Kickstarter Cogitations 6

We continue to have a good number of campaigns on Kickstarter’s tabletop section, and plenty of them are doing very nicely. However, for some reason I’m just not feeling very inspired by the last week’s crop.

It’s not that I think none of them would be fun to play, or that they aren’t nicely illustrated or presented. It’s not even that their campaigns are poorly run. At least, not all of them. In the end, it’s just that they lack that magical something which marks a project out as one for me. You know what I mean. It’s different for each of us, and it’s impossible to bottle.

FA2.png

Familiar Alchemy may be the way to distil the essence of cool. As you can see, they’ve finished a sample piece of each type, and show the rest of the art as sketches. 

There are a few things I’d like to point out as interesting though. As we’re talking about capturing magical essences, let’s start with Familiar Alchemy. it’s not really offering anything new in terms of the game itself, but you’d have thought that they’d do a bit better than they are. I’m hoping (and not believing) that it’s not related to their incomplete artwork. Asking for the crowd’s assistance in funding this sort of thing is, after all, why Kickstarter is here. Unfortunately, these days you’re not likely to soar very high if you aren’t doing a passing impersonation of being finished and ready to print before you start. Visually, at least.

FA1

This shows two finished pieces and gives you a better idea of what the end result might look like. In the game you grow plants and then trim off bits as ingredients for your potions. 

I think their plan of showing a finished example and then sketches for the rest is not unreasonable and is a prudent use of resources. Why pay a lot for art you can’t use if the project fails to fund? And the finished art looks well done too. The game itself looks fine if not anything new, but competently done and if I hadn’t already got a dozen things that could fill this slot in a gaming night I’d be tempted. Anyway, just thought it was interesting for the art question. Does this mean that your campaign needs more finished art, or at least to hide any that isn’t? Sadly, I think it does.

 

You Get What?

Occasionally, people cram all manner of extra gubbins into a higher tier pledge. This is stuff like coasters, badges, T-shirts, and posters – none of which is part of the game and all of which tends to pass me by entirely. Give me the game play and keep the tat, thank you.

This week I saw something that’s a new one on me – at least bundled into a game tier: a robot bully to call on to help win your online arguments.

Antematter Screenshot.png

The text speaks for itself.

I don’t think this is bad per se; it’s just weird. The campaign it’s from is Antematter, which is otherwise moderately interesting and could be entertaining to play. I like the idea of planets moving. I’ve tinkered with that idea too, and it creates some interesting effects on the board, especially if several planets orbit at different rates and you therefore have to plan with their various future alignments in mind. In fact, I’m expecting the imminent arrival of another KS game that uses this idea, though with a very different game: Solar Dominion Fleet Commander.

 

Oddly Tempting

I’m always drawn to dungeon scenery, and this means that I’m also always needing to stop myself from buying sets I’ll never use. The latest in this line of tasty morsels to resist is Dungeons & Lasers.

This looks like a solid and practical set, and I can definitely feel the gravitational attraction between it and my wallet. Even so, I have resisted because I think it’s the 16-year-old me wanting it to tart up the D&D games he’s running, not the slightly older version who’s not likely to be doing so for some time, if ever. Skirmish, you say? Yeah, maybe. If I could get my solo skirmish rules to work the way I want them to, then maybe…

 

Dia de Muertos

I’ll finish with a very striking game called Die of the Dead.

This is boldly illustrated with the characteristic skulls and flower motifs of the Dia de Muertos, and the overall package is strongly themed. Unless I’m missing something, the game seems a bit random for my taste, and while I used to go to a gaming group that this would have fitted perfectly, that was many years ago. These days I don’t see it getting on the table. It’s a not-uncommon reason for me passing on games that I would have wanted years ago. Not so much that my tastes have changed or that I’m no longer willing to play X or Y, but that the opportunities to play them have changed as I moved to a new city, house, job, or whatever. The pandemic has pushed me towards solo play, true, though I’m still looking forward to (and buying things for) playing with friends. It’s just that you need the right group of friends for each game…

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Kickstarter Cogitations 5

It’s nice to see that after a summer break, the numbers for Kickstarter campaigns are right back where they should be. That, plus the reported rise in overall funding total, says that KS is in a healthy place, despite the end of the world.

Or maybe because of it.

Wormwood

One of many modular tables from Wormwood.

