An Interview with Mike Slater - Half of Red Duke Games

We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Mike Slater. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Mike below.

Mike, looking forward to hearing all of your stories today. What can you share with us about the story behind how you found your key vendors?

Our partners are all awesome. That tends to happen when they are referred by friends or hand picked. We work as locally as possible as a first choice; within our state second, region third, and then the USA if we can’t find someone closer. In a few cases, we have worked with international partners in Canada and one in Poland. Most of these folks we found at shows, reasoning that they are more likely local, and we can get a great impression of who they are, how they operate, and what they can produce – in person. This has produced some of our best partnerships to date.
We made local a priority. We made smaller businesses a priority. We want to boost local economies, and grow local capabilities. We want to help folks like us, and like we were helped. We take pride in being able to say that our products were produced as close to home as possible.
Not everything works out that way. You can’t tell other people how to run their business. In the cases where we expected that a local or domestic company would produce our product locally, and it turned out they didn’t…we learned. We learned to ask better questions, and sometimes to get overt agreements.
We find that these things matter to our customers. We find that most understand that this means something might cost more – but it’s worth it to them, and us. We’ll take smaller margins to do things right.

Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.

Funny story…There was a group of us that met up for a monthly game day. Usually, Tom (the other half of the company) and I would arrive on-time, being family men with (like many of us) jobs and schedules and limited free time. Often, waiting for enough other folks, we’d inflict one of our homegrown game ideas on each other. After a year or so of this, Tom asked, “Why don’t we start a game company?” So, we did.
We got very lucky. We took a chance on a crazy idea we hoped would fund our launch – and it went absolutely crazy on contact with the Internet. We Kickstarted a somewhat crazy cookbook idea, and backers sat up and took notice. Thus, our horror-themed recipe book, The Necronomnomnom, was born. It continues to be the engine that funds most of our game development today. It’s in five (soon to be six) languages, and has two sequels (the newest coming out in October). A game company that makes cookbooks? Yep! Red Duke Games is a go-to for game night and themed parties. We’re gamers – we know what it takes to feed a house full of costumed Halloween enthusiasts, or a game room full of folks settled in for a long play session. It works; and as a consequence we can continue to develop and expand our card and board games offerings at our own pace.
One of our guiding decisions was to focus on tabletop games – things that actually bring friends and families together to do something in-person. It’s not that we’ll never do a videogame version of one of our games, it’s that we know how positive an experience that has been for us, and we want to enable and enhance that for others. We’re proud of the quality of our and our partners’ ideas, and how well we’ve been able to execute on them. It’s been rough at times. Some things took way longer, and cost way more than we’d hoped; but we learned, and the outcome has always been gratifying. From our logo merch to our premium games, we offer quality and value. We love interacting with our customers and fans. We want the whole experience to be awesome. We’re just getting started. We have huge projects in the works!

Can you tell us about a time you’ve had to pivot?

I think I’ve pivoted more often than I’ve kept to a planned course. If my life has a rudder, I think I’ve used it to avoid going over a waterfall, crash into things, or run aground, rather than stick to a route. There’ve been times when I went completely off the map. All I can say is, keep an open mind, trust that there’s a plan unfolding around you one map square at a time, even if you can’t see it, and think fast. I started out working on a Masters in Clinical Psychology. Technology came along, and lured me away from an internship wrestling psychotics for minimum wage. Did I have my heart set on helping people and being a professional counselor? Yes; and by all indications I was good at it. But, technology represented another way to help, and it was, given my situation at the time, the better choice. I never regretted it. I started in the Finance and Insurance sectors, pivoted to Consumer Packaged Goods when the market tanked and everyone was cutting financial services, then again when a recession hit (I went to Fashion), then government, and finally went freelance when I got tired of giving my all and it not being enough. Things that drain you and give back only enough to keep you on the hook are not the place to be. Not if you want to enjoy life. I freelance successfully because my skills are portable. My experience is varied, and I have my passions to keep me sane(ish) and looking to the future. The goal is to work only for myself and chosen partners some day soon.

Let’s talk about resilience next – do you have a story you can share with us?

There’s backstory to those pivots. My heroes as a child were my Dad, Batman, and Superman. In that order. I was not finished school yet when he passed, and it eventually derailed me. He’d been an engineer and then a business leader for all of his professional life. He worked himself, well, probably to death, to give us all we had. I wasn’t going to squander it, or the lesson of his life, killing myself for little reward. I don’t mean that I needed a big title or huge paycheck – I mean that I learned early that happiness is the currency that counts the most. I was going to succeed, but I was going to get to enjoy it, too. Technology came along, and was going pretty well in the financial sector, until 9/11. Packaged goods was even better, until the crash of 2008. Fashion was amazing, until I realized I was missing out on my kids growing up. Government satisfied a need to serve my country that I thought I’d never get to indulge. I did some proud work, until leadership changed and with it the deal that had brought me there. I’m not much for arbitrary indulgence of other people’s need to coerce, so I put my ID badge on the desk of someone who thought such a choice was impossible. Turns out, I wasn’t close enough for government work. I wasn’t going to spend 5 or 6 hours a day driving though the worst traffic on the East Coast because someone said so.
The following years were hard. I took “experimental” positions, temporary gigs, wrote like a madman, dreamed up games, launched projects and products, did a show every other weekend. It was going sort of well. And then…we let fear and sickness turn us off like a lightswitch. Covid hit, and things started to come apart again. I wrote more, decimated my savings, but kept paddling. Rudder? What rudder? Just keep sailing, sailing, sailing…. Sinking isn’t an option. Eventually the waters calmed, the wind picked back up, and I’m busier now than I think I’ve ever been. Stick to your guns, trust your gut, and find faith that it gets better – because it does. You just have to have more endurance than your demons.

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