Kickstarter Log 4 – Prototypes

This is a really good point to say that on just about all of these topics there will be wildly differing opinions on what to do depending on who you ask. This is really about my experience. And this is my first time out, so if I do something that completely fails, I’ll come back and let you know. But for now, let’s begin.

What kind of prototype do you need? Before I can answer that, I have to ask: where are you in the process?

You have an idea for a game. Just a germ of an idea. Just a little squiggly sperm of a concept, looking for an egg to fertilize. Cool. You don’t need anything fancy at the moment. Some people create initial prototypes with paper and pen, some print things out on computers, some do stuff with stickers. You’re going to throw all of these things away before too long, so if you spend more than 20 bucks total you’re probably spending too much. Your goal in the beginning is just to get items that you can use. Get it going as quickly as possible, because it is only in testing that you’ll realize how badly you screwed up.

But eventually you’re going to get out of the initial testing phase and you’ll want the rest of the world to start looking at your game. What do you do at that point?

Some will tell you that a prototype is a prototype and it doesn’t really matter what it looks like as long as it is legible. That’s cool. It’s fair. And I would probably play a game that looked rough and hand-made if the gameplay was engaging. But personally, when I bring my games out for the rest of the world to play, I want at least a step up from that.

There are a number of different services that you can use to create prototypes. Personally, I use The GameCrafter (www.thegamecrafter.com) because they have many different parts and pieces, and I’ve been very satisfied with the service. I find uploading and making games on there pretty simple, but you may find that a different service works better for you.

Now that Adobe Photoshop is 10 bucks a month, it’s a little tough to recommend any other service for creating files for games. If you want to really make this game, you’re going to have to make some investments. And for me, Photoshop is a no-brainer. (Others love inDesign, which I have not used. I am an old Photoshop vet, so that’s just me. Bottom line: you can probably afford better than free).

So now I’ve got my creation tool and the company that will create my prototype. What next?

In the last log I talked about art. Is art strictly necessary for your prototype. No, it is not. But is it nice? Is it helpful? Does it get people excited about your game? You bet your ass.

Let’s take the prototype for Bill Shakespeare is Dead.


Not the greatest pictures in the world, I know. But it gives you an idea of what I’m talking about in terms of completion in the prototype phase. It’s a solid-looking box. It’s filled with cards (see other pictures below) and small booklets. It’s got cover art and a blurb on the back. Is this what it’s going to look like at retail? No. But would it look ridiculous sitting on the shelf of a game store? Personally, I don’t think so.

For the purposes of clarity, this wasn’t free. Or even particularly cheap. I paid about 70 dollars for the piece of art to go on the cover. I paid about 50 dollars for the prototype itself. It’s not cheap. But when I do a demo at a game store or at a convention (or even with friends!) people compliment the cards. They take notice of the art. They know I’m serious, and with the large amount of crap that gets shoveled onto Kickstarter on a daily basis, having some credibility goes a long way.

As a note, I made a smaller version of the game to send to reviewers. I’m the first to acknowledge that my prototype is way too expensive to make en masse, so I made an edition that I can print a little more freely. It’s not the full version of the game, but it’s enough to play and review. And it is clearly indicated in those copies what isn’t there (just missing some white cards, so the game can be played fewer times before getting repeats). I’ll talk more about reviewers at a different time. You can check out a few pictures of the review copy below.

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What do you think? Do you take games more seriously if the prototype looks quality? Do you care about quality prototypes for your own games?

In the next log – Testing.

Kickstarter Log 3 – Art

This is the log where I talk about art, artists, and all of that good stuff.

Here’s the first thing: if you are taking your game to market, you need art for it. And I’m not talking about placeholder art. Everyone has placeholder art. You need final art. You need professional, top-notch art.

Now that doesn’t mean you need all the final art. Far from it. Part of the reason we take games to Kickstarter is because we need to bridge the funding gap, so nobody really expects that 100% of the assets are going to be complete. So, you might ask, why bother to get art at all? Here are a couple reasons:

1. Kickstarter is as much a popularity contest as prom. When someone checks out your Kickstarter page, it is the visuals that are really going to hook them. Yes, you need to have your KS page well composed and free of spelling/grammar errors (you checked for that, right?). But if you lack images, or if your images don’t look very good, I can all but guarantee that you’re not going to get backers.

2. Quality art shows investment. Anyone can put something up on Kickstarter. Okay not anyone, but close to anyone. And what that means is that there is a lot of crap on Kickstarter. A lot. A ton. It’s not hard to spot, but it means that the waves of crap are so high and vigorous that mediocre, well-meaning projects can get lost. Don’t let that happen to you! Take your own time, take your own money, and make sure you have quality art for your project. If you can’t be bothered to spend money on your project, nobody else will either.

So what do you do? If you’re like me, and your artistic talent stops at stick figures, you’re going to need to hire an artist. Luckily, you’re reading this on the internet. And that means that you already have the ability to find an artist, and it’s just a click away.

Everyone you talk to is going to have a different opinion on where to go to find an artist. There’s no wrong answer, but I’ll tell you where I go. The website I go to is http://www.conceptart.org and it’s really fantastic. Artists of all styles and experience levels hang out there, and they’re always looking for jobs. Put up an ad there and you’re sure to get some quotes on your project.

Some tips:

–Be really clear about what you’re looking for. You want a spaceship? That’s great. What’s it doing? What’s in the background? Is it a big ship? Is it old or new? Do you want this in gritty colored pencils? Forlorn pastels?

–Have an awareness of your budget. Don’t be ashamed of what you can or can’t spend. If you’ve got a couple hundred bucks to kick around, that’s great. If you’ve got $35 bucks to spend, that’s fine. You’re going to get quotes that are way, way outside your price range. You’re going to get artists that are hungry for work and ready to deal. Don’t disrespect anyone, but don’t feel like you have to apologize for what you can spend.

–Be flexible. If you come into the project with one style in mind and someone blows you away with a different style, go for it! Trust your gut! When you hand this over to someone, they are your collaborator, not your slave. They are going to have their own take on the project, so if you get a good feeling about it, make the investment and see where it goes.

Okay, so you find a great artist and you’ve got a price point. Now what? Now, you get to put on your lawyer hat for a moment. You need a contract.

“But wait!” I hear you say. “I don’t need a contract. We’re just doing this real quick thing. It’s just a little project. It’s just 20 bucks. It’s just blah blah blah blah blah.” No, shut up. Shut it. You need a contract. If you are paying a person for a thing that has to do with this game you’ve put your soul into, you need protection. And that artist needs protection from you, too. Everyone needs protection. So consider this a condom: it’s necessary, it’s helpful, and it takes almost no effort to make it work. Why no effort? Because I’m going to put the contract I use right here:

GAME COMPANY
Name:
Organization:
Address:
E-mail address:
Phone number:

ARTIST
Name:
Address:
E-mail address:
Phone number:

Project Information
Artwork shall be made on or uploaded to a digital medium and shall be transmitted to GAME COMPANY as files that are suitable for uploading to the website, preferably high-resolution JPEG. This is where you put a description of the artwork. Describe it precisely. Include links to reference photos if you have them available. If you are vague in your description here, you’re not allowed to be pissy about it later if it comes out differently. Make sure you’re on the same page.

Project Payment
The project price is based upon a negotiated package price for the entire project of $ dollars. This amount shall be paid before the work begins, and shall be transmitted via Paypal. If you don’t have Paypal, just do yourself a favor and get one. You don’t have to like it. I hate Paypal. Hate the company. But there’s currently widely-used alternative, so just do it.

Revisions
It is understood that the project price quoted does not include an unlimited number of revisions. Satisfaction is, of course, the final goal. But it is my experience that good communication throughout the project can help limit the number of revisions that are needed. Minor changes and tweaks are part of the process. Do-overs are a symptom of poor communication. Having said that, we should agree that if there are any questions during the creation of the artwork, these questions should be raised and sent via email, along with the current state of the artwork, so that we limit the amount of work that is needed at the end. This contract stipulates that two minor-to-moderate revisions are included with the quoted price. Anything beyond that will require further negotiations. Yes, this section does not favor the game creator. You could, in theory, delete this. But I promise you, your relationship with your artist will be much more fruitful if they know you’re not a slave-driver.

Ownership of Artwork/Files
Upon full payment and completion of the project, GAME COMPANY shall obtain ownership of the final artwork/files to use and distribute as they see fit. ARTIST retains the right to use the completed project and any preliminary designs for the purpose of design competitions, future publications on design, educational purposes, marketing materials and portfolio. Where the artwork appears, ARTIST shall be given credit on the same page. Do not delete this section. This is the absolute most important section of the contract. This IS the contract. What this means is that you get to use the work for what you need, and the artist gets to use it for what they need. It’s a beneficial relationship.

Production Schedule/Delivery of Project
ARTIST agrees that this artwork shall be completed within _____ days of agreement to this contract. If deviation to the schedule is necessary, prior notification is required. If ARTIST misses the deadline without prior notification, penalties may be assessed. GAME COMPANY agrees that any disagreements, questions, or claims against the artwork must be established within ten (10) days of delivery. Failure to make such claim within the stated period shall constitute irrevocable acceptance and an admission that they fully comply with terms, conditions and specifications. This is the part your artist fills in, not you. They will know how long they need, and any artist worth their salt will put a reasonable time frame here and beat it.

Cancellation
In the event of cancellation of the project, ownership of all copyrights and the original artwork and disks shall be retained by ARTIST, and a fee for work completed, based on the contract price and expenses already incurred, shall be paid by GAME COMPANY.

Acceptance of Agreement
The above prices, specifications and conditions are hereby accepted. ARTIST is authorized to execute the project as outlined in this agreement. Payment will be made as proposed above. This agreement is not valid until signed by ARTIST and returned to GAME COMPANY.
GAME COMPANY (Your name here) Please print your name here:
Date:

ARTIST () Please print your name here:
Date:

So there you go! Now you have no excuse for not having a contract. Because if you read this, and you still choose not to have a contract when you are getting art for your project, you deserve every bit of misery that might come from it. Don’t be stupid!

All that being said, here’s some art for my own project! Working with my awesome artist, she painted this beautiful piece that will be on the cover of Bill Shakespeare is Dead. Check it!

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Do you have great tips for finding artists? Are you an artist with some advice for designers? Do you have some horror stories? Share below!

In the next post: Prototypes

Kickstarter Log 2 – The Game

As promised, this log is talking about the game itself. The game I’m going to Kickstart. The one I’m taking to market less than six months from now. Holy cow that’s a big realization.

 

Anywho, the game is called Bill Shakespeare is Dead. You can go directly to the game’s page if you wish, but I’ll summarize it here, too. In short, players are members of The King’s Men, the theatre troupe that performed at The Globe Theatre. It’s opening night of a brand new play and the star playwright, Bill Shakespeare, is dead. And he had the script. So now, using nothing but bits of the script and obscene scribblings by Bill, you have to put on a show.

 

If you’ve played Cards Against Humanity, this game lives in the same kind of world. Players draw from a deck of nouns and verbs, and other players are chosen to perform scenes from the play. When gaps occur in the scene, one player acting as the Stage Manager will call for a verb or noun, and it’s everyone else’s job to shout out what they think fits best from the cards they’ve drawn. Much silliness abounds. It’s a party game, and the more ridiculous you get with it, the better.

 

So if you’re a party game player, you probably own the aforementioned Cards Against Humanity. So, you might be thinking to yourself as you stroke your non-existent goatee, why would I want to buy this new game?

 

Welp, here’s two reason. First and foremost, this game is fast. You may play one of CAH’s white cards every few minutes at best in that game. In Bill Shakespeare is Dead, you’re playing several cards a minute, so you have to think fast and act faster. Secondly, if you happen to have a bunch of monochromatic cards with nouns on them lying ar0und, they are compatible with Bill Shakespeare is Dead. So this could be the perfect thing to add some high brow/low brow spice to your game night.

 

/end commercial.

 

I’m proud of this game. But then again, I’ve got five prototypes, and I’m proud of them all. So why am I taking this one to market and not one of the others? The answer is so disappointingly practical: cost. All the other prototypes (with the exception of Give and Take) are very art-heavy. Art is expensive. Artists need to eat too, oddly enough. So if you are starting out your first game, and you have practically zero moneys, you can’t just jump into a game that requires a lot of moneys to get out the door.

 

But, you might ask, isn’t that the point of Kickstarter? To raise funds for the game?

 

Yes and no. Yes, that’s the point of Kickstarter. But no, that doesn’t mean you should just have something that feels wholly unfinished and ask people to pay money for it. If you have a game that requires a lot of art, and your game has very very little art, that’s not fun. That doesn’t make for a good Kickstarter page, and people will throw things at you.

 

So yeah, I could just shovel anything onto Kickstarter in whatever state it’s in, but I don’t like that. Instead, I want something that is at least mostly complete. Thus, Bill Shakespeare is Dead. It is very much not an art-heavy work, so I can pay for most of the art myself, before funding, and have the eventual funding goal lower so that we’re focused on manufacturing instead of design.

 

God, I sound all practical. That’s horrible.

 

In the next log: Artists.

Interview: Dan Letzring

In an effort to better understand what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to Kickstarter campaigns, I decided to begin reaching out to those who have done them (whether they have succeeded or not). Here’s the first interview with Letiman Games’ Dan Letzring.

 

–Can you tell us a little about yourself, your background, and other hobbies?
– My name is Dan Letzring and I have always been interested in making games but I did not start doing it seriously until around July, 2013 when I happened upon the Game Crafter.  The website for my games is http://www.letimangames.com.  Outside of gaming, I spend most of my time with my daughter and wife (who is pregnant with daughter #2!).

–What is your current favorite tabletop game?
– There are so many to choose from!  I would have to say that we play and love so many and we have different favorites depending on the groups we are playing with but we always come back to Settlers and Pandemic.

–What kind of games do you enjoy working on?
– I am open to working on any type of project but right now I am working on more family oriented gateway games.

–Earlier this year you ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for Ph. D. The Game. Can you talk a little about the game itself?
– Well the game is obviously targeted to a niche audience: grad students (although it is actually fun for anyone, they just might not get all of the inside jokes).  It is a card game and players collect enough “Figure Cards”, submit them for review and their publication either gets accepted or rejected (based on a card draw from a REVIEW DECK).  Collect 3 Accepted cards and you win.  But there are all sorts of cards that screw the other players (strong take that mechanism) and there are lab member cards that you play in front of you to help you complete your project and win faster.  I like the mechanism of the random card draw for the review.  It keeps you on the edge of your seat when you or another player are going for their win!

–What do you feel you did right during the campaign?
– One thing I did was I dropped my original goal of 4,400 down to 2,200.  When I funded at 4,800 this basically allowed a few extra stretch goals that we would not have unlocked had the goal been 4,400.  I also communicated with my backers often.  I posted 20 updates in total and messaged every backer when I received a pledge.  This actually created a nice personal interaction with my backers and we were even able to share our experiences in grad school together.  It was nice to have connections like that with the backers.