Speaking of money, the Wymwood gaming tables are currently at over $7m, which I find a little bogglesome. This is vastly more than any of their previous campaigns, though their consistent slick productions over the years make this feel like it was all building towards where they are now. I have zero interest in their offerings, but hats off to them for a massively popular campaign. What is of interest to me is that they may be on track for taking the crown off Frosthaven within a few months of the coronation. It’s harder because they’re making handmade stuff and the amount this slows them down by is hard to gauge. Possible though. Watch this space.

Moon and Stars

All handmade from Moon and Stars.

Alongside this unstoppable juggernaut, it’s worth noting that there are tiny projects like Moon and Stars. This is ostensibly the sort of thing that Kickstarter was designed to support in the first place, and I do enjoy watching them. Sadly, it’s not a game I’m particularly taken by, though I should note that it’s the gameplay rather than the aesthetic that puts me off. Happily, he has found enough of an audience to fund it without me.

Final Act

More of a Trojan Horse than a tank.

Another smaller project that has yet to find enough of an audience is one of two that I’m currently backing: Final Act II.

What I like about this is a couple of things. Firstly, I do rather like the handmade toy vibe to it. It looks like they’ve put a lot of care and thought into the presentation and it has a smidge of nostalgia for me even though I’ve never played it. Nicely done.

Secondly, having watched Marco’s excellent review of it, I can see a very clear audience and definitely imagine playing it. The toy-like quality of the pieces acts as a perfect Trojan Horse to sneak this one onto the table with people who would balk at accurately rendered tanks. And, once so snuck, you can play a game which masquerades as a trivial piece of family fun whilst actually having some serious tactics puzzle inside. Sure, it’s no Drang Nach Osten, but not every game can or needs to be. This offers me a chance to play a game with a friend who might not be up for playing something more obviously wargamey, and allows us both to enjoy a middle ground.

Finally, the mechanic that most caught my eye this week is in a Japanese game called Izayoi. The sweet touch to a simple game about influence is in having each player paired with a master, and then penalising players for embarrassing their masters by doing better than them. Very Japanese, and a lovely touch. I can see that making a very interesting game. That’s why it’s the second one I’m backing.

Izayoi

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Kickstarter Cogitations 4

This week, I want to talk about just one game: Twilight: 2000.

Twilight 2000 boxed set

Normally I don’t talk about RPGs much as I haven’t played in years. I still read them though, and back in the day I used to play and run a lot, and write about them occasionally too. Post-apocalyptic games were one of the genres I enjoyed, and I played all sorts; from the silliness of Gamma World or Paranoia, through Morrow Project to Aftermath, and, of course, Twilight 2000. That was back in the day when the year 2000 was the bright future rather than the vaguely remembered past. Dear me, I’m old.

What’s interesting is that while the rest have largely blurred together as various shades of normal people in exceptional circumstances, the Twilight 2000 games always stood out as something a bit different. In this, everyone was a trained soldier. Sure, you might be an engineer or a pilot, but you were still combat trained and familiar with the basics. And you had guns. Lots of guns.

Fifty cal.jpg

And tanks.

Tanks

Lookit! Tank!

Anyway, I hadn’t paid much mind to the game since the 80s, so it was a pleasant surprise to see it on Kickstarter. What’s especially interesting is watching my own reaction, because I’m thinking “Oooo, I could play that. That would be fun…” Then some rationality kicks in and I think “Nah, never going to happen. Where would I get the groups together, and… oh. Solo rules. Now that is interesting.”

So, on the one hand I am confronted with the power of nostalgia. It’s a great seller, and we’ve seen quite a few reprints of classics on Kickstarter in the last couple of years, and many of them have done very well. What’s even more impressive is when people can capture some of that nostalgia without being a straight reprint of an ancient relic. That’s really clever. And hard. I’ve tried.

On the other hand, is the idea of solo RPGs. For me, that doesn’t entirely make sense as I was always more about the playing-the-role bit and less about the game. It just seems a bit weird doing that on your own. But if I think about it more as a game than roleplaying, then it’s a really enticing idea; being able to fight once more in the intriguing setting of the WWIII that never was.

Will I back it? Who knows? I’ll certainly take a closer look at the rules and see what they offer about how the solo game might work. I may get a pdf for reading anyway, just to remember the good old days, when nukes rained on Europe and we all had to walk back to France from Poland. In the rain…

Rainy walk.jpg

Before I go it would be remiss of me not to mention my Game Design Mastery Patreon. If you’re interested in reading in-depth articles on all aspects of game design, why not come along and join us? So far there’s about 20,000 words of in-depth advice in the GDM library, with more added every month. Each article is on a topic chosen by patrons, and if you can’t wait for the next one then you can always ask in the private Discord server. Certified troll-free!

