Meeting of Minds – Ross Connell
One of my core aims with The Giant Brain is to promote designers, creators and publishers in the UK gaming scene. This series of articles interviews various folks from across the UK tabletop gaming scene to get an insight into their games, their thoughts on current events in the industry and anything else that pops into my head. I hope you enjoy it.
Ross Connell is one of the most recognisable names in the UK boardgame community but his influence is spread far and wide. First coming to the attention of most folk through his instagram account moregamesplease, he has gone on to make his hobby a profession.
He has photographed games for over 40 games companies, producing lovingly detailed shots that have garnered praise far and wide. Alongside this freelance work he has also worked for publishers on a more permanent basis, first as the Community Manager at Alley Cat Games and currently as the Community and Marketing Manager at North Star Games.
Ross was kind enough to let me put some questions to him about how he got into boardgame photography, his community building work, and what it has been like making a hobby into a profession.
You originally came to the attention of the boardgaming community through your photography. Have you always had an interest in photography and what made you want to start sharing your love of board games in this way?
I studied film at university, and have long been enjoying the delights of looking at life through a lens (including my glasses since age 3). I kind of fell out of love with camera work for a while post-uni but fell head over heels again whilst I was travelling the world. Wherever I was, the one constant throughout was my camera. I’m not kidding when I say some of my favourite memories during those years were just exploring wherever my eye took me, camera in hand.
I naturally started photographing games as I was playing them and I set up a new account on social media simply to avoid boring my friends. I fell into the hobby pretty deep, and whilst my friends were more than happy to play the games with me they weren’t as obsessed as I was. After I started posting I was just enjoying it all so much I kept going. In the first year, I think I shared a board game photo almost every single day.
You eventually took your photography professional, going freelance in 2018. What was that experience like and would you have any advice for those looking to follow in your footsteps?
I really didn’t have any aspirations to work in the industry. A lot of us are guilty of turning our hobbies into work and I already had a decent job. I’d been posting photos for quite a while and out of the blue Osprey Games contacted me asking if I was interested in working with them on some product photography for Wildlands. Although I didn’t want to lose the fun in what I was doing I figured why not just give it a try. 4 years later I’m still photographing board games and have now been paid to photograph over 200 titles professionally with my work featuring in magazines, websites, and Kickstarter projects raising over 4 million.
As much as I wasn’t aspiring to work in the industry none of this would have happened if I wasn’t driven. I was taking photos every day, and as they say, practice makes perfect. My only real advice is to follow your passions, be open to opportunity, and ensure you always feel valued in the process. Who knows where it may take you.
What has been your favourite boardgame to photograph and why?
Photographing beautiful games is always a pleasure. The better the art and the components, the easier it is to get results. I think of it along the lines of travel photography. When there is a spectacular view you’ll likely get a memorable photo as the scenery does most of the heavy lifting. You generally see a lot of likes on social media for expensive items, as it’s just easier to make expensive stuff look good. That said, working in the industry I see how much time, love, and attention all games get invested in them. So although I don’t have a favourite game I’ve photographed, I do feel especially privileged whenever I’m trusted to photograph a prototype, especially if it’s from a small indie publisher. I think great photography can make all the difference and that goes double for hidden gems that won’t get the attention of bigger releases.
You’ve got a lot of experience in building a welcoming community around you. What tips would you have for content creators looking to do the same?
I know this might sound counterintuitive to some but I think a major mistake people make is putting too much focus on building the size of their community. When I stay in a community it’s because I feel invested in the people there, and feel they are invested in me. That might take time, but be patient and build your space properly, brick by brick. Look to build your community on a foundation of care. Being kind isn’t enough, you have to be willing to put on your gardening gloves and do a little weeding from time to time. If you don’t care enough to curate your spaces don’t be surprised if others don’t invest in them. It’s better to remove 1 bad actor than lose 10 good ones. Give people space to share their own passions, excitement, and stories. Good community building involves giving others the chance to be themselves. You may be the person who brought them together, but be willing to take a couple of steps back from time to time and you might find things flourish all the more.
You’ve now worked for two companies as part of their teams, Alley Cat Games and currently North Star Games. What has the experience been like working more closely with these board game publishers?
It feels like a bit of a rollercoaster ride as combined with my product photography I’ve already worked with over 40 board game publishers. You are always discovering different perspectives and processes with each company. Thankfully, I’ve always loved learning.
Getting to work in board games has allowed me to discover so much more about the process of making games. That might be production, playtesting, rulebook writing, graphic design, or manufacturing. Don’t even get me started on the impact of COVID on international logistics. Since day one it’s been pretty relentless. I’ve been doing this for years and every day there is still more to learn. Anyone who has changed careers will know there are challenges. Even if doors open you need to be willing to walk through and step outside your comfort zone. Ultimately this is an industry filled with passionate people, who at the heart of it just want to make games people love. Like any creative industry, success is never guaranteed, but I am constantly inspired by those around me who continue to reach for it.
Do you have a dream company you would like to work with either on the community side or photography?
I just want to work with publishers that genuinely care about their staff, the games they make and the communities they foster. Board games are products, and they need to sell for companies to stay in business. Whilst ensuring profitability allows you to continue to function, I just want to continue to feel like people and their wellbeing is a central part of a company’s core values.
What game are you most excited by right now?
This year I am trying to play a board game every day. I’m over 40 days in but there’s a long way to go yet. Currently, I’m most excited by exploring more of my own collection, and after 4 years of owning it, I’ve finally started playing Pandemic Legacy Season 1. It’s a strange time to play a game with this theme, but after the last few years, my friends and I finally feel like we’re up to the challenge.