Interview - Tom Filsinger

Interview: Tom Filsinger, Filsinger Games: 23rd September 2003

Media Man Australia interview the founder of Filsinger Games, and the inventor of Champions of the Galaxy!

What's your background?

My name at birth was Savvas Tsagarakas, but my father abandoned my family and pretty much disappeared when I was born. He was a Greek immigrant. My mother remarried when I was four years old and I was adopted by my real father (I never refer to him as a stepfather because he raised me and we are still very close to this day). My name was legally changed to Tom Filsinger, so I'll never know
what it would have been like to go around getting everyone tongue-tied with my real name.

How did you come up with the game idea?

I created the game in high school when I was bored in my classes. I lived in Cleveland, Ohio at the time and my high school was just too damn big (almost 800 in my graduating class, in which I graduated somewhere around # 700. It's no wonder my counselor suggested I join the military when/if I graduated). I guess I shouldn't complain that my high school was lousy because at least the boredom "inspired" me to be a creator. The game I created was a wrestling game and I made playing cards for my wrestling favorites from the 70's like the Sheik, Bobo Brazil, and Johnny Valentine. I never dreamed it would lead anywhere.

What motivated and inspired you to make the idea a reality?

My high school counselor would have been shocked to find out that I would eventually earn a Master's Degree in Social/Personality Psychology from Northern Illinois University. I became a college lecturer in 1982, but still played my wrestling game with my brother, Paul. Paul enjoyed the game and since he seemed to be an otherwise normal adult I figured other people might enjoy it too.

I pitched my idea to Vince McMahon and the WWF around 1985. After months of keeping me waiting on pins and needles, they sold the rights to produce a wrestling game to DIC Enterprises. DIC promptly rejected my game in favor of having Milton Bradley produce a WWF board game. Can you imagine that? Choosing a hugely respected and popular game manufacturer over a totally untested nobody like me? I was crushed, but not finished yet.

One day I was watching a He-Man cartoon on television and the idea struck me of wrestling in the future. Being a big fan of Marvel Comics, it wasn't such a huge leap. I immediately contacted an artist and began writing and producing the game which now would be called Champions of the Galaxy. The game was released in 1986 and continues to prosper to this day. So take that, DIC Enterprises! By the way, the Milton Bradley WWF board game is long dead.

Talk us thru the process of idea, patients, testing,marketing, to on the shelves etc...Like I said, the testing took place as a by-product of playing with my brother. The game was created to entertain me, not to market and sell. Which is probably why it's been so successful, it's from the heart, not from a blueprint or a corporate flow chart.

No patent was necessary since the game does not have a game structure (there's no board or parts). I filed copyright documents for the printed matter, like game cards, handbooks, instruction book, and game charts. Then I advertised in Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine, by far the most popular wrestling magazine in America at the time. Plus, the magazine had an international audience. The ad worked
immediately and Filsinger Games was in business.

Who have been your biggest supporters?

Our loyal game fans---I call them promoters---have been our greatest supporters. Many people have played Champions of the Galaxy for over a decade and longer. I meet COTG fans in person at gaming and comic book conventions and I consider them my friends.

In terms of well-known supporters, I've gotten a lot of support from the professional wrestling community from the likes of Ted DiBiase, King Kong Bundy, Playboy Buddy Rose, Johnny Valiant, Nikolai Volkoff...the list is actually pretty long. I've been very thankful for the support of these legends.

I've also been very honored by the open and vocal support of Marvel Comics legend, Stan Lee. Stan's writing style was a big influence on my own writing and he wrote the introduction to The GWF Files, a handbook about COTG published by Filsinger Games. We are regularly in touch with each other. I'm almost embarrassed to say it, but Stan once referred to me as "a great man." I would never have dared
to dream that something like that could ever happen and I still don't believe it! It's an honor, probably one I don't deserve, but still an honor.

Did you know certain cities, like New York, would be hot for the game?

No, I had no idea where the hot spots might be. At the beginning I was surprised by how big our fan base was in Canada. In fact, there's even been Canadian COTG cons, a few of which I attended. Several of our most loyal fans are from Australia.

What aspects of your business, and this game in particular, are the most challenging?

I'll be writing the 32nd expansion for the game very soon and it's set to be released in January, 2004. It'll be called ENTROPY 2118. Each edition is another year in GWF (Galactic Wrestling Federation) history. So the biggest challenge after all these years is keeping things fresh. I don't want the game to get boring or to start repeating myself with the same angles and storylines. Sound familiar? It can happen in the
WWE too if they're not careful.

I try to keep things fresh by working with new artists. Another way is to release new products. We published our first book about COTG in 2000. We also released a real- life wrestling game in January, 2003 called Legends of Wrestling.

