|Honor and Remembrance
A Note on the Unsung Heroes of Gaming and Two Goodbyes
|News | Published 31 March 2014|
Fantasy Flight Games CEO Christian T. Petersen remembers two individuals who made fundamental contributions to the company’s early growth.
Today, as FFG’s accounting year draws to a close, the office hums dutifully with inventory counts and the closing of the annual ledgers. Among such bustle, I take a brief moment to reflect on the year that passed.
With the loss of two industry colleagues during the last twelve months, my thoughts turn to those who work in the shadows to bring us the products that we love.
The process of making movies is generally understood to be a collaborative one. We understand the value of the scriptwriter, of the actors and actresses, of the director, the set designer, the producer, the editor, the cinematographer, and so on. Many of these professions in film have their own awards and recognitions; they are profiled in media, and their contributions are discussed and debated by discerning and casual audiences alike.
Much less understood is the process of making games. On gaming fansites, in game reviews, and in general discussion among gamers, the game designer often receives the bulk of plaudits and criticism, yet the process of delivering a game product has at least one thing in common with movies: It is very collaborative. Many of the talented individuals that bring games to life receive little recognition. I wish to honor those contributors here.
Extending the movie analogy, it is my experience (with some exceptions) that the role of the game designer is most akin to that of the scriptwriter. He or she conjures narrative and function from inspiration and perspiration, then works towards a physical manifestation (the script or prototype) that delivers the desired experience in rough form. At this point, though, the game prototype, like the film script, usually looks and feels little like the final product.
Once a publisher accepts a designer’s final prototype (whether it is developed internally or by an outside designer), a huge amount of development work begins. The publisher’s creative team, often in communication with the designer, now takes the bundle of cardboard, tokens, and ideas – the prototype – and begins the process that will add the publisher’s interpretation, vision, and applied craft to transforming the game into a finished visual and tactile experience.
In many cases (even most), the development of a game consists of months and months of fine-tuning and redesign in collaboration with the designer. This is followed by content-development (e.g. creating additional missions, cards, characters, etc.), additional testing, graphic design, art, manufacturing, rules writing, safety testing, and so on. This is then followed by the work of marketing, accounting, sales, licensing approvals, and logistics before the game arrives in stores.
In short, the act of bringing a finished FFG game into players’ hands, is the collaborative result of the work of dozens of great people who do so without a name on the box.
Most game designers that I know, including myself, will readily attest to the crucial contribution, interpretation, vision, experience, and hard work of art directors, staff designers, graphic designers, producers, editors, testers, coordinators, content developers, rules writer, production management staff, and others.
I am fortunate to enjoy the company of these people every day. I hear their ideas, feel their passion, and see the pride in their eyes when a new product to which they contributed first arrives. I wish you could experience and appreciate these great people also. As FFG enjoys the best year in its history, neither the CEO, nor its designers could have achieved such an amazing result without the hard work, creativity, and positive attitudes of those that labor in the clockwork of the hobby industry. We honor you and thank you.
This year, the comic and games industry lost two such unsung heroes. Individuals like those described above who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to turn the gears and dials that make our enjoyment possible.
Phyllis Opolko (1959 – 2013)
My first venture into the business of games was in 1991 when I founded a company in my native Denmark during my high-school years to import the games of the Avalon Hill Game Company from the U.S. Phyllis Opolko was my sales representative at Avalon Hill, and helped me get those first game orders rolling across the ocean.
Years later, after I’d founded FFG, I would meet Phyllis again. When Hasbro acquired Avalon Hill in 1998, Phyllis began working for Alliance Games Distributors on their Game Trade Magazine (the monthly wholesale game catalog published by Alliance), and she did a great job with it. Phyllis continued to work on Game Trade Magazine after Alliance was purchased by Diamond Comic Distribution in 2000, after which she also began organizing many of Diamond/Alliance’s “Trade Summits” (industry gatherings). I’d run into Phyllis at many shows such as GAMA or Gen Con Indy, and enjoyed many fun meetings and meals with her discussing FFG’s advertising plans for Game Trade Magazine. I saw her last at Gen Con 2013. She was visibly suffering from the evil that ate at her, but I remember that she was smiling and clearly was enjoying the life and fun around her – fun that she, in her own way, had helped build.
Phyllis was present at my very first touch-stone in the business of games, and she tirelessly worked in the hobby until her last. The industry of games is poorer for her passing, and I have lost a brave companion on the long road of dice, cards, and dragons.
Kim Thompson (1956 - 2013)
Fantasy Flight Publishing, now known as Fantasy Flight Games, was originally founded in 1995 as a comic book publisher. It was my dream to import and sell the wonderful European comic books in the U.S. that I had enjoyed as a child in Denmark.
(You may have heard of Lucky Luke, Spirou and Fantasio, John and Peewit, Percevan, Asterix, Valerian, Tintin, etc. These were the styles of comics I believed could be successfully published in the U.S. While my attempts in this field were unsuccessful, and my publishing efforts would turn to games, many of these awesome books have recently been brought to the English language by publishers such as Cinebook and Papercutz. They’ve done a great job, and I encourage you to check them out!)
Upon starting Fantasy Flight, I had little skill or knowledge of publishing. All I had was a passion for the product and a willingness to learn by hard work. Yet, especially in this age before the advent of the internet, I needed both practical advice and moral support. Kim Thompson was one of those early key people who gave me both.
In 1977, my fellow Dane Kim Thompson joined the Seattle-based comic book and magazine publisher Fantagraphics which had been founded a year before by comics-critique pioneer Gary Groth. Kim soon became co-owner of Fantagraphics, and one of our world’s greatest advocates for independent comics and for bringing quality European comics to the U.S.
Kim advised me on the pitfalls of publishing European comics in the U.S. and was always generous with his time and helpful with practical information. I remember, for example, Kim patiently giving me a tips on how to create barcodes and how to get ISBN registration numbers.
Kim cared deeply for the quality of graphic novels, and I was honored to have him translate Andre Franquin’s “Z is for Zorglub” which Fantasy Flight published in late 1995.
Unlike the great independent comic creators whom Kim coached and helped to reach their potential, Kim never received much public recognition for his work (except perhaps for his often controversial columns in the Comics Journal).
I lost contact with Kim after the early comic book years of Fantasy Flight, but I’ve often thought of him and been grateful for the generous time he gave me – and, by extension, the help that he gave Fantasy Flight Games. Over the past decade, I always reckoned that I’d run into Kim some day at San Diego Comic Con, where I could thank him again for his help and where we could reminisce a few minutes about European comics.
With Kim’s passing, that day will never come. Thank you, Kim, for your generosity, your energy, and your passion. You were a hidden giant of your industry. Hvil i fred.
Both Kim and Phyllis were taken from us by the scourge of cancer. In their memory, FFG has today made a $5,000 donation to the American Cancer Society. If you wish to consider a donation also, you can contribute through their site.
I look forward to another great year of creating great game product for you with the wonderful creative and hardworking people at FFG.
Christian T. Petersen
Fantasy Flight Games