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  • Writer's pictureEmily

Walking a New Path: Why I'm Becoming a Publisher

It’s been awfully quiet over here at Pink Hawk Games for the past few months. It’s not that I haven’t been busy - quite the opposite in fact. I’ve been all-consumingly, overwhelmingly busy. And that’s because last fall I took a huge leap and started working towards becoming a game publisher.


I suspect there are thousands of blog posts written about why you should or should not become a publisher in the tabletop game industry. I’ve read a lot of them. So many people have taken this step before me and more are starting this journey every day. There are reasons for and reasons against, cautions and warnings, stories of inspiring successes and catastrophic failures. 


But this post isn’t about why you should or shouldn’t start a publishing company. This post is about why I’ve decided to and what my goals are. I wanted to put this out there, to capture my thoughts in writing, both to share what I’m doing and to capture this moment in time. In a few years, I hope to be able to look back at this and judge where I’ve succeeded and where I had a lot more to learn. I expect this post is full of optimistic naivete and gaping blind spots, as well as a healthy dose of “conventional wisdom says x, but I’m sure I can do it anyway” 😂. And if my journey provides another data point for someone else, I'm happy to help.


So why did I decide to become a publisher? As with any major undertaking, it’s a convergence of multiple insights that led me here.


I See an Opportunity

As a designer, I have access to a world of unpublished games. I’m seeing great games with intriguing themes get passed over by other publishers. I can’t fault those publishers - they can only publish so many games a year and need to sign games that they can market, that they can sell to the audience they’ve built over years and decades. Each publisher only has so much risk that they can take on. 


But I think there’s a market for those games. The diversity of gamers is growing. Or more likely it has always been there, but we just couldn’t tell because only certain games were getting made, which created a self-reinforcing cycle. The big question is how to reach the people who would enjoy games some of these unpublished gems. My chosen slice of the market, delightful light to medium weight strategy games, is just one opportunity where I see a gap that could be filled. But I see an untapped talent pool and I think it reflects an unmet desire in the market. And I’m willing to take that gamble.


Emily, a light skinned woman with pink hair, standing in a colorful booth at a convention. Posters in the booth show the games Pirates of the High Teas and Good Kitties
The Pink Hawk Games booth this year at GAMA Expo

I Want to Make a Difference

Those unsigned games that I’m seeing are frequently created by people who aren’t considered “insiders” in our industry. Some are outside because they’re a part of a historically underrepresented group, some because the designer doesn’t have the means/time/energy to attend industry events (like conventions), and some because the designer isn’t comfortable in traditional networking/marketing settings (pitching, mixers, etc). But these games are getting missed and it disproportionally affects some people more than others.


I’ve spent my professional life as a woman in tech, with all the baggage and lived experience that goes with it. As I’ve risen to leadership roles, I’ve been intentional about kicking down doors for those coming behind me, pushing to get seats at the table for those whose voices should be heard, and being an advocate and ally whenever I can. I was surprised to discover many of the same problems in tabletop game industry as in tech with respect to representation and inclusion across people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and other dimensions of diversity. Following the groundwork I've laid in my tech career, I’m exploring what I can do to help. Becoming a publisher will put me in the driver’s seat, able to work with diverse collaborators and continue bringing new voices to the table.


I was lucky enough to be able to launch my publishing company through the GAMA Horizons Fellowship, an accelerator program to support new voices in the tabletop industry. Through the generosity of GAMA and the amazing volunteers in the program, I was able to attend GAMA Expo this year as a publisher. I look forward to continuing to collaborate with GAMA and all the wonderful folks I met at the Expo.


I Want to Start a Business

Like most of us, I’ve always worked for others. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to work for myself, but I’ve never felt compelled to start something because I never felt like I had an idea worthy of a business. But with game design, from the very beginning, I’ve wondered if it was possible to become a business. That question has always led me to publishing. I’ve read lots of articles saying that publishing is hard, isn’t lucrative, and takes one away from doing game design day-to-day. But the idea of shaping (dare I say, designing) an entire business speaks to me. At the end of the day, I want to start a business and I’ve not only got ideas, I have a passion to fuel me.


It Speaks to Me

Publishing is where product design lives for games. While publishing encompasses so much more than design (manufacturing, logistics, and marketing to name just a few), being a publisher will allow me to shape the user experience across the product lifecycle. I find that incredibly appealing and think I might just have the skills to pull it off. In these past few months, I’ve found other parts of publishing that fill my cup, so to speak. Even networking, something that I’ve always hated, has been easy, and even energizing, for me in this industry. Given the number of activities that have ended up in the energizing column, it seems like publishing might be a good fit. 


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You may have noticed that I keep saying “become a publisher” rather than “self-publish.” As you can see above, my goals deeply involve publishing other people’s designs. But to do this, I need to prove that I can. Self-publishing is the means to that end - I need to showcase that I can turn one of my designs into a great product, end-to-end, and successfully bring it to market before I can ask anybody else to trust me with their game design. 


I’m also continuing to design games that I hope to sign with other publishers. I love the craft of design and not everything I’m working on fits in the Pink Hawk brand. I have signed Knitting Circle and am so excited about the product that we’re making. I'm hopeful that some of my other designs will find good homes as well.


At the end of the day, publishing is a path that has been pulling on my heart and soul. I’ve decided to follow where it may lead me, with both excitement and nervousness in my step. This is my next adventure and I hope you’ll join me.

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Jeff Johnston
Jeff Johnston
Apr 03

First step in what's sure to be an amazing journey!

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