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Kickstarter Cogitations 3

People use the word unique way too often in marketing blurb. It’s not a complicated word to understand, but it’s often used incorrectly. This makes the people using it look sloppy and careless.

If you’re writing advertising blurb and you’re tempted to use the word, think carefully about whether it’s accurate or not. Unique is a big claim, and very often it makes you look like either a liar, or someone who doesn’t know the market. Neither is good. It’s a fair rule of thumb that whenever you make that claim, someone in the audience will be happy to point out your error, and where that rule has been used a dozen times before. In reality, little is genuinely new in game design, and that’s absolutely fine. A game doesn’t need to include a unique new rule to be brilliant.

Raygun Raptors

When people abuse innocent words we send in the heavily-armed rotating dinosaurs. 

Of course, I’m talking about this because I’ve been reading Kickstarter campaigns again, and it’s cropped up several times. In no case was it true.

Also, while I’m on my soap box, unique is not a word you can qualify. You can’t be a bit unique, or very unique, or most unique, or more unique than them. In fact, you can’t be anything unique. You’re unique or you’re not. Exactly like its very specific meaning, it stands alone.

Rant aside, I was going to say that I hadn’t been especially inspired by Kickstarter this week. However, when I come to write this, it turns out that I’ve actually got quite a few interesting campaigns worth mentioning today.

One recurring theme is STL files for printing 3D miniatures and scenery. There seems to be an especially plentiful crop of these campaigns at the moment, and if you have a 3D printer you are spoilt for choice. I don’t, but I still like to explore them because I’ve always been a fan of miniatures. Raygun Raptors struck me as a particularly slick and well-presented example of the type, if you’re after an example.

 

I’m Currently Backing…

As I write this, I’m backing the Spirits of the Forest: Moonlight expansion. In the end it was the fact that the wooden version was KS only which made me back it, despite the fact that with tax and shipping it will be very overpriced. I already have the wooden version of the core game, so if I want this expansion then I’m not left with a lot of helpful choices. It feels a bit forced, but I could always say no.

Moonlight

That finishes in a couple of hours, so I’ll be back to backing zero campaigns again. Strange for me.

 

Also of Interest

There are a lot of intriguing campaigns on at the moment.

When I read through the KS campaigns, I watch the main video, then a how to play or review video, and quickly read the page. Unless it’s standing out at that point, I discount it. It had its chance to impress and it failed.

Of the remainder, I keep them on an open tab to look at more closely over lunch breaks and whatnot. This is where most of the following are currently sitting, so I’ve not been through them all in detail yet. Still…

Looters of the Labyrinth

Looting that Labyrinth.

 

The first one reminds me of Ricochet Robots, which I’m very fond of. This new one is called Looters of the Labyrinth. What I like here is the clean and simple design. It’s pared back to the bones of the idea, and that’s just what it needs. No unnecessary frills. There’s a month left to go on this, though it’s unlikely he’ll fund. Shame. Let’s hope he comes back for a second try.

tacticum

Another simple abstract that caught my eye was TACTICUM. As with Looters of the Labyrinth, I can’t see me getting it on the table, so I’m not backing it. However, I am fond of clean and elegantly presented abstracts, and these both tick that box. I almost backed them anyway. TACTICUM does an especially nice job of being small and physically contained without sacrificing what it needs to be in terms of game design. Unlike Looters, it’s funded too. Congratulations to them!

The minds of monsters look a lot like D100 tables

Finally, there are a couple of very different campaigns I’d like to mention in the RPG neck of the woods. One is the straightforwardly-named These Monsters Have Minds Of Their Own. This is an AI system for taking a bit of the load from the GM by automating some of the monsters’ responses. It’s a neat idea, and one that I’ve done versions of myself, which is partly why I’m interested. I have a professional curiosity to see how they’ve tackled design problems I’m familiar with.  It’s the sort of thing I might buy to read, and never expect to use in anger.

Wanderhome

Calm and pastoral art from Wanderhome.

The second RPG campaign I’m still looking at is the very successful and somewhat eclectic Wanderhome. There’s a bunch of sample files to download and read through, which is a sensible approach for something nonstandard. Always fun to see someone exploring variants and pushing envelopes, so I look forward to reading these. Again, it’s unlikely to be something I play myself, but it could well be something I back to read.

And that’s all the Kickstarter thoughts I’ve got for you this week. I’m off back to finish the corrections on my latest article for the Game Design Mastery Patreon. If you fancy reading an in-depth discussion on Narrative vs Balance-focussed Game Design or one of the other topics I’ve already covered, then why not pop on over and sign up?

