That is Whack

Ah, here is an appropriate use of a blog: venting.

I received an email today that just sent me over the edge of bewilderment and anger. It was from someone I hadn’t heard from in over a year. The message simply said “Can you afford to begin paying for my contributions to our game yet?” And he’s talking about House of Whack.

Just to contextualize, I had started working on the game a few years before I met this guy. He was really interested in it and helped playtest it extensively. We talked about ideas for the game, some of his ideas found their way into the game, most did not. He contributed a few pieces of art for 3 or so cards, which he was credited for. But at no point was there ever an agreement that he would be financially compensated for playtesting. In fact, he explicitly said he just wanted to help out and wasn’t interested in money. There was no contract or legally binding agreement stating he had any stake or co-ownership of the game. I am very grateful for his support and enthusiasm for the game and I say as much in the credits of the manual.

But it was never “our” game and that’s what infuriates me about his email. It was my idea. I made every single prototype card (hundreds and hundreds of them) through every iteration of the game. I did all of the graphic design and 99% of the original artwork. I created the game mechanics. I wrote and re-wrote the rules countless times. I put thousands of dollars of my own money into the production of the game. I put years of life into making House of Whack happen.

How much time and resources did he contribute to the artwork? Virtually none. He contributed pre-existing photos which I then incorporated into the card design. He did not invent any game mechanics, he wrote no rules, he invested no money. He did come up with some ideas for cards. Yet he feels that in comparison to my contribution to the game, that he can go ahead and refer to it as “our” game and ask for compensation.

Here’s a real example of how this collaboration worked. One day he said, “It would be cool if there were a labyrinth in the game.” I agreed. So I thought about a way to create that. I designed graphics for the rooms, mocked up the cards, came up with game mechanics and playtested them. This ended up becoming the Hedge Maze in the game. I then showed him the finished product. He said, “That was a really cool collaboration we just had.” In his mind, his making a statement about a labyrinth was somehow equivalent to all the work I did to make it a reality.

He had zero game design sense, no conception of balancing mechanics, and would come up with utterly impractical and nonsensical ideas, even for House of Whack. Once we were tossing around ideas for a play variant involving ghosts. I wanted to call the ghosts “revenants” as they were seeking vengeance. He wanted to call them “detectives”. I suggested that the word “detectives” might be confusing as people generally have a particular idea of what a detective is and they won’t necessarily associate “detective” with “ghost”. His response was that, since it was the House of Whack, things are not as they seem, and, in this world, “detective” was synonymous with “ghost”. His idea was that when a player got killed they would come back as a ghost and have to solve the mystery of who killed them. I said it would be kind of obvious as the player was right there when it happened. He said the player would have to pretend they didn’t know who the killer was and conduct an investigation. That’s fucking nonsense.

And so is this “our game” bullshit. I had LOTS of people help with the game and I feel like I have acknowledged them all appropriately. But none of them would ever suggest that they put enough work into it to call it their own creation, much less ask me to retroactively pay them for volunteering.

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