Interviews

Talking with Tomas Harenstam of Free League Publishing about the importance of focus — Gencon 2023

Free League Games has proven its mettle in every direction; over the last few years, this RPG studio has outdone its competitors in every genre, releasing games with mechanics, art, and layouts that set a new standard for quality. Despite expanding in all directions, from licensed work to publishing other games to reviving old classics, the staff knows that they can only maintain this level of quality if they remain careful not to get too big. I spoke with Tomas Harenstam, the Co-Founder and CEO of Free League, about how his company has managed to expand so rapidly without losing its identity.

There’s money to be made in all directions, but the cost of success can be the very qualities that created those creative achievements in the first place. The larger any company grows, the more complicated its oversight becomes. When that happens, staff who split their time between management and creative pursuits have to sacrifice that creativity. Art gives way to the demands of business and logistics. This philosophy resonates with me, someone who has made it a practice of interviewing independent filmmakers. With money comes compromise. More to manage, more voices you have to answer to, and less of the artistry that drove you to create in the first place. The more games you release, the more support you have to create for those games, ballooning the effort required to stay afloat.

As much as this is a business out of necessity, the heart of Free League is the drive for self-expression. One of the rules that keeps this quality in place has to do with the material they publish but don’t develop. Those games, like Mork Borg and the upcoming remake of Dragonbane, have to be fully developed by the time they come to Free League, saving the effort of making a game on top of releasing it.

That isn’t to say that we can’t expect more from Free League in the coming months. Free League is expanding all the time, both in terms of its projects and staff. They not only have more games planned, but more support for their games. In November or December the Walking Dead RPG is releasing. Free League is also experimenting with adapting its works. The Tales From the Loop series was a collaboration with Simon Stalenhag and Amazon, without Free League’s involvement, but it provided a great proof of concept for translating their properties to the screen.

Free League is proving the crucial importance of keeping things manageable. Projects and companies can only maintain focus so long as they fight the urge to over-extend. It is humanity that creates art, not financial structures, and it is that humanity that has driven Free League to make some of the weirdest, most beautiful games of the past few years. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next.

Senior Tabletop Editor | [email protected]

John Farrell is an attorney working to create affordable housing, living in West Chester Pennsylvania. You can listen to him travel the weird west as Carrie A. Nation in the Joker's Wild podcast at: https://jokerswildpodcast.weebly.com/ or follow him on Bluesky @johnofhearts

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