The Good, The Bad, & The Misinformed – Week 2

EDIT NOTES: The article you are reading below is not what I originally published. I strive to be the best version of myself in doing these projects. When I fall short of that, it is important to me that I edit in favor of constructive criticism over what was taken as a direct attack against the subjects of this post. Hopefully, I have achieved that in the post below.

Each week, I will show you educational case studies on Kickstarter. These are my opinions of Kickstarter best practices, peppered with my taste of bad humor. My listing these campaigns are always an endorsement of the product itself, no matter my critical commentary of the campaign. Enjoy!

DISCLAIMER: Because I am collaborating on the Re-Chord campaign, it is not listed here. You should still support that project.

The Good – Western Legends

A Western tabletop adventure of legendary proportions for 2-6 players in 90 minutes or less.

This is not a perfect campaign. Those don’t exist. A “Good” campaign displays competent knowledge of Kickstarter best practices and can only improve in minor or superficial ways.

Takeaways

  • Before you even click play on the video above, take a gander at this solid first impression for a Kickstarter campaign. The framing is spot on, even if they have black space in the framing of that spacing. You can still make out the gun above the play button, which is the main feature of the painting. They include the Ship Naked friendly-shipping label (probably my favorite one), the logo, the game title, the Kickstarter logo, the artist, and the designer, all within the main image which is a credit to the proper use of space. Your image is the window to your campaign. You need to get this right.
  • Western Legends is a perfect example of a campaign which charges extra for shipping but is not negatively affected. Similarly, if your most popular pledge level is going to top out at $75 or so, AND you have solid artwork and componentry going into your campaign, you too can get away with this. The cheaper your most popular reward, the less likely you will get away with anything but included shipping. The takeaway is that I do not think the trajectory in this campaign would be affected whether they charged $75 or $84 for the Legendary level.
  • Kolossal Games has a lot to prove in a short time, given their planned cadence of 2018 campaigns. So it stands to reason that they chased down the prototype preview creators with the largest audiences. If you have the inkling of an opportunity to be covered by Man vs. Meeple or Rahdo or the like, you take it. It will set the pace for your whole campaign to be a success and is worth the marketing investment.

The Bad – Everdell: A Beautiful Board Game of Cards and Critters

Grow your settlement in a charming world of lively forest critters in this elegant worker placement/tableau building board game.

A “Bad” campaign displays at least one significant deviation from Kickstarter best practices. The campaign trajectory has probably not been affected.

Takeaways

  • Yes, there are still campaigns launching and funding today without a gameplay video. If you have an established marketing footprint where you are all but guaranteed to fund with great artwork and compelling characters, maybe you think you should stay on schedule and launch your campaign even if the how to play content is not ready. I am in favor of delaying the launch until the campaign is 100% ready.
  • On that note, the previews for the campaign were also not ready. One of two things happened: either the publisher provided the prototypes late, or the previewer did not meet the agreed upon deadline for the Kickstarter campaign. When you send a prototype and agree to a deadline, and the previewer does not meet that deadline, you should consider not working with that previewer anymore.
  • Even still, the ghost of Kickstarter past is coming back to haunt the Game Salute’s Starling Games. You can click on the comments to see various levels of concern. If your backers are ever vocally disappointed in your company, you should take the short term hit of finding valid criticism and correcting it in whatever ways you can.

The Misinformed – Triplanetary – The Classic Game of Space Combat

From the dawn of the hobby, a classic space game returns . . . Triplanetary depicts ship-to-ship space combat in the Solar System!

A “Misinformed” campaign has deviated from many Kickstarter best practices. I estimate that the campaign has suffered as a result.

Takeaways

  • This is Steve Jackson Games. A company who has the know-how, the resources, and the customer backing to provide a truly entertaining and lucrative Kickstarter campaign. We are talking instant triple digits if they had spent even a half day of work extra on the layout of the campaign. Kickstarter is about interacting with and rewarding your most die-hard fans, and I think this campaign disappointed their customers (and would-be customers). The lesson here is that a creator’s following can overcome most anything on Kickstarter, but you as a creator should strive to live up to the expectations your backers have.
  • This campaign is in violation of Kickstarter’s terms and conditions. Namely, the condition which states that you cannot be simultaneously funding a product on the Kickstarter platform as you are currently selling (or pre-selling) on another website. SJG is linking international buyers away from the campaign to a sales page on their website. Kickstarter has suspended campaigns for less, and that makes me skeptical as to how the next 20ish days will turn out for this project. You as a creator should take this into account if you think it is possible to run simultaneous campaigns for the same product across different websites.

Marshall Britt and the Re-Chord Campaign

I have been consulting with Marshall and his business partner, Andrew, for a few months now on the latest Yanaguana Games product, Re-Chord. It has culminated in both cancellation and a successful relaunch. I invited Marshall to share his experience on Kickstarter with the hopes that you can carry these lessons into your campaigns.

You can support Re-Chord on Kickstarter now.

Failure is a Mindset

I’d like to start with a small anecdote about the day I had to cancel our first campaign for the guitar-themed board game Re-Chord. It was about 48 hours from the end, and it was reasonably clear to the team that we were going to come up short of our goal. We decided to cancel funding and discuss a relaunch plan.

As the lead designer of Re-Chord, the publisher, and the artist for much of the game, I was personally devastated. It’s hard not to see this situation as a failure in the moment. I’d worked hard, done the research, planned meticulously and made Re-Chord into the game I thought would resonate best with our fans and customers. So to see the project fail felt like seeing myself fail and it weighed on me heavily especially just after canceling the project.

