AMA Mike Myler (EN Publishing, Fantasy Flight, Paizo, AAW, Rogue Genius, Frog God) --- Ends Today!

Mike Myler

Adventurer
Howdy folks!

I'm the guy behind N.O.W., the imminent Veranthea Codex, the ENnie-winning AaWBlog, and scores of products published by a slew of third party publishers in the RPG industry (many of which can be found here, though it's worth noting I have about a dozen free products rolling around).

In stark contrast to probably every other AMA you will see on this board, I've only been at this for a bit more than two years. Through an implacable tenacity, a stupid unwillingness to give up, and a whole @$)%load of luck, I've been successfully keeping above water after cannonballing into the business in 2013 as a fulltime freelance game designer.

How do I do it? What are my secrets? At what time of night do I hide all the bodies? What do I eat when there's time for it? Do I eat at all?

Ask me those things here! We're in the middle of contract season right now (so I'm damned busy) but I told Morrus I'd pop in and do one of these so here I am.

This AMA is closed. Thanks for your time, folks!
 
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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
OK, I'll bite!

1) What did you do before you went fulltime as a freelancer? What made you take that plunge?

2) You write under a pen name. That's common in literature, but not so much in RPGs. Why did you choose to do that?

3) What was the biggest obstacle to getting work? What did you do to surmount it?

4) There aren't actually all that many people in the world who make a living full time as a game designer. In fact, I think more people have been to space. How does that make you feel?

5) Quick. Now. Come up with the concept for a n.e.w. N.O.W. iconic! And n.o.w. a N.E.W. iconic!

6) Do you plan this to be your main career permanently? What's the end-game? A job at Paizo?

7) Have you had any bad reviews? How do you handle them?
 

Mike Myler

Adventurer
OK, I'll bite!
Thanks for asking things, Morrus!

1) What did you do before you went fulltime as a freelancer? What made you take that plunge?
1) After graduating college with a degree in Film Studies I was a labor foreman for a landscaping company until I met this woman that kidnapped me from the bar and convinced me to move into the city proper a few months later.
Once I got here I waited tables for an Asian restaurant nearby (including Sunday dim sum) but after it was revealed to me that they were stealing my already pitiful wages (servers make less than $3/hour in their wage here in the US, not counting tips just the wage, so that was like a kick at an already broken leg) that came to an end.
Before getting back onto the job market generally, the same woman that kidnapped me convinced me to try to sell one of my adventures and though it hasn't been published yet (which breaks my heart) it did pay pretty okay.
Really, I got hooked. We talked about it and decided that no, menial jobs might pay today, but that I needed a career. At that point I garnered this "I'll die and burn in hell before failing at this" attitude, which has fortunately served me quite well.


2) You write under a pen name. That's common in literature, but not so much in RPGs. Why did you choose to do that?
Sometimes I forget that you are a scoop man. ;)

2) Well there's a few reasons. First off, my pen name is very close to my real name, and it's worth noting that I'm rocking my mom's maiden name (the side of the family I've always identified the most strongly with).
Aside from giving my mom's people props, "Mike Myler" is alliterative, has an irregular vowel, is shorter than my real last name, and makes for a killer logo—you're just more likely to remember it, because science.

3) What was the biggest obstacle to getting work? What did you do to surmount it?
3) There's work out there to be had, but not many people willing to pay very much for it - given that this is how I put food on the table, that's a bit of an issue. I also compete with a sea of people, many of whom will work for free or at a recreational rate that isn't really sustainable for a fulltime freelancer.
So I write under a name that mnemonics tells me you'll remember, I work in all aspects of the field that I can, I actively pitch products and approach companies about doing work for them, and I do all of these things relentlessly. When I do get a gig, I make sure to do the best possible job (which seems to work since I've got repeat customers).
The two primary factors are networking (which includes going to conventions, which I've found is essential to succeeding) and getting your foot in the door. I write solid pitches and lay out my ideas quickly, so when somebody throws out a gig into the sphere of the gamer internet, I hook it, gut the fish, and then flash-fry it for the publisher. The second thing I do is an introductory rate - the first gig is cheap up to a certain watermark, and the next time I work for that company it's at my regular rate.

4) There aren't actually all that many people in the world who make a living full time as a game designer. In fact, I think more people have been to space. How does that make you feel?
4) When Owen Stephens told me that a few years ago I damn near shat myself in the hallway at Gen Con. It is a constant reminder that if I'm not on the top of my game I'm going to go underwater, so I'd say it's a great motivator. :)

5) Quick. Now. Come up with the concept for a n.e.w. N.O.W. iconic! And n.o.w. a N.E.W. iconic!
5) If I were to make another N.O.W. iconic it'd probably have to be the cheesy gwailo martial artist, I think, or maybe an Indiana Jones-esque adventurer with a healthy mix of that to make the character distinct.
And for N.E.W. he'd be in space, using alien martial arts. And an electrowhip. And jet boots.

