Monday, August 3

Market Research

Is there still a market for lovingly hand-crafted short print run games in the age of KickStarter? That's the question I asked on BGG this week in an effort to help me choose whether or not to dive in to self-publishing again as I did back in the early days of Reiver Games.

It struck me that for all my prevaricating here on the blog what I really needed to answer was two questions:

  1. Am I prepared and able to spend enough of my free time on it to make it successful, and,
  2. Are there 150 people out there who would be willing to buy the game?

I need to answer question one myself, and that's what a lot of the soul-searching has been about this last month or so, but if the answer to question two is no then question one is a moot point. I can't answer question two myself, I can only have a guess at it. So asking the question on BGG is a way to get a better understanding of the changes in the market that have occurred since I stopped hobby publishing back in 2008.

I've had quite a few answers, lots of them pointing towards using KickStarter, even with the hand-made limited edition run that I'm planning. Assuming these respondents are right and the lack of stretch goals, pledge levels and professional manufacturing doesn't sink it on KickStarter, I might have to get over my dislike of KickStarter and look into that. There's definitely a lot to be said for the free marketing that comes from running a KickStarter campaign.

In other news I've been cracking on with writing my German language app on my phone again this week, moving towards getting the spaced repetition functionality in there.

I also made it along to Newcastle Gamers on Saturday and knocked a play of Hansa Teutonica off my 'play every game I own ten times' goal. I also got to try Zombie Dice and The Palaces of Carrara for the first time too.

This week it's Newcastle Playtest on Tuesday, but sadly I'm going to have to miss it again.

Monday, July 27

A Digital Digression II

So I've made a bit of progress on Zombology this week, posting blind playtesting copies to the Leeds and London Playtest UK groups, I'm hoping to get initial feedback from those groups in a week or two, once they've met and had a chance to get a game or two in. I also got a few games in at Newcastle Playtest on Tuesday, my first attendance there in a while.

I still haven't decided what I want to do re. board game publishing, so in the meantime I've been doing some work on my German learning app instead. I loved Duolingo, which I've spent a lot of time on, but I've finished the course now. I still practice every now and again when things show up as needing refreshing but certainly not every day any more. The main thing I didn't like about Duolingo was the lack of structure. You seemed to learn words in a haphazard fashion, and it was hard to see things that were related at the same time. I learn well when I can tabulate things in my head, so I've been writing another app for my phone to provide a more structured learning experience for myself.

I started it months ago, and then in the Zombology publishing related excitement I shelved it for a while. Last week I went to Manchester on the train again for work on my own (which is unusual). I had my laptop with me to use in a demo once I got there, which gave me an opportunity to do some development on the train, and since then I've been cracking on, making some decent progress. At the moment I'm focusing on getting the basic functionality in there, rather than lots of vocabulary. That can always come later once it works. Hopefully I'll find it useful as my language learning journey continues.

I think I'm now waiting for the Zombology feedback before I make any decision on the publishing side of things. There are still three options I'm considering:

I had an established publisher who was vaguely interested, but he wanted to see blind playtesting feedback, which at the time I didn't really have. So getting the feedback from the Playtest UK network is useful for that route and will hopefully lead to a better game regardless of which route I take.

Monday, July 20

Harnessing the Power of the Network

The Newcastle Playtest group of which I'm (theoretically at least) an assistant organiser is part of a larger network of playtest groups across the UK. Playtest UK started in London and then spread to Cambridge before we became its northern-most offshoot. Since our creation, groups in Cardiff, Brighton, Leeds and Enfield have also joined, further strengthening the network. The group runs playtesting sessions at a number of UK conventions and members have published several games including Elysium, Relic Runners and Pocket Imperium. Brett J. Gilbert one of the co-organisers in Cambridge, who submitted a great game to me in my Reiver Games days, has since had great success being nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2013 and the Kennerspiel des Jahres this year.

Since my appeal for blind playtesters last week on my blog garnered a grand total of zero applicants, I've decided to harness the power of the Playtest UK group by sending copies of Zombology to a few of the other groups for testing and feedback. Leeds and London have already volunteered (thanks!) and I've agreed to playtest a game for the London group in return. Hopefully this can be an ongoing arrangement where we harness the power of the wider group to gain access to willing (and knowledgable) playtesters who we don't have a close friendship with to gain the honest, critical feedback that you need as part of your game development. Blind playtesting is important for just that reason: to get people to test the rules without you there to clear up any inconsistencies and also to get honest feedback that isn't tempered by friendship. Honest feedback is critical to get a better understanding of how your game will be received outside of the group of friends you usually play it with.