Let’s stop for a second to talk about this word “failure.” I feel like the negative connotations of this word are likely conflated by most of us. Failure is an opportunity to learn from a situation and often course correction is straightforward. The faster you put yourself in this mindset, the better, as soon as I changed my outlook, plans started forming.

Request Specific Advice

The first thing I did after I was done focusing on my feelings, was to focus on the people who had backed, and even those who declined to support Re-Chord. I wanted to hear their thoughts on what could be improved or why they decided to pass on the project.

Rather than bombarding our friends and fans with open questions like “what do you think went wrong?”, We decided to target specific aspects and get feedback from them individually. The first example of this was showing three different box designs and allowing potential backers and fans to vote on their favorite version. What we found out here was that the box design we initially picked was not the most popular, not by a lot.

The next thing we did was to update some of the other artwork and graphics to make the theme a bit more cohesive. This task was not a major overhaul, just little details that improved the component quality slightly. We showed these upgrades off and asked for feedback, and within a day had a backer suggest a noticeably better solution that ended up being part of the game.

Give Backers What They Want

The point is that we started communicating more with our potential backers and asking them what their preferences were. This process led to a fantastic amount of feedback which in turn led to some key improvements.

After listening to our backers and making many of the suggested improvements we planned our relaunch for January 9th. Not only was the relaunch a resounding success regarding feedback and overall response, but Re-Chord was also fully funded in 7 hours.

Re-Chord is a better product now than it was four months ago, and the only reason for that is engagement with the people who were interested in the game. In hindsight, canceling our first project and listening to backers created a better overall product and was not an adverse effect at all. If you ever find yourself in this situation and want to talk with a developer and publisher who has been through it, feel free to reach out.

The Good, The Bad, & The Misinformed – Week 1

Each week, I will deliver insights as to the inner workings of three Kickstarter campaigns. My goal is to show you valuable case studies happening on Kickstarter right now to help future creators. Here you will find my opinion of current best practices peppered with my taste of bad humor. Keep in mind that this is always in good fun and that my listing these campaigns are almost always an endorsement for you to support these projects, no matter my critical commentary. Be sure to subscribe to my newsletters via the sidebar to never miss my commentary on a new campaign.

The Good – Spirits of the Forest

Disclaimer: Being listed as a “Good” campaign does not mean I think that any campaign is perfect. In general, this campaign at the very least displays competent knowledge of how crowdfunding works and can only really improve in minor or superficial ways.

Takeaways

  • Spirits of the Forest is a very straight-forward, polished campaign. Any creator can check off the boxes in their campaigns by seeing that this campaign has a Game Overview section, a Pledge Level section, and so on. I probably would have swapped Reviews and How to Play, but that’s an insignificant choice that I think is more a reflection of my taste than a flaw in the campaign.
  • Thundergryph consistently has one of the best intro video productions in the industry. Highly thematic, highly entertaining, and cleverly introduces the game, often without mentioning one gameplay mechanism. I love it.
  • Pay close attention to their In The Box section. Notice how the components are not to scale, but instead are a great showcase for the components “as big as they need to be to do them justice.” Don’t hide any of the components in your game trying to squeeze the images into one screen. Let people scroll. It can only make your game appear bigger than it is.
  • Make sure you tell them I think they are trying too hard to make shipping sexy. No amount of flowery map of the world can achieve that. 😉

The Bad – The Dice Tower – 2018

Disclaimer: Being listed as a “Bad” campaign does not mean I think the creators are failures or that you should not support this campaign. In general, if a campaign is mentioned here, it is usually because the creators have made at least one large error in judgment and I think they should know better. This usually is not terribly affecting the campaign’s trajectory.

Takeaways

  • The Dice Tower is arguably one of the most successful, if not the most successful, media entities in the board gaming hobby. So why is their intro video about as low-budget as humanly possible? Maybe part of the funding is to provide for better post-production standards.
  • One problem I have with this campaign is something echoed in the comments and is something to consider if you are going to have a complicated pledge structure. The Dice Tower is providing promo bundles as the most popular rewards, but they are bundling them in such a way to force supporters to buy more than one promo pack to get the ones they want. Tom will reply that this decision was for logistic reasons. If that is the truth, I would like to help him out. I would have simply offered the bundles in the current configuration, but displayed the higher individual costs of each promo if backers wanted them a la carte. Then via a pledge manager (or the fact that they work with one of the largest game e-tailers in the US), I would have given backers a chance after the campaign to allocate the money they pledged. Think of it as an add-on catalog used in many campaigns.
  • Similar to my problems with the production quality of the intro video, I’m just not that excited about the layout and graphic design of the campaign in general. The stretch goals are in plain text. The displays of the items for sale are way too repetitive for an online product experience. Even the dice and meeple page separators are generic and grey! Maybe the team thinks their success is always guaranteed and they don’t need to put in the effort, and if that’s true, what a disappointment. Try harder! Don’t phone it in! Your success is never guaranteed!

The Misinformed – TOKYO SERIES: JIDOHANBAIKI, METRO, & JUTAKU

Disclaimer: Being listed as a “Misinformed” campaign does not make the entirety of the campaign a lost cause. It usually means that I think the creator, whether through ignorance or miscalculation, messed up quite a bit of best practices, and I think the campaign has suffered as a result.