Actually, we'd been releasing Legends playing cards as early as 1999, but we put together all the cards
and more in a box set. The Legends game is a tribute to wrestling history from Frank Gotch (if you've heard of him, then you know your wrestling) to Gorgeous George to Jimmy Snuka, even up to the and man. There are 24 wrestlers in the first edition. It's a blast. I love it and it's sold well for us.

What updates and new editions have became available, and why?The COTG saga will never end, so we'll be releasing ENTROPY 2118 in a few months. It'll be a pivotal year in GWF history. We also regularly release games for another federation called the CPC. So look for CPC SAVAGERY 2118 to be
released in January, 2004, the same time as ENTROPY 2118. The CPC editions are written by Mark Ashby, who started as a game fan and now is writing for Filsinger Games.

Also, LEGENDS REMATCH is due in December, 2003. It'll feature more wrestlers for the Legends series, including Hacksaw Jim Duggan and the Midnight Express.

What media exposure have your received to date?

What's really fun is watching for fans holding signs on RAW on Monday nights. Every now and then you'll see a GWF or COTG sign, or something more specific to the game. In terms of mainstream publicity, I've been featured in articles in Entrepreneur Magazine, Cleveland Magazine, as well as wrestling magazines and several newspapers. I've done several online interviews too. Nobody at Wizards of the Coast is quivering in their boots, but we've carved out our niche and people know who we are.

How has the wrestling business changed since you released the game?

Wrestling has become more adult-oriented. It's become darker, more gritty than the days of the red and yellow Hulk Hogan. That wouldn't work today. Now wrestlers wear black and talk trash. Another big difference is there really aren't heroes and villains anymore. Wrestlers are popular or unpopular, but this status confered by wrestling fans is not related to heroic qualities or villainous qualities of the wrestlers
so much as a hard-to-define "coolness" factor. Fans respond to who they think is cool and who performs well. Fans control who's popular today. Wrestling organizations try to respond to fan reaction where it used to be the other way around.

Back in the 80's the WWF could create a babyface or heel just by the way a wrestler talked or acted. The fans would respond to their prompting. Not anymore.

How has the Internet helped you?

It's been a huge help. The official Filsinger Games site has had over 330,000 hits. It's become very extensive and this allows newcomers to find out all about our games before ordering. It's also a meeting place for our regular fans. There's a discussion board, auctions, polls...just plenty to see and do. The internet is very informative. Very dynamic. I love the internet. I've pretty much stopped watching television
because I enjoy it so much.

Has the reward equaled the effort you put into your invention?

Far more. There's nothing more rewarding than knowing that my game has entertained people and given them something they find rewarding and fulfilling. COTG isn't just a game, it's a way of life. And many people have adopted this credo as their own. What I'm trying to do is promote escapism (in the
positive sense) and creativity. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby made me very happy with comic books like Spiderman and Fantastic Four. I'm honored that my creations have had the same impact on others..

What opportunities have your invention given you?

Since I have a full-time job as an Associate Professor and Director of Social Sciences at a college in Jamestown, New York, I really don't need much more in the way of career opportunities. Plus, I've got a wonderful wife and four children. So I'm pretty busy. Writing and producing Champions of the Galaxy is purely a labor of love.

My job at the college has given me that opportunity, so that I don't have to worry about game sales or the bottom line. Hence, it's totally about quality. In turn, success with Filsinger Games has given me the opportunity to meet and work with people I might never have met otherwise. This ranges from professional wrestlers to people in the comic book industry.

What other games do you play?

I'm a game fanatic. We've got game all over the house. I like Magic: The Gathering, Strat-O-Matic,Risk.. .you name it. I meet every week with the Academic Dean and an English Professor at the college for game night. And I play Champions of the Galaxy regularly too.

What do you do to relax?

Play games, read, and spend time with my family.

What else should we know?

As far as I'm concerned, game playing is the very essence of life. Life itself is a game. In order to be successful, a game has to have an addictive quality that makes a person want to come back again and again. With Champions of the Galaxy and Legends of Wrestling, the foundation is built on the magination and creativity of the player. Then sharing the experience with others. It's worked for us for
years, so who can argue?

Greg, great job with the questions, especially whipping them out the way you did. Best wishes to you and thanks for the opportunity to share my ideas.


Editors note: What an amazing interview, and an amazing game. They say life is a game, and Tom has just further reinforced that.


GWF Wrestling

Legends of Wrestling

Countdown to the Big Day

Legends of Pro Wrestling: Greg's Tingle's wrestling legends website

Australian Sports and Entertainment Portal