“Alpha Omega” made a notable debut on the role-playing game scene last year, so I thought it a good target for a LivingDice.com interview. This interview is a bit unusual as I focus more on the business side of the game industry. Tom McLaughlin, President of Mind Storm Labs kindly agreed to share his thoughts. Tom has some insights into what it takes to get a new game published and drops a few hints about upcoming Mind Storm Labs products. I have another interview scheduled with David Carter, author of Mind Storm’s Alpha Omega core rulebook that discusses the system and world of “Alpha Omega.” David’s interview will go up next week.
Trask: First off, could you talk about your own background in gaming. Is Mind Storm Labs your first foray into game publishing or are you a seasoned professional?
Tom McLaughlin: Mind Storm Labs is my first venture into game publishing but not the first time I have started a company
Trask: What moved you into the game publishing business?
Tom McLaughlin: I guess I look at this in a larger scope, I see us more in the business of developing intellectual property. The RPG is just the first iteration of the Alpha Omega universe. Dave Carter and I have been friends for a long time and we had always talked about starting a company together. When I mentioned to him about developing an intellectual property he told me about a guy he worked with named Earl Fischl who had a really cool concept for a setting. I was skeptical but we decided to set up a meeting. Sure enough he had a pretty cool idea for a setting and that first meeting started us down the road to creating Mind Storm Labs and developing Alpha Omega. We built the business plan, raised some initial capital, Dave and Earl came on board full-time and they got to work fleshing out the world.
Trask: How long from initial meeting to the publication of Alpha Omega?
Tom McLaughlin: From the first meeting to having books in our hands was about 15 months. Actual development time for the core rulebook was about 9 months. We spent a few months developing the business plan then printing adds a month or more at the end.
Trask: You mentioned that Alpha Omega has other iterations planned. Are you planning to move into other media, ie comics or film?
Tom McLaughlin: Yes. I always use the analogy of a sand box. Our hope was we could create a compelling, interesting world that other people and companies would want to play in. The world of Alpha Omega is a large enough and rich enough setting that you can tell a lot of different stories. So far we’ve seen a great reaction from players and companies that want to play in this sandbox.
Trask: Alpha Omega has a strong web presence with the NWSEC site for player interaction and the very impressive Alpha Omega site itself. Was the strong online component something you planned from the outset?
Tom McLaughlin: Absolutely. From our initial marketing campaign, “Ethan Haas Was Right” which attracted millions of people to the Alpha Omega world, to our forums, the wiki and a few other projects we have in the works that will take advantage of new web technology we have always wanted to keep our online presence at the forefront. We’ve also used the web to attract a global audience for AO. We have players in Australia, the Netherlands, Eastern Europe and South America and all places in between.
Trask: “Ethan Haas Was Right” was an alternate-reality game meant to promote the Alpha Omega universe. Somehow it became attached to a blockbuster movie. Do you happen to know how that happened?
Tom McLaughlin: We never considered it an alternate reality game. It’s definitely a viral marketing campaign, which is how it was conceived. In terms of the cross over with Cloverfield the first time I heard about the connection was a film site that published a story saying they were connected. Within 24 hours every site was running that story, then it got picked up by the mainstream press (USA Today, Time Magazine, etc). It was great exposure for us and for Cloverfield. I like to think we added a few dollars to their opening weekend. 😉 With a viral marketing campaign you have to plan it in advance and it’s typically building towards a specific event so you don’t really want to come out from behind the curtain in the middle of the campaign and give away the ending so all parties agreed it was best to let the campaign run its course.
Trask: I have to ask about the Alpha Omega website. The design is very impressive and arguably one of the most elaborate RPG sites on the web. How long did it take to develop?
Tom McLaughlin: We are actually in the process of revising it. The current site took about four months to develop.
Trask: Did the Mind Storm Lab team do it in all of their free time between writing books or did you outsource?
Tom McLaughlin: Yes. We developed the look and layout that we wanted for our sites then we had a team build it for us. It’s all run in-house now.
Trask: Alpha Omega currently has two books out, the core rulebook and “The Encountered Volume 1.” What is next on the horizon for the Alpha Omega universe?
Tom McLaughlin: We also have a module called, “Milk Run”.
Trask: Sorry, forgot that one.
Tom McLaughlin: Quite a bit. Now that we have the core rulebook and creature manual in stores we feel like the foundation is laid and we can start to explore new areas of the Alpha Omega world.
Tom McLaughlin: We are currently working on a weapons & equipment guide, a supplement to The Encountered, a guide to the Wilds, several short stories and a few more modules. Our next major release will be a miniature war game that will delve deeper into the history between the Seraph and Ophanum. We are also developing our own line of miniatures to be used with the game. We are bringing in several great writers to help us expand the world. We’ll also continue to grow our Warden program and start attending a lot more conferences around North America and Europe.
Trask: Do you have tentative release dates for any of your new products?
Tom McLaughlin: We don’t like to announce release dates. We prefer to release products when they are ready but I can tell you there are a few new items that should be ready before the end of the year.
Trask: Just a clarification: the Wardens is your volunteer demo team, correct?
Tom McLaughlin: Yes, The Warden program is our volunteer team that helps us promote Alpha Omega at local retailers and conventions.
Trask: Does Mind Storm Labs have any plans to license the A/O game system or intellectual property to other game companies? To allow 3rd party modules, for example.
Tom McLaughlin: We aren’t actively pursuing that but we are certainly open to good ideas. We built our own game mechanics for Alpha Omega, the 6-6 System, so we have always considered licensing the game mechanics to other publishers.
Trask: What was the greatest challenge in getting Alpha Omega to market? Art, printing, writing or something else?
Tom McLaughlin: I wouldn’t say there was any one challenge harder than the rest. Once you make the decision to get started every element you mentioned will have its own challenges along the way. You can’t forsee all of the risks or “what ifs” before you start. It’s more a question of how you deal with the challenges when they arise and keeping yourself focused on the end goal.
Trask: Was there anything you would do differently?
Tom McLaughlin: I don’t think so. We’ve learned a few lessons along the way but I think we are a better company from experiencing them so I wouldn’t want to change them. Never look back. 😉
Trask: Ok, last question and this one is easy. Why the landscape format for the book?
Tom McLaughlin: We wanted to create a beautiful, rich setting for players and we felt the landscape setting does a better job of that. When you look at the amazing images in either book landscape simply does a better job of showcasing the artwork. Its like the difference between watching a movie in a theatre or on your tv at home. From a functional point of view we also like it because it takes up less space on the table.
Trask: I predicted the art portion of your answer, but the space issue is something I had not thought of.
Trask: Do you have any questions for me before we sign off?
Tom McLaughlin: I don’t think so. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me and if you think of any other questions let me know. If any of your readers have any questions about Alpha Omega or the industry in general they can contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have any questions for Tom, please drop me a comment or contact him directly at the email above.
Trask, The Last Tyromancer