All posts by Derik

#37 Keeping the Faith

I mentioned this a few times (here, herehere, and here) but game design is rough. Heartbreaking, even.

For a little over a year, now, (basically, the entire time I’ve been working to bring Hot Pursuit to life) I have struggled with doubt. Sure, there are a lot of things which can go wrong after funding on Kickstarter, but that’s not really what I’m talking about. I am having to learn-as-I-go how to ship internationally, manage business bills/taxes, etc. That’s not it, either.

You see, I am happy member of The Game Crafter’s designer community and I spend a lot of time in “help” groups on Facebook. Twitter and Kickstarter also eat up a fair amount of my time. Sometimes a game/designer comes through I immediately think, “Wow. That just looks like no fun at all.” Either the illustration or graphic design are awful (different from non-existent) or the game looks/reads as garbage (on a fundamental level). Now, this does not include complete rip-offs (like Cards Against Humanity clones) or situations where the creator is just bad at sales). True, it functions much like a snap judgment, but I honestly take the time to at least read up on the game. Simply put, based on my years of experience reading, analyzing, and teaching games, that thing looks like a pile of dog-doo.

Some people come in knowing that they have some problems that need fixing. Cool. What’s fascinating is the number of designers who just don’t see it. They can’t tell that they are toting around steaming feces. And THAT is the scary part. Is my game crap? Am I just as clueless as the rest? Did my Kickstarter campaign fail because my product sucks or was it only my poor marketing?

Well, let’s look at the typical filter:

  1. Do your friends like it? They say it’s a fun / neat idea / cool game.
  2. Do they ever ask to play it? One, yes; the rest no.
  3. Have you shown it to people you don’t know? Yes, at my FLGS, an Unpub mini, and multiple conventions.
  4. What did they say? Same thing: fun / neat idea / cool game.
  5. Has anyone asked to play it again? After the first game, many people ask for more because they feel they can do better with a clearer understanding of the game. But no, no one has asked to play it after the first session.

That looks pretty darn bleak, right? Disheartening, even. This metric burned in the back of my mind for a few months – breaking my hope and causing me to dig around for ANY other games.  Honestly, I began doubting all feedback – it felt too polite. Clearly, something had to be wrong even if no one would tell me. Then, I had some unexpected opportunities for demos, and they were GREAT! Since most things in my life rarely function at face-value, I started trying to look past these initial, damning answers for actual causes. Let’s look at that list again:

1 & 2: The vast majority of my friends don’t care for tabletop games. Those that do, only play light games – they can’t quite grasp thinky, brain-burning games.
5: I have rarely seen any of the people I demoed to a 2nd time. It’s pretty tough to be asked to “bring it back out” when you don’t play together.

The vast majority of online advice for game design revolves around that question (who actually requests it). So, it was obviously the source of many doubts and concerns for me. As this cloud followed me around, I was also hitting some real frustrations from an inability to play any new games (which were finally showing up) and older favorites. And I about fell over when I realized NOBODY asks me to bring out ANY game. Statistically, my games are just as popular with my friends as 7 Wonders,  Machi Koro, and Hocus.

What a freaking relief that was. True, I should probably find something more mainstream before going back to Kickstarter, but at least my games don’t ALL suck. One question I never see asked is “Does your game have any fans?”. This little gem was what started my confusion and frustration with Hot Pursuit. Although the Kickstarter campaign failed and none of my friends request it – I discovered at my last convention that I have FANS! One guy I hadn’t seen for a year came out of the crowd to say hi. He still carried around the copy I gave him last time and plays it with friends. Another guy we demoed to came back and asked if he could buy a demo copy. A distributor played with me and took a copy downstairs to the “free-play” room and played with his friends and family!

I guess the lesson here is this: critical feedback is vitally important for gauging the readiness of your game. However, cling to positive feedback (however slight) and allow it to temper the negativity, doubt, and constant competition that surrounds us every day.

What about you? How do you weather the storms? Got any fans?