6) Do you plan this to be your main career permanently? What's the end-game? A job at Paizo?
6) This is absolutely the career for me and at this point I can't imagine doing anything else. I totally want a job at Paizo, but my end game is definitely more like a Frank Mentzer kind of deal. I've had an RPG in the hopper that I've been working on for over ten years - that is the end-game, the game to end all games, and the kind of industry-changing system that you slowly develop while earning the respect required to introduce such a groundbreaking product.
Ideally I'll release that with Paizo; every one of their employees (that I've met) is awesome and they run a tight ship (a fast one and I'm not sure the waves will ever capsize).
Also, goblin mascots. Goblins are win.

7) Have you had any bad reviews? How do you handle them?
7) I've had one or two medium reviews, but I don't think anyone has outright hated anything yet (or at least, not vocally). I try not to let reviews I don't like get me down (not everyone likes my cup of tea) and I learn from my mistakes. In the case of my very first publication (The Clockwork Wonders of Brandlehill) I went back and re-tooled it for a better rating, but there's a point you hit where going back to revise things just isn't an option. When it is however, I make sure I hit it out of the park.


Thanks again for asking me things. :D
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
Can we get a Big Trouble in Little China expansion for N.O.W?

Which company was your favorite to work for?
 

Mike Myler

Adventurer
Can we get a Big Trouble in Little China expansion for N.O.W?
You can get a great Big Trouble in Little China game going on right N.O.W.! There are a few things from the movie that aren't already in the Chi system, but that's why there's a magic system in O.L.D.
That said, an officially licensed Big Trouble in Little China product would be radical. I've not yet dealt with a really big licensed IP aside from Golarion and Warhammer 40k (get your Tome of Decay today for encephalopathic pathogens in the grim darkness of the future!), but I'd be more than happy to do so if they were game—and from the looks of the comic book and toy line, they might be!

Which company was your favorite to work for?
That's extremely difficult to determine.
There are a lot of companies that are great to work for (everybody in the listing above) and while there are many factors to consider—pay rate, the material you're working on, how well the people you work with are at collaborating, how much oversight there is (too little or too much?), what the expectations are, whether the project manager knows what they are doing or not—but my personal favorite thing is autonomy.
EN Publishing, Rogue Genius Games, and AAW Games give me the most of that.

I'm not going to lie though: when the e-mail to work on a Warhammer 40k book arrived in my inbox, I damn near lost my mind and bounced off of the walls (literally, not figuratively) for about an hour.

Thanks for your questions, DMMike! :)
 

jamesjhaeck

Visitor
How do you find work as a freelancer? Do you scour Kickstarter pages, or are most of your ideas published through open calls? You mentioned networking at conventions; beyond GenCon, what are some of your favorite gaming conventions as an industry professional?
 

Mike Myler

Adventurer
How do you find work as a freelancer? Do you scour Kickstarter pages, or are most of your ideas published through open calls?
I keep an ear to the ground on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and a few different forums. Whenever a new Kickstarter opens up that I like, if I wasn't already involved I e-mail the creator with a few ideas for stretch goals and let them know I'm interested in fulfilling those stretch goals—sometimes that sticks, sometimes it does not.
Open calls are another good source of work and predominantly why I have that introductory rate deal. After you batter your way into the confidence of a publisher though, I've found that they are generally receptive to your pitches all the time so when I get an idea that I think will work best with a particular publisher, I let them know about it and sometimes they say "ooo, yes, do that."
I've also sent blind pitches to companies not actively looking for writers and the longer I keep at this, the more of those get positive returns (building a good reputation is absolutely key to succeeding here).


You mentioned networking at conventions; beyond GenCon, what are some of your favorite gaming conventions as an industry professional?
Is there a local one? More than one? Go there. Go wherever you might find someone with similar interests and skills that you don't have (or that perhaps complement your own).
GenCon is the biggest of them all (in the states, anyway) and goes a long way to building that rep because people in the industry are physically there (for example, Morrus and I had a meeting at the last one about N.O.W.—I don't think he vacations to Pittsburgh and I've not yet crossed the Atlantic, so otherwise that may never have happened).
I've been to PaizoCon on the west coast, which was valuable for me because I do a bunch of Pathfinder work. I confirmed my editor for Veranthea Codex (an incredibly polite and patient canuck) as well as the project itself and one of my principal writers. Unfortunately getting there wasn't in the card's this year.
Locally I like Tekkoshocon and, to a lesser extent, the frequent Steel City Cons. The former has amazing staff and are rapidly expanding (for good reason) while the latter is...a little..uhhh...there are some shenanigans going on—I'll leave it at that. Still, I found one of my VC artists there (Indi Martin) so it can't be all bad.

If there's a convention near you that's of interest and you're looking for like-minded people trying to work in your field, go there, gab, hand out business cards, and generally get around. ^_^



Thank you for your queries, Jumblejacks! :)
 

Mike Myler

Adventurer
Thanks to everyone who asked me questions, and those of you that read along. :D

This AMA is now closed, but if you're keen for more of this candid action I had one last year you can check out here.
 

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