I spent Sunday evening printing and assembling their copies and will pop them in the post today. I look forward to getting an outsider's view of Zombology and using that information to help me plan my next steps.

In other news, Newcastle Playtest had to rearrange our last meeting, since very few of us could make it a couple of weeks ago. It's now tomorrow. I'm in Manchester for the day for work again but fortunately we meet near the train station, so I can amble straight over on my return, I'll just arrive a little later than usual. I'm hoping to get some feedback from the guys on the new version, which is still yet to be played!

If you'd like to try the latest version it's not too late to apply in the comments below.

Monday, July 13

A Little Encouragement

I've been quite busy with work again this week, including another long day's trip to our corporate UK head office in Manchester. But regardless I bravely soldiered on and got loads of gaming in. It's a hard job but someone's got to do it and, selfless man that I am, I took one for the team. You guys owe me.

Wednesday's Games Night suffered extreme attrition and ended up just being Ian and me. We played Lost Cities, Firefly (one towards my ten plays goal!) with the Pirates and Bounty Hunters expansion (for the first time) and Carcassonne: The Castle (one towards play every game I own once this year). Firefly was done and dusted in only 65 minutes! That's about half the length of my shortest game to date. Ian and I have both played it a few times so we knew what we were doing and that made a big difference. I liked the new story card from the expansion, but we didn't really play and of the expansion PvP rules, just by being good space citizens rather than any determined effort not to.

Thursday's trip to Manchester was with DJ and Mal, two Games Night regulars who had cried off on Wednesday. As usual, we ended up playing a bunch of board games on the iPad during the journeys, mostly Carcassonne and Hey! That's My Fish! We also played a few games of my Martian Dice app on my phone :-)

Then Saturday I finally made it to Newcastle Gamers for the first time in what feels like centuries. It was a great evening, I only played a couple of games, but it was great to catch up with everyone there and the games were good ones that helped towards my ten plays goal (Homesteaders and Aqua Romana - which is now ticked off the list).

Finally, as I was leaving I spoke briefly to a few Newcastle Playtest regulars. Last time I went to Newcastle Playtest (also some time around 1530, I'm pretty sure Henry VIII was still on the throne), I'd left a copy of Zombology with Dan for him to take to the UK Games Expo playtest event. I've not seen Dan since, so I don't know if he got a chance to try it out, or what the feedback was, but I hope to see him next week. Olly said it felt like he hadn't seen me in ages, and I said that I'd missed the last couple of sessions due to travelling for work. I jokingly said it must have been weird having a session that didn't start with a couple of games of Zombology (it's our staple opening game while we wait for people to arrive). But it did! Dan took it along and they all played it without me! A good sign.

That and another event during the week are starting to restore my confidence. On Tuesday I was out of the office at a networking event where I bumped into a friend of a friend who recognised my name and company name from my badge. She asked if I was the game designer and we chatted about that for a bit. I told her about Zombology (She started it! I didn't pounce on her like a lion that hadn't been fed in months! Well actually I did, but in the sort of genteel way that's acceptable at a work conference). I happened to have the prototype on me (it was in my bag for Wednesday's train trip where it didn't see any action), so I showed it to her and explained the premise. The combination of zombies, wacky science and a £9 price point combined into enough excitement for her to pre-order a copy there and then. Maybe selling 150 won't be so hard after all...

Monday, July 6

In Flux and In Corporeal Form

Finally, after a few weeks of fannying on, I've finally printed out and constructed the new version of Zombology incorporating changes suggested during my trip to St. Louis at the beginning of June. I had the evening to myself last night as The Wife was out with friends, so after getting The Daughter to sleep I printed it out and made it all up. Excellent! Took long enough. I've been wanting to try this version out before sending it out for playtesting, but I have to miss this week's Newcastle Playtest because of travelling for work again, and I've not managed to fit a playtest in at work for a while either, so screw it, it's going out untested! It could be awful! It could be genius! Only one way to find out.

