Sunday, 30 July 2017

Needy Cat Games Interview

This week I have another exciting interview for you to sink your eyes into.

James M Hewitt, former maestro of Games Workshop's Specialist Brands (and responsible for some of the most fun I've had in the last 18 months with games like Betrayal at Calth, Blood Bowl and the Silver Tower boxed games...), recently decided to go it alone and started Needy Cat Games based here in Nottingham (proving once again that my home town really is a hub of creativity).

James kindly agreed to an interview so that we can find out what his future plans are for Need Cat...

Where'd the name come from for your new adventure? Or do we need to ask?...

I’ve always dreamed of starting up my own indie games studio (apparently that’s what this is called!), and for years I’ve been coming up with name ideas. I think the name of a publisher or studio is really important, and it has to fit a few criteria. It has to be memorable, it has to be google-friendly (calling yourself “the games company” isn’t going to help you stand out in searches!) and it helps if it says something about the business.

At this point, I’ll introduce our cat, Helo. He is a right whiny lump of a creature, and never more so than when we’re trying to play a board game. He’s always trying to get on the board, knock pieces over, and generally make it obvious that the silly humans need to stop what they’re doing and give him some attention, right now. One time when this happened, I joked that if I ever started a games company I’d call it Needy Cat Games… and as soon as I said it, I realised it was probably the best idea I’d come up with.

Everyone I’ve mentioned it to at networking events and workshops (I’ve been getting very professional indeed, I’ll have you know) has remarked on the fact that it stands out, so I think it ticks the ‘memorable’ box. Googling “Needy Cat Games” only takes you to one site, so that’s another tick. And I hope it gives the sense that we’re a light-hearted company that doesn’t take itself too seriously. If nothing else, anyone who’s ever tried playing a game in the same room as a cat with probably be able to empathise!

How's it going so far?

So far, so good! Although I’m eventually planning to release my own games, I’m starting off by doing some freelance game design for other companies. Unfortunately I can’t say much more than that on the subject, for contractual reasons, but I’ve got a packed schedule for the next three months, and there’s already more on the horizon. In short, it’s off to a great start! I’m trying my best to stay focussed, though, and not get complacent – the majority of small start-ups die in their first year, and I don’t want to be one of them.

How did you family take it when you decided to start Needy Cat?

They’ve all been incredibly supportive! Many of them (including my partner, Sophie) have been nudging me towards doing this for a few years now, and when I made it public knowledge I actually got a few phone calls from family members telling me it was the best idea I’d ever had, which was really nice! I’ve never been afraid of putting the hours in, and my attitude from day one has been “if I can’t get the work I want, I’ll do whatever I can get”. When we first moved to Nottingham about six years ago, it was a real leap of faith – neither of us had jobs lined up, but we knew it was the right move to make. We both did temp work for a couple of months until we found more permanent work, and I know that in a pinch I could go back to that. I’m not saying I relish the thought of data entry or week-long admin jobs, but I’ll do whatever… and I think that’s put everyone’s mind at ease with regards to this venture. My own included!

It's still early days, do you feel a bit 'home sick' after working at Games Workshop?

I really miss the people, and the environment, I won’t lie! I spent the last year in the Forge World studio, which is a real melting-pot of incredibly talented people, so you can imagine the kind of bizarre conversations that happened on a daily basis. At the minute I only have the cats to talk to, and they’re way less entertaining.

Also, I miss being part of a team – but that’s entirely my own fault, isn’t it? When Games Workshop launched the Specialist Brands studio, it was myself, Andy Hoare (our manager) and Chris Drew (our sculptor). We stuck together through thick and thin, worked our socks off and had a great time doing it.

On the plus side, I’m still in touch with everyone there. Loads of us are big board game fans, so I imagine a few gaming nights will be happening! Also, several people in the office play airsoft on a regular basis, and they’ve tempted me along a couple of times, so there are plenty of chances for us to keep in touch.

