and traditional brick and mortar stores, and am involved with game acquisition and the production of getting games to market.
BGQ: I did a little research into the company before I headed down to Gen Con. From what I understand, the company got its start when the CEO Seth Hiatt built borders for Settlers of Catan. Were you there from the beginning?
Bruns: You are correct. That is origin of Mayday Games. I was involved very early in the company’s life. I owned an online store and got to know Seth from that relationship. I worked with him along the way as the he made the decision to start the company. After he designed the Catan borders, not too long after I showed him a Crokinole board my brother-in-law brought me back from Canada, Seth loved the game and looked into getting it produced and the rest is history.
BGQ: I guess that Seth never thought that it would build to what it is today. Starting from what it did to producing games, card sleeves and other accessories.
Bruns: For sure. Producing card sleeves were our first big push into new products. The popularity of Dominion really started the push to protecting your cards. Unfortunately, I didn’t heed warnings and my copy at the time got water spilled all over it. Lesson learned. Back to the card sleeves. There wasn’t a cheap option for protecting your cards when the game came out. The game retailed for about forty-five bucks and double that if you wanted to sleeve them. We saw a need to get high quality, well fitted sleeve out to the market.
BGQ: Having the cheaper option to protect my wife’s favorite game was definitely appreciated. I know early in the company, accessories were where you new products came from. How do you establish what accessories to make for the gaming community?
Bruns: We started our accessory line with animal and farmer tokens for Agricola. Those took off amazingly fast. We didn’t expect that at all. At the start, our products were community driven with people saying we need a token set for Stone Age and other popular games and we produced it. We started branching out from those suggestions to make cubes available for our game designer friends for their prototypes of their games.
BGQ: What are the challenges with making these accessories successful from a business side?
Bruns: Biggest challenge is making sure that the demand will be there for a new product. We will get a flood of request on a certain game and drives us to start development. Halfway through the process the “cult of the new” takes over and that demand has dried up. We get caught behind the shifts in gaming popularity because of the production time. We have had some production issues with bits in the past and now our CEO lives in China to be close to the companies we use over there to oversee the process.
BGQ: I think you read my questions before we started this interview, because you just lead into my next one. I think what your company has that is very unique not only in board gaming but also in business in general by having Seth Hiatt living in China be able to see the product in process. Are there any other advantages besides what you said before of having him on the ground?
Bruns: I think it’s extremely valuable for us because we need to produce a high quality of product or it won’t sell. We have had a lot of issues with our Crokinole boards forcing us to learn a lot of lessons the hard way. With Seth being there, he can go view a product and make any changes or adjustments needed to make the product up to our standards. We should’ve had a new shipment of Crokinole boards here at Gen Con, but we were able to find a problem with how they were producing them before they got shipped over because Seth was there. Sure it was disappointing to delay production, but it’s worth it to get the product right. From a business side, this advantage has allowed other publishers to come to us to manage the process of getting their game made.
BGQ: That must mean you are doing something right if you have other publishers looking to you to manage their production. From such a simple beginning Mayday has expanded a lot. This is the most serious question on this list. What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
Bruns: Ha. Mint chocolate chip.
BGQ: Excellent choice! One of my favorite as well. Back to real questions…It seems that Mayday has been pushing out more games as of late. How has that tradition gone from going from the card sleeve company to a game publisher? Because when I first got asked to review Click Clack Lumberjack, I was shocked it was Mayday Games publishing it.
Bruns: Our first dip into the board game was after playing a game at a convention. It was Git Bit! It was owned by another publisher and after playing it I immediately bought it. I played it with Seth and he fell in love with it and as soon as the contract was up we got the rights to it. That started us in the board game market. We got some other games early in the process and it just evolved quickly from there.
It has been an interesting transition to publishing more board games. We still value our sleeve and accessory business, but saw this as an opportunity to grow. I know a lot of people had a similar reaction when we started to put games out on the market. We have had to make some changes staff wise to make this change and devote more time and resources to the process. In 2014 we have had a steady stream of games come to the market and that trend will continue into 2015. We have a big variety of games that we are publishing more than dexterity and card games that we are very excited to share in the future.
BGQ: Exciting. New games are never a bad thing. What goes into your decision making when deciding to publish a game? I imagine that is a difficult decision for publishers to make with so many new designers coming looking to find someone to make their game a reality.
Bruns: For one I have to like the game or at least see the potential in the game. But what we produce isn’t always something maybe I love or Seth loves. I know my opinion in games isn’t the end all for the company, some games have proven really popular when we playtest it with our groups, sometimes it’s a game I don’t see as great but the playtesting results can prove me wrong otherwise. We also have our lead game producer Daniel Peterson who does a real through job at breaking down the rules and working with the designer to create the best product we can.
BGQ: Kickstarter has been a method for your new games coming to the market. How has the evolution of crowd funding changed how Mayday Games publishes board games?
Bruns: It has changed it a lot. It gives us a pulse on the game, getting a feel for production speed and demand for the game. I’m very pro-Kickstarter. It is a great marketing tool for publishers to use to get their games buzzing in the market before they are released.
BGQ: Can you tell us anything that is coming onto Kickstarter or products that we can expect in the near future?
Bruns: We have plans for a few games upcoming. We have a game called Mow Money. In that game players are competing for lawn mowing contracts via an auction mechanic. The last one that I can talk about is a game called AssassinCon where players are attempting to eliminate their target without getting assassinated themselves. This all takes place at a convention, similar to Gen Con.
BGQ: Final question, where do you see the industry going from here?
Bruns: Continuing to grow. During the recession, gaming was an industry that weathered the storm. I owned my online retail business at that time and I saw firsthand the sales of board games. People were able to see the value of board games with the limited dollars they had. That has led to the growth of the industry after the economy picked up. I hope and think it can grow to a point where playing board games isn’t a niche industry and it’s something that you do with your friends and family on a consistent basis.
BGQ: Thank you so much for your time Ryan and enjoy the rest of the Con.
Bruns: Not a problem.
As a person who analyzes companies for a living, I had a great time talking to Ryan Bruns about the evolution of Mayday Games and where they see the industry going in the future. I hope you enjoyed a peak behind the publisher curtain as well. If you want to see all the accessories and games available from Mayday Games head over to their website.
You can follow Mayday Games on twitter at @maydaygames