Monday, May 20

Our Kickstarter Experience

If you've been reading this blog for years you'll know I was very wary/disparaging of Kickstarter in the past. Last November Paul and I ran a Kickstarter and we're now just over half-way through fulfilling 325 backers with lovingly hand-crafting board games.

So what changed? What was it like eating humble pie? Now that six months have passed how do I feel about it?

As I've said in the past there were a few things about Kickstarter that put me off:
  • It lowered the bar to publishing so low that games that possibly shouldn't have been made are being made,
  • As a publisher, you go into it not knowing what you're on the hook for until it closes, and
  • You owe people stuff for months (or maybe even years).

So how do those concerns tally with our experience?

I still maintain there are a lot of games being made that wouldn't have seen the light of day via a traditional publisher. Arguably FlickFleet is one of them. Some people will say that's a good thing, removing the gatekeepers and letting more projects see the light of day that would never have been picked up. Others will say that there are too many games being released and lots of those are weak. I don't really play enough new games to be able to make an informed decision on this, but probably lean towards the latter despite having benefited from the former!

My concerns about what you're getting into were mostly around stretch goals. You see loads of projects that have a vast range of rewards and various expansions or extra pieces or upgrades that become available as stretch goals. Had we run one of those campaigns (FlickFleet was a pretty vanilla campaign), I might have more opinion on this; but it's related to the biggest negative for me and Paul: will we/won't we. For all but the last 4 hours of a 720 hour campaign our project hadn't funded. Even for those last four hours we were still so close to the target that a couple of cancellations (of which we had loads including a couple after funding!) could have sunk us. The toll on our mental health was terrible. It was so stressful. I was checking the funding total on my phone at a very unhealthy frequency. We'd had to set quite a high target to fund the laser cutter and all the materials, plus leave enough in the pot after Kickstarter fees to cover shipping 275 games - it was a stretch, and one that we only just managed to reach.

All of that was very stressful. Even the green bit!

The final concern is something that is probably not a concern at all for most people, but I don't like owing people for things. On the day we funded we were suddenly indebted to 319 people to the tune of £11,891. I'm not comfortable with that. I've chosen to clearly spell out how much we owe in our bookkeeping so I can see what is hanging over me and watch it decrease by a few hundred pounds every week. This affects other decisions I make too - we've had numerous people ask to upgrade their pledges after the Kickstarter closed. We're not using a pledge manager, so I've just been making a note against their pledge. We could charge them at the point they requested it, but that would increase the debt, rather than reduce it - and I'm not fine with that. So instead I've been charging people at the point that I'm ready to ship their pledge. We'll probably lose a few upgrades that way, but I'd rather that than sit on people's cash for months and add to my mental burden about the debt.

So was there anything good about Kickstarter? There were definitely benefits! Kickstarter allowed us to make 400 copies of FlickFleet for a personal outlay of £480, rather than a £10,000 one. Which made it a possibility. In addition, about 35% of the backers found us through Kickstarter - we went into the Kickstarter with a mailing list of 136 people: way, way too small to be successful. Plus the Kickstarter timeline encouraged our supporters to help us raise the money in time, focusing their (and our) efforts to get us the backers we needed to be successful during the funding window.

In hindsight, it was an awful experience (due to the stress) and a lot of my fears were realised, but FlickFleet wouldn't exist without it, so on balance it's a good thing!

Monday, May 13

Take Two!

Paul and I are currently working on plans for our second Kickstarter later this year. We're working under a few constraints:
  • We have very limited time for playtesting whatever comes next due to FlickFleet construction,
  • We have very little cash due to FlickFleet shipping,
  • We don't want to run it until we've shipped all the 2018 Kickstarter rewards.
By the end of August (hopefully!) there should be about 300 people in the world who have a copy of FlickFleet. Which is a lot considering every single one of those will have been loving hand-crafted by Paul and me. But it's not many as a proportion of the 7.4 billion people who live on the planet (or even the gamers among them).

FlickFleet has been getting excellent feedback and Paul and I would love to see more people get the chance to enjoy it. Now there's a number of reasons why we only got 325 backers for our first Kickstarter (not least of which was that our advertising spend was less than £100). Lots of people will avoid Kickstarters from first time creators because they are wary of getting stung by people who don't know what their doing and have no track record. It's one of the reasons that we spent so much of our first Kickstarter page and video talking about our credentials and experience.

