Cancellation

Unfortunately the Kickstarter campaign was not a success. I captured my thoughts and reflections below.

'Do you want to be a designer or a publisher? Because they are two entirely different things.' This was the question posed to me by a publisher at last year's Gencon. Although I thought I understood the question at the time, it really didn't hit home until the beginning of March this year, as I was staring at a net gain of 0 pledges on day 3 of my Kickstarter campaign... 

Consider this a gift to you and a cathartic exercise for me. Hopefully you won't make the same mistakes as I did. 

A bit of background, I've been messing around with games all my life, but I've been seriously designing for the last 3 years. I can't tell you when I decided to Kickstart 'Mech Force', but it has been my focus and goal for the last year to get it to launch. 

By the end of last year, the game was complete, the final art had been finished, and loads of playtesting had been carried out. (including a trip to the US, and into the First Exposure Playtest Hall at Gencon) So I began to prepare for launch in March. (Roughly five months away at that point.) 

I'm going to cover what I think I did wrong, and what I would do differently next time. And please note, what follows shouldn't be new information to most of you. I've read it multiple times on a number of different forums and blogs, including this one. However, it all seemed a little abstract until I started going through it myself... 

1 - The game is way too big. 

Certainly for a first timer. The amount of money I was asking for was far beyond any other kickstarter released on the same day (more on that later). 

Mech Force has a lot of dice, which weighs a box down, and one of the main problems with making a weighty game, beyond the manufacturing cost, is the shipping cost. 

I wasn't aware until very late in the day that there are 3 parts to shipping; The manufacturer to the ports, the ports to the fulfillment centres, and the fulfillment centres to the backers. (There were multiple fulfillment centres as I was planning to ship worldwide.) Those costs have to be rolled into the shipping cost or the unit pledge if I had a hope of at least coming out even. So having a weighty game, effectively pushes the cost up 3 times. Which, as I said, is a tall ask for a first timer. 

I estimated that I could shift 500 units. Bearing in mind, that most manufacturers make a minimum order of 1500, so those 'extra' unit costs need to be soaked up in the unit pledge, again making the game more expensive. 

2 - I didn't have a 'Community' 

Developing a community around a game is hard. Honestly, to make an impact, I think you need to be face-to-face with people. They need to see the game in the flesh, and see the designer too to develop a relationship. That requires going to conventions and hobby stores etc. 

Developing a community requires selling a product, and it feels far removed from designing. Being somewhat shy, this aspect has been difficult, I won't lie.

Another aspect of this is living in New Zealand. Our big cons get around 1000 people over 2 days, so building a community here is tricky.

3 - Incorrect Marketing

I spent money on Facebook ads, but I can't really say they helped. 350,000 hits do not equate to likes. Likes do not equate to page hits, and page hits do not equate to pledges. 

Facebook groups, although useful in getting the word out regarding games, can get lost in the noise of all the other games. Plus, there are a lot more gamers out there who learn about new games in completely different ways to Facebook. (websites, blogs, podcasts, videos etc.)

I managed to get 2 previews for the KS page from respected review sites. One of them was released nearly a week before. The reviewer did mention that next time, it would be better to release the video at the start of the campaign so interested viewers had something to see, otherwise it would fade from memory quickly. However, without sorting out problem 2, (see above) I don't think it would have made a huge difference.

One video I had to write one off due to the quality. Although I didn't pay for that one, shipping, time and one of my prototypes was chewed up in the process. 

It's not that the number of videos on the Kickstarter page give the campaign credence, it's the audiences that those review sites bring. Good ones (generally) cost money and they have a queue so I should have started the 'contact' process out a lot sooner. 

Also, there were around 30 games released on the same day, and an 'event' game released the following day. That's a lot of games vying for attention. I should have possibly checked the release schedule and chosen a different date. However, this industry of ours isn't getting any smaller so every week brings new goodies.

4 - Trying to do everything by myself

If this process has taught me one thing, is that I cannot do everything. I have limitations and I may have to face the fact I am not a publisher. Indeed, in the last 5 months, although I've learned a lot, I haven't done any design work at all, and that's been one of my biggest concerns. 

So coming back full circle; am I a designer, or am I a publisher? Probably the former. 

Board games are an art form, and like all art, they're best shared. However, the process of sharing beyond workshops and gaming groups may be a task for someone else. 

