Punchboard Media: In Focus - Interview with Shari Spiro
'In Focus: Women of Board Gaming' is an exclusive series from Punchboard Media that spotlights women in all facets of the board gaming industry. Our guest this week is Shari Spiro, the CEO of Ad Magic and Breaking Games. The interview was conducted over email by Eric Buscemi.
Hi Shari, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. You are the founder and CEO of Ad Magic, a printing, promotional advertising and design company. Tell us about how you started the company. What was behind the decision to enter this business? How did you choose the name Ad Magic?
My first job in printing was for a company that printed credit cards. I like to say the first printing company I ever worked for printed money -- literally. The name of that company was Secure-Image technologies in Hillside, New Jersey and we printed all kinds of Sheet Fed Vinyl credit cards -- inspiration cards -- and promo items like rulers -- slide rules -- round date calculators and shelf talkers. I learned a lot there -- we had a union shop and the old time printers loved teaching a young girl about their printing and laminating methods and their secrets to getting jobs color matched. When the company went out of business I actually was the one who wound up finishing the jobs that were left on the production floor by moving them to other factories. That started me in business -- a business called IMAGICS -- named by an Ad Agency in NYC that was friendly with my then step father-in-law -- who owned the business that went under. He felt bad about it -- so he gave me that name to use as my business name. Imagics was in business until I got a new partner and had to change the name. My Fiance and I were brainstorming and he came up with AD MAGIC. We called it AD MAGIC so people would not think they called the wrong place when we answered the phone because it sounded so similar.
Since launching Ad Magic in 1998, how has the direction of the company changed or shifted to meet market demands?
I started printing menus and promotional items and gradually printed thousands of different items -- concentrating finally on playing cards because they were simple to set up. I built a website that went to number one on Google for custom playing cards. I wound up printing poker decks for NBC Heads up Poker and many corporate and musical clients like HBO, Garth Brooks and Applebees, to name a few. Eventually I got a call from Cards Against Humanity and would up manufacturing one of the world's biggest card games. At that point I visited PAX East in Boston to see the guys from CAH on a panel, and I fell in love with the game industry. After that Ad Magic pivoted to specialize in the manufacture of card and board games and to pull of weird, exciting promotional events and items for our clients.
You have been involved with Kickstarter from the ground floor, as the company that printed Cards Against Humanity’s Kickstarter. What do you think of the platform’s evolution and where do you see it going in the future?
Kickstarter has had an incredible evolution -- and I see them being the impetus for brilliant products and amazing companies that will continue to flourish and grow from the correct utilization of crowdfunding for years to come. The platform has become better than ever -- and no one should start a Kickstarter lightly because success in Kickstarter means you have started a new business. People -- moving forward -- should be prepared to work and hire into those newly built businesses.
Ad Magic is based in New Jersey. What are the advantages and disadvantages of being based in the U.S.?
There are no disadvantages to being based in the USA -- the best country in the world to live and raise a family. We have a HQ in New Jersey -- a warehouse and second building in NJ for Breaking Games and a second warehouse and print facility in Washington State which is Print & Play.
For retail -- we have a team in our NJ HQ that manages Target, Barnes & Noble, and the many other retail accounts we service throughout the U.S. and in countries worldwide. Basically we try to take Kickstarters and put them in as many stores as possible -- including mass market retailers like Target and Barnes and Noble -- but also into hundreds of friendly local game stores as well.
One of Ad Magic’s businesses is Print & Play Productions, which focuses on printing custom prototypes, review and demo copies of games. How is this different from your regular printing operations? Is Print & Play a large part of your business?
Print & Play is a separate company that specializes in print-on-demand, small quantity runs, and prototypes for games. Ad Magic specializes in large production runs of 250-500 games and up. Print & Play has grown to nearly double its size from when I took it over three years ago. The guys in Washington state do a great job and provide a vital service to game designers.
You are also the founder and CEO of Breaking Games, a board game publishing company which was started in 2015. What made you decide to enter the publishing business?
I was being asked for POOP the game over and over at the Boston Festival of Indie Gaming several years ago -- as people wanted to buy it. People from all walks of life asked me about buying that game. It was at that moment I called the games Inventor, Blaise Sewell, and told him "I want to sell your game -- I think that means I want to publish it. I have no idea what I am doing but I believe in your game." Fast forward to now and the game is in Target stores nationally.
Do you typically find the designs that Breaking Games publishes through AdMagic? Do the designers reach out and pitch to you, or do you approach them?
I have a team now that goes out and looks, but I still look myself and develop new relationships. There is a submission process now. Designers can submit to us at www.BreakYourGame.com.
Two of your most recent Breaking Games titles are Sparkle*Kitty, and the upcoming Rise of Tribes, which was funded successfully through Kickstarter earlier this year. These look like very different types of games. Tell us a bit about your decision to publish them.
We choose games in several genres -- Family, Strategy, and Party are the top three. My game development team chooses and presents titles to me and together we decide on the course and timing of individual games we will launch, print, promote and publish.
When you are not printing and publishing board games, what kind of board games do you like to play? What are some all-time favorites? How about some recent titles you’ve loved?
My new favorites are Mix Tape and Unstable Unicorns. Both of those I will also be working with moving forward by the way. I do play a lot of our games in my spare time -- Game of 49, Game of Phones, Boomtown Bandits -- because I like light strategy and 30-45 minute family games. Billionaire Banshee and POOP are also two I love to play for a quick game, or as an ice breaker. For deeper strategy I have enjoyed playing Rise of Tribes.
Sparkle Kitty -- our new one -- and Letter Tycoon -- which blows away both Scrabble and Monopoly for me -- are two that I can play anytime and with a wide variety of people. They cross all boundaries in my opinion. I also play some of the games we print, like Exploding Kittens, CAH, and Bear Vs Babies.
I do own a lot of other games as well -- too many to mention -- but have games like Pandemic, Munchkin, and Smash Up to name a few. But I only get time to play more games when I am at a con or over a friends house specifically for game night.
If people wanted to reach out to you, AdMagic, Print & Play Games, and/or Breaking Games, what would be the best way to go about that?
Me personally? They could call my Personal Assistant and make a call appointment or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you? Any hobbies or other interests that you’re passionate about?
I am a passionate song writer and musician. I play guitar, bass, ukulele, and piano, and I enjoy writing and recording all kinds of music. Right now my blues band Hounds Of Blues is back in rehearsal and we hope to play a blues festival sometime this year.