If we come back to Kickstarter in September then we can do things a bit differently. We will hopefully have a completed Kickstarter under our belts with fulfilment having been completed early, rather than late. We have a community of FlickFleet owners 300 strong, many of whom (assuming the same level of excitement among backers who have yet to receive their rewards as we've had from those backers who've already got their copies) really love the game. Some of those are already clamouring for extra FlickFleet content, others will hopefully help us by reaching out to their friends, games clubs, families and random strangers in the supermarket to espouse the game.

This time there's a few things we’re hoping to do differently, with this in mind:
  • Focus the video and the page more on the game than on us,
  • Be more upbeat (and less knackered!) in the video,
  • Use stretch goals more effectively,
  • Set a lower target because we don't need a(nother!) laser cutter,
  • Reduce the amount of crafting required for the standard edition.

I've started this process by scripting a new video on the train this week, focussed on playing the game. Which gave me an idea for a scenario - so once I've tested it I'll be adding that to the Scenarios page too!

Tuesday, May 7

Deluxe Pledges Complete!

Yesterday I finished off the last of the Rise Up deluxe pledges, which were due in September. I’ll be shipping them over the next couple of weeks. 

Last week was a good one with a chance to make it along to Tabletop Manchester where we played Zombology four times and a visit from Paul and his family on Sunday afternoon.

Seeing as Paul has more free time than me, he’s taken the greyboard for the box blanks and will be cutting those for me. He’s way ahead of schedule on the laser cutting, so I’m the weakest link at the moment - this will help out quite a lot (making a box blank takes me seven minutes and 39 seconds, so when Paul gives me the cut and scored blanks back all I’ll have to do is fold them and tape them - maybe two minutes' work. A five or six minute saving doesn’t sound like much until you realise we still have 270 boxes to make!

I’ve kept enough greyboard to make the boxes for the Commodore pledges which are up next. After those (two weeks’ work) it’s the Bomber pledges which also require me to make 20 copies of Zombology, so I’ll crack on with those afterwards.

Tonight I’m off to Bedford on the train for my friend Andrew’s funeral. I’ll be spending eight hours on the train over the next two days getting there and back again, so rather than spending that time dwelling on our fleeting time on this planet, I’ve taken my laptop so I can distract myself with some Eurydice Games work.

Monday, April 29

Monthly Goals

Every month I have a list of things I need to do. Some of those I have to do - if I don’t record depreciation on the laser cutter in our accounts that’s really bad. Others are things I’d really like to do - two of which I’m notoriously bad at: playing our games with strangers (a great way of raising awareness and getting face-to-face sales) and doing something in the media (another great way of raising awareness).

It’s been months since I’ve done either of those and getting on for a year since I did both in the same month.

Until now! Last week I was interviewed by Chris from TableFlip last week via email and that interview is now live and then this evening I’m off to Tabletop Manchester to hopefully play FlickFleet and Zombology with a few people. I go to Manchester fairly often for work, but it’s usually there and back in a day and I rarely stay over. Tomorrow morning I’ve an early meeting so I’m going down this afternoon and have the evening free - so I’m going along to Tabletop Manchester for only the third time in as many years.

I also returned to shipping FlickFleet copies last week, posting 12 copies and making 13. I’m posting another seven today. When I met Paul on the way back from Manchester just over a week ago I got everything I needed to make and send another 28, so I’ve still got another 9 to finish and post this week, when I get back from my trip.

Once those are done we will have shipped all of the second deluxe reward tier - these were due in June! It’s great to be nicely ahead of schedule and thinking about what to do next :-).

Tuesday, April 23

A Bad Week

I didn't make much progress last week due to not getting home from our holiday until late Monday and then my father-in-law arriving for a week on Tuesday, and then a trip to Manchester for work on Wednesday. With my father-in-law around to help out at home, I arranged to meet Paul near the station in York on Wednesday on my way back from Manchester. Paul lives a couple of miles from the station and I had to change trains there anyway. This gave us an opportunity to chat about what we do next and for me to collect some laser-cut ships and bagged wooden bits allowing me to carry on with the shipping of FlickFleet rewards (I've now got everything I need to complete the Reinforcements reward tier - due in June - in the next couple of weeks). Sadly I couldn't take any of the boxes I've finished down with me to give to Paul (I had six hours of travel before I met Paul), so we couldn't double up on shipping.