Takeaways

  • Do not launch on a Friday. Do not launch on a Friday. Do not launch on a Friday.
  • It is preferred that you do a timed stretch goal at the beginning of the campaign than an early bird reward or discount, but really? You put that stretch goal at more than double your funding goal? I sure hope it pays off, but that’s excessive and not worth the risk. Especially since they are already selling the metal coins as an add-on anyway (meaning the creator already has plans to produce them).
  • One of the stretch goals is that they will work with Panda Manufacturing. That is a non-stretch goal, and I am not just saying that because I work with LongPack Games. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Panda Games Manufacturing is not the best manufacturer in the industry because that doesn’t exist. Every manufacturer has their strong and weak points. Talk to any publisher who has worked with multiple manufacturers to confirm. This is true industry-wide.
  • The video is polished, EDM, millennial fare, but is about 2 minutes too long. I don’t have the data in front of me, but I bet the creator is not thrilled about video completion rates currently.
  • Shipping is being added to the campaign after it ends! Backers will be double-charged via Backerkit! Why does anyone ever think this is a great idea?! Guaranteed there are lost backers as a result of that decision. No question.
  • I do like the Japanese text at the end. That is on-brand and actually something I might have integrated more throughout the campaign.

How New Creators Changed the Game on Kickstarter in 2017

It’s easy to lump successful Kickstarter campaigns into one batch and attribute their riches attained to expensive viral marketing, in-demand artists, and expert staff. The truth is a bit more nuanced and grassroots, especially for new creators. I am writing this post as a way to build context for all the new creators in 2017 and explain all the beautiful changes which happened this year. Many campaigns were developed by veteran Kickstarter creators, but a majority of trends we take for granted at the end of 2017 were heralded in by first-time creators who caught fire and made 2017 a year to remember.

Kickstarter Became Less Indie


Whether you supported a five-time Oscar-winning design and effects company, the founder and creator of TeeTurtle, a 20-year old publisher adding crowdfunding to their schedule for the first time, a manufacturer’s first campaign under their relatively new publishing arm, or a 13-year-old video game studio, it cannot be denied that former outsiders to the crowdfunding process have decided the Kickstarter processing fees are worth the effort after all. This trend is both a good or bad thing, as more mainstream companies using Kickstarter legitimizes the platform and bring in backers who stay and back other campaigns, but will inevitably raise the bar for innovation on the platform for indie creators, possibly pricing them out of competing in any notable way.

Here’s what Ryan S. Dancey, a director of Alderac Entertainment Group and one of the project leads for the Thunderstone Quest campaign, had to say on their decision to use Kickstarter:

“We think Kickstarter is now a major market for tabletop games, and we want to be in that market. Kickstarter gives us the opportunity to do larger and more expensive games than we could not comfortably target for the traditional 3-tier channel due to the differences in the business model. And Kickstarter gives us a 1:1 connection with our customers we lack in other markets which allows us to do a better job communicating with them and sharing the fun of what we’re publishing and promoting. While we’re happy to be a part of the Kickstarter ecosystem we are also firm supporters of brick & mortar retail stores which is where most of our new games are sold. Kickstarter is an addition to our business, not a fundamental shift away from friendly local game stores.”

The juggernaut of marketing that is a Kickstarter launch is more than most mainstay publishers could hope for at a fraction of the advertising budget. These products will often go on to hit distribution, and brick & mortar retail releases, but even that is not a sure bet anymore. Because of this, retailers are starting to look more and more at Kickstarter campaigns as a buying model for their store stock. Look in 2018 for this trend of larger companies with larger budgets trying out Kickstarter for the first time.

Gaming Furniture and Accessories Came into Their Own


As Geek Chic’s high-end tables closed their doors, new upstarts were on the scene to fill that gap in a big way. Table of Ultimate Gaming, BoxThrone Modular Board Game Shelving System, and Game Toppers all came to the forefront of 2017’s Kickstarter lineup, each funding a segment of the market for their specific brand of gaming furniture. For Patrick Meyer, owner of Wood Robot and creator of the Table of Ultimate Gaming, it was a “perfect storm of consumer demand, production technology, and experience at delivering solutions such as this.”

Dan Blacklock, Founder of Cloud Puncher Games and creator of the BoxThrone Modular Board Game Shelving System, had this to say on the topic:

“We’re right in the middle of the Golden Age of board gaming. As the hobby becomes more and more mainstream, board games are becoming a regular part of the household. Just as TV stands, media units, DVD racks, and sectional sofas were created to make TV time a more enjoyable experience, board game furniture is ramping up our board gaming to maximum enjoyment levels. Every creator of board game furniture can trace their Eurekas back to a personal need, and with the surging number of board gamers, more and more people are finding that they have these same needs. So these Kickstarter campaigns are a beacon to board gamers, new or experienced, and a lot of them feature novel ideas that will only be expanded on over the next few years.”

Kevin Burkhardsmeier, the founder of Game Toppers LLC, had this to say on the evolution of third-party upgrades to the gaming experience:

“I believe the experience that board gaming gives us is what people are looking for. That is why gaming accessories are all the rage. We like to trick out our games to enhance that experience. A Game Topper does exactly that. It upgrades every game you play on it because of the elevated experience. That is why I designed and brought Game Toppers to market to upgrade their play experiences at a portable, affordable price.”

Though not a furniture campaign, Kevin reminded me of the explosion of third-party gaming products in general from new creators, especially that of Everlasting: the Best Wet Palette for miniature painting. It is worth noting that in 2018 the market of “not games but helps gamers” will continue to grow.

