Interview: Betabook CEO, Gabriel Shalom

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We sent a few questions back and forth with the CEO of Betabook, Gabriel Shalom. We wanted to learn more about his product and get into the potential nerdy side of Betabook.

The Gamer Nerd:
We approached you with the arrogant idea that you might not have thought to use this product for gaming… As it turns out you shared with me that you are a Magic: The Gathering player and have used the Betabook for keeping track of your life total. Shame on us for assuming…
How has that experience been for you?
When did you start playing MtG?
Favorite MtG Color / Playstyle / Deck?
Have you expanded your use of the Betabook into other games or gaming related things?
Have you heard much from your customers about their uses of the product in the gaming realm?

Gabriel Shalom:
I started playing Magic when I was 12 years old in 1994. It was a major interest throughout middle school. Once I got into high school my interest dropped off. This was probably around the same time I had my first real girlfriend. I took a hiatus from Magic until the spring of 2016. Getting back into the game in my 30s has been a totally novel experience. The thing that piqued my interest was an Instagram account (@oldschoolmtg) that featured the cards I remembered from my childhood. I remember the moment I decided I would try playing again – I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a feature @oldschoolmtg did on the card “Rabid Wombat” – this card’s flavor and name struck me as so patently ridiculous I had a proper laughing fit. As I dried my tears of hilarity I realized that something this genuinely silly which could make me laugh that hard demanded a place in my life again.

When I played MtG as a kid I had basically two good decks and one project deck. I’ve always been a combo/flavor player, so my project deck was where I focused my obsessive deck building energy. It was a combo involving infinite life gain with four copies of “Nether Shadow” and the Legends artifact “Life Chisel”. This combo has since been errated out of existence, but at the time it was a wild west sort of play atmosphere with other kids who didn’t know better. My more archetypical decks were a black/red land destruction deck and a red/green “Kird Ape” deck which I believe was the progenitor for a strategy that has since been called “Zoo” – lots of small fast creatures with instant power ups like “Giant Growth” or the infamous “Berserk”.

Fast forward to the present day and my favorite format is most certainly Commander. It wasn’t really a thing back when I was a kid, and the dynamics of long multiplayer games where crazy things happen are definitely what I love about MtG the most. With its 40 point starting life total, multiplayer format, massive board states and complex counter/token/experience dynamics, Betabook has served me and my friends well as a small scoreboard for Commander gaming sessions.

Betabook is most certainly useful for more than just keeping track of life points. It has had an inherently playful dimension since its inception.

Here’s a breakdown of some gaming use cases as I see it:

Betabook as game board/play object, using the object itself as a play surface. During our Kickstarter campaign we collaborated with Berlin-based game festival AMAZE to do a Betabook analog game jam in a local cafe. We came up with a bunch of fun ideas including “Beta Soccer”, simply draw a goal and a mid-field line. One player is the goalie, the other is the shooter. The shooter tries to draw the “ball” into the goal; the goalie moves the Betabook to defend the goal. Pro tip: put the eraser cloth under the spine for extra sliding action on the tabletop!

Betabook as casual social play space (read: drinking games) where collaboration and silliness are more important than competition. A couple weeks ago this resulted in a pretty silly mad-libs style collaborative storytelling/drawing game in a local bar:

Betabook as a tool for designing/prototyping games, whether at game jams, in the game design studio, or in a coffee shop for fun, we’ve seen Betabook used to design interfaces and characters as well as flowcharts and code/scripts.

Betabook as a playful intervention into everyday life, something we also think of as “reality hacking” – using Betabook as a visual communication tool to change the assumptions and behaviors of people in your immediate environment. See also our handy guide “9 Easy Ways to Hack Yourself a Better Reality”

The Gamer Nerd:
This product launched via Kickstarter, something gamers have become very accustom too..
What did you learn from that experience?
Have you ever backed a gaming related Kickstarter?
How do you feel about the trend of using Kickstarter to create tabletop games?

Gabriel Shalom:
Kickstarter was an ideal way to bring Betabook to market and we are planning another Kickstarter right now for a product line expansion. In fact, it could be that this new product will be an even bigger hit with the gaming community, because (drumroll please) . . . we have designed a version of Betabook printed with a high quality 1cm dot grid on the surface! We can’t wait to see how Betabook Grid is embraced by the gaming community!

I have backed a couple gaming projects on Kickstarter, most notably Double Fine Adventure and Obduction. To be honest I haven’t played either one yet. Is Double Fine even released yet? It seems to me the biggest success stories in gaming on the business side are projects like Cards Against Humanity and Exploding Kittens where there are clear profit margins and turnkey fulfillment and manufacturing systems. I’m not a big tabletop gamer myself, but I do believe Kickstarter is an ideal way to get market validation for creative projects and I imagine a successful campaign is a much lower cost method for testing a tabletop game than however it was done in the pre-Kickstarter era.

The Gamer Nerd:
Thank you for taking the time to respond to our questions. We are excited to weave Betabook into our gaming hobby and put it through the paces for our review!

Be sure to checkout our review of the Betabook!

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