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Kickstarter Cogitations 2

Starting my thoughts on Kickstarter today with an idea that’s related to one of my old jobs: Editor. Years of being professionally picky makes me very aware of typos in anything I read, and whilst I’m sure I spot stuff most people neither notice nor care about, properly written rules are part of getting the best out of your project.

When you’re writing promotional copy for adverts or your Kickstarter campaign, it’s usually done quickly and so is even harder than usual to be 100% perfect. Those pesky typos will sneak in. Having said that, there are some areas of a Kickstarter page that need checking a bit more carefully than others. This example is from a how to play video – one area on a KS page you can guarantee a lot of traffic.

Intellegance

The moral of the story is simple: always use a spell checker. Also, remember that a lot of spell checkers ignore ALL CAPS words. Another good reason to be sparing with that ugly and unhelpful format. And, let’s not forget the humble proofreaders and editors. Spell checkers only look for some errors, and grammar editors are good, but not yet great. Skilled humans trump them all.

Other than that aside, things are relatively quiet on Kickstarter at the moment. 10% or so fewer campaigns than average; no vast campaigns. There are a lot of the smaller dice and RPG expansions which have limited appeal for me as a backer. As a lone creator myself though, it’s nice to see individuals and smaller teams using the space to get to an audience. It’s a tricky business, and Kickstarter has provided a far easier way for people to dip their toes in the water than ever used to be the case. Best of luck to them all.

 

Friends in the Right Places

Currently most popular game on Kickstarter, and second highest funded (it’ll be the top in a couple of days) is Escape the Night. This is an excellent illustration of how a creator can bring a non-KS audience with them and convert it into cash. Here, the prodigious Mr Graceffa has leveraged a large YouTube audience and readership of his books into a successful KS campaign despite no previous campaigns* and having backed zero other people. Received KS advice is to always back a few campaigns to make sure it at least appears that you’re part of the community. Clearly that’s not a major drawback if you can import your audience.

As a clear demonstration of this, look at the number of new backers for Escape the Night:

Escape the Night backers

On most campaigns new backers make up a single digit percentage. For example, this is CMON’s Ankh.

Ankh backers

The difference between a game that exists essentially within the KS bubble and one that can bring in lots of backers from the outside is striking. It’s also sobering when you consider how few of the outside audience makes it to being backers. Escape the Night is a programme on YouTube Premium with several seasons under its belt. Presumably that has quite a few fans. Mr Graceffa has 2.7m followers on YouTube, and his books are on the bestseller lists, and that’s not all he does (busy chap). He clearly has an audience. When you think of it like that, bringing in just over 2k backers from outside KS isn’t so impressive after all.

Just something to ponder if you’re thinking of running a KS yourself.

 

I’m Currently Backing…

I went for the Moonlight expansion I talked aboutlast week, as expected. That’s all at present. I am, as usual, considering some others.

The first one is the Petrichor expansion. Cows. I backed the original KS campaign, so I already have most of this. The new clouds are interesting, though I’m not tempted at that price.

A rather different project is the second edition of In Magnificent Style. I’m still not back to playing games with other humans, so solo is something I’m thinking about a lot, both in what does hit the table and what I’m designing. I wasn’t aware of this particular game before and even if I don’t back it, I’m happy that the campaign brought it to my attention so I can add it to my wish list.

In Magnificent Style 2e

I’ve been on a journey with it though. At first glance, I thought that a game about Pickett’s charge looked a bit limited. After all, it’s about one tiny piece of a single huge battle in a war that lasted years. Would it have any replay value? My initial thought was that I was very unlikely to back, but the more I looked at it, watched reviews, and saw how it actually played, the more I could see myself enjoying it (and playing it more than once). It has some clever core mechanics and looks quite exciting. It’s got a fair amount of random in, which fits the context well. All told, it’s a clever piece of design on an unpromising topic. However, I can’t say that I’m a fan of their new board. They’ve made it bigger and added all the reference sheets onto it. That’s not a bad idea in principle, but my eyesight is not good, and I just can’t read the small writing from any distance. I often have this problem with cards on the table as well. Having the reference on separate sheets (as was the case with the first edition), actually helps here as I can hold it as close as I like – not something I can do with a board. But then they’ve also updated some of the rules, and those sound like real improvements. So, pros and cons. Do I hunt down a first edition, back this second and print my own QR sheets, or give it a miss? I’ve got just over a week to decide if I want to jump on the KS.

