Punchboard Media: In Focus - Interview with Kerry Rundle McIver
'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 Kerry Rundle McIver, account manager for Panda Game Manufacturing. The interview was conducted over email by Eric Buscemi.
Before we discuss your career, I know you are an avid board gamer. What have you been playing recently? What are some of your all-time favorites?
I am! Between my husband and I, we have a steady influx of games so we’re usually playing something for the first or second time. With that pace, it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite! Most recently I’ve been really into Sentient, Gil Hova’s The Networks, and I’ve also been getting a lot of mileage out of smaller games like Deep Sea Adventure and the Pack-o-Games series. Some games I will always, always play are Twilight Struggle, Roll for the Galaxy, and I love being a spooky ghost in Mysterium! I’m also a self-proclaimed Johari-vangelist because it is seriously one of the best and most underrated games out there.
You've actually been drawn into a board game, as ballplayer "Kerry Rumble" in Bottom of the Ninth. How did that come about?
Well, Adam has the habit of surprising me by putting me into games he’s worked on, and my character in Bottom of the Ninth is one of my favorites! I grew up on a baseball field, watching my brother play for 16 years and playing fast-pitch softball myself for over a decade. There is something so special about being immortalized in a game, especially in the form of a classic baseball card, so I’m super grateful and honored that Adam did that, and that Dice Hate Me let him!
Being married to game designer Adam McIver, did you do a lot of playtesting for Ex Libris, which is being published by Renegade Games? Feel free to take credit for all the good parts of the game, we won't tell Adam.
I did quite a bit of playtesting for Ex Libris! I’ll tell you what, he amazes me with how quickly he can turn the spark of an idea into something that is fun and engaging, not to mention beautiful on the table. Ex Libris was no different, and it was so fun to watch his wheels spin as he put hours and hours of effort into making it the mysterious and charming game it is today. He’s very receptive to my feedback and experience which is something I’ve always appreciated, and I think spending so much time helping with the process for Ex Libris as well as Adam’s other prototypes actually taught me a lot about game manufacturing which gave me a nice knowledge base to pull from when I applied for the Account Manager position at Panda. I also may or may not have sparked the idea for co-designing an Ex Libris expansion with Adam, but you didn’t hear that from me!
I remember Panda Manufacturing publicly posting that it was hiring, and getting interest from a lot of people in the hobby. What do you think set you apart from the other applicants?
Well, my first thought when I found out that 350+ people applied and only four were chosen was, “Oh no! They’ve made a mistake!”. As soon as I got to Vancouver for training camp and we started getting into the actual work of the position, I realized I was being way too hard on myself because my job is a weirdly perfect amalgamation of all of my past work experience. I think my variety of prior positions and skills gave me a slight edge with management, copywriting, and 15 years of customer service under my belt. I also really love games, which is a pretty significant qualifier to work at Panda! After the vetting process, I realized that Panda cares just as much about making sure a candidate is the right fit for the team and position, as well as ensuring the team and work are a good fit for the candidate. This ethos creates a really organic and friendly environment, which helps when you’re hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from your coworkers!
What was the training process like when you started at Panda? Did you travel to China and get to see the manufacturing plant?
I haven’t made it over to China yet, but I’m sure I’ll make the big trip sometime in the future! They held our training camp in Vancouver, Canada, which is where Panda is based. We were there for two weeks, and had a totally incredible time. I’ve had a spectrum of employers, from large corporations that have month-long, well-developed training programs, to small start-ups that have never had to train anyone before. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Panda, but it was one of the most concise and well-presented training programs I’ve ever been a part of.
Hanging out in Vancouver for two beautiful weeks was a nice selling point, too! We basically met in a coworking space every day and took apart the work piece-by-piece. We also went snow-shoeing at the top of Grouse Mountain and had some of the most delicious food I’ve ever had in my life. Overall, this is definitely the most detail-oriented jobs I’ve ever had, so I’m really thankful that we were able to spend a good chunk of time getting comfortable with the material before heading back home.
As an account manager at Panda, you have direct relationships with the customers, correct?
