And now for Part 2 of my interview with Steve Johnson and Leighton Connor of Hex Games. Part 1 showed us how Hex came together and their process of bending genres and coming up with new ideas. In Part 2, the guys discuss where they see the company going from here, their convention experiences, and women in tabletop gaming.
Newly released from Hex Games is Dynateens: Surf Force, which is available at Drive-Thru RPG.
When the evil forces of Megalodon the Mighty threaten the submarine city of New Atlantis, a team of super-powered teenagers, the Dynateens, arise to meet that threat. But are they strong enough to defeat the Great Shark menace and save humanity?
Dynateens: Surf Force is an action-packed game of aquatic adventure designed for use with the QAGS Second Edition rules. It includes background on the setting, rules for creating Dynateen characters, genre tropes, sample characters, adventure templates, character sheets, and more!
Dynateens: Surf Force is written by Ian “Aces & Apes” Engle and illustrated by Joshua LH Burnett, with a cover by James Hornsby.
Go go, Dynateens!
Be sure to enter to win a copy of Dynateens and QAGS 2nd edition! Details about the contest are at the bottom of the interview!
KGG: What has been the biggest obstacle at Hex Games since it was founded?
Steve: There are a lot of contenders, but the biggest problem is that we started the company without any real idea of how to run a business. Luckily, we’ve finally figured out more or less what we’re doing.
Leighton: We made some really, really stupid mistakes early on. What was our biggest obstacle? Us. We were the biggest obstacle.
More recently, our biggest obstacle has been time. I have two small children, and that has really cut into the time I have available to work on RPGs. As I mentioned earlier, even a short game requires a lot of time and energy. But I’m adapting.
KGG: Where do you see Hex in five years?
Steve: As a company, I think we’ll be about the same, but with a lot more products (hopefully including a Third Edition of QAGS) in our backlist. Barring a major financial windfall or runaway hit, I doubt we’ll ever make the move to full-time game company with an office and employees and all that jazz. Those things cost a lot of money, which means you have to worry about producing games that are marketable to a large audience. I’d rather spend my spare time writing games that I want to play than earn a regular paycheck slogging away at something other people want to play.
Leighton: Like Steve, I just want to keep doing what we’re doing, and continue to put out games that we enjoy. I want to expand on our product lines, so that we have a wide variety of material available for Hobomancer, M-Force, and all the rest. I’d also like to think that in five years we’ll have a larger audience. We do some niche stuff, so we know that we’ll never dominate the RPG market, but our audience has been steadily growing, and I think there are still plenty of people out there who haven’t heard of us yet but will enjoy what we’ve got to offer.
KGG: You all attend a lot of conventions. What is the dynamic like at most? I've attended gaming conventions with an overwhelmingly male bias.
Steve: Conventions--especially gaming conventions--are overwhelmingly male (and white), but they have gotten steadily more diverse in the 15+ years I’ve been going to convention. That may be skewed because several of the cons I go to aren’t limited to gaming. The games we run seem to get a higher percentage of female players than a lot of other games, but I’m not sure whether that has more to do with the subject matter, the focus on storytelling, or the fact that our GMs treat women as fellow gamers and not like potential dates, intruders in the boys’ club, or simple creatures whose tiny brains can’t possibly comprehend the complexity and importance of pretending to be a magic space elf with a pet dinosaur.
Leighton: This male bias issue has become very important to me since my daughter was born. My daughter and I watched every episode of Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes together, and we loved it, and if someone wants to tell her that she can’t like superheroes because she’s a girl, I will have very, very harsh words for that person. I know that if, for some reason, she someday decides to follow in my footsteps, and goes to a con to play in an RPG, there’s a good chance that the guys at the table will treat her like a second-class citizen just because she’s a girl, and that infuriates me.
That said, we’ve had a lot of female players over the years, and I think we’ve avoided creating an uncomfortable environment in our games. Which is stupid that we even have to say that--”Come play in our games, and we’ll treat you like a human being!” shouldn’t be a selling point, it should be the default.
KGG: What do you think that publishers can do to appeal to female gamers?
Steve: It’s tricky, because I’ve seen a lot of products (games and other things) that are obviously intended to appeal to women but come across as a little condescending because they’re obnoxiously cutesy, or they focus on a kind of immature, cartoonish idea of romance and relationships, or they have pink covers with little hearts all over them. We’ve released a few games (like Roller Girls Vs. and Leopard Women of Venus) that we hope will appeal to women, but we’ve tried to avoid “girly” material in favor of games that highlight strong female characters. Even Laser Ponies--which is about magical ponies who braid each other’s hair and have tea parties and learn lessons about sharing--allows for laser-powered badassery when the Chasm Queen’s minions show up.
Leighton: Laser Ponies is not targeted at women in general, but specifically at little girls. Boys are welcome, of course, but girls are the target demographic. My daughter loves ponies and rainbows and princesses and, as I mentioned earlier, she loves action and adventure. The frustrating thing is that most cartoons and toy lines segregate these two things and designate action and adventure as being solely for boys. That just needlessly limits the kinds of entertainment available to girls. The idea behind Laser Ponies is to open up the possibilities, and add monster-zapping action into a setting inspired by more traditional girl-oriented cartoons.
When I mention Laser Ponies to adults, they often think it’s ironic,or a parody, but when I’ve talked to actual kids about it, they get it immediately. My daughter has never thought the idea was weird--of course the magical ponies shoot lasers out of their eyes and fight monsters. Why wouldn’t they?
Sorry, I got off topic there. I could go on about this all day. What can publishers do to appeal to female gamers? I don’t know, but I guess a good first step would be to assume that female gamers exist. Despite what I was saying above, I think featuring traditionally female subject matter--like “Pride & Prejudice: The Role-Playing Game”--is less important than creating a welcoming environment in the standard genres. Plenty of women love fantasy, for instance, but they won’t want to play in a sword-and-sorcery game where the women are all sex slaves. Just don’t be creepy, and leave room for interesting female characters.
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