SPI memories

SPI (Simulations Publications Inc) has a fond place in my gaming memories. Even though it is long gone, its influence still percolates through the wargames industry hobby, and beyond. The following pair of recent quotes may partly explain SPI’s status.

First, from Joe Balkoski at BoardGameGeek:

There’s no doubt that the job I held at SPI from 1975 to 1981 was the best job I ever had and most likely ever will have.<snip>

the atmosphere was electric and consistently stimulating.<snip>

The staff interactions were fantastically positive — so many people remain friends to this day. And the talent level was unbelievable…lots of future authors, many still in game design, others in top-notch careers. Outside of work, the bonding was strong.<snip>

SPI was a place defined by its energy, youth, and talent, and I don’t think a day goes by during which I don’t miss it in one form or another. The skills the designers learned there were put to good use as we grew older, be it for games, books, or anything else we decided to learn.

Then from David Isby at Consimworld:

Joe Balkoski is totally on target. I was there, from 1970 to 1979 when the death spiral was starting. At its best, it was as he described it.

But I think the most important thing (which Joe, a man never given to self-publicity, omitted) IS THAT WE THOUGHT WE WERE DOING SOMETHING IMPORTANT AND VALUABLE.

We were not making silly-ass games to amuse our contemporaries amongst the baby boomers. Nor to allow gamers to “roll some dice and kick some ass”, but to provide valuable insights into historical or contemporary events that we believed the manual simulation made uniquely possible.

Making this possible was the existence of a sophisticated audience in sufficient numbers to make money selling to them. There were 4,000 grognards at their height, but half of all game sales were to them. They would let you know if you tried to pass off an inferior product. In recent years, I have been involved in using simulations with government clients, and I will tell you that senior military personnel will accept limitations in simulations costing millions of dollars that would have led to angry feedback if we had done the same with a fifteen dollar game.<snip>

I told you what I was trying to do in the last paragraph of my TO THE GREEN FIELDS BEYOND DESIGNERS notes. I am pretty sure Joe B. and most of the folks we worked with (though not all, by any means) were trying to do something similar.

I will always appreciate what Balkoski, Isby and everyone of the good guys at SPI were trying to achieve.

[A tip of the hat to David Hughes and John Kranz.]