Yep! I’m basically the first point of contact when someone submits a quote on our website or sends an email to our sales team. There are a few of us who handle incoming requests, and we’re responsible for talking with clients about their game, brainstorming ways to optimize their components, and communicate pricing and other information between our team in Asia and our clients. I’m also one of the faces at various conventions, like Origins, Gen Con, and Unpub, either working the booth or taking meetings to talk shop.
I work primarily with smaller publishers and designers who are Kickstarting their project on their own, so I completely understand that the development process doesn’t happen right away. As an Account Manager, it’s my job to make sure I’m always ready to answer any questions, start a new quote, or work on revisions for your game, even if we haven’t talked in a while.
Let's say I've designed a game, and plan to get it made using the Kickstarter model, as I am sure a lot of Panda clients have done. When should I first get in touch with Panda? And how long should I plan for the entire manufacturing process to take?
I always suggest submitting a quote sooner rather than later, so reaching out as far ahead of your Kickstarter campaign as you can is a great idea. It’s vital to anticipate every step of your campaign instead of scrambling to figure out stretch goals after you’ve gone live, so being prepared for every iteration of pricing is key. As soon as you have a list of components just fill out a quote request form on our website and an Account Manager will reach out to ask questions about your project and provide pricing.
The amount of time to get a game produced is really dependent on what kind of game you have in mind and how ready you are to sign a manufacturing contract. If it’s something simple, with cards and a board inside of a box, you’d probably be looking at anywhere from 8-10 weeks from the time you submit the quote. For something more involved, perhaps with wood or custom plastic components, you’re looking at a longer production time, typically anywhere from 10 - 16 weeks or more. The biggest way to save yourself time in the process is by following our Design Guidebook which provides all of the specifications for your files and is available on our website. It’s also worth mentioning that even if you aren’t ready to sign a contract and jump into production, you can always reach out for pricing as far ahead of time as you need.
What should I expect when I contact you? And what will you expect from me? I mean, I can't just mail you a prototype made of index cards I've scrawled on and craft beads, right?
I mean, I do love a good prototype so I’d gladly accept your game, but that’s not a requirement for Panda! When you submit your quote request, an Account Manager will reach out to you to talk about your components and provide a quote. If you have general questions and maybe aren’t quite ready to submit a quote, you can always email us at email@example.com.
What are some of the most unique component requests you've gotten from clients?
The most unique component I have seen so far is for a project that comes with a constructible turntable with a record arm and base that spins cardboard records as part of the gameplay. I talked to the customer about concerns with putting the “record player” back into the box along with the cards and other game pieces, and he responded by sending me a YouTube video of how it all works together. I have to say, the design is super impressive and unlike anything I’ve seen before.
One of the things I dig most about my job is when people have an idea of something that’s never been done and I get to work with them to find a way to make it happen. We are always eager to hear ideas and concepts that will push the industry into new territory, and love turning dream components into reality.
A game's box tells us who the designer, artist, and publisher is. But how do we know if a game has been manufactured by Panda?
It’s easy when you know what to look for! Down by the UPC code on all of the games Panda has manufactured is our tiny Panda face logo. Call me biased, but I think the quality of the components is a dead-giveaway, too!
Thanks for that inside look into the board game manufacturing process, Kerry. But before we finish up, is there anything else you want to share with us about yourself? Any interests or passions?
I’m actually currently in school as a Forensic Science Biology major with a minor in Chemistry and a focus in Criminal Justice! When I was ten years old I told my parents that I wanted to be a medical examiner when I grew up, so it’s a somewhat weird passion that has followed me my entire life. My main interest is in forensic anthropology, and the process of identifying skeletal remains. There’s so much that your bones retain that tell the story of your life and experiences. It makes some people squeamish but for me, it’s a vital part of our society. Of course, school is something I do while I work full time, so I’m slowly chipping away at my degrees. Thankfully I’ve found an awesome career in board game manufacturing, so I get to nerd out about forensics at school and still have a job that makes me feel fulfilled, challenged and satisfied while talking about games all day! That’s what I call living the dream!
Thank you for asking me to be a part of your interview series, I’m honored to be considered and always available through Facebook and Twitter @readytorundle to talk about game stuff, weird stuff, and everything in between!