#36: (Something clever about losing stuff)

Believe it or not, I am taking a fairly different approach to the current work load of preparing for Hot Pursuit’s relaunch than I did for the initial launch. This new approach will even affect my blog. And it all started a couple of weeks after Hot Pursuit’s project ended.

So, let’s jump back to the middle of March. The clock continued to tick but my total funding… not so much. I was surprisingly not devastated when it died. Afterall, this was my first project and the tiny game made balancing the number of backers at reasonable backer levels against the total shipping and printing costs difficult. Well, at the end of the project I suddenly found myself with some “extra” time to think and do stuff. During this opportunity to catch my breath, I reviewed old blog posts and looked through my idea notebooks as I contemplated participating in a new design contest. That is when I found my old friend, A Dragon Show for the King.

When I last left ADSftK, I was charting and reworking all of the figures and some of the abilities in order to give players a fighting chance of actually finishing the game. Well, my friend Craig was showing off his new game idea, but I wanted to play my game, too. As I sat down to update my prototype, my blood was pumping; my mind was racing with ideas (in a good way); I was looking forward to the busy-work… heck, joy was returning to my life. It turns out, though, I had already worked out all of the new math and redid most of the cards (up to 4 players worth) back in February of 2015. Which means that I had not touched this game (which I was genuinely excited to publish someday) for over a year.

THAT is where I found the problem. THAT is when I found this thing that I didn’t even know I had lost: joy.

The reason I’ve been designing for 3 years despite basically no public/professional attention is because I get a great sense of fulfillment in the work. However, for nearly a year, preparing Hot Pursuit for Kickstarter is all I allowed myself to think about. For 3 months, ALL of my free-time was dedicated to Hot Pursuit and it’s Kickstarter (the page, the print / ship quotes, the rules, the convention, etc.). For quite some time there, if I wasn’t working, sleeping, or eating, I was working on Hot Pursuit. The work didn’t bother me because I deemed it necessary. I am dedicated to getting this business off the ground. If Jamey Stegmaier and Colby Dauch can do it, so can I!

Unfortunately, in that race to launch I managed to get too busy; too focused; too “productive”. I was honestly starting to feel the pangs of doubt, frustration, and futility – until I returned to game design. All of a sudden, the future looked bright! I had hope again. My insurmountable, soul-crushing problems were gone.

So, now I have a new plan. Instead of doing EVERYTHING I POSSIBLY CAN TO LAUNCH ASAP (!!!), I am going to work responsibly and not launch until I am completely ready. More importantly, I am going to continue designing on the side. This will actually give me an opportunity to try something I’ve wanted to do for over a year. Very soon, I’ll begin a “Design Diary” segment where I share with you my thought process of working through a game from day one.

While I am stoked to finally give the design diary a try, there is a catch. You see, as a backer, I hate getting project updates which talk about the designer’s next game. When I am counting the days waiting for your current game to arrive, talking about the next project just sounds like you begging for more money and I hate it. Therefore, my Kickstarter projects will not ever refer to other designs I am working on. I will only be discussing the new games HERE, and only if I also have a Lessons Learned post for the same week. I don’t want to “brag” at you when you are likely coming here for those “lessons”.

Anywho, that’s it for now. Have you ever lost something important without realizing it? Ever get too involved in a big project? Tell me about it 😀

#35: Special Guest Fedor Sosnin (Disruptive, Inc.)

Good morning, we have another special guest today, this one has far more experience than the rest 😀 I met Mr. Sosnin through Twitter during his first Dice Bazaar campaign. The game looks great – so I was really surprised when the clock ticked down and he fell short. Mr. Sosnin immediately went to work revamping his campaign, preparing for a relaunch. The more I researched his previous campaigns and saw him prepare for a second shot, the more impressed I became – I HAD to pick Mr. Sosnin’s brain. And without further ado, here he is 😀

Fedor Sosnin

First, tell us about yourself and then about Dice Bazaar.

