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Self Made Man: Richard Garfield

rsz_game_designer_interview__richard_garfield_?_meepletownI don’t know how many of you are analog (as in non-video) game designers, but man, that is not an easy industry to work in. The market is over-saturated with games, and many of their core fanbases are full of aging, reactionary nerds who hate unfamiliar things and scare off new business. Plus, it’s actually really hard to make a fun, functional board/card/roleplaying game, and even harder to market it properly. It takes a lot of entrepreneurial energy to get something like that off the ground.

That’s where this week’s Self Made Man, Richard Garfield, comes in. Garfield (who is related to former president James Garfield) has designed quite a few games, most notably Magic: the Gathering, which was arguably the last big innovation in traditional gaming and is currently a huge, industry-leading success that has become the standard in collectible card games. I’m sure a few of TSB’s readers play it.

Garfield was born in Philadelphia, and his childhood interest in puzzles and games became a passion when he was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons as a young teenager. Garfield began designing games almost immediately thereafter, and kept it up through college and grad school, where he began working on Magic.

Garfield had two disruptive ideas?essential for any self-starter project?for Magic. The first was a game in which players didn’t all have the same cards. In fact, a game where each player builds his own deck is bigger than the box it comes in, in that it adds to replay value and encourages multiple waves of purchases by individual players. His background in mathematics

The second idea, which he discovered after meeting with Wizards of the Coast’s then-CEO Peter Adkison, was that his game would be perfect for gaming conventions, where there’s usually a lot of downtime between panels and other events (trust me on this one).

Like so many other self-starters, Garfield saw openings in the marketplace for his ideas, and with support from WotC and his own team of playtesters, he launched Magic: The Gathering in 1993.

Unlike other entrepreneurs we’ve talked about here, Garfield’s project was an immediate success, to the point where he didn’t want to put much money into advertising because WotC was having trouble meeting the demand for it. It’s pretty much the Coca-Cola of card games now, and it gave Garfield more than enough security to become an independent game designer, working on board games and even a few video game titles.

This interview with Garfield goes into more detail about Magic and how it was a launchpad for his other projects, and it also reveals what a cool guy he is; Garfield’s a humble dude who is still happy that so many people play and enjoy his game.

What TSB hopes readers take away from Richard Garfield’s story is that it’s not enough to just copy ideas that are already successful. Entrepreneurs must be willing to innovate within their industries and figure out not just what their markets want, but what they need.


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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at

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