However, that doesn't mean I've given up on Mech Force. It's a great game. There may be other means of getting it to tables, and that's what I'm working on now. And I'm sure that will bring its own set of challenges... 

The (Proper) Countdown has begun...

Invariably, the busier I get, the less I tend to update this blog. And the last few months have been no exception. It’s been a long road to get to this point, but I’m finally going live with Mech Force on March 5th.

Publishing has been a completely different experience to designing. I’ve has to learn a lot more of the Adobe suite for one thing. Making a Kickstarter video has been rewarding but taken a while, as has the Kickstarter page itself. Again, Shem has been an absolute legend. It’s been amazing to have a mate who’s a KS ‘veteran’ close by to bounce questions and concerns off of.

So 3 weeks to go, and fingers crossed. Everything seems to be moving along okay. I have a few outstanding things to take care off, namely review sites and confirming pricing for the logistics, but it’s happening. It’s really happening…

Slow progress, but progress none the less...

Wow, I said to myself a year ago, I would try to update my blog once a week. How slack I’ve been. It’s not due to laziness. On the contrary, the total opposite. Focus has been elsewhere…

I’ve been in contact with Longpack a lot. We’ve been back and forth, trying to get the unit cost down. Another piece of invaluable advice from Shem was to stage the campaign. Going with a minimum viable product and then build up to the ‘perfect’ game, so that’s what I’ve done. Start with cutting down on some of the pieces. Go with cardboard tokens instead of wooden. Printed dice instead of engraved etc.

I think I’ve got a reasonable handle on the amount I’ll be charging per box, as well as the stretch goals I need to put in place.

Panda have still yet to get back to me…

For my own piece of mind, I’ve gone to another couple of companies to get a comparison cost. Hopefully they should be getting back to me within the next week.

What’s next?

1 - there’s some final pieces of art to come from Eddie: The new Kaiju set, the card backing for the personal goals and the new skill card pictures. That (he said) should be it on the artwork front.

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2 - Review of the rulebook. It’s taken about 6 weeks to get a version which I’m happy with. A friend from across the pond, Ben, reviewed it without ever playing the game which was so helpful. The game has been part of me for over 2 years now, so perspective can be a problem. He gave me 11 pages of notes! Legend.

3 - I need playtesting of the blind variety to play the game when I’m not in the room. This will be a true test of how good the rulebook is. I have a mate who’s putting his hand up for that. (Thanks Sam) I’ll be looking for some more random strangers too before…

4 - I need reviews of some kind which is going to be a little more difficult. I’ve ordered some more parts to make a couple more prototypes to be able to send round. Back to printing and sticking.

5 - Marketing. Now there’s a black hole…

So, if I look behind me, I’ve traveled further than what’s in front of me, but the journey is not over by a long shot.

Onward!

Finding out the damage...

So it’s begun. I’ve started to contact the manufacturers to get an idea of unit cost. Longpack have been pretty good so far; 3 emails today. Panda have yet to get in contact but it was a Chinese holiday last week so that’s to be expected. It’s going to be interesting. Frankly, I’m a little worried about the cost of the dice, but we’ll have to see what they come back with. Fingers crossed, it’s not too pricey….

And I'm off!

Well it's been a long time coming but I'm now ready to depart the fair shores on New Zealand and make the 30 hour trip to Indianapolis. Prototypes are finished (as they'll ever be) and in the suitcase.

See you on the other side!

Small step, big step...

Seems crazy, but after nearly 2 years and hundreds of hours, I still feel a bit of a fraud calling myself a games designer. However, if I hope to get any of my prototypes on the shelf in a game shop, I need to start talking the talk.

Big step is getting business cards printed...

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Dice

So I've realised that if only the Publish Blog is being read, it's really only telling half the story regarding IMDL! There's a lot more detail on the Design Blog regarding my trails and tribulations but in summary, I've managed to find a workable solution to my design problem. That being multiple dice (each mod gives the player 1 or 2 customised dice instead of a configurable face).

This has involved a fair amount of rework with the mech mods and enemy cards, mostly around the balancing. Play testing continues but it certainly captures the original feel.

Customisable dice are a lot easier to come by so I'm happy I can continue! If you're interested in the journey, click over to the Design Blog.

Down, but not out.