Hello everyone. My name is Fedor Sosnin, the designer of Battle of Durak. I run Disruptive Inc, a design firm in Sparks, Maryland. Dice Bazaar is my second table top game. I really wanted to create a game that can be played by a variety of people. Something you can share with non-gamers, family, kids, co-workers, and not scare them away from the table from a complex set up or overwhelming table presence. I wanted to create a dice game because everyone knows what to do with a die. Shake it, roll it, have fun. I worked hard to make the game light enough yet be engaging enough for avid gamers. I chose the game’s theme based on my memories of bazaars and markets from Uzbekistan from when I was a kid. Keeping the colors bright and vivid, I tried hard to not only give it a presence on a shelf but also make it attractive to all ages.
Dice Bazaar 3
With this as your 2nd game, how was this campaign different from Battle of Durak?
I learned so much from my first campaign, Battle of Durak. I wanted to take all of those lessons learned and apply them to my presentation of Dice Bazaar. I wanted to be as clear and transparent as possible so there are no questions when someone has scrolled through the campaign. I also worked hard to get copies out to reviewers to hear their thoughts and get their feedback early on. I also learned some new software to create a better video that I’m proud of. Hopefully, my hard work shows in this new campaign. :)
 

You made a somewhat controversial move by launching Dice Bazaar before Battle of Durak shipped. What were your reasons? 
Once I got the word from ShipNaked that everything was in their hands and ready to go, I saw a green light. I want to show that I have more material, more games, to show and share with everyone. As well speak, almost everyone has Battle of Durak in their possession and I wanted to transition right into the next game with no delay. Maybe it is a somewhat controversial move, but I have no regret because I wanted to keep the excitement high.
Dice Bazaar Box

“Customs Friendly Shipping” for Canada, Australia, and the European Union is no easy feat, and most campaigns don’t bother. How are you pulling it off, and how important do you feel that extra step is for your backers?
It is super important to me to make sure that EVERYONE can get Dice Bazaar. I am using ShipNaked for shipping and fulfillment and they assure their customers that they ship all over the world, customs friendly. To have this level of service, I will not be making extra money off of my backers and their pledges, instead, that money is going directly towards shipping and getting the game produced. After-all, that is what KS is all about.
 

What were your major “mistakes” in the first Dice Bazaar campaign that you’ve been fixing for the relaunch?
Shipping. That was by far the biggest hurdle. My biggest mistake was making the box large. That not only cost more, it weighed more and cost MUCH more in shipping costs. Reducing the box size and getting rid of luxuries like player boards got the weight down and fixed the issues from my past campaign allowing me to price the game $10 lower!
 

Where did the idea for Dice Bazaar come from?
I was toying with many dice game ideas before stumbling on what Dice Bazaar is now. Since I wanted to keep the game in the family category, I instantly thought of having the dice be the currency in the game. After many prototypes I found that it not only worked, but memories of going to these types of Bazaars in Uzbekistan when I was child stood out. The rest just fell into place after months of testing and tweaking.
 Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 11.42.26 AM

When did you know you had something special?
I knew I had something fun when I tested the game with strangers at a local convention. Smiles, laughter, even shouting over a stolen good was an indicator. Since then, it’s happened more and more and because of that, I’m all in.

What was the worst part of preparing your Kickstarter campaign?
It’s just so much work! If I had to choose the “worst” thing about preparing the campaign it would have to be checking and double checking and triple checking all of the numbers and costs.
 

What was the most difficult part of designing Dice Bazaar?
Finding the part that makes the game different yet fun. I came up with the fluctuating market idea when I realized that most other roll and match games had dice on the cards and the game was stagnant. The market makes things exciting and allows the chance for player’s dice to stay on the board instead of being completely knocked off. The hard part was figuring out why and how many cards and dice to use. Do I have a 6th product, should I have multiple products? A balancing act that can only be figured out though testing and many, many plays.
 

