Designer Interview with: Matthew Duhan

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interview by Alan Gerding

Mathew Duhan fancies himself to be a pretty high level geek.  Besides designing AND publishing such games as Collateral Damage, Zombie Ninja Pirates and its sequal, Vampire Werewolf Fairies, Matthew is involved in Dementia (geeky comedy music) and Mystery Science Theater.  He is the creative mind behind his game company Gozer Games.  We met for the first time at GenCon 2011 in Indianapolis. 

So where did the idea for Zombie Ninja Pirates originate?

The idea for Zombie Ninja Pirates came from GenCon actually. We had a booth in 2008 for our first game, Collateral Damage. We were across the aisle from a company showing off their new zombie themed game. At one point my assistant commented to me that pirate themed games are big, that zombie themed games are big, and that ninja themed games are getting big. If someone could combine all three, it’d be a gold mine! We laughed, and that was it. That night, the first version of Zombie Ninja Pirates was created.

At what point did you decide that you were ready to self publish?

I had had my first game, Collateral Damage, essentially done and ready in 2005. In December 2006 I started doing research into starting my own game company, and made a resolution to publish that game in 2007. It was difficult, but I had a good game idea and some capital to start it up, so it seemed like a good way to go.
What was the biggest hurdle in your game publishing endeavors?

Probably finding a manufacturer for Collateral Damage, and dealing with the issues of overseas manufacturing, including translation issues.
Talk about why independently publish rather than sell to a big name publisher.

At the time, I had investigated the options of going through a publisher vs publishing myself. My first game was rather niche, so I knew that it would be a more difficult sell for another company. In addition, I wanted to retain creative control over Collateral Damage. Since I had the capital and desire to produce more games and start my own company, that’s the direction in which I went.

What, in your opinion, is the best aspect of publishing on your own?

The best aspect is being able to be fully involved in all aspects of the production process. From the artwork and graphic design, to choices made for parts and where to manufacture, I have much more control over how my games look and are made. Of course, this is a double edged sword, as I am more responsible for both success and failure.

What was the biggest mistake you made in your publishing adventure? What was the best thing you did?

I definitely made some mistakes early on with the first printing of Collateral Damage. They were rookie mistakes that I learned from, but were things that in retrospect I could have avoided. Mostly, they involved spending too much for some things that didn’t need to be done that way.

I think the best thing that I did, from a game perspective, was to get the fantastic artists that I got for Vampire Werewolf Fairies. From a company perspective, I think it was getting fulfillment, and thus worldwide distribution.

What do you think makes Gozer Games different or better than the other games out there?

I don’t know that we are better than other game companies out there. After all, there are many great companies who have many games that we love to play, and who have been doing this for longer than I have. I will say though that what makes Gozer Games different is our take on games, our theme. Our tagline is “Games should be funny as well as fun” and I really believe that. I try to make sure that all our games have a sense of humor to them, or an aspect of tongue-in-cheek parody. I think that is what distinguishes our games from others.

What projects are you currently working on?

We have several projects in the works, and I don’t want to say too much about any particular project. I can say however that I am working on another expansion to the Zombie Ninja Pirates line. I am also working on another game, that deals with an aspect of conventions. Again, it is presented in a tongue-in-cheek humorous way.

What are you thoughts on playtesting? When is there enough, and when do you know when you have something worth publishing?

I don’t think you can ever have enough playtesting. Eventually you get to a point where you know in your gut that the game is done, and more playtesting won’t reveal many more potential issues. In UI (User Interface) testing, you generally want to have at least 3 tests in order to find the major issues. I think that the same carries over to game design.

Any last advice for any of those that want to self publish?

Self publishing is difficult and time consuming. Even though in recent years it has been made easier with sites like Kickstarter or fulfillment houses like Game Salute, there is still a lot more than designing a game that needs to go into self publishing and running your own company. Keep in mind all you’ll need to do in terms of advertising, conventions, warehousing, layout, etc. and balance that against the potential reward. Having your own company is very satisfying, but it is a lot of work as well. Don’t expect to make millions, but keep at it and try to enjoy the ride.


Greetings Fellow Superlative Game Designers

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