Arts & Entertainment and Small Business & Startups

Game publisher rolls dice on new career

Former insurance salesman funds first game through Kickstarter.

October 21, 2016
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Unreal Estate
The card game Unreal Estate is the first product scheduled for release in June 2017. Courtesy Grand Gamers Guild

Marc Specter describes his role as a game publisher as like being a builder: He’s in charge of organizing the “roofers, painters and drywallers.” Only in his world, his workforce is made up of game designers, project managers and artists.

Specter is the owner of board and card game publisher Grand Gamers Guild, based out of his Belmont home. He launched his business in March and recently finished a Kickstarter to put out the company’s first game, Unreal Estate.

The Kickstarter raised $19,866 and had 893 backers as of Oct. 18. The capital raised was almost four times Specter’s initial goal of $5,000.

Grand Gamers Guild was born out of Specter’s growing unease with his 18-year career in the insurance industry.

“About two years ago, things started to not feel right,” he said. So, he decided to quit his job and throw his energy into building a game publishing company.

So far, he has four games in the works, one of which is Unreal Estate, a family-friendly, rummy-style card game scheduled for release in June 2017. The other games are called Stroop (available June 2017), a board game called Endangered (no release date) and Pocket Ops (no release date).

Specter, who also founded local gaming convention Grand Con in 2013, relies on contractors to design and illustrate his games.

Designer Jason Slingerland of Kalamazoo connected with Specter a few years back through Grand Con.

“I do a weekly podcast called Building the Game,” Slingerland said. “I met Marc through that and Grand Con. We met and liked talking to and working with each other. That’s how he ended up looking at my games when he was looking to publish.”

Slingerland’s M.O. is creating accessible and family-friendly games that have “good replay value and that players can learn quickly.” In that respect, Unreal Estate was exactly in his wheelhouse.

His design process is fairly intuitive: Start with an idea. Keep improving on it.

“In this case, (the idea was) a simple way to have game play with cards,” he said. “I start with a theme and make a prototype — then I playtest that with other designers and those who are not designers. From there, I hone what works and doesn’t work. Then I’ll redesign it and show it to a publisher. Next, development happens, and we get to really fine-tune the game. Then the publisher works with contracting out all the artwork.”

Slingerland said one of his favorite things about working with Grand Gamers Guild was that, unlike with other game publishers he’s worked with, Specter allowed him full and free access to the illustrator, Corinne Roberts, so the two could come up with the artwork collaboratively.

“I gave the artist a list of the buildings and descriptions of what each building does, and then I would throw out an idea, ‘Hey, I think it could look like this,’ or sometimes I would give her a picture, then I would give her free reign to paint something that fit that description.”

He said he is really happy with how the artwork turned out for Unreal Estate.

“We wanted this game to have its own life, and it does,” he said. “It really pops; it really gets your attention.”

Roberts, who is from Grand Haven and studied illustration at Kendall College of Art and Design, said she also met Specter through Grand Con. She said her style was a good fit for what Specter and Slingerland were looking for.

“I do watercolor and pen artwork, and I’m always trying to go for telling a story or setting a mood,” she said.

Roberts said she was grateful for the opportunity to work with Grand Gamers Guild and especially liked how much input she was allowed in the final stages of the process.

“For this game, I received a list of the type of houses needed, and then from there, I would give them two concept drawings, and they would pick the image they liked. On this particular project, they were very open and gave me a lot of input on the final coloring. I had a great time with that.”

Specter plans to publish a companion art book of Roberts’ watercolors to sell alongside Unreal Estate.

At this point, Specter is owner and the sole full-time employee of Grand Gamers Guild, with five or so contractors. But he said he might hire as the company grows.

Grand Gamers Guild plans to do most of its retail sales through local game shops, including Out of the Box, 114 E. Main Ave. in Zeeland; Excelsior Games & Comics, 306 S. Lafayette St. in Greenville; and The Gamer’s Wharf, 2976 28th St. SW in Grandville.

“I have done demo nights at local gaming stores, and I also plan to do release parties where people can come and play and pick up their Kickstarter game,” Specter said.

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