Interview: The Minds Behind ‘Gyrating Hamsters’

Atlanta Game Fest was not only an opportunity for Ryan, Erin, and I to try out games that we’ve had our eye on for a while, but also a chance for us to learn about new games that are in development. A few different game designers shared their ideas with us, each in their own different stages of development. One couple who especially stood out was Andrew and Allison Gerbsch. Decked out in matching T-shirts and proudly displaying their board game, you couldn’t helped but be sucked in by their title: Gyrating Hamsters. As their cute little mascot looked on, Ryan and I got to play a couple of rounds of the game with these co-creators. We really enjoyed ourselves, and we wanted to find out more about how this crazy game came into being. I got the chance to sit down and talk with Allison and Andrew about their development journey.

First, I want to give you a chance to tell us a little bit about your game.

Andrew:  Gyrating Hamsters is a casual game with strategic elements. It’s a game that you can be relaxed with your friends or family, but also has a competitive nature to it. It’s a race to build hamster populations, where you’re trying to gain hamsters and get rid of other people’s hamsters in a fast-paced, interactive environment.

Allison:  So our goal in creating this game was to make something that is fun, with the way the cards are drawn and the different types of hamsters. But it also offers a little competition, so you have the chance to play over and over again. It doesn’t get boring if you play a couple of times.

Most people would probably consider Gyrating Hamsters to be a strange name for a game.  How did you guys come up with this idea?

Andrew: We were at a hibachi restaurant with our Michigan partners – Rebecca and Alex Host – and we were like, “We’re gamers, we play a lot of games together, why don’t we just create our own game?” A lot of people are doing it, and our friend Alex follows Kickstarter and saw a lot of people launching their own games. We thought, why don’t we do it?

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Allison: So the name came before the game. Rebecca said, “We should make a game called Gyrating Hamsters!” and we all kinda laughed at it. And then Andrew said, “Hey!  Let’s really do it!”

Andrew: The marketing side of me (I was a marketing major at UGA – Go Dawgs!) was just humming. As long as we make the game fun and something that the people want to play, the marketing aspect is going to be there just because the title’s so unique.

What led you to go beyond a basic brainstorm of a name or concept?  How did you know that this was going to be something more?

Andrew: For us at the beginning, it was all excitement. We’re enamored with our idea, we want to create our own game, so that was the starting fuel we had. What made me realize that we might have something here was when our friends played it, and they gave us immediate feedback. “Hey!  Can we play it again?  This is fun!”  I guess they weren’t expecting a game called Gyrating Hamsters to be as fun as we made it to be. And while there might be a little bias because they’re your friends, I still thought that we should keep going. Let’s see what we can do. Let’s see if we can create something fun that people want to play.

Allison: To start, it helped that we had very motivated people on our team. That’s what got us to the point that we were ordering blank cards and writing the different hamsters and the different actions with Sharpie on blank cards one night until 1 AM. And then our friends played it several times, and after that we decided that we should get somebody to illustrate these hamsters and make them into real cards. Once we made them into real cards and saw the pictures on these cards that we had completely thought of on our own, that’s when I thought this is a real game.  This is something we can get out there, not just to our friends and families.

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Going from the playtesting phase into a prototyping phase is a big step.  It takes an investment of your time and your money.  What has it been like making that dedication of your resources?

Allison: Well, the financial investment has been a little easier because we’re splitting it between couples. We did put a lot of money upfront for the illustrations and the production of the cards. But we feel like it’s been worth it. When we take the game to game fests or conventions, people have commented on how finished or polished our game looks.

Andrew:  It definitely sets us apart. People take you more seriously when you input not only your time, but also your finances, to show that you’re serious about making your game as best as you can. We’re not artists, and so you have to know your limitations. We could’ve drawn up some stick figure hamsters, but we decided to do a little research. We used a freelancing website where we created a contest where artists had to depict a particular hamster – I think the hillbilly hamster – and we had 50 entries competing to win a larger contest. That’s how we were able to maneuver to get an artist on the cheaper side versus what game designers usually have to pay for artwork.

Playtesting isn’t always the easiest process. How has it been having ‘your baby’ criticized right in front of your face?

Andrew:  There’s definitely a balance you have to have. You don’t want to shut people down by getting defensive and denying what people are telling you, but at the same time you have to know your audience and the niche that your game is in. If you have a more strategic game, you’re not going to want to get advice from party gamers. On the other side, if you’re getting advice from hardcore gamers that play three hour games, you’re going to have to take their advice with a grain of salt.  

We knew that not only did we need to get immediate, face-to-face feedback from cons and things, but we decided that we wanted to run our own playtesting and development arena.  So we sent our game out to over two dozen people across the United States.  Alex and Rebecca worked tediously to get those games out to people, to provide them with return labels so they didn’t have to worry about that.  We created different types of surveys to get the best feedback we could from unbiased plays, which is very important.

Allison: Essentially, we accepted feedback from everyone, but we know we can’t please everybody. We had to make a decision on who our target market was going to be. Even though we’re going to have a million ideas flying at us about what we should change and tweak, we have to keep our eyes on that target group and make sure that whatever changes we do make are going to fit that group of people.

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Andrew: The first time that Alex and Rebecca went to a convention, they got pretty beaten up over the game. It was a wake up call to us. We knew that the game wasn’t close to finished, but I guess we didn’t expect some of the feedback that we got. We’ve come a long way since that first con.

Well, I’m excited about where your game is going.  What are your expectations for the future of Gyrating Hamsters?

Allison: Ideally, we would like to go on Kickstarter in 2017. We want to have it be a game that families can play with each other, and also we want to create a version that would be more for adult party settings.

Andrew: Added humor, illustrations…

Allison: Well, different humor.

Yes, because Gyrating Hamsters normally have no humor. So we need to bump that up.

Allison:  (laughs)  We’re trying. So that’s what our end goal is. First and foremost, to have families come together and play it, but also to have this party group that we reach. We would also like expansions to the game with different elements.

Andrew: And obviously, that hinges upon the fact that we create the best product that we can. Something that allows people to enjoy themselves and something that they want to play again. And that’s got to be a concoction of humor, competition, strategy, chaos – all of those things have to be at the right ratios so that people want to play again. So that’s what we’re doing at these events. We want to get feedback and make the best game we can.

Well, I’m excited about Gyrating Hamsters. I hope that we can stay in touch with you guys, see how the game gets developed… I think this is a great viewpoint for gamers who often only see the end product.

Thank you guys for talking to me!  I look forward to playing your game in the future.

Andrew: Yes, we definitely look forward to sharing our story as we move forward into Kickstarter and beyond. And we’re glad to have you guys at One Board Family with us.

Allison: And we’ll invite you on our yacht when we get it.

Please check out more about Gyrating Hamsters on Facebook, Instagram, and at their website.