Graphic Minimalism Had a Heyday


Almost as a response to the lack of customization Kickstarter offers creators in the campaign storylines, creators in 2017 started to actually model their products and campaigns to best be displayed on the stark backdrop that is Kickstarter. There were many campaigns this year which I think would not have fared as well in years past, but were praised this year for their black box designs and elegant componentry decisions. Consumers went wild for new creators in 2017 via campaigns such as Turing Tumble, The City of Kings, and The Island of El Dorado, all with clean and graphically-minimal products, sometimes with campaigns to match! Even Consentacle, a game described as a “mutually satisfying Human x Alien romance,” can be considered visually minimal by typical sci-fi graphic design standards.

I got a chance to chat with Daniel Aronson, game designer of The Island of El Dorado, on his art direction choices:

“I always try to keep everything minimal to quickly get to the meat of the content. Minimalism makes information easier to digest. There is a lot of information that goes into a Kickstarter campaign. The more you can break that information down into bite-sized chunks, the more likely that people will digest the information. That goes for a Kickstarter campaign and gameplay itself. The design of game components should be easy to understand. Nothing worse than not being able to figure out gameplay because of bad design. For me, it’s more about the function of minimalism design rather than its aesthetic. It boils down to making it easier for the end user.”

Frank West took time to explain to me the subtle intricacies of the box design in The City of Kings:

“When we first sat down to design The City of Kings the goal was to create something that was both minimalistic and complex. From a distance we wanted you to see an iconic colorful shape, but as you got closer, we wanted a story to unfold. We wanted to create a piece of art you could stare at for hours and continue to discover things whilst also being clean and simple. In total, there are 25 individual scenes that have been pulled together to tell the story of the armies rising from the ground and marching on The City of Kings, all hidden in a sword which is shattering as the armies move up it.”

I am not as convinced this art style will continue in a big way in 2018, but it is important to note that these new creators in many ways opened that door to show it can be done.

New Creators Made More Money With Wood


Many first-time creators have a false notion that miniatures are the easiest way to garner support for a game. I am here to tell you this is categorically false. New creators made more money hand over fist when they opted for wooden components when plastics would have worked just as well for the depth of gameplay. Clans of Caledonia, DinoGenics, and The City of Kings all demonstrated this in their own way, and were some of the most successful campaigns from new creators this year.

I got a hold of the DinoGenics team via their Facebook page and Richard Keene, owner of Ninth Haven Games and the main designer of DinoGenics, had this to say about their wood over miniatures decision:

“Despite our intention to make a very thematic worker placement game, we knew pretty early on that we would be going with wood dinosaurs over miniatures. Miniatures greatly inflate the costs of production, and for a smaller developer, it is difficult to ensure the quality of the miniatures lives up to standards set by major developers. For our wooden dinomeeps, we also set out to break away from the conventions of most wooden meeples. For one, all of our dinosaurs are laser cut instead of being simply factory machined. This means they have a level of detail that is almost unheard of in wooden game components. Thes added detail helps capture the theme of the game without being overwhelming as plastic components in games often become.”

My takeaway? If you are developing a game in 2018, work out of your game complex components such as miniatures or other plastics and sub in wood. If you are contemplating standees, see how much more expensive meeples would be to give your game that extra weight and tactile appeal.

Specific Player Counts was the Marketing Push


Consentacle made some interesting choices in places other than the theme, and that was targeting the specific 2-player count to further drive home the alien-on-human sexual theme. Similarly, Alone, a completely different alien experience, made use of asymmetry of one versus many. This interesting use of player counts to build support tactic was the most apparent with the rise of the solo game experience, which was staggeringly made relevant in 2017. While many games are still relying on an AI system versus an integrated solo experience (spoiler: When Cutie Met Patootie uses an integrated solo experience in 2018), the fact that solo gamers are being considered as a relevant demographic in such a big way by new and veteran creators alike was staggering in 2017. Games from new creators included solo play rulesets, such as Quodd Heroes, The City of Kings, DinoGenics, Clans of Caledonia, Monster Lands, and the list goes on from there!

Clans of Caledonia did not ship with an AI ruleset to play solo and instead relied on an integrated design. Juma al-JouJou, founder of Karma Games and game designer of Clans of Caledonia, approached solo gameplay holistically and had this to say about the process:

“To be honest, developing the solo variant was super easy. I got it right immediately. I hardly had to make any tweaks. The main question was if I should go for an Automa or not and I decided against it since it tends to be way more complex. Scythe needs a whole rulebook for the Automa rules. Also, it increases the manufacturing cost too much IMHO, especially if you take into account that solo fans are still a minority. A big pro of a simple solo variant is that you can use it to learn the game.”

This may be a bold statement, but I think solo variants may be a precursor to any campaign making a considerable dent in 2018. Even people who don’t want to play solo variants will appreciate the development effort put into adding one.

Thematic and Abstract Mechanisms Got Married in Big Ways


An ongoing trend this year was not unique to 2017, but is steadily progressing along in some big titles from new creators, is the blurring of Euro and American game concepts. This was no more apparent than in Monster Lands, a dice-placement game which funded in the second half of 2017, and The City of Kings, a fully cooperative fantasy adventure board game where you and up to three friends explore, gather, trade and customize your hero. The list goes on from there with many campaigns.