What plans have you got for Needy Cat? Are there any particular types of projects you really want to work on?
Mainly, I’m looking to move more into board games than miniatures games. This mainly comes from my own gaming preferences at the minute; with a toddler and a busy life in general, I find it really hard to set aside time for painting armies! For the past couple of years I’ve been playing a lot more board games, as it’s so much easier to find the time for something you can take off the shelf and be playing in ten minutes. Also, the board games industry is in a really exciting place right now. There are new games coming out at an astounding rate, and the standard has never been higher. There’s so much innovation, too – I truly believe that there’s a board game for everyone out there. I’ve already got two or three games half-written, which I’ve been tinkering with for the past couple of years, so my very vague plan is to refine them, test them like crazy and get at least one of them released within the next twelve months. Fingers crossed, eh?

What's currently on your hobby desk?

At the minute, it’s been converted to my work desk! That means there aren’t any models, but there’s a PC, a printer, more sheets of paper than I care to admit, and it looks like someone hijacked a stationery supply van. When I get a chance, though, I’m halfway through painting an Old West Lawmen posse (Black Scorpion miniatures do a lovely range, and I’m looking forward to their upcoming skirmish game Tombstone), and I really do need to get around to finishing my Blood Bowl Orcs. I’ve had them for over a year now…

Has your toddler shown an interest in gaming yet? (I had a good game of 'Genestealers go for a picnic' the other day with mine, roll a six and they got a sandwich...)

That sounds delightful! She’s a little bit young at the minute – she’s mainly interested in bashing things together (or hitting me with them, more likely) – but when she’s a bit older I can’t wait to introduce her to this weird world we inhabit. There are so many resources and opportunities out there these days for parents who want to play games with their kids, and I’m really excited. Can’t wait!

Why do you think people, and indeed the younger generations, still like board games and table top war games?

I think there are loads of reasons. Video games, apps and other screen-related things are great, don’t get me wrong, but I think people are always going to crave a social experience, and table top gaming is a great way to achieve that. Video games used to give more of an opportunity for socialising in-person, but as they’ve become more complex and local multiplayer is more and more rare, people are keen to try other things. I’ve got several friends who used to spend evenings crowded around a pair of TVs playing 8-player Halo 2, but these days they’re utter board game fanatics. I think the two are linked!

Also, the variety of games has expanded so much. When I was in my teens, if you wanted to get into table top gaming, there was quite a barrier. Compare Warhammer 40,000 second edition, which was where a lot of people my age got started, to the new edition. Back then, if you wanted to get started you had to buy a big box, then you had to create an army from mostly lead (later pewter) miniatures, which weren’t cheap. You had to build them with superglue, paint them with a fairly limited paint range that wasn’t always formulated that well (reds and yellows, oh my)… and then they’d chip almost as soon as you started using them. You had to suspend your disbelief a bit, too, because most of the figures were mono-pose and you’d get entire units of identical models! You then had to get your codex, and the Dark Millennium expansion if you wanted to use the full rules… and then you had to learn those rules, which look a long time.

Coming in as a non-hobbyist, you could absolutely be turned off by that unless you were a very specific sort of person. These days, you can walk into a shop, be faced with a huge selection of multi-part plastic kits (which are more forgiving to build and don’t have the chipping problem), pick a couple that you like and be playing the game within an hour of putting them together. It’s so easy! I think this is Games Workshop following the trend of the industry as a whole, where across the board you can see accessible ‘gateway games’ springing up in ever-increasing numbers.

I’ve been to several social gatherings over the past five years where a game like Cards Against Humanity or Exploding Kittens gets pulled out halfway through the night, and everyone has a great time. Between this, and the number of web series out there (Critical Role, Tabletop, etc.) that are introducing table top games to non-gamers, the whole hobby is normalising. It’s not seen as anywhere near as geeky as it used to be, and more people are feeling better about being more geeky.

In short, it’s a golden age we’re living in! Hooray for that.

Sum up your ambitions for Need Cat Games in 4 words
That’s not easy! Maybe “Make games, have fun”?  

Sounds good to me!

Many thanks to Mr Hewitt! Very enlightening and full of inspiration. James is available for hire, and can provide services in table top game design, copywriting and design consultancy. Check out what's on offer at - a blog dedicated to The Horus Heresy and Warhammer 40k - Get in touch on Twitter: @davetgent

1 comment: