“It can be way worse to win the wrong game than to lose one that you actually enjoy playing.”— Justin Gary
Justin Gary (@Justin_Gary) is an award-winning designer, author, speaker, and entrepreneur. He is CEO of Stone Blade Entertainment and creator of the innovative and award-winning Ascension deck-building game series. Prior to designing games, Justin was the youngest ever Magic: The Gathering US National Champion. He has studied creativity and applied the principles of design to create dozens of products over his 20 years in the industry for brands that include Marvel, World of Warcraft, and the Wharton School of Business. Today, he designs, consults, and teaches creativity around the world as a digital nomad.
Justin is also the author of Think Like a Game Designer: The Step-By-Step Guide to Unlocking Your Creative Potential and host of the Think Like a Game Designer podcast.
Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, or on your favorite podcast platform. You can watch the interview on YouTube here.
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Want to hear another episode with someone who makes games for a living? Listen to my conversation with Doom co-creator John Romero in which we discussed developing 13 games in one year, hyperthymesia, early innovations in 3D gaming, designing games with movable and removable parts in mind, the ups and downs of starting a new gaming company, and much more.
What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.
SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…
SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE
- Think Like a Game Designer: The Step-By-Step Guide to Unlocking Your Creative Potential by Justin Gary | Amazon
- Think Like a Game Designer Podcast
- Stone Blade Entertainment
- Ascension | Amazon
- SolForge Fusion | Amazon
- The World’s Premier Trading Card Game | Magic: The Gathering
- The World’s Greatest Roleplaying Game | Dungeons & Dragons
- Lincoln-Douglas (LD) Debate Format | Debate Drills
- The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858 | Lincoln Home National Historic Site
- Revenge of the Nerds Magic Is Played with Cards. It’s Wildly Popular. It’s Tough to Explain | Sports Illustrated Vault
- Justin Gary UR Aggro — 1st US Nationals 1997 Deck | MTG Goldfish
- Justin Gary | MTG Wiki
- Monopoly | Amazon
- The Dojo | MTG Wiki
- Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, and Sam Witwer | Amazon
- Richard Garfield | Think Like a Game Designer #11
- Richard Garfield | Think Like a Game Designer #31
- Top 50 Most Powerful Magic: The Gathering Cards | NerdMuch?
- Play Tic-Tac-Toe
- Rock-Paper-Scissors: You vs. the Computer | The New York Times
- Keep or Mull? The History Of The Mulligan In Magic: The Gathering | AetherHub
- NYU School of Law
- 20 Things a Good NYC Subway Commuter Should Know | Time Out
- Upper Deck Company | Wikipedia
- Zuckerberg to Leave Harvard Indefinitely | The Harvard Crimson
- Fear-Setting: The Most Valuable Exercise I Do Every Month | Tim Ferriss
- A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative by Roger von Oech | Amazon
- The Surprising Magic of Setting a Deadline | Hacking Your ADHD
- Creative Whack Pack Deck by Roger von Oech | Amazon
- Gary Arant | Think Like a Game Designer #47
- George Does the Opposite | Seinfeld
- Are There Any Benefits or Drawbacks to Releasing a Book in Hardcover Only? | Quora
- How to Become a Game Designer | Justin Gary
- Core Design Loop Step 1: Inspiration | Justin Gary
- Core Design Loop Step 2: Set Parameters | Justin Gary
- Core Design Loop Step 3: Brainstorming | Justin Gary
- Core Design Loop Step 4: Prototyping | Justin Gary
- Core Design Loop Step 5: Test | Justin Gary
- Core Design Loop Step 6: Iteration | Justin Gary
- A Fictional World Built for These Chaotic Times | The Legend of CØCKPUNCH
- Halo Waypoint
- World of Warcraft
- Grand Theft Auto V
- Warhammer Age of Sigmar | Games Workshop
- This American Life
- The Joe Rogan Experience | Spotify
- A Simpler Way to Organize Your Work | Workflowy
- Your Connected Workspace for Wiki, Docs, and Projects | Notion
- A Beginner’s Guide: How to Rent Your Ideas to Fortune 500 Companies with Stephen Key | Tim Ferriss
- KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid): A Design Principle | IxDF
- Dominion Big Box 2nd Edition | Amazon
- Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process by John McPhee | Amazon
- Ascension Prototype Designs | Justin Gary
- The Sunk Cost Fallacy | The Decision Lab
- Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game | Wikipedia
- Upper Deck World of Warcraft Miniatures Core Set | Amazon
- The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Tim Ferriss | Amazon
- 80/20 Rule (Pareto Principle) | Investopedia
- Richard Koch on Mastering the 80/20 Principle, Achieving Unreasonable Success, and the Art of Gambling | The Tim Ferriss Show #466
- How to Negotiate as a Freelancer | Harvard Business Review
- Teaching by the Case Method | Christensen Center for Teaching & Learning, Harvard Business School
- Sailing on a Rising Tide of Juice; The Almost Accidental Success of Nantucket Nectars | The New York Times
- Hotel Biron
- Time to Penis / TTP | Know Your Meme
- CØCKPUNCH Coffee
- Justin Gary AMA | Bakugan TCG Subreddit
- Game Manufacturers Association (GAMA) Expo
- Art Supplies, Crafts, and Framing | Michaels
- Play Reimagined | Toy Fair
- Gen Con
- Bad Beets Official How to Play Video | Stone Blade
- Arnold Sports Festival
- IronMind Captains of Crush (COC) Hand Gripper | Amazon
- How Viagra Was Discovered by Accident | BBC
- Game Testing Questions | Justin Gary
- Neil Gaiman’s 8 Rules of Writing | The Marginalian
- Gen Con: The History of the World’s Oldest Tabletop Gaming Convention | BooksBrushes&Balrogs
- Burning Man
- Ascension Tactics: The Deckbuilding Miniatures Game by Stone Blade Entertainment | Kickstarter
- Bakugan | Spin Master
- PAX (Events) | Wikipedia
- SolForge Digital Trading Card Game by Stone Blade Entertainment | Kickstarter
- The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy by Chris Bailey | Amazon
- The Rule of Three | Chris Bailey
- Level Up Journal | Stone Blade Entertainment
- Your Digital HQ | Slack
- Manage Your Team’s Work, Projects, & Tasks Online | Asana
- A New Way of Working | Monday
- Thailand Travel Guide | National Geographic
- [07:43] An origin story steeped in Magic.