Daniel Schloesser, a founding partner of Second Gate Games and the business operations head in the Monster Lands campaign, explained where their game fits on the Euro-American spectrum:

“I don’t think that Monster Lands reinvents the euro genre. In fact, it is not even a euro game. And that is exactly what makes it so interesting, in that it COMBINES elements of euro gaming (strategic planning, build-up, worker placement) with elements of Ameritrash (highly developed theme, factions with individually defined abilities, battle action, the presence of dice). A pure euro gamer might not like Monster Lands because there obviously is a luck factor wherever there are dice. You have to be able to accept that luck factor, while at the same time trying to reduce it or push it out completely, by cleverly building and planning dice manipulation techniques. The dice offer a thrill in that you (almost) never know for sure what’s going to happen in the all-important adventure phase, but during the game, you constantly influence the odds in your favor. The fact that you are NOT able to calculate everything sets Monster Lands apart from many pure Euro games, which may lead to analysis paralysis. Monster Lands plays quickly and has a very high enjoyment factor.”

I think that as 2018 unfolds, we will start to look at games more on a spectrum of the theme over mechanics or visa versa, even to the point of rendering euro and American tabletop as vague definitions in future years.

Here’s to the New Creators in 2018!

If you are considering launching a campaign in 2018, be cognizant of the market around you. You are not making a game in a void and can benefit from learning from those who have launched their first campaigns this year. 2017 was a paramount year for new creators on Kickstarter. Best of luck and we look forward to seeing what you come up with Let us know in the comments what you plan to launch in 2018!

Marketing Board Games with Multiple Touch Points

I don’t think would-be Kickstarter creators really grasp the tireless work that actually goes into effectively marketing a game. That’s why I invited Joseph Z Chen to talk about his experience marketing Fantastic Factories. Joseph and his team are doing exactly what new creators should be doing to build their brand and give their projects the best shot at doing well in the future.

You can find out more about Fantastic Factories and learn about their next steps by checking out the Fantastic Factories Facebook page.

All Pistons Firing

It’s PAX West. My team and I just finished an exhausting 8 hours of nonstop demoing and talking. We were grabbing dinner at a local Steak ’n Shake. A girl spots the backside of one of our shirts. The backside of our shirts lists our mechanics, player count, and game duration.

She said, “Hey! What’s this game?”

It was a simple enough interaction. We were tired and hungry, so I just reached into my wallet and handed her a business card for Fantastic Factories.

The next day I received a message sent to the Fantastic Factories Facebook page. It was that same person from Steak ‘n Shake asking where she could find the game. She must have seen the Facebook page on the card I handed her. I directed her to the ACT Theater where we were doing demos during PAX. Later that weekend, I discovered that she had come by to play the demo, at which point we directed her to the Hyatt Olive 8 where she played a full game and signed up for our mailing list.

This is a perfect example of how we were trying to funnel people through one experience to the next and ultimately become fans of the game. We had always intended to direct people from our demo table to an area where they could play the full game, but I didn’t expect so many people to take us up on that offer. The walk between the ACT Theater and the Hyatt Olive 8 is 3.5 blocks, and neither location is part of the convention center, so it was great to see the cross-promotion working so efficiently.

The Rule of Seven

In my anecdote, the shirt may have been sufficient to catch someone’s attention, but the majority of the time a shirt with your branding on it won’t warrant a second look from anyone. In marketing, there’s a rule called the Rule of Seven. What the rule says is that someone must hear or see your marketing message at least seven times before they are willing to take action.

There’s no actual scientific research behind the exact number seven, but there is a truth that marketing is most effective when seen or heard multiple times. It’s even more useful when that marketing is presented through different channels.

Be everywhere all the time

Besides attending conventions and playtesting at local game shops, I also engage on Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit. My game is available on Tabletop Simulator. I participate in local game meetups. I have business cards, buttons, and stickers. I write a blog. When you’re in enough places often enough, people will begin to notice. At PAX West, I’ve had people come up to me and tell me they’ve seen my game at PAX West last year, at ETX, or even at PAX South.

The first time someone sees your game or brand, it probably won’t even register. The second time will trigger some sense of familiarity. The third time may create a mental note. And eventually, curiosity will take over. When you see something come up time and time again, especially in different contexts, you can’t help but wonder what it’s all about.

Your efforts will compound over time as long as you are persistent and explore multiple channels. Why are numerous channels important? When you research a particular game, you like to get opinions from various people. Marketing works similarly. Often communities — especially smaller ones — will become echo chambers of ideas and opinions. The kind of topics and viewpoints you expect to see circulating on Facebook differ from those you hope to see on Reddit. If your game or brand has a presence across multiple channels that your target audience consumes, it increases its relevance and validity.

One drop within an ocean

I’ve been playtesting and demoing my game for a while now both at conventions and local game shops. Sometimes you feel like it’s a hopeless endeavor, and that you don’t see any traction. Did you know that there were more than 2,000 tabletop projects launched on Kickstarter in 2016? More than 1,000 of them failed to fund. It can be hard to make waves when you’re only a drop in the ocean. So how do you get noticed? How does someone go from spotting a t-shirt to becoming a fan?

In the end, there’s no real silver bullet. It takes a lot of hard work and determination to get your game out there and recognized. Luckily, the tabletop community is an excellent and friendly place. I’ve met a ton of cool people along the way. If you choose to do the marketing for your own game, I hope you have some fun while you do it because it’s a long road!