 

The Turd in the Swimming Pool

Despite my interest in both of these campaigns, there is the problem of Brexit. One of the fallouts of that poltroonery is to increase the cost of many KS campaigns to UK backers. Until the end of the year we still benefit from companies that offer EU friendly shipping, having our VAT paid for by the fulfilment company. That’s great. However, virtually nothing physical that I back now will be delivered before then, so I need to check. EU friendly (probably) means nothing to UK backers after December, and VAT is 20% on pledge cost + shipping cost, and on top of that they’ll charge you another £8 (last I looked) for the privilege of collecting it. All of this can easily double, and in one case tripled the nominal pledge cost of a game on KS. Of course, this is not a new thing, but it’s gone from a few campaigns to nearly all of them. This additional cost has encouraged me to wait for the retail versions of several games recently, and I’m not going to be the only backer who does so. That doesn’t help creators of physical products to hit funding, and it may mean that some of those games don’t ever happen. It’s not the fault of the creator or the backer, but it is a problem. I suspect that this, and the ever-rising shipping costs, are major factors in the steady rise of digital product campaigns for STLs and PDFs.

 

Also of Interest

Finally, despite the shrill claims of marketing departments, most weeks don’t see technical innovations or genuinely new mechanics. This week has.

Swapping cards

The campaign in question is the otherwise unremarkable and weirdly-themed Shaka Shredders. The innovation in question is two-part magnetic cards that can be reorganised before and during play. Fancy cards or no, the game does nothing for me, and judging by the response I am not alone. However, swappable magnetic cards sounds like a fun trick I could do some interesting designs with, and it feels like there is a gem waiting to be uncovered here, lurking somewhere in the concept. Worth pondering. Obviously, this isn’t going to fund, but I very much hope the idea survives.

Of course, I could have told him this before he’d gone live if he’d joined me on my Game Design Mastery Patreon. And he’s not the only one. You should come along too. Let me help you to make your game the best it can be.

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*Actually, he has run at least one earlier campaign. It’s strange that he appears to have two creator profiles, with one campaign on each. Not the normal approach at all. Perhaps the new one was set up by one of his staff.

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Kickstarter Cogitations

There’s always something interesting going on in Kickstarter. Sometimes it’s a new trend, other times it’s a specific campaign, and there are always fun new games to look at. It’s a revolving shop window of shiny toys.

As my job and my passion is games, I look at the Kickstarter tabletop section most days. My aim is to at least skim every campaign that goes up, regardless of whether I think I might want the product or not. After all, you never know where a clever new twist on an old rule will turn up, or who will find a neat new way to engage with the audience. Learning can sneak up on you from anywhere.

All of this means that I have lots of ruminations about gaming on Kickstarter and being as how I’m hiding away in a bunker at the moment, I thought that I’d share some of this online. In-depth analysis and advice is what I do for the clients I consult with, but I thought it might be fun to discuss some of the more prominent trends and notable campaigns with you guys too. So, in no special order, here’s some of my current thinking on where tabletop games are on Kickstarter. Feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments below.

 

Numbers

Having taken a hit in raw numbers of campaigns when covid-19 arrived, shed some staff from the losses, regained the campaign numbers briefly, announced that revenue was actually up, they’re now down in campaign numbers again. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster.

Presumably the decreased numbers and increased revenue are both effects from lockdowns, with people spending time at home, away from their work and teams. Can’t coordinate launches as easily, but there’s no trouble clicking to pledge.

None of this seems to really pose any major threat to the platform; it’s just something to keep a weather eye on. It does strongly suggest that launching during the pandemic is not something to worry about from the POV of potential support. And, as a corollary, if you had a campaign that underperformed recently, you need to seek the scapegoat elsewhere. The pandemic is not an excuse for a lack of campaign performance.

 

Product Types

Kickstarter’s tabletop games section was originally dominated by board games. There was always a sprinkling of other things, but their numbers were small. This is neither bad nor good, it’s just what it was. Now it’s changed.

The trend is for increasing numbers of non-boardgames in the tabletop games section, mostly RPG supplements and lately STL files for 3D printing. The latter is part of the rapid march of this technology and has been fascinating to watch develop from nothing only a few years ago. Nowadays 3D printing is central to the workflow of many miniature companies, and this is only going to grow. Mind you, that’s a big topic for another day.

Screenshot 2020-07-23 at 09.43.24

As I write this an STL campaign is the most popular campaign in the category.