- [11:23] A debatable past.
- [16:38] The life of a full-time Magic competitor.
- [18:24] A philosophy major.
- [19:45] Monopoly lessons learned from a family of lawyers.
- [23:28] Innovations that made Magic an instant success.
- [26:40] Magic game balance considerations.
- [30:06] Justin exits his Magic career with an altered mindset.
- [36:43] Too cool for law school.
- [41:34] Risk is relative.
- [43:39] From playing games to designing games.
- [46:10] A Whack on the Side of the Head.
- [49:53] Surfacing our assumptions.
- [54:47] The core design loop and effective brainstorming.
- [1:00:20] Brainstorming tools.
- [1:02:01] Prototyping.
- [1:06:26] The value of ugly first drafts.
- [1:09:37] From company man to entrepreneur.
- [1:15:45] Fear-setting and contingency planning.
- [1:18:13] The early stages of startup life.
- [1:24:05] TTP.
- [1:25:21] Taking the company to the next level.
- [1:31:43] Gaming GAMA and other trade shows.
- [1:37:02] Eliciting feedback at the playtesting stage.
- [1:42:32] Ascension debuts at Gen Con.
- [1:47:04] The finances of game production.
- [1:51:27] The pros and cons of selling a game to another company.
- [1:53:54] Favorite failures.
- [1:59:17] Maintaining relationships through failures.
- [2:00:45] Lessons learned through trial and error.
- [2:03:39] Putting the rule of three to work.
- [2:05:21] Why Justin’s team communicates via Discord.
- [2:07:49] How a trip to Thailand helped Justin escape his need for control.
- [2:11:25] Justin’s billboard.
- [2:12:49] Parting thoughts.
MORE JUSTIN GARY QUOTES FROM THE INTERVIEW
“Cultivate comfort with uncertainty and impermanence.”
— Justin Gary
“It can be way worse to win the wrong game than to lose one that you actually enjoy playing.”
— Justin Gary
“Deadlines are magic. It doesn’t matter if you have no idea what you’re doing, you have a deadline.”
— Justin Gary
“Most of the times we take risks, we’re not jumping off cliffs or into burning buildings. It’s just your career takes a different path or you’re behind in school or whatever. It’s a very low cost.”
— Justin Gary
“There’s nothing that differentiates a creative person from a not-creative person other than process.”
— Justin Gary
“It’s actually net negative for you to invest in making something ‘pretty’ early on in the process.”
— Justin Gary
“If you really, really think about the worst case scenarios, 99 times out of 100, they’re totally recoverable within a year. It’s often way less.”
— Justin Gary
“Imagine you’re building a house, and before you’ve even laid the foundation, you’re worrying about the paint color on the walls and where the furniture goes. You’re not going to get very far. You’re wasting a lot of time. Make sure you’ve got a solid foundation first. Worry about the paint color later. I think a lot of designers start by worrying about the paint color being wrong and they’re never going to finish a house that way.”
— Justin Gary
“Nobody knows what they’re doing. I cannot know what I’m doing at least as well as anybody else. This idea that the difference between a leader and somebody else is not that they know something or that they have some special access. It’s that [they’re] just willing to make some assertions and own the consequences. That’s it. That’s the difference.”
— Justin Gary
- Richard Garfield
- Reid Hoffman
- Mark Zuckerberg
- Roger von Oech
- Derek Sivers
- Richard Branson
- Elan Lee
- Stephen Key
- Jeremy Cranford
- Babe Ruth
- Michael Jordan
- Tiger Woods
- Ed Zschau
- Rob Dougherty
- Eric Sabee
- Todd McFarlane
- Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Neil Gaiman
- Taylor Swift
- Chris Bailey
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