–What do you feel you could have improved on?
– Where do I begin?  This was my first campaign and I was a Kickstarter newbie, so I made A LOT of mistakes.  I did not have any independent reviews at the time and I think that hurt my campaign a lot.  Since there were no reviews, I also wish that I posted a free PnP so that potential backers could have played it first.  I also overpriced the game.  I was nervous about not getting many backers and wanted to make the most of the backers I did get but I wish that I had less expensive reward levels to encourage people on the fence to take a leap of faith with the game.  Also, I was using the Kickstarter to fund artwork but games that are more polished and have more completed artwork seem to have a great initial eye appeal.  My artwork was originally (self-admittedly) bad and that is why I was trying to fund for updating it, but people may have been more drawn to my game if the artwork was already appealing.

–What was your strategy for connecting with backers and finding new backers? Did you do any paid advertising?
– I posted on a handful of free sites including Boardgamegeek’s crowd funding forum and on crowdfundingforum.com.  All Us Geeks has a great promotion where they post an ad for your kickstarter and all they ask is that you send them a copy of your game in return.  Since Jeff and the rest of the folks at AUG have much deeper connections in the gaming community than I do, I was very appreciate of this opportunity.  Lastly, I posted news announcements with The Game Crafter twice throughout the campaign.  They do this for free as long as you agree to fulfill your Kickstarter rewards with their services.

–What are you working on next?
– My latest game is called Dino Dude Ranch and it is designed to be a light family game that is fun for both gamers and non-gamers.  I am working with an artist now to finish up some images for it and am looking to get it to kickstarter in the first quarter of 2015.  I am also working on a few other smaller family games as well as throwing around the idea of a co-op.  None of them are too far along right now as I am focusing on Dino Dude Ranch and spending time with my family.

Big thanks to Dan for sharing his thoughts!

Kickstarter Log 1 – The Beginning

So, as the title implies, I am planning a Kickstarter. It’s not happening any time soon, so there won’t be any big, juicy updates yet. And really, that’s how it should be. I say “I’m planning a Kickstarter”, but what it really means is that “A Kickstarter campaign will happen five or more months from now.”

 

So back here, months before anything is going to be launched, what do I do? How do I start preparing?

 

1. Testing. The game is in beta, but there is still a good deal of testing left to do.

 

2. Research. Even way back here, I can begin market research, beginning looking at other blogs. Interact with the community. Build a network.

 

3. Refine. Between now and then, the art will need a good deal of polish. Now’s the time to do that!

 

In the next log: the game itself.

House Rules

Not a long post today (I’m getting married really soon, so my attention is slightly diverted!) but this is a post I’ve been thinking of awhile, and may expand on later. What games do you enjoy, but only when you have house rules in place?

 

This might be a multi-part post, but for today my thoughts are on Last Night on Earth. I’m an absolute sucker for theme-heavy games. I love getting into the tone and story of a game, and even doing some roleplaying if it makes sense (ask me how I play BSG and it will be different with every character!). So LNOE is a no-brainer for me (pun intended). I love the theme, the artwork is great, and I even like the cheesy soundtrack that comes along with it. Unfortunately, the combat just doesn’t match how much I love the rest of the game.

 

Now, I don’t have any of the expansions, so someone can correct me if there has been an improvement made somewhere, but in LNOE it’s just too damn hard to kill zombies! Since the zombies draw so  many cards, and are only killed by rolling doubles (unless you have a ranged weapon), it often feels impossible for the humans. If the stars align and you pull good cards early, you’ve got a shot. But if the human’s plan takes too long to develop, there will just be too many zombies on the board to make it work (especially when a really unlucky turn can end with the zombies playing half a dozen cards).

 

So, we implemented a house rule that seems to at least level the playing field a tiny bit. In our scenarios, when zombies are beaten but not killed, they are stunned. So on the next turn, that particular zombie can’t take any actions. It’s a small thing, but it helps turn a completely hopeless situation into one that’s just desperate.

 

So what house rules do you have on your game nights? Share in the comments!