Wednesday was already a tough day (5am start after a long day the day before and a late return from our holiday the night before that), when I got an email from my friend Terry, whose Games Night I had attended weekly during my three years in and around Bedford, letting me know that our joint friend Andrew had passed away last Saturday after a battle with cancer. To my shame, I've not been great at keeping in touch with Terry, Andrew and Graham who I used to game with so I wasn't even aware that Andrew had cancer, let alone that he was very ill.

Terry, Andrew, Graham and I used to game at least once a week at a games night and often during the week playtesting some of the submissions I had received and was considering publishing in my Reiver Games days. We used to hang out sharing our love of gaming and laughing at Andrew's constant stream of innuendo. He brought an infectious sense of humour to the gaming that made it far more fun and funny. During those three years he was one of my closest friends - the kind who when you meet up after months or years it's like you last saw them a week ago - effortless.

When I attended Essen for the second time in 2009, Andrew was one of three friends who accompanied me and helped me run the stand - his humour and positivity kept us going through a busy, draining and ultimately disappointing convention. We shared a twin room too, so the jokes and laughs continued late into the evenings.

Since leaving the Bedford area eight years ago I've kept vaguely in touch with the three of them, sporadically chatting with Graham on Twitter, attending Beer and Pretzels with Terry a few (three?) times and I also bumped into Terry and Graham at the UK Games Expo last year too. I've also managed a couple of games days at Terry's during which I stayed with Andrew and his partners, but it's been two or three years since I last spoke to him and I deeply regret that now. He was a wonderful person, who I was lucky and proud to call a friend. And despite having spent very little time with him in the last eight years I'm going to miss him a lot. Rest in peace, Andrew. The world is a greyer place without you.

Monday, April 15

What’s Next?

When I get back from a family holiday tomorrow I’ll be frantically crafting boxes and dashboards again, trying to keep up the momentum that currently has us on track to finish the FlickFleet Kickstarter fulfilment in August - four months earlier than we promised on the Kickstarter. Paul and I are going to meet up briefly on Wednesday for a clandestine one-way exchange in a pub near the station as I journey home from a work trip to Manchester. As I’ll be travelling for six hours and in a remote office that day I’ll not be able to take any finished boxes with me, but I’m hoping to take some flat-packed cut box lids for Paul to sign and to collect a bag of ~25 games’ worth of bits (which I hope Paul will surreptitiously slide under the table like a spy) for the last leg of my journey home. That will let me complete and ship the Reinforcements pledges over the next couple of weeks, well ahead of the end of June deadline.

I’m hoping that in addition to signing the box blanks we can spend an hour or so over a quiet pint discussing what we want to do next.

Come August I’m hoping to have completed the FlickFleet Kickstarter pledges, freebies and pre-orders which will leave us with ~130 games’ worth of FlickFleet pieces and a laser cutter cooling its heels in the corner of Paul’s garage. So what’s next? We have a number of ideas for more FlickFleet content (scenery, extra ship types, extra races) and a number of people have already said they would definitely want/back some of those things.

Is that what we should do next? Should we try to Kickstart a professionally manufactured standard print run instead/as well? Should we focus on other games? 

All of these are up for discussion - if you have a preference please let us know below!

Monday, April 8

On Holiday!

A brief blog post this week as I’m away on holiday with my family at the moment.

Last week I finished the 100th FlickFleet box (that’s 1/4 of the print run and over 40% of the Kickstarter rewards completed). I also tested and posted the first FlickFleet scenario on the web. We’re hoping to build up a large collection of additional scenarios, so if you’ve designed one, please send it to us and we’ll get it up too.

The first additional FlickFleet scenario

I’ll be taking this week off, with the possible exception of some more scenario design as I play it with my family.

When I get back I'll be making more Zombology copies as we have another stocking order from our single retail supplier.