There are also occasional amusements like Cthulhu bottle openers. Not sure how that belongs in the tabletop games category, but that’s where it is. I’m not saying we should rush out and report it; the campaign’s not doing any harm in the category and you can see how its potential audience will have some crossover. What I’m wondering aloud is really whether there’s much function to categories when they’re being ignored. Again, this is really a bigger discussion about finding information in the internet age.

This trend of changing focus for the category does make me wonder whether it would be a good idea for KS to split tabletop games into subcategories. After all, we already have a separate category for card games, and we have more RPG campaigns than that.

I’m somewhat torn between thinking that the cross-pollination between games all being in the same place is better (arguing to roll card games back into the mix) and splitting them up making it easier for backers to find what they want and not miss a potential gem in the wall of irrelevancies. What do you think? Would it be easier or harder to find what you want if, say, RPG and STL campaigns were in their own categories?

 

I’m Currently Backing…

Nothing.

That’s weird as I’m usually backing something. However, all the tasty morsels I’ve been supporting of late have finished and there’s nothing I’ve jumped on yet. I’m still considering a couple though:

Dead Reckoning

Yo ho ho and all that jazz.

Dead Reckoning. There’s lots to like here, with clever use of overlaid clear cards and an unusual combat mechanic (this latter feature is likely to be a bit of a love it or hate it thing). Clear cards have been used for a while now, though never by many people, and they offer some fun options for the designer. If you’re interested in game design, then it’s definitely worth watching the videos to see what Mr Clair has done. In the end, I’m leaning towards not getting it though. It’s mainly a balance of the cost compared with what it adds to my collection. While this is an intriguing-looking game and I’m sure it plays fine, I’m not convinced that it scratches an itch that none of my other games don’t already. I’d happily play it, but I probably don’t need my own copy.

Moonlight

The other one I’ve been contemplating is the Moonlight expansion for the very pretty Spirits of the Forest. It’s an attractive and simple game I bought from their previous Kickstarter because I could play it with non-gamers like my mum. That’s not happening at the moment, but I’ll probably back this expansion because I’ll hopefully be back to socialising with other humans by the time it arrives.

 

Also of Interest

One last campaign to mention this week: a foldable D20. (kickstarter.com/projects/mythroll/mythroll-armorys-foldable-metal-d20-for-rpg-tabletop-gaming):

Foldable dice

The sheet fits in your wallet and folds into this dice. Neat 🙂

Not sure whether it was foldable flat again so you could stick it back in your wallet after you’d played. That would make it more useful. Still, the idea of an emergent game of D&D just breaking out like a flash mob tickled my funny bone.

Enough of me rambling. Have you noticed anything cutting edge and cool on Kickstarter lately? Are you backing anything special?

Finally, if you’re interested in discussing games at length, or are working on a design of your own and have some questions, why not join us on Patreon at Game Design Mastery?

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Patreon’s Progress

GDM server iconI just posted another article to my Game Design Mastery Patreon, and I thought that I’d talk about a few lessons from the first however long it’s been. 6 weeks? Something like that.

Overall it’s been great, though it’s not gone entirely as planned. Mostly what I mean is just that it’s taken a lot longer to get going than I’d hoped. The vast majority of this is down to stuff outside the Game Design Mastery project, so my slowness on Patreon is, in some ways, collateral damage from that. However, some of the pace is intrinsic.

It would have been easier if I’d waited till everything was in place to start, with all the initial articles written and so on. That would have been easier, though I don’t think it would have been as useful for the patrons, which is why I didn’t do it. To start with, I’m very happy with my last-minute idea to get the patrons to choose the topics for the GDM articles. That meant I needed to start and find out who the patrons were and what they wanted before I wrote things. However, it also meant that the articles I did write were the ones they voted for, so presumably they’re more useful to more people – and that’s the whole point.

The other GDM thing that’s slowed me down is the length of the articles. That’s entirely self-inflicted. I was originally thinking of them as the sort of thing I’ve written on here, but a little longer. In fact, they’re turning out a great deal longer. I’ve finished two so far: the first on adapting multi-player co-op games to solo play was 3,000 words. The second, on structure and uses of playtesting, was just shy of 5,700 words. I’m working on the third and fourth now, and they’re not small either. This all comes from my approach. Basically, I’m trying to channel 30 years’ worth of experience into my answer to each question, because that’s how I think of the topics the patrons choose. They’re a question about something: “what do you know about…? Do you have any tips or tricks for…? Is there anything I should know to avoid when…? So I’m trying to cover as much as I can each time. In addition, I’ve not got a specific number of magazine or book pages to fill, so I can write as long as I’ve got something to say. This means that each article is as long as it needs to be, and I’ve no idea what that will be when I start. I’m sure I could have thought of a way to make this easier, but then they wouldn’t have been as good and I’d have felt like I was short-changing folk. In other words, the extra effort is entirely selfish.