New Zombology Prototype

I've contacted a few friends who have done playtesting for me before to see if they'll try it out and give me some feedback, but what I really need is blind playtesters who aren't friends of mine and are willing to try it a few times and give me some honest, critical feedback. Fancy helping out? Let me know in the comments.

That's the 'Corporeal' part of this week's title. The 'In Flux' part refers to the fact that I'm still deciding what I want to do about Zombology. I've got three options as I see it:

  1. Give up on publishing myself and either make it freely available (print and play) or try to get a publisher to pick it up.
  2. Publish it in a time-light fashion, e.g. print on demand through a company like The Game Crafter or Drive Thru Cards.
  3. Or the original plan of a small, hand-made print run that I'll sell through my own website.

If you'd asked me two weeks ago, I was utterly convinced that option 3 was the way I wanted to go, now I'm in the middle of a crisis of indecision. I'll give myself a couple of weeks to discuss it with The Wife and think things through, but then I'm going to have to make a decision and start acting on it.

Still, at least with the finished prototype I've actually made some concrete progress this week.

Monday, June 29

A Moment of Reflection

Not much progress again this week :-( I was babysitting for a friend on Tuesday and used the evening to finish the graphic design (and add some further improvements) of the next version of Zombology, but then was too busy for the rest of the week to either print them out or playtest them.

I was hoping to get the printing done on Friday night while The Wife was at the cinema, but after a bad night's sleep The Wife cancelled, and my cousin popped in on a visit from Bath while showing her son local universities he's considering attending. I was also hoping to make it to Newcastle Gamers for the first time in months on Saturday, but instead we went on an impromptu camping trip to the wilds of the North Pennines (which were lovely!).

I missed the last Newcastle Playtest too due to a work trip, and I'm going to have to miss the next one for the same reason - I'm travelling a bit more for work now. Newcastle Playtest is only monthly, so I'm going to go three months without attending one, which is pretty pants for a supposed co-organiser.

All this has got me thinking. Am I really set up for another self-publishing company? I did pretty well last time around, but I had no kids at that point and The Wife was really busy with work so I had plenty of time in the evenings for making games and marketing. A weekend away at a convention was an easy sell at home because The Wife was busy and often worked some or all of the weekend anyway. Now I'm travelling more with work and have a family, do I really want to be going away from them on the weekends that I'm not away for work to demo and sell games at conventions?

Last time round I sold a good chunk of games at conventions. I went to The Cast Are Dice, Beer and Pretzels, The UK Games Expo and a few smaller ones. It was a good opportunity to promote my games because when you're running a small company with no marketing budget the vast majority of your intended audience have not heard of you, your company or your products. When I'm going on regular trips away for work, some of which eat up a weekend it's much harder to justify giving up another weekend away from The Wife and The Daughter for selling games. The Daughter's growing up so quickly at the moment that every missed moment counts. The work trips are also getting in the way of playtesting, my Games Nights and attending Newcastle Gamers. In addition to time for developing, manufacturing and selling the games, I also need time to test them, and at the moment it feels like I haven't got that time available.

I've got 13 pre-orders already, which is good, but that's less than 10% of the print run I'm planning. Can I sell the other 90-odd percent through free web marketing and the odd convention attendance? I don't know.

Anyway, I'm going to take a couple of weeks before I commit any money to the effort to check whether I'm sure I'll have the time to commit to making this successful, or whether I think I can make this successful with the time available to me. I'll also consider other paths to publishing one final time: print on demand, or selling to another publisher.

While I think about it, I'll get this next prototype printed out and tested, so at least I'm making some progress...

Monday, June 22

Like a Glacier

Moving forwards, only very slowly.

The good news is that my company bank account is set up and ready to use, the bad news is that I don't yet have online access to it, and I want to make sure it's all up and running correctly and there's cash in it before I start spending from it.

In other progress this week, I've tweaked some art for Zombology, done a first draft of a company logo (now with my dad, a graphic designer and artist, for review) and I've selected a web hosting company for the company website. But still, slower going than I was hoping for. I need to get the holding web page ready to put up on the website once it's ordered and print out the new version with its rules tweaks this week too. Once it is physically realised, I can start testing this new version to check I've not broken anything with these minor rules changes.

I must do these things this week. Must. It's almost halfway through the year and I'm still a way off publishing the game.