Designing Women: Carla Kopp

You may know her as the head of Weird Giraffe Games publishing. Or the designer of Stellar Leap. Or perhaps from her informative youtube series, Cardboarding with Carla. Carla Kopp juggles ALL the bits in the gaming industry, and she’s doing it with her own unique style.

What got you started playing board games? 

I grew up with some of the classic board games and played those with my family. I didn’t start playing modern games until I after I graduated college. I moved to a new city and was introduced to games by a friend. I found that games were an excellent way to socialize with others and to make new friends. I’m not great with new people, but games give me a way to interact with others socially that’s easy and fun.

What do you think about the design/playtesting process? What do you like/dislike?

I really enjoy the design and playtesting process. I’ve gotten to know a lot more about how people think just by watching them and seeing how they understand the game and strategy and figuring out ways to make games easier to play. I work in software for my day job and we use a system called Agile. With Agile, we make a lot of small changes and iterate constantly, which is a lot how game design works. You make something, test it out to see if it’s right, make some tweaks and try again. It’s really fun to try different things and see if it fixes the problem or not. 

I especially like solo game design, as it’s different from typical game design and has it’s own challenges and goals. 

I don’t dislike much about the game design process, other than the fact that I don’t get much time to actually design. As a publisher, there’s a lot that takes priority over design, like social media, marketing, manufacturing, etc. as well as the fact that I do have a day job. 

Do you find the community supportive?

Yes! The community is super supportive. I love the interaction I get on twitter and going to conventions is like going to a room full of friends. I’ve been able to go to different Unpub rooms and get a lot of important feedback on my games. Whenever I run into an issue, I can reach out and generally get a lot of suggestions on where to go. I would not have a company without the community. 

What is Cardboarding with Carla?

It’s been two different things; first was a written interview series on The Indie Game Report and now it’s a Youtube series where I talk about different aspects in game publishing and design. I’ve been putting them out weekly first on Facebook Live, then uploaded to our Youtube later on. I usually get my topics from Twitter and Facebook suggestions, so if anyone is interested in hearing about a certain topic that could be covered in about 15-20 minutes, just reach out! 

As a publisher, what things draw you to a pitched design?

There’s a variety of things! I tend to first look and see if the component list isn’t too long, the play time isn’t more than an hour, and the player count is at least 2-4 players. If the game checks all those boxes, I look for the mechanics and if they seem interesting and different from games I’ve already published. I also get really interested if the theme of the game is different than usual; I’m a sucker for original themes.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a lot of things! In particular, I’m gearing up to launch Big Easy Busking, which is an area control game for 1-5 players where you’re a street musician in New Orleans. I’m also working on a game called Tumble Town, where you’re building a town in the Old West. It’s an engine builder that plays in about 45 minutes for 1-4 players, currently. Those are two games I’m publishing; I’m also a designer, as well! My latest design isn’t titled yet, I’m  just referring to it as the Venice Game. In the game, you’re a gondola driver, working to earn tips so you can get more well known, improve your gondola, and even earn reviews for your business! I’m hoping to get it ready for Unpub, but we’ll see what happens. I’m also working on a game called Recursion, that teaches people coding concepts. It’s very unthemed at the moment, which is unusual for me, but once I settle on a theme, I know that one could be great. 

We’ve been excited about Big Easy Busking since you teased the first images – what can you tell us about it?

You are a street musician in New Orleans in Big Easy Busking. You have three nights, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday to try to earn the most tips and become the best busker. To do so, you must try to match the mood of the crowd to the songs you’re playing, learn more songs, and tip your band members at the right times. After each night, you get back all your energy and songs that you played during the night and there’s even more crowds as the game goes on. 

Big Easy Busking is an area control game, but it’s a bit different than other area control games in that it takes time to play songs for the crowds. You start playing a song on one turn, but it takes until the next turn for you to finish your song. This means that you’re able to see where other players have started playing their songs and if you matched the mood of the song, you now have an important choice to make; do you put all your energy into the crowd, to try to win them over? Or do you only put a little energy into the song and save it for the next crowd? 

I really love playing this game, as each play is different. There’s a variety of ability songs, that give you something a little extra and the players do different and sometimes unexpected things. It’s the first game that I’ve worked on that I end up not winning as much, as people always surprise me. It’s those parts of the game I really enjoy, where I have to change my strategy to compensate for other people. 

Any challenges as a woman in game design and publishing?

There’s definitely not a lot of us out there! There’s pressure when you’re the only woman in the room or only one of a few. It’s also a bit isolating to know that most game designers aren’t women. I try to meet as many other female game designers as I can, which gets rid of some of those feelings.
I’ve not been openly harassed, but I’ve had a few incidents and I know of others who have been really targeted for harassment in the community. There’s always this fear that if I get too big or too successful, I’ll start having that same sort of harassment happen. It’s not something that’s holding me back, but it is something I think about, especially after there’s been an incident at a convention or a new video comes out harassing another woman in the industry. 

What do you do outside of gaming? Does it inspire your design process?

My day job is as a software engineer and I think that really helps with my solo design process. I’ve studied a lot of robotics, so I’ve thought a lot about how robots can emulate humans in real life, while still doing things differently, so it’s just natural to apply that to game design, as well. Other than that, I also love traveling. I’ve definitely been inspired by going to different locations, with the last game design that I’ve designed, I did so while in Venice and the game was about being a gondola driver, trying to earn the most tips while delivering passengers to the right areas and using your unique skills to make their ride as enjoyable as it can be.

And finally – why ‘Weird Giraffe’?

Initially when I was coming up with names for the company, I tried to incorporate my own last name; Kopp. I thought it’d be clever to join that with one of my favorite animals, the okapi, for a combined Okoppi Games. When I presented it to the group, no one got it. The next obvious step to me was to make a logo, which I did in Paint. I presented the new logo, still no one got it. I had put about an hour into making that logo, so I thought about what else the name could be. I ended up with Weird Giraffe, as the okapi is the only other animal in the giraffid family.  

You can keep up with Carla’s current an upcoming projects on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.