What was your favorite part of designing it?
My favorite part was the creating the art. Aside from that I think it would have to be when I thought of the idea of allowing players to trade products. That really took the game to next level and gave it that zing other games didn’t have.
Dice Bazaar 1
Do you have any advice for designers and project creators reading?
Don’t give up if you fail, brush it off and try again. Iterate, change, tweak, test. Take feedback with a grain of salt, but listen to each and every word. Figure out why they gave that feedback more so then what the feedback was. At the end of the day you might need to make changes but keep in mind your goal and your vision as everyone has a different opinion. :)
 
Best,
FEDOR SOSNIN
USER EXPERIENCE DESIGNER
WE MAKE APPS, WEBSITES, & GAMES

Really cool stuff, huh? This guy has really busted his butt to deliver the kind of service and beautiful product I hope to present. Please, visit Twitter or Facebook and thank him for sharing, and take a peek at his Kickstarter campaign. He’s doing some great stuff that we can all learn from 😀

#34: Get the Word Out (KS Lesson #2)

Here we are: my second lesson on things I should and could have done better with this campaign.  Last time, I really only spoke about my reactions to the launch. This time, however, we get down and dirty with decisions I made (or didn’t) and what I will do differently next time.

Marketing sucks. Marketing is not advertising; although advertising (short-term) is part of a marketing plan. Marketing is promoting and selling products, services, or yourself – in other words, not short-term. Marketing, unfortunately, is completely crucial to the success of a business and not even a little bit easy for those of us who are more introverted. And marketing is where I failed miserably.

If you look at my Kickstarter profile, you’ll see that I’ve backed a lot of projects – 3 of those I backed purely because the creators got me all excited with posts on Twitter. I have also spent most of 3 years researching how to successfully launch a publishing business through crowdfunding. Therefore, I have seen a lot of successes. I already know (and you should, too) that I need to talk all over social media about tests and development; share pictures as I hand build prototypes, play games at conventions, game stores, and UnPub style events, and update / upgrade the illustrations and graphic design; and build the Kickstarter page early so that I can get feedback and allow people to build/share excitement before it launches.

Unfortunately, I allowed myself to run into a STUPID mental-block. Hot Pursuit has very little art and basically no graphic design (4 different illustrations and no text or icons), and it was developed in a very short time. Because I didn’t have all that early stuff to share, I stopped. Instead of looking for alternatives / solutions, I trusted advertising, friends, and a good product to carry my campaign. Well, hope and good intentions don’t go far in the fickle world of crowdfunding.

Here’s what I’m doing next time:

  • Share More – I’ve mentioned this before pertaining to the blog itself. I’m still learning how to talk more. Fortunately, this blog is not just a reason to put myself out there but a good method. Game design is something I LOVE talking about. I could go all stinking day. As I share more here, I’m building the skills and habits necessary to share more about my games, too.
  • Advertise Early – Dumb mistake here which mostly comes down to a lack of actionable research. Most project creators I follow spend the big advertising bucks mid to late campaign to counter the mid-campaign slump and magnify the big boost that typically comes in the last 48 hours. Well, I only recently figured out that several great advertising avenues are really affordable. Absurdly affordable. Next time, to help build excitement/interest and offset my really small social media reach, I will start advertising BEFORE the campaign.
  • More Reviews – My initial plan didn’t involve the avalanche of reviews that is totally possible and often present on first-time creator projects. Mostly, I didn’t want to bother reviewers I don’t actually follow. Plus, reviews cost money (between printing and mailing, the 2 reviews I currently have cost roughly $250) and even really high profile reviewers don’t actually sell a lot of games. They do help but it’s not typically a direct results kind of thing. I had forgotten about a few important aspects of reviews, though. They help build interest, validate the quality of the game, and (most importantly) give me something to share. Best of all, that last part is an opportunity to help myself and them. As you can probably guess, I’ll be making use of more reviews in the future.
  • Launch Party – I didn’t throw one. I don’t have a large group of friends, a big or busy local game store, or, really, any experience in throwing parties. A common alternative is a Facebook “party”. Again, I have a fairly small social reach. Basically, I had no good plan until Tuesday, when I had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Patio at The Board of Games. His is one of many organizations around the country which organize game groups in bigger cities and offer marketing / advertising services. What I should have done is take advantage of their hosting services. Therefore, next time, I’ll coordinate with them to advertise and feature my game at one of their bigger game nights and invite everyone I can to my launch party. Remember: it’s okay to ask for help 😉
  • Videos – This one I knew was important before I started but was unable to pull together the resources to make it happen. Videos showcasing your gameplay are always important. Unfortunately, my less than solid plans fell through. With so very many new projects launching on Kickstarter every day, there is no reason for backers to assume I’m not just another idiot. Hot Pursuit sounds fairly gimmicky, looks too simple, and needs to be played to be believed by average gamers. That coupled with the fact that most people would rather watch a video than read some rules means I painted myself into a stupid corner. I KNOW that Hot Pursuit is a great game – a lot of fun, very portable, and deceptively difficult. This isn’t my first design and I’ve done my research and tested the game. Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to see the fun without playing. Therefore, I must and, going forward, will always make sure I have videos ready upon launch to help others see what I see.
  • Written Fiction – I don’t consider this a mistake; instead, a missed opportunity. I have plans for fiction written around a much bigger series of Sci-fi games I’d like to publish later on down the line. However, I failed to consider the potential for this particular game. Writings which bring to life the 4 different stories in Hot Pursuit would be fun to write and great opportunities for sharing. Plus, some people actually enjoy reading that sort of thing.

Understand that this is not written from a place of failure or with a defeated heart. These are simply things fresh in my mind right now. I deliberately launched Hot Pursuit first and at this time of year. I have high hopes of funding, still, but this project is both a launching point and a chance to learn. Now, what do you think? What else could I have done to better prepare for launch?

#33: Locomotion

As promised, to celebrate my growing Kickstarter campaign I am continuing to share lessons learned from and general thoughts on Hot Pursuit. This will be a discussion about an aspect of game play that I obtusely ignored. Not intentionally – it just wasn’t something I thought much about.

Take a moment to think about 2 of your favorite games which feel the most dissimilar. So, not a couple of drafting games (which I love). Make sure they are actually different. For example, Coup and Love Letter.

Yes, they are both very short, inexpensive card games featuring player elimination. Sure, they both involve a level of bluffing and deduction (what your opponent is hiding is important information). This is where the “obtuse” part comes in. It took a year of game design for me to figure this out: Love Letter’s cards force the game to progress and end; Coup relies on the players to progress the game (the cards are simply tools).

You may be thinking, “Duh, Derik.” If not, bless you. Here’s the break down:

  • In Love Letter, the player’s turn consists of drawing one card and discarding one card for a stated effect. The game ends when there are no cards to draw or all but one player is eliminated.  The key here is those cards and effects. They are structured in a way that forces conflict. You see, players MUST discard a card and use it’s effect. Those effects all revolve around eliminating a player or gathering information in order to eventually eliminate a player. In other words, players are moved toward the end of the game by force and they can do nothing to fight it.
  • In Coup, the cards themselves have very little affect on the actual game. It really comes down to how good you are at bluffing, or how badly you can bluff when you are actually telling the truth. That’s it. That’s the crux. Sure, there is some money collection, and money is used to pay for murd… influence, but the speed with which you are able to collect said money still comes down to your bluffs. So, if everyone plays poorly and only collects “Income” (1 coin), the game rules will force an end in (10 x #Players) + (4 x #Players) – 1 turns. A.K.A. a real long time.

By now you’re probably thinking, “Why’s that matter?” Well, here’s why:

Hot Pursuit is very much a player driven game (like Coup). The game will never force itself into an end-state because the cards do nothing in and of themselves. The only way the game ends is if someone is able to wrangle the 2 (or 3, depending on story) “Key” cards (Blue, Pink, or Red) into their hand, facing them. It takes memory, deduction, and a little deception – A.K.A. a lot of work. This isn’t necessarily a problem, though. The fact that almost every single new player HORDES a Key card when they find one does make it a serious problem. You see, Hot Pursuit was originally a 3 – 10 player free-for-all. With everyone out for themselves, and the vast majority of them hording at every opportunity, games go NO WHERE in a really long, painful time. That’s a great illustration of why Love Letter is so easy to teach: even playing poorly with no direction, the game still ends very quickly and has a definite winner.

One of the toughest pieces of feedback I received (and it was only twice) was that the early game was boring because it didn’t go anywhere. At the time, I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about. When I played with experienced players, the games were tough, tense, and terrific (heh). But, that was the key. New players wanted the game to tell them what to do – they wanted the cards to do something. Most people couldn’t wrap their head around a game-plan for acquiring both Key cards because they couldn’t bear to give up the one they knew about.

Coup game a clear reason for your action every turn: to gain enough money to eliminate the other players before they eliminate you. Ultimately, Hot Pursuit stalled because no one had a clear path to victory. Sure, get the 2 cards, but how?  –  See that? There was no direction to the game. I couldn’t see this problem until I sat down at a convention with game designers/publishers and a few hardcore gamers. We stalled. Badly enough that everyone started throwing out ideas on how to fix it. A lot of thoughts revolved around adding card abilities (making it component driven), which I refused to do because it violated a primary design goal. Then, Brent Critchfield suggested I make it cooperative. Well, that won’t work because it’ll take maybe 3 turns to win. “Okay. How about cooperative with a traitor working against the rest?”

BAM!

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner! Some clean-up and story writing still needed to be added in, but all of a sudden players had a distinct goal to reach for. Teaching is still a little rough because of the 2 goals and counter-intuitive play (it’s HARD not looking at the card you are being handed), but everyone gets it by the end of their first game. Better yet, they want a do-over when they lose and they feel smart when they win. And they should – it ain’t easy!

Funny enough, this same lesson applies to the solitaire version of Hot Pursuit. It had a reasonable goal (get the Blue, Pink, and Red cards together, in your hand, facing you) and an AI to continuously mess up what you know about card positions, but it would never end until you either solved the puzzle or gave up and let the “bad guys” win. Until we added a timer. Just a stack of extra Yellow “crowd” cards made all the difference. Now, there was a clear and ominous goal: collect tie the paper trail (Red Document) to the Corrupt Commissioner and Dirty Detective before they are able to wash away their sins. As the crowd grew from the timer you also got this great visual of the Corrupt Commissioner making the evidence disappear forever into the city.

I really love player driven games for just that reason – they are typically tough and have high social interactivity. But, now I know that I have to make sure my player driven games have a clear direction – a relatable  goal.

What about you? What are 2 of your favorite dissimilar games? What makes them different and how is it important to your enjoyment?

#32: Day 1 Down; 29 to Go

Good morning. This is a monumental day. I have waited a year and a half for today. Many, many hours of research, planning, saving and spending, 32 blog posts, countless smiles and hand shakes,  and innumerable prayers have gone out in preparation for today. What day is it?

THE DAY AFTER I LAUNCHED MY FIRST KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN!

It’s a pretty amazing thing. I’m not funded, yet. I still don’t know everything there is to know. But, I finally took this particular first-step. No matter how much I studied, asked, planned, and prepared, some things you just can never know until you FINALLY launch out into the real world and watch that rocket fly. Like always, I’m excited to share with you what I figured out – just yesterday 😉

#1: The spam is incredible.
Holy smokes the spam. Day 1 and I have at least as many spam messages through Kickstarter and personal emails as I do backers. The thing I find most surprising about the spam, though, is the way they start by wishing me success but apologizing for not having the money to back my project. I have a $1 tier. Even my slightly disinterested co-worker can afford to back my project. I would actually have read their emails and weighted their offers if they hadn’t started by telling me they couldn’t invest $1 in a business partnership.