I also delayed myself by trying to get them laid out nicely using software I wasn’t familiar with. That’s just me biting off more than I could chew and it wasted a bunch of time. My bad. For the moment I’ve uploaded them as Word pdfs, just to get the content up. That’s 90% of the value. The rest is mostly just prettiness. I’ll revisit that at some stage, once all the content is up and being added to as promised.

Finally, I had this idea that I could do a weekly snapshot of behind the scenes design and development. Turns out that’s way harder than I thought. I suppose the primary issue is that thinking and computer work aren’t very photogenic, and that’s the bulk of what I do. More time spent in prep would have uncovered this. Still, I’m not feeling too bad about this as it’s forcing me to be creative, and I’ve made some progress. Expect to see more of that aspect soon…

Overall, I’m very thankful to my select band of loyal patrons. I think of these brave souls as my elite recon team, volunteering for a secret mission from which they may never return, and in the event helping to scout out the dangerous wilds of Patreon. They’ve been invaluable. We’ve had some great chats on the Discord channel, and I look forward to many more. Hopefully we’ll also get some more volunteers to join their ranks.

Overall, it’s been a bit of a choppy start in places, but we’re still here, still making progress, and we seem to be out of the worst of it now. Once this initial tranche of articles is done it will be much easier to keep up with the regular monthly addition I’d planned, plus the odd bonus one. All told, the good ship GDM Patreon is looking at a bright horizon now, and clearer sailing ahead.

If you fancy joining our merry band, just click the link or read the article to see what’s it’s all about. We’re waiting to welcome you on board!

Posted in GDM Patreon | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Lots of Games for Cheap

One of the heartening things that this year’s many and varied calamities has brought up has been a series of generous offers from creators in a wide variety of media. The latest one I’ve stumbled across is gaming related, which is why I mention it here.

Over on itch.io, they’re offering over 740 projects for a minimum donation of $5. As this is provided by a total of over 500 different indie creators, there should be something to suit most tastes somewhere in the mix.

Note that itch.io is a funny place, full of weird and wonderful creations by a myriad of talented indie creators. It began with digital projects, and that’s still what the bulk of them are. However, increasingly you also see tabletop RPG and the occasional tabletop game. There are a dozen or more of these in this bundle.

I’ve not got anything on itch.io myself (yet), so I’ve no personal investment. This post is really just a public service announcement. Thought that I should just put this out there. After all, it’s always better to find out before the timer runs down.

And yes, there is a timer. About 7 days and 17 hours let on this generous offer as I type.

Just click the banner to see what I’m on about:

itchio offer banner

 

Posted in Random Thoughts | 4 Comments

How is Gaming Weathering the Storm?

When I worked for Games Workshop, the bosses used to say that the toy and game industry was especially robust when it came to surviving recessions; last in, first out. So what about pandemics?

With most bricks and mortar game stores only now reopening after weeks of closure, and even online stores having issues with absent staff, needing to reorganise for safe working, and supply chain hold ups, it’s not been easy.

Many publishers are suffering from a wholesale cancellation of conventions. The sales they would make are often critical to the cashflows of smaller companies. This loss of face time with their audience has also meant a lack of exposure for many new titles, and the consequent loss of sales even online. After all, people can’t buy what they don’t know about. Expanding your marketing spend elsewhere is fine in principle, but is much less of a known benefit, and that’s assuming you have the cash to do so.

Happily, so far I’ve heard of many troubles, plenty of job losses, much tightening of belts, but few closures within the industry. Most companies have adapted rather than simply choosing to bunker up, and they’ve used their ingenuity to work round the problem. We’re seeing online versions of official conventions as well as many impromptu gatherings. Gamers are finding ways to game even if they cannot meet their usual groups in person. And that’s a very good thing both for the sanity of the individual gamers, and the publishers who need folk to have a reason to buy the new shiny.

Then there’s Kickstarter.

Before the pandemic, their tabletop games section usually had about 310 projects running at any one time. This number is slightly seasonal, and wanders about a bit natively, but 310 is a good rule of thumb. As the pandemic hit, and uncertainty among creators rose, so the number of new projects dropped precipitously. Within a couple of weeks it had dropped by a third (the lowest I saw it was 203). Kickstarter reported a similar % drop in revenue.