Guest Blog: The Very Basics of Game Prototyping, Part One

While creators seem to be getting better at the prototyping process, there are still new creators making waves on Kickstarter every week. That’s why I wanted to start covering elements of crowdfunding that I often take for granted, but are crucial to the process of self-publishing. I invited Jonathan Thwaites to contribute a two-part lesson on prototyping and I hope you enjoy it. Part One will focus on rapidly creating basic prototypes, while Part Two will focus on manufacturing higher quality prototypes.

Jonathan is a freelance tabletop game developer who has worked such games as No Escape, Vikings: Raid & Conquer and Trailer Park Boys: Park Wars. Currently, Jonathan is developing games using app integration. If you would like to contact Jonathan regarding his services, email him at jonathan@noescapegame.com.

Getting Started Prototyping

I’ve been asked by a few people how I create prototypes. One of the first things people need to know is that there is no specific right way. The tools and techniques I use are what I have found work for me. If you see some useful information, please use it as a base to find the best method that works for you.

Before making a prototype, I create a basic template for it. I have used Publisher and Word, and their free equivalents from OpenOffice, Draw and Writer. Publisher/Draw works great for quickly laying the general shapes I’m going to be using. This step allows me to create a page full of the template shapes I will need, and copy it as is necessary. This stage also creates cut lines for me when I cut them out later.

Don’t worry about rounded edges on your templates, even if the final product will have them. Starting this way makes it easy to add text and to add pictures and background images later without needing to rebuild your template. Square or Rectangle shapes can be set right beside each other, but leave extra space between hexagons or complex shapes. I may have less per page than I could optimally fit, but this will make the cutting process more manageable.

I make quick notes of the rules, ideas and concepts I will be using in Word/Writer. I create a working file that I can quickly add or remove information from. This also becomes the outline for my rules later one.

The Prototype Design

When I am making Playing Cards, I will sometimes use pre-designed templates for printing business cards. This can save time if I have a lot of cards in the game, as ten cards fit a sheet (8 max for regular playing cards). You can purchase blank pop-out business cards sheets from most stationary stores reasonably cheaply, and play perfectly well for prototypes. I only use this method when the time is a factor, as making cards this way is swift, but costs more. I have also used this technique for creating Print and Play games, as this makes it easier and faster for the person who downloads it.
I also have several cheap, regular playing card decks from the dollar store and a few packs of penny sleeves. This allows me to quickly print a card idea, cut it out, and slip in the paper with the card for stability.

If I need to make character cards, or oversized cards, I will often use templates for printing postcards, as pop-out postcard sheets are also available from most stationary stores. Again, however, I only use this method when the time is a factor, or for creating Print and Play games.

When I need tokens, I have a pile of glass beads I have left over from years ago. While you can buy these from a craft store, a lot of people use them in centerpieces at their weddings. Ask around among people you know and see if they have any of these just sitting around, or make a post onto your local Facebook shop and swap page asking about them.

If I am designing Tokens for printing (usually later in the process), I made a template with has two pages, with one-inch circles evenly spaced throughout page one, and the second sheet duplicated with all circles reversed. This allows me to add text or a picture onto each side of the token.

Quick Prototyping

Once I have my template in place, it is time to print everything and cut it out. This is where setting things up initially in the models will pay off. If you are printing cards, and you have dollar store cards and sleeves ready, print onto regular paper. For everything else, I recommend printing onto cardstock. I use 110lb cardstock for printing as it’s thick enough that it’s difficult to see through.

In cutting out the prototype, I have several tools. The three most important in my opinion are a metal ruler, a handheld rotary cutter, and a self-healing mat. I have found rotary cutters make cleaner edges on my prototypes than straight-edged cutters. Look for a rotary cutter and self-healing mat in a sewing store, and it will be cheaper than at a crafting store. Cutting of oddly shaped pieces will still need a straight blade.

Because of how we set the prototype up earlier, merely lay the ruler across one common edge of all the shapes, and roll your blade across for a nice clean cut. This makes it very easy to cut out Hexagon shapes (something several people have mentioned they find difficult) as your template has your cut lines (shape edges) set up for you, and rows of hexagons come out together.

In Part Two of this blog, Jonathan will discuss creating high-quality presentation prototypes. We hope this information helps you in the next prototype you make.

A short post on Kickstarter funding goals

This is going to be a very short post exploring working backward from the gameplay experience to arrive at your funding goal.

Step One: Take a Field Trip

If you take a trip to your Friendly Local Game Store, you will see a setup of box sizes with varying complexities of games and you will feel varying literal weights of the games as well.

In being a games publisher, you should have a well rounded knowledge first of what retailers are interested in carrying (especially in terms of art quality), but also in terms of what gameplay experiences and box sizes warrant MSRP price points that distributors and retailers have actually agreed is worth the effort.

Above and Below costs $49.99. But Diplomacy costs $39.99. Why is that the case? Could it be component count? Could it be depth of experience and replayablity? Could it be qualities of art on a price spectrum? Could it be the difference in years published? 

The truth is it is likely all of those things and more, but it is something you will not grasp unless you play a lot of games from the lens of a project manager.

Do the same thing now with Kickstarter to know what people are willing to pledge for a similar experience and box size. Back many campaigns, even for $1 each to follow along. Do the same consumer norms hold true as they do in retail? Do some of these games go on to a retailer release? Can you later find these games on Amazon or a proprietary website instead? Does the product die after fulfillment to backers? 

Step 2: What will the market support?

