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[PlayByMail.Net Interview] Mica Goldstone of KJC Games
1. KJC Games will celebrate its 30th anniversary, next year (2011). What are the greatest challenges that KJC Games has faced, during that extended time frame, and what plans does KJC Games have for the future that you can share with PlayByMail.Net's readers?

The greatest challenge has to be the changing nature of multi-player gaming. We find ourselves a small fish in a big pond. We had to revaluate our product and how it fitted in with the modern gamer and industry. The future is about staying true to the core belief of turn-based gaming - this being that the game is in the mind, not on the screen or printout. This is what fundamentally separates us from typical online gaming.

2. Is the company's founder, Kevin Cropper, still involved with the company and its games?

Nope, not at all. We last spoke a few years ago. We are both busy in our own separate industries. Truth be told, Kevin lost interest when post became email.

3. On the KJC Games website, your company states, "We are looking to the future and bringing our unique style of gaming to a modern audience." What, exactly and specifically, is KJC Games' unique style of gaming?

Control of multiple concurrent positions in an persistent universe without the need for graphics.

4. Phoenix: Beyond the Stellar Empire seems to be KJC Games' flagship product, these days. What are the greatest challenges that your company has recognized to growing the player base of this game, and are there any further developments on this horizon for this game that you think gamers really need to know about?

If you stop moving, you are admitting defeat is the basic tenet of Phoenix development. We firmly believe that if we hold true to our ideals, everything else will fall into place, certainly not tomorrow, but one day.
We discuss the direction of the game each November in our annual meet. Having now mostly completed the professional feel to the game interface, our next task is open the game to those unfamiliar with this style of gaming while expanding the depth, i.e. after 17 years of development we will soon be ready to start "growing the player base of this game". I hope that was suitably cryptic.

5. Can you give our readers a rough idea of the size of Phoenix: BSE's player base, and how would you characterize the level of player-to-player interactivity within the game?

There are a few thousand pay to play positions and many thousand free positions, but players that run pay to pay positions, tend to run a few. In terms of activity, I would advise anybody to just take a look at the fully
interactive site and judge for themselves.

6. Since its inception in 1981, did any play-by-mail games by other PBM companies influence KJC Games' game development, and which PBM games and PBM companies do you think revolutionized play-by-mail gaming?

I cannot speak for Kevin and the years before my time, but for myself, having come to the industry cold, I have had no significant dealings with any other company of their games. Sure I have respect for lads at Madhouse and Harlequin and we swap the odd email, but we are all busy with our own ideas and doing our own stuff.

7. Were there any games, in particular, that KJC Games wanted to develop, but never did?

Never did implies never will whereas in fact haven't yet is closer to the mark. Ten years of hard graft into Phoenix and system independent platforms will pay dividends in the long run.

8. How did the play-by-mail genre of gaming influence you, personally, and what do you think will be PBM gaming's greatest lasting legacy to gaming?

It kept me focused on the principle that the game is all. No matter how pretty something is, eventually you will end up becoming bored unless it has content. PBM's legacy is that you can create a game where a person will be committed to it for decades. Phoenix is living proof. We have players controlling the same positions they started with 19 years ago.

9. The artwork used for KJC Games' It's a Crime game is some of my personal favorite in all of PBM gaming. Who was the artist or artists responsible for that artwork, and does your company intend to expand its artwork associated for that game for advertising or other purposes?

When we are happy with the ease by which players new to this style of gaming can become involved, we will once again ramp up our advertising. The style of the artwork will be appropriate to the game.

10. Has KJC Games ever collaborated with other companies, PBM or otherwise, to bring new games to the market?

Back in the 80's and early 90's there was some collaboration with other gaming companies, but the other companies fell by the wayside. Back in 2000, we teamed up with a software development company called Skeletal Software and signed an exclusive deal.

11. Other than games run by KJC Games, what are some of your personal favorite play-by-mail games that you have played over the years, and what were some of your least favorite PBM games that you have tried, and what about those respective games appealed to you or turned you off from them?

I'm afraid I stayed loyal to our games. This may be due to always looking at games through the eye of a designer rather than gamer. I suspect I would have been a pain in the arse for any other company.

12. How would you describe the Play-By-Mail game industry, as you see it from your perspective? Describe its past, it present, and its future through your eyes.

Dead. It was a niche industry that filled a gap created by people with a desire to be part of a big group involved in epic games that simply weren't catered for by tabletop gaming. This gap is now filled by mmorpgs. The future however is brighter, for us at least, as we push towards creating games with a professional and user-friendly online front-end while still giving them the level of long-term playability that cannot be offered by typical online games. We will never be epic, but we will dominate the corner of market simply because big companies will never be as insane as us.

13. What is your favorite genre of PBM game to design, and why? What is your least favorite, and why?

Anything with morals, individual interaction and strong diplomacy and illicit features is by far the most challenging. This spans the range from historical, fantasy and horror, right through to space opera. I have an
eclectic collection of tastes. As for least favourite, it has to be anything to do with sport.

14. Have you ever attended any PBM conventions or other gaming conventions, either as an individual gamer or as a game company, and what were some of your most memorable moments attending those?

I attended the last Flagship convention and go to the Birmingham Games Expo and of course we have our own annual weekend. As for the most memorable - it has to be staggering drunk through the streets of Bath with a hoard of Phoenix players.

15. What is your view on the role that magazines have played in impacting the Play-by-Mail genre of gaming, and what do you wish that those magazines had done differently, if anything?

They have certainly had their place in the history of the game for better or worse - especially where there has been a close relationship between reviewer/editor and a specific game. Outside the PBM industry, it has always proved difficult to create interest, largely due to the lack of immediate gratification inherent to this style of gaming and within the industry the level of migrant gamers has always been low - which is a good thing on the whole, but means advertising has a low return on investment. As to what they could have done differently, I wouldn't be so arrogant to tell somebody else how to do their job.
excellent interview!

Question on your comment -- "We will never be epic, but we will dominate the corner of market simply because big companies will never be as insane as us. "

How do you mean "insane"? And who are the big companies you are referring to?
Great interview.


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