As Kickstarter apparently had little or no cash reserves to fall back on, they were forced to let about 40% of their staff go. That was pretty grim, and happened very quickly. Luckily, having just unionised, the staff got what look on paper to be reasonable deals (considering the circumstances), and I suspect that many of them will be hired back when the good times come again.

They are coming back, right?

Probably.

Since that low of 203, the numbers have steadily picked up, and last week they briefly topped 300 again. It’s not back to where it was, but I’d say it’s running about 90%, which ain’t bad, and is within the noise of the normal variability. Of course, we know that it’s not normal, but on pure numbers it’s not alarming in the way it was.

Of course, we aren’t out of the woods yet. Not by some distance.

According to the medical professionals, we are almost certain to have a second wave of this virus. We know what’s coming, and we know what to do, but like the first time, politicians are unlikely to actually do that, and many more people will die.

It also means that any nascent recovery in any sector is likely to get punched in the face.

So, what to do?

Well, if you’re a gamer, it all depends on your financial security. Over 40 million Americans have been made unemployed as a direct result of the pandemic. There are similar problems in other countries. If this is you, then buying new games is the least of your worries. You’ll want to play what you can from what you already have (or try some of the many excellent free PnP offerings online). Play is good for your emotional wellbeing, and I’ve been unemployed enough times to know that you’ll want the boost.

If you’re in a stable job and are weathering the storm fine, then there’s nothing to stop you carrying on as before. Certainly, your FLGS and the smaller publishers could definitely do with your support. I say smaller companies as I’m assuming that the biggies have deeper pockets and can survive better anyway. But all of them are likely to be hurting.

If you’re a publisher, and were thinking of using the traditional route to market to sell in bricks and mortar stores, maybe hold that thought for a while. It’s going to be months before distribution and sales are back to normal. You’ll have to spend way more time in communication with your usual channels to find out what the reality is on the ground. Maybe you can make it work. However, it’s likely to be an even steeper uphill climb than usual. Maybe you need to push online more.

If you’re a creator looking to run a Kickstarter, then my advice is to do so now. Don’t wait. Logic suggests that we are getting a second wave of this soon, and there are bound to be more disruptions. Maybe another lockdown, definitely more people sick, more people isolating, more people unemployed. Also, more people in real need of some joy, and that’s what games bring, right? So, we keep on keeping on.

However, it’s worth noting that during this virus, during this lockdown, right in the middle of this sudden loss of trade, Kickstarter also saw its biggest ever campaign. Mythic Games ran their most successful campaign too. Several other companies ran campaigns that raised over a million dollars. Clearly, there is still an audience out there.

So again, my advice to you is move now if you can. If you don’t want to go live during the uncertainties of a second wave, then it’s now, or next year.

And Kickstarter itself? It seems pretty robust. They were caught with no cash reserves, which was careless of them. Maybe they’ll learn. Even so, they reacted quickly and grasped the nettle rather than pretending they’d be OK without a rapid response. I think that shows solid leadership and a robust company. The next wave is likely to have less effect on the numbers as people have seen it before. Less fear of the unknown.

All of which means that it’s been a grim time, but us humans are resilient. Gamers want to game, and a mere pandemic won’t stop that. It has changed our landscape, and maybe it’s taken away some of our cash. What it hasn’t done is dim our desire to do what we do. And gaming is part of that.

It may be bad now.

No matter.

This too shall pass.

Posted in Kickstarter | Tagged , | 5 Comments

It’s Alive!

Turns out all I needed was a dark castle, lots of lightning, and a crowd of peasants with pitchforks and fiery brands. Just apply the electrodes, and Voila! It’s alive! By which I mean, the Game Design Mastery Patreon is up and running. Huzzah!

GDM Patreon

I’d always planned to go live in the late evening to avoid double-charging people. In the end it crept just over midnight as I ran into a load of Discord stuff I didn’t understand. I’d not used it before and whilst it’s pretty simple when you’ve unravelled it, there are loads of things to set behind the scenes and their explanation of terms is abysmal. They clearly missed the first lesson of 101 How To Explain Stuff: always define your terms before you start. Not just true in rulebooks.

Anyway.

In the end I think it’s all linked up as it should be, which is cool. There’s a few more bits and bobs to explore on the back end as there are quite a lot of options in Patreon for linking other software. Other than that, there’s content to write! Always more of that.

If you’re interested in the idea of the Game Design Mastery project, I wrote a longer explanation of what it entails here, or you can pop straight over to the Patreon. I think it came out looking quite attractive in the end.

Posted in Game Design Mastery | Tagged , | 2 Comments