In developing a mass produced game, you need to kill your darlings. You need to wrestle with a design until it is not just a good experience, but a sellable product. I cannot tell you how many times I have been in an email thread with newer publishers through my work with LongPack Games Manufacturing and they are either blissfully unaware of how they can minimize costs, or worse, adamant they have a minimum viable product when it is obvious that is not the case.

You need to get into a dialogue with your manufacturer early on and discuss ways to minimize costs. Better yet, based on playtester feedback, tell the manufacturer you have a game that future backers would likely buy for $20-25 based on the gameplay experience. That means you need them to shrink production to around $3-4 per unit or better (15% of the intended MSRP or less). You can even at this point ask for DDP shipping terms to know landed cost to an address in US, which may break out to $4-6 per unit in this example, or more depending on many factors like weight, dimensions, etc. The key here is asking the manufacturer how you can lower production costs without sacrificing component count. Internally you should be play testing reduction of component counts to make the game more streamlined or dare I say elegant. Maybe the answer is that it is impossible, and that is where you want to arrive. 

From this, you learn about minimum order quantity from the manufacturer, and you can now place your MSRP for a 2000 unit print run, but you also know the costs associated with a 1000-unit print run for what we do next with the goal. 

Step 3: You are not a rock star, yet

Now, you have an intended price point for the product, you have a rough estimate of manufacturing and landed costs to US, and you will see a much bigger picture as you partner with fulfillment entities to help you solve problems and as you charge international shipping to cover those costs based on partner feedback. I will say this outright. Partner with many fulfillment companies, but shop around per region to find the best solution. Usually that is 3-6 different partners who will fulfill to Europe, US, Canada, Australia, etc. But I digress! 

Now you need to temper your expectations for how many backers you can realistically lure to the project depending on your prior success or lack thereof on Kickstarter itself. Ignore your precious email list and social following for two seconds.

300.

That is the number.

300.

If you cannot lure 300 people to your Kickstarter project, I would argue that you should not be mass producing a minimum order of 1000. Secondly, even though your MSRP is set for 2000 units, your campaign may not warrant making that amount. At this point, you should make less money per unit with a 1000-unit print run, cut your losses, and move on to the next game.
So, the magic number is 300. Remember the example with $19-25? Now with some simple math, you will need to raise between $5700 and $7500 to meet that price range and stay true to the minimum turnout. Now let’s say your landed cost again is $4-6. You need to raise a minimum (not including shipping) of $4000 to $6000 based on the minimum order of 1000 units. If you read above, you will actually see we more than covered the cost of a $4 or $6 unit cost with a $5700 or $7500 funding goal.

I carefully avoided shipping in that equation. That’s because you should absolutely roll shipping into the pledge amount, which means for US, it looks like $39 with free shipping instead of $29 with $10 shipping. Then charge excess of that $10 shipping to international backers as a separate charge, which will then cover your actual shipping costs. Either way, that pledge level you arrive at for US backers should be what you use to determine the funding goal at 300 backers. 

My own little disclaimer

I have oversimplified the process intentionally to drive home a point that your game price should be based on customer expectations and that your funding goal should take into account how many people you should be expect in a new creator campaign. There are many, many outlier costs such as art,  marketing,  logistics, et cetera for days. But knowing this formula for the sake of taking action to reduce the cost of the game, figuring out MSRP/pledge, and getting to a safe funding goal will set you apart from a lot of would be publishers who throw spaghetti at the wall hoping to fund and fulfill a Kickstarter. 

Joan of Arc Raised the Most Money LAST Week

Board Game Badger lists the top five funded campaigns and top five (un)funded campaigns from the prior week. These campaigns have only been active at most for one week. Be sure to watch the videos below and follow the links to learn more about the most funded new campaigns! You can register for a free Future Creator School account now to see my feedback on what to look for as a new creator on these campaigns!

No opinions this week as I am playing catch up! I’ll try to address any questions/concerns you have about these games in the comments as I have time.

Most Funded New Campaigns

1. Time of Legends: Joan of Arc

Project By: Mythic Games, Inc. – Relive the golden age of chivalry in a 2-4 player narrative battle game of knights and peasants, heroes and dragons, angels and demons.


2. Near and Far: Amber Mines

Project By: Ryan Laukat – The first expansion for Near and Far.


3. Detective: City of Angels

Project By: A.J. Porfirio – Detective: City of Angels is a board game where detectives solve mysteries in the dark and violent world of 1940’s Los Angeles.


4. THE SMOG RIDERS Dimensions of Madness

Project By: SCALE75 – Is a board game miniatures of two to four players, in which each player controls a group of unique characters.


5. Outbreak: Undead 2E – The Survival Horror Simulation RPG.

Project By: Hunters Books – The 2nd edition to the cult Survival Horror RPG – Outbreak: Undead is here. Play Yourself as a Character and test your Survival Plan!


Most Funded Unfunded New Campaigns

DISCLAIMER. I am not a time lord. These campaigns may have funded in the time between the list being created and this post being published.

1. Shadowfist: A Better Tomorrow

Project By: Shadowfist – The Secret War heads to a distant new dystopian future in the latest Shadowfist expansion from Inner Kingdom Games.


2. Down In Flames: Locked-On

Project By: Dan Verssen Games – Locked-On is part of the Down In Flames series! Maneuver into position! Get Tone! And launch a missile to shoot down the enemy fighter!


3. Relics of Wizardry: Custom Coins for Card Games & More

Project By: Josh Krause – Bring your games to life with our high quality, 100% metal coins. Tokens, counters, and more, all custom designed with players in mind.


