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Push off Paxman

Why a bunch of game developers are working with a political commentary site

If you go over to Reddit and look at the size and traffic of different subreddits, it can give you an interesting, though not scientific, barometer of what a slice of the Internet are interested in talking about. Reddit Politics, the main area for posting about the US election currently stands at just over 3 million users. Over the fence in gaming there are just shy of 10 million.

At a glance it would seem that more people are interested in virtually shooting each other than who are likely to rule over them, and how they'll be doing just that..

This is clearly a simplified interpretation of what's going on of course, and what we at Auroch Digital are interested in is a much more complex situation: it's not either games or serious stuff, instead it is and should be both.

With Elections of US America Election: The Card Game, we're currently at that cross-roads, and we've found that, by being prepared to get out of your comfort zone as a developer, there are opportunities for creativity, new audiences, and fresh formats.

"we've found that, by being prepared to get out of your comfort zone as a developer, there are opportunities for creativity, new audiences, and fresh formats"

As a games developer I'm clearly very (very!) interested in games. They are the medium I'm most comfortable with and one I prefer to use to talk about all manner of subjects. But I'm also interested in politics and think that the machinations of the process are very (very!) gamic. So it was with those two interests that I approached US based political commentary site Wonkette about us working together.

This was going to take the studio outside its comfort zone - into a subject we hadn't covered before.

We're the people behind GameTheNews, so we're no stranger to taking on difficult topics, but why bother with a thorny subject like this in the first place? Surely there are better topics for games to cover?

What about our staple subjects? Zombies, elves, magic, Cthulhu (okay, I relented and added him!), street fighting, dinosaurs?

Yes those topics are well adapted to games, and as games have a healthy geek culture they fit well, but have you noticed that many of the 'breakout' titles recently have come from covering left-field topics? Immigration (Papers, Please!), looking for forest fires (Firewatch), or the heartache of terminal illness (That Dragon, Cancer). In short as games grow up the medium is able to draw from a wider range of topics, and exploring these topics is not only good for creativity but it helps your title stand out. Yes, it's riskier than normal in an already risky industry, but that's the point.

Of course there's also the added risk of potentially alienating your market. Google 'things not to talk about' at a dinner party, or on a date, and it's not long before politics comes up as a gigantic 'no-no'. This is because it's hard to talk about political ideas without becoming partisan, and once you nail your colours to the mast, you begin alienating potential players.

"After all, crowdfunding was the space originally designed to take projects that were out of the comfort zone of traditional commercial products"

Even doing politics as an abstracted concept, or in a historical setting, would have been a bit easier for us here. But again, to take us out of our comfort zone we wanted to work on a concept that was alive and happening right now, and the 2016 US election is the biggest game being played right now. Its winner will impact the lives of everyone on the planet, so our response is to take that idea, gamify it, and see what happens.That's where Wonkette comes in.

They know the turf and understand the political players. They've been great with making gameplay suggestions and (to be brutally honest) are basically much funnier that we are... see Hillary's card before the Wonkette touch, and after, I'm sure you'll agree the after-text is much better!

There's also an opportunity to get a new audience involved in what you do. We decided early on to take this game to Kickstarter. After all, crowdfunding was the space originally designed to take projects that were out of the comfort zone of traditional commercial products. As I'm sure most of you know, it's a much harder place to succeed in without a big name or IP backing you, so with Wonkette's sizable and very loyal audience we knew that from day one we had people who resonated with the idea of what we wanted to make. They love the Wonkette brand of satire and like our game concept. That got us to about 25 per cent of the goal in the first 2 days. So being out of your comfort zone can give you a new audience, one that other games are not currently talking too.

We were also going out on a limb doing a physical card game. Though we've done plenty of digital card games, and games with card-based elements, we've yet to make a card game that must be designed, sent to the printers, packaged, shipped, and so on. So again, we're out of our comfort zone with this new platform - physical games - and have had to do a lot of learning about printing processes and postage costs, but in physical games we find the area that most digital games have roots in somewhere, and there are still a lot of things to learn from that space that can apply to the world of video games. And besides, the new direction fits well with what both us and Wonkette wanted to achieve from the project, and it has the added advantage of not needing a code team to work on it! We're also now more clued up in this area should any of our non-political, non-axe-grinding, non-politician-baiting projects see fit for a card or boardgame version.

So where are we now, and has moving out of our comfort zone worked? I'd say so, and we're just under two thirds of the way to our Kickstarter goal - join us to see our view of The White House!

PS. I asked our partners in this project why they are getting our of their comfort zone to do this; "Why would Wonkette sully its elevated brand by associating with a bunch of Limey ne'er-do-wells?" asked Rebecca Schoenkopf, owner, publisher and editrix of the highly respected political website. "I don't know. I needed the money I guess" Truth in politics - something well out of the subject's comfort zone!

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