#2: It will be easier than you expect.
This one also caught me by surprise. Getting ready for yesterday was one of the scariest endeavors of my life. Some nights, the thought of launching would make me shake with fear. I would get sick researching shipping and printing costs because I dreaded the idea of anyone feeling cheated by my product.  Ugh! I almost delayed my launch extra days. That morning, though, all the pieces fell into place just as I planned. I was about to go to bed and wait another day. But I looked over the page again and came to the realization that I had already done everything. I know I made a few mistakes, but another day would not have changed anything. Ever since then, it’s been like driving on a road trip. I know where I’m headed. I know how to get there. The journey has started. If I keep following the signs, making the appropriate stops for food and gas, and stay alert, I will arrive at my dream. Now, I’m not saying it’s a struggle to stay awake because I’m so bored. Just that it isn’t the nightmare that my fear-racked mind had built it up to be. Don’t forget that you have friends. Those friends would love to help you out if only you would ask 😀

#3: You will cry.
Holy cow the people! We all hope our friends and family will support us. Every single person I have asked for help has jumped on board. It’s amazing. I don’t know who my first backer is. In fact, I don’t recognize 5 out of my first 7 backers. It’s crazy! The outpouring of support has been unbelievable! Will it keep up? I can only hope. I do know for certain, though, that I really wish I could hug every single backer for believing in me and my game. Even now I’m tearing up. With 103 backed projects, I never imagined I could be making someone else feel like this. You should know right now, every time you back a project, you are making someone cry 😉

#4: Stop planning and start preparing. 
I hope that if you write a blog offering advice and sharing lessons learned, you’ll actually listen to yourself. Despite my #1 lesson (Just do Something), roughly half of my anxiety in getting ready for launch has resulted in my planning – only planning. This was my biggest mistake. I will probably mention it in every single “Lesson Learned” regarding Kickstarter because it was such a debilitating, stupid, and expensive mistake. Plenty of reasonable sounding excuses kept me from building my page when I could have and gave me pause in asking for quotes from printers and shippers. None of them were good enough, though. All of them hurt me in the long run. Are you thinking about running a Kickstarter campaign, too? Stop planning and start preparing! 

That’s all for now. Feel free to swing by the campaign, checkout how I’m handling the updates, see how I structured my tiers, and hold your breath with me as I wait to see if I properly budgeted my shipping costs. Have a great day!

#31: Perception (Set in Stone)

With the launch of my first ever Kickstarter campaign looming (Febuary 1st), I figured now would be a good time to start listing all the crazy things I’ve learned in this mad race (because the amount of planning, preparation, and work needed is really starting to feel like a dash to the finish).  To that end, I think my first lesson will be a more universal one.

To date, Hot Pursuit is the closest I have come to taking a game from concept to final, published product. Although I’ve printed “real” on-demand copies of other games and even spent money on art, this is the first time I’ve gotten my game into the hands of other people and sought out 3rd party reviews. Therefore, this particular game has seen many different “coverings” or art styles, a few different methods of play, quite a few different boxes, and has even been to 2 conventions and a 1 day event.

Through all of those different appearances and various players, I think my most surprising lesson has been that perception matters.

Now, this has little to do with the fact that a cohesive story or setting makes the game easier to teach or that you’ll get more people to try prototypes with some kind of art (instead of hand-writing on index cards). Neither does this have to do with getting testers or future customers to take you seriously. While I completely advocate doing everything in your power to respect the precious time given to you by testers, these aren’t the topics I’m talking about, today.

What I discovered, quite by accident, is that the kind of feedback you receive and how people talk about your game depends a lot on how players perceive your game. While the rest of the post operates on a generalization, understand that I am working on the premise of mostly unsolicited feedback from NEW players. Here are the 3 main ways that players see the games they are trying out:

1 – Early prototype (Proof of Concept)
2 – Working prototype
3 – “Finished” product

This list is based purely on how people react to playing my game and the way they talk about it afterwards. But what does it mean?