4. Gangs of Britannia

Project By: Gangly Games – A 3-5 player gangster game. Conquer your rivals’ turf by clever dealing or cunning deceiving. Got what it takes to control the streets?


5. CATaclysm: the RPG of Feline Proportions

Project By: Akinji Entertainment Inc. – This is an RPG for both cat lovers and roleplaying enthusiasts alike. CATaclysm is purrfect for players of all levels and ages!

Stephanie Kwok: Getting Lost in the Crowd

Stephanie Kwok of First Fish Games knows a thing or two about having the oxygen stolen out of the room by larger and more successful publishers. Seeing as a lot of campaigns were being negatively affected by 7th Continent’s massive success recently, I figured it was timely to invite her to talk about what she experienced during her relaunch effort and why she may have been better off in the long run for doing so.

You can pre-order the First Fish Games title Get Off My Land! by following this link.

But We Double and Triple Checked!

When you’re a first-time publisher trying to make a name for yourself, you know the journey is going to be long and complicated. Imagine you’re all set up ready to launch your first project. You and your partners have double checked everything… or at least you thought you did. But it’s too late! You’ve clicked the launch button on Kickstarter and there is no going back!

This situation is precisely what happened to us at First Fish Games. We launched our first game, Get Off My Land!, in April 2017. We thought it would be clever to align our launch date with a local convention. It was, except that we made a huge mistake with our numbers that we thought were correct. Remember, we double and triple checked. This is why you never rush just because you are trying to hit a certain launch date. If you think you’re not ready, push the date. We started to see the trickle of complaints come in about the price being too high. Apparently, we failed to notice that we had mixed up our CAD and USD numbers and set the funding goal and pledge amounts way too high.

Real-time Campaign Triage

We panicked. We already posted the campaign link to numerous Facebook groups, we paid for ads, and we even held a launch party for our friends at a local gaming restaurant. What were we to do? We immediately tried to fix the problem by adding new pledge tiers with the correct price and had existing backers switch to the new one so we could close the incorrect one. This worked pretty well except that we still couldn’t change the end funding goal which was about 20k too high. We already lost momentum because of the incorrect funding goal deterring people. We got lucky. We had a small group of backers who were big fans of the game and were willing to do everything in their power to help us succeed. Even though we made a huge mistake, everyone recognized that we did our best to solve the issue. They had faith in us and our game and gave us the confidence to keep going forward. Without our dear backers, we wouldn’t have been as successful as we were, even if we failed.

What now? We were halfway through our campaign and we knew it was not looking good. It didn’t help to have a huge campaign like ‘Rising Sun’ running at the same time and also ending on the same day. We didn’t start on the same day as CMON, they just had a shorter campaign. We made sure to message backers who canceled to see if we could have done anything better, but their answers were usually “I am tight on money” or “I would rather back X.” We had a decision to make. Should we keep the campaign running until the end and see if we could miraculously fund or cancel the campaign and accept the losses? Both options lead to a relaunch, but what were the benefits of choosing one over the other? We decided to keep the campaign running and cancel on the last day. This gave us time to improve on the campaign page itself and work out the numbers correctly. We told our backers our plan, we set a relaunch date, and we prepared ourselves for any negative comments. Luckily for us, we didn’t get much negativity. We set the relaunch just one week from our cancellation date because we didn’t have much to change on the project other than the numbers and maybe a little reorganization of the campaign page layout.

Relaunch With a Dedicated Crowd

We set the time of the relaunch to 9 am PST so that we could click launch before we left for work in the morning. Some of the events that happened that morning I will never forget. At around 8:30 am, we got a message on Facebook asking us if we could launch early. They were eagerly waiting at their computer. Unfortunately, we didn’t want to favor anyone, so we kept our 9 am launch. Also, I had Kickstarter notifications on my phone. As I was clicking the ‘launch’ button on Kickstarter, not even 2 seconds had passed after clicking the button, and I got a notification on my phone that said we had our first backer. This made me extremely happy because it meant that someone was waiting for it, maybe even refreshing their page waiting for me to click launch. This was one of the best feelings I’ve had on this journey so far.

Twenty-one hours into the relaunch, we funded. What? We did less promotion on social media, less paid ads, and yet we funded in less than 24 hours!

There is Never a Perfect Time

Remember I mentioned Rising Sun ending on the same day as our first campaign? We thought we were smart and specifically chose our dates to avoid when other big games were launching or finishing. But we forgot that competitors could run a shorter campaign, which means they started after us but ended on the same day. This time, Gloomhaven and Brass were both live at the same time as our relaunch.

Ugh.

Our mid-campaign lull was painful. Our average daily pledges were extremely low compared to our first campaign and some days even ended with a net negative amount of backers. This was extremely stressful to watch even if we knew we had almost no control over it.

Gloomhaven ended shortly before ours ended, and Brass finished on the same day. As much as you don’t want to blame anyone else for your failings, sometimes it’s tough not to do so. We knew we did our best and put our best project forward, but it is hard to compete with well-known designers and established publishers.

We powered through and raised roughly $30,000 over our funding goal and hit almost all our stretch goals. We threw in the last one as a show of goodwill to our backers.

Our game is currently being manufactured and about one week from completion. We have our freight and fulfillment centers lined up, and we even have some distributors buying large quantities from us. We are no CMON or Roxley, but we are proud of our achievements so far as a first-time publisher. Maybe one day we’ll be launching the campaign to watch out for!