Rio Grande Games replied a few days later. By all accounts, they hadn't put any mark-up on the quote, that was straight form the manufacturers. All they could suggest was that I tried another source, such as the makers of Dice Forge. (Which I have already done, also a 'no')

So it's quite literally 'back to the drawing board'. The thought of having to design my own dice doesn't feel me with any warm thoughts.

However, there is more than one way to randomize. After two hours of crushing depression, I'm working on an alternative solution suggested by Shem. Once I've got a working copy, I'll share more on here.

Good News, Bad News

So I finally received a quote from Rio Grande after two months of pestering them. Hurrah!

However, elation was short lived once I saw the amount - $25. Boo.

The unit cost (that's up to 5000 units) is way too high to make the game financially viable. I've gone back for more clarification as to why that is. Next to what's in a box of Rattlebones, most of what I'm asking is comparable or less (number of dice, number of faces and face colors) except for the face designs, where IMDL! has more. 

If that's the issue, I can work on it but the price has got to come down otherwise it'll be back to the drawing board to a certain extent.

Disappointed but i haven't given up hope yet. There's more than one way to 'roll a die'.

 

I exist!

...In Boardgamegeek that is. My name, publishing name and IMDL! have been approved. It's a little step on a long road but I kind of feel validated now, seeing that 'Game Designer' stamp underneath my name. It's the small things...

Now I've got figure out how to get my logo and gaming pictures on there.

In other news, replacement parts have been sent. Hopefully 2 weeks away and I'll be able to do a full test.

I have an artist!

...And he's homegrown which is awesome. I joined the New Zealand Comics Facebook group a while back. Eddie's art popped up on my feed the other day. I really liked his clean line style, it reminded me of Michael Avon Oeming's work, especially the 'Powers' comic.

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Check out his artwork here and here!

Totally pumped to see IMDL! go to the next level!

Standing in front of the firehose

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Shem managed to pick one of these Panda packs for from his trip to GenCon last month. Handy, it gives some sample of what the Game Manufacturing company can produce.

I downloaded their Design Guidebook from their website a couple of days ago. Extremely informative and very helpful on how to do things, and not to do things. I won't lie, it was also 'slightly' overwhelming.

I think one of the biggest takeaways is that the software I've been using for my game design (Visio and Publisher) simply isn't going to cut it. So I'm going to have to research and possibly invest money and time in learning more suitable software.

On trying to be subjective

I was talking to Clare last night about how the playtesting went at the weekend. I mentioned that the 'Road Crew' could have gone better, and that it got a bit chaotic as the game went on.

Concerned, she asked me, how I felt about it, and if I was upset. I answered honestly, no. After all, the idea of a play-test is exactly that. I'm sure most designers would like a perfect play-though first time but it's not going to happen. It's the old adage that 'No Plan Survives Contact with the Enemy'. What seems like a working idea in your head may be an absolute mess when another three brains get added to the mix.

Regardless of how well it went, I've got into the habit of asking, is there a seed of a good idea there? There's no point flogging a dead horse if the principle idea is bad. But if players can gleam a nugget beneath the detritus of unnecessary rules and tokens, then it's worth working on.

Sure, thick skin may be needed. I know twenty years ago, I would have taken the criticism to heart, but the point is, if we're trying to make the best game possible, regardless if it's a little 20 minutes time filler, or a three hour epic, then any feedback is good feedback. Mostly. 

Eggs in a basket

So I've got several other games I'm working on at the moment. Different types of games from IMDL! One of the things I've heard is that if you're serious about game design, you should try a diversify, so my other efforts have been vastly different, which has been a nice change. Smaller to design, less pieces to create, and quicker to play.

I've went to another design workshop at the weekend. As I've said in the Design blog, they are invaluable for feedback. I tested a couple; The Road Crew which is a light 'take that' game based around roadies at a festival, and an abstract game called Stalagmites.

I've got a tendency to gold plate my prototypes, which one could argue, could be a monumental waste of time, especially if they're rubbish. I didn't do that with Stalagmites. It played well, better than I thought, so now I feel justified buying some game pieces for it.

Seriously, if I won the lottery, I think I'd set up an Australasian center for game parts. They take a bloody age to get here. I've been waiting over 4 weeks for counters and dice to arrive for another game I'm working on.

Back to drawing board...