Well, when the game is clearly an early prototype, new players tend to treat the game as an experiment – “will this thing work?” As such, without specific prompting, they tend to talk mostly about whether or not it worked. Sometimes, they will even feel strongly enough to tell you what specifically did or did not work. This step is pretty awful on testers. They aren’t getting much out of it and have plenty of other things they could be having fun with. So, try not to abuse testers by spending a lot of time with that hot mess in front of them.

Finished” product means that you have commissioned most, if not all, of the art and have a great prototype for people to play.  It may not actually be the FINAL product, but it should look like it and be discussed as if it is. My absolute favorite experience in this step was at this past year’s Christmas and New Year’s parties. At both parties I and/or my wife told the testers that this was “my” game. Well, most of us arrived with several games because the majority of the day was being spent playing games (also known as heaven). Apparently, they didn’t get our point. At both parties, we played multiple games. Each party surprised me with the people who “got it” and ran the table. It was great! Each session ended with a quick – “That was neat. Where’d you get it?” It’s MY game – I made it 😀 (it’s tough not to follow those words with that face). “Oh!” Yeah, I’ll be seeking funding for an actual print run in February. “Wow. I’d totally buy that!”

See how the communication was about the fun had and buying the game? Yup, that’s what I needed to hear – if they liked it and whether they would buy it (even with the current art and graphic design).

Working prototype. In some ways, I really hate this step, and it all comes down to how players perceive which step you are at. You see, “working prototype” is when your game mostly works. Mostly. Therefore, you are obviously seeking to make it better. Right? God, I hope so because the only feedback you are going to get will be things to add to make it awesome. Don’t ever think you are just going to test out this one idea. Early in development, this is fantastic. 3 of my favorite games in development wouldn’t really be a game if not for testers throwing ideas at me. A word of warning – I am getting pretty good at just saying “Sure!” instead of explaining ANY of what is actually going through my mind.

“How can you hate that?” you are probably asking yourself. Well, let me give you another story from the New Year’s party. I took Into a New World with me. I commissioned gorgeous art for the tiles and mocked up a pretty box. This WAS going to be Lagniappe’s first game until Willis and I came up with Hot Pursuit. I had the opportunity to play it with a couple of guys who didn’t quite have enough time to play chess. The first game was a learning experience. The second game was awesome. One of the guys was looking over my box trying to figure out who on earth made it. “Is this from a Japanese designer?” he asked. He seemed to be really enjoying working through strategies and probabilities. We had some pretty exciting discussions about the gameplay, components, etc. 😀 Unfortunately, after he discovered it was MY design, the conversation quickly turned. The next 20 minutes was him giving me his thoughts on box size / construction, component sourcing, and finding manufacturers via his favorite websites.

He only spent all that time giving me advice because he was interested and wanted to help. Which is great! Immensely appreciated. However, I have already spent over a year researching and planning all of that. The moment people discover that the game they just tried out is a prototype, they immediately back up to the concept of a working prototype – something which can and probably should be “fixed”. Surprisingly, it is often more difficult for me to accept those “fixes” on a “finished” game than when it’s brutally honest feedback on a broken game. Ugh.

Please, keep in mind that this is an observation – not a complaint. Hopefully, I can save you from some of the stress I’ve experienced with these unexpected reactions. That being said, there are steps you can take to ensure that the table talk doesn’t veer off point. Obviously, you can try controlling the conversation by asking pointed questions and using feedback forms. If you are like me and you prefer a more natural, organic conversation, then you’ll need to control their perception. Use a professional, finished looking prototype, be candid about the tremendous amount of work and research you’ve already put in, and be careful with your words – talk about how excited you are to finally publish, instead of how excited you are to finish. If you can give the impression that your design is set in stone, then new players are more inclined to talk about how much they enjoyed the game, if they would buy it, and how much they think it’s worth.

What do you think? How do you like to carry the conversation with new players?