Thursday, November 1, 2012

Tips for Success - An interview with Dominic Crapuchettes of North Star Games

Here's a brief interview with game designer Dominic Crapuchettes, founder of North Star Games.  

Dominic created the excellent party games Wits & Wagers and Say Anything.  They're both great fun and (with his kind permission) I turned them into classroom presentation games for ActivInspire.  With two editions based on each game, they have been some of my most downloaded classroom activities.  The games themselves are also a great addition to the classroom.  I have entertained many students with both titles.

I met Dominic in 2002 when we both were part of a newly formed game designer convention.  His talent for games was apparent immediately.  From that time on I watched him devote his life to a dream of having his own game company.  Rather than focusing on the smaller market of "hobby games", he set his sites on the big time--having his games reach the masses through the large chains like Target, Toys R Us and Wal-Mart.

With his talent and hard work he has done just that.  I asked him to share some of his story because I believe it can inspire creative students to follow their dreams.

He also had some unique educational experiences that remind me that to help students be successful I have to do more than just cover the Common Core Standards in my classes.

Mike Petty:  Dominic, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions for us!  To start, what can you tell us about the success of North Star Games?

Dominic Crapuchettes:  North Star Games started as a dream in my basement over 10 years ago.  Since then, we have designed 6 games and won over 100 awards.  Wits & Wagers is the most awarded party game in history!  Our games are sold in Target, Wal-Mart, Toys-R-Us, and over 25 countries.

MP:  It has been great following your rise to success over the past several years and I have learned a lot from you about what it takes to realize a dream.  When did you know you wanted to create games for a living?

DC:  I knew through most of high school that I wanted to design games for a living, but I didn’t think it was something I would end up doing.  My senior paper was a business plan for a board game company that I wanted to start.

MP:  There is a lot of talk about games in education now, and in some ways gaming seems to be more popular than ever.  But the hype almost always is focused on computer games.  On the other hand, you and I have been creating traditional games for the most part.  What do you think the advantages are of either playing or creating the traditional games?

DC:  Focusing on board games has forced me to be frugal with rules, and strive for elegance and simplicity.  This is because the players have to keep track of everything, as opposed to having a computer do it.  Every creative endeavor benefits from striving for simplicity, including my endeavor to grow our company.  Even Einstein always sought the simplest explanation for the things he saw.

MP:  I know you worked extremely hard to get to where you are now.  There were times I thought I was working hard trying to balance a job and my pursuits as a game designer, then I'd talk to you!  Tell us a little about those early days.

DC:  It is very difficult to start a company.  I found a great partner when I was going through business school.  We worked about 80 hours a week for two years… without any pay!  There were several times when we thought we were going to go bankrupt.  But we stuck with it, and now it is starting to pay off.  We get to do what we love, AND we get paid for it.  Not many people can say that.

MP:  Would you say you’re living your dream? 

DC:  Yes, I would say that I am living my dream, but keep in mind that this is still a job. I have to set my alarm each morning and drive to work each day.  Then I spend most of my day doing things that are not all that fun like answering emails.  But this is mixed with things that I enjoy greatly, like designing and testing games, and then working on the graphics for them.

MP:  I know your talents well enough to say you could have succeeded in a lot of areas.  You chose to follow your creativity.  What are some benefits of exercising creativity in life, including as a hobby or in other ways that might not make money?

DC:  There are ways to be creative in just about any job.  Finding a creative solution to a problem is not only useful to the company you work for, but it is also very satisfying.  Following my heart led me to start a game company and gives me the opportunity to create games, but most of my creativity goes into figuring out how to make our company successful.  The more creative we are with solving problems, the better our company does.

I believe that it is important to balance your passion with meeting the needs of your community.  Your job is NOT about doing what YOU want.  It is about serving your community.  So look for a way to serve your community in a manner that you enjoy.  It’s a life-long process to balance the things you want with the needs of your community.

MP:  That's a great point.  I try to remind my students of the responsibility they have to others.  It's easy for all of us to forget!  

What was your experience like through formal education.  Do any teachers or classes stand out as your favorites?

DC:  I did not enjoy high school.  Memorizing facts for tests was not interesting to me.  So I went to a college where we read philosophical works and discussed their meaning in class.  That’s when I started getting passionate about my education.  I had many favorite teachers.  They were able to inspire me to get excited about the material.

MP:  Are there specific things you do to keep ideas flowing in your business?  

DC:  I look for my inspiration in the other games I play.  I am always considering ways to improve them, or mix elements from one game into another idea that I am working on.  I do the same with my company.  I read about other companies, speak with other business owners and learn as much as I can from their failures and successes.

MP:  I have some common themes that I present to students when I work with classes at many grade levels or in any subject.  I wondered if you have any comments on these, particularly how they might relate to technology and success.

For one, we increase our chances for success by making the most of everyday opportunities.  Forming the habits now of working hard or making good relationships, for example, makes success more likely in our future.

DC:  One of the most important things is life is forming good habits.  Even the smartest person on Earth has a limited amount of brain energy.  Forming good habits allows you to focus on something without having the rest of your life fall apart.  For instance, I set reminders on my computer for everything I need to do.  Then I can focus on the task at hand without worrying that I will forget something else that is important (like picking up my kid from school).

MP:  Right.  Another theme I emphasize is the importance of learning how to learn.  The world is changing fast and students will always need to adapt to unexpected situations.

DC:  My entire college education was a lesson on how to learn.  Instead of memorizing ideas that other people came up with, we read books, discussed them, and came up with our own ideas.  Learning how to listen to others and adopt your ideas and opinions based upon the information you get from them is an important life-lesson that will help you in ANY job you get.

MP:  I agree.  Thanks for putting it in words for us and for providing the example through your own success story.  I wish you and the company the best in the future!

To keep up with information about Dominic's company North Star Games and their great line of party games, please visit:


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