Mark Rosewater got into the trading card game “Magic: The Gathering” as a hobby when it was first released, back in 1993.
After growing up in suburban Cleveland, studying communications at Boston University, and chasing a life goal of creating television shows in Los Angeles (he became a writer on “Roseanne”), Rosewater got a gig writing a popular puzzle column for a magazine about “Magic” put out by Wizards of the Coast, the Renton, Wash.-based game publisher.
After writing for the magazine and freelancing for different sections of Wizards for a while, he decided he was willing to move to Seattle and work as a game designer full time. Rosewater has been head designer for “Magic” for 14 of the 22 years that he’s been at Wizards of the Coast — and he’s GeekWire’s newest Geek of the Week.
“It’s a dream job,” Rosewater said. “It combines so many of my loves (games, creativity, story, communications, media, writing) all in one. And because ‘Magic’ keeps evolving, I’m not making the same thing twice, so it’s never boring.”
With 12 million people playing “Magic” all over the world — it’s printed in 11 languages and sold in over 100 countries — the strategy trading card game built around wizards dueling with magic is more than holding its own in our technologically enhanced world.
“Traditional games have been having a bit of a renaissance over these last few years,” Rosewater said. “In a world dominated by screens and digital interaction, having the ability to actually play a game face-to-face has become something of a luxury. People need human contact and I believe the physicality of traditional games offers up something that a lot of other geeky things can’t offer.”
Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Mark Rosewater:
What do you do, and why do you do it? “Every year we make roughly a thousand new cards to add to the game. It’s the job of me and my team to figure out what all those cards do in the game. Each set (there are four major sets put out each year plus many other smaller supplemental products) has a major theme, anything from gothic horror to Greek mythology to steam-punk. This year will be my 22nd working at Wizards of the Coast, the company that makes the game, and my 14th as head designer. The reason I’ve been here so long is that it’s my dream job and I love both the challenge of constantly creating new content and interacting with our passionate fans.”
What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “For some reason, because most people play games, they seem to think that making games is easy, similar to how many people think they could write a TV show or a movie if they ever put their mind to it. The amount of craftsmanship and detail that goes into making a good game requires a lot more work than most people believe. I think of game design as an art form, and feel that I’m still learning every year how to get better at it.”
Where do you find your inspiration? “I find inspiration all over the place. One of the coolest things about what I do is we keep finding different sources that influence us. We recently made a set that was influenced by Egyptian mythology. This fall we have a set based on Mesoamerican influences with pirates and dinosaurs. Later this year, I have a humor–based set that’s exploring more “out of the box” ways to play. Other times, I’m influenced by smaller things. How can I make a card that’s an umbrella or a leprechaun? This job affords me a lot of room to stretch in finding creative influences.”
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “My phone. A big part of my job is that I’m one of the main spokespersons for the game. I interact with my audience on a daily basis. I have a blog that I update every single day, and in five years I’ve answered over 10,000 questions. I’m active on a whole number of different social media platforms. I write a weekly column on game design. I make a daily comic and a daily poll that I post every weekday on social media. I also record a podcast twice a week as I drive to work recorded on my phone. On top of all that, there’s a lot of back and forth with the Magic community and none of it would be able to happen if I didn’t have easy access to all of it through my phone.”
What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “I work in a section in R&D called The Pit which is a large area of about 40 cubicles with low walls and lots of tables for play testing. We have a culture by which when one person talks to another person, people will jump in. It’s a place where we have lots of big conversations about how to solve problems. It gets loud and brash, but it works and it’s a fun part of the experience.”
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “I think my best trick is what I call the ‘bullseye approach.’ At any one time, I always know the goal I’m aiming for. This allows me to always be pushing forward, making sure that I’m getting closer to solving the task at hand. Even if I don’t solve my problem, I’m always moving in the right direction.”
Mac, Windows or Linux? “Mac. The very first computer I ever used was the Apple II and I’ve always used an Apple computer for both work and home my entire life.”
Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Why are you skimping on ‘Star Trek’ captain choices? OK, of these three, I’d pick Picard. I’m a big ‘Next Generation’ fan.”
Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “I love time travel, I’m a big-time travel buff. If I’ve learned anything from reading all the time travel stories, it’s don’t mess with time; it never works out well. OK, I’d choose the time machine, but I’d be extra careful just to witness history and not to step on any butterflies.”
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “love to find new ways to cross social platforms with gaming. I feel that the landscape has changed completely in the last 40 years in how gaming functions and there’s still more potential to incorporate gaming into social media.”
I once waited in line for … “six and a half hours at San Diego Comic-Con to see the 10th anniversary reunion for ‘Firefly’ — and I didn’t get in! I would have shown up earlier had I known.”
Your role models: “Richard Garfield, the creator of ‘Magic: The Gathering,’ Joss Whedon and Jim Henson. I’m inspired by creators who’ve discovered something that others didn’t know was there. I love innovators, people who always find new ways to do something.”
Greatest game in history: “Easiest question. ‘Magic: The Gathering.'”
Best gadget ever: “My phone, again. As a child, if I could understand what my phone would be capable of doing now. … Growing up for example, I always wanted a jukebox. I thought it was neat to have one place where you could listen to any song you wanted to listen to. I always assumed I’d buy a jukebox when I grew up, but I didn’t, because I carry one around in my pocket.”
First computer: “An Apple II. My dad bought it when I was in high school. It was before disk drives, so we had to load games (all text based at that point) with a cassette tape. And it took 5 minutes!”
Current phone: “iPhone 7.”
Favorite app: “The app I use more than any other is is XKit. It allows me to interact with my blog for Tumblr.”
Favorite cause: “The Make-A-Wish Foundation. I’ve been proud to work with them many times over the years.”
Most important technology of 2016: “I’ll choose AlphaGo, the artificial intelligence that defeated the best human at Go. I think there are few things that are going to impact the world more than artificial intelligence and this felt like a giant step forward in how AI’s are able to think.”
Most important technology of 2018: “I feel like next year is when cryptocurrency is going to go from being a niche thing to a mainstream thing.”
Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “In my youth, geekiness was something you hid. You found friends with similar interests, but you kept it private. One of the great joys of my life has been watching geekdom come out of the shadows and become something that people can openly embrace. So, enjoy your geekiness, wear it with a badge of pride and share it with others so that geekdom can continue to grow.”
Website: Magic: The Gathering
LinkedIn: Mark Rosewater