Monday, October 15

The Keyboard That Launched 1,000 Ships

I'm no Helen of Troy. Let's get that out of the way to start off with.

Last week was a good one. I've updated my Facebook and Twitter banner images with a FlickFleet pre-launch banner and also officially launched the Kickstarter campaign (coming 8th November) on Facebook, Google+ and twitter. Several people have said they're in, which is great - especially the new ones, but we're still some way from the 120 backers or so we need in the first couple of days to make it look like the project is going to succeed. The next 3.5 weeks are all about trying to drive the number of early backers up.


We've approached a couple of people about levelling up the box design, so hopefully we'll have something prettier ready for Kickstarter in November. And we're also working on a new version of the video with the real music track at an appropriate level and a couple of still images with the game name and details.

To finish off the week I went to Newcastle Gamers for the first time in months and played a bunch of games. We started as a group of four playing High Society, HMS Dolores and Kingdomino and then Drew left and we were down to three. I offered Las Vegas, Zombology, Hanabi, and For Sale to the other two guys and they chose Zombology (at this point unaware I was the designer and hand-crafter of the game). We played and 2/3 of us won with Tea. They asked for another game and the same 2 of us won with Tea again. At which point they wanted to confirm the science of tea, so we played a third game and again the same pair won with Tea! Crazy. Anyway at that point I wanted to head off so I revealed I was the designer and hand-crafter behind the game and they both bought a copy! I'm down to just two copies at home now!

This week I need to focus on getting the final video up there, picking a box artist, and sharing the press release with as many people as possible - we need to get people's eyes on the project! Any help you can provide sharing the project with people you think would like it is much appreciated - thanks in advance!

Monday, October 8

Kickstarter Voice

You get a wide range of companies and people on Kickstarter, whether doing games or something else.

There’s the large and successful companies with their videos that are incredibly polished, full of rendered animations plus high quality photos and copy. At the other end of the scale there are projects that are something that’s been cobbled together by someone by themselves - video on a laptop or iPad and fairly simple text and basic photos.

With FlickFleet we’re trying to tread the middle path. I don’t want to invest tens of thousands of pounds in the advertising and content of the page, but I don’t want us to appear too homebrew either. We’ve not got a massive fan base ready to pounce on the Kickstarter, so we need to look professional enough to be credible to people who don’t know us.


The Kickstarter page taking shape

I’ve got experience hand-crafting games and getting games professionally manufactured for me and a back catalogue of five games that I’ve published in various quantities that speak to my credibility.

Here’s a preview link to the Kickstarter page (with rough draft of the video and box art - still works in progress). What are your thoughts? Does it come across as credible? Too homebrew? Too professional? Do we sound like people you would trust to invest in?

All feedback gratefully appreciated!

Monday, October 1

Tabletop Gaming Live: Fears Unrealised

Back in June I ran a Hand-Crafting Games seminar at the UK Games Expo. I'd pitched it as a chance to watch me make a copy of Zombology live while I talked about my experiences running two games companies, but it became apparent before the event that I wouldn't be able to finish making a game in time (it takes 40 minutes when I'm focussing and I only had an hour, but that was only 50 minutes once 5 minutes had been shaved off either end to allow people coming and going). On the day I gave people the choice of watching me frantically crafting in an attempt to finish or to focus more on the talking and they chose the latter, so that's what I did and in the 50 minutes I managed to make half a box and cut out a few cards. I waffle a lot it turns out.


Alexandra Palace is pretty!

Shortly afterwards, the guys from Tabletop Gaming Magazine approached me about repeating my seminar at Tabletop Gaming Live, a new convention they were running in London in September. I leapt at the chance.

As we liaised via email in the run up to the show I told them I'd struggled to get much done in the hour at the Expo, so they gave me two whole hours of their single seminar track! Wow!

The show was on the last couple of days, so I've spent most of my weekend there. London, it turns out, is a long way from Newcastle, so first I arranged with Paul (my FlickFleet co-designer) to stay at his Saturday night. So after The Toddler was asleep I set off, arriving at Paul's just before 10pm. We had a brief chat and then I headed off to bed as we'd set our alarms for 5am. On a Sunday. Joy.

Up, showered and breakfasted we set off at 6am for the 3.5 drive from York to north London (did I mention it's a long way?). The first differences I noticed between this and the Expo were the little things. As a speaker I had a parking pass for free parking in a secure car park abutting the venue (my car was literally 10 feet from the venue wall). This was great. At the Expo I'd ended up parked a good distance from the venue, so I'd carted my bag of tricks (which weighed a ton!) around all day - no fun at all. My hand was killing me before I'd even started the cutting. Yesterday however, we went in blissfully unencumbered - safe in the knowledge that it would only take a few minutes to get all my stuff from the car before my seminar at 2pm.

I spent a few hours wandering round the trade hall, chatting to people I'd previously only met online, introducing myself and my games to a few shops who were there and having a chat with Caezar from Alley Cat Games about the Kickstarter consulting he does. It was all good. Plus it was a great opportunity to hang out with Paul, who I don't see anywhere near as much as I'd like any more (we used to live just round the corner from each other, now we're 100 miles apart).

But the time for my seminar was approaching and I had some concerns.

At the Expo (a much bigger show) I'd managed to get nine people to my seminar. Two of those were mates I'd know for years, one was a Zombology customer and another a guy I knew from twitter. Tabletop Gaming Live was clearly a much smaller show and Sunday was apparently much quieter than the day before. Would anyone come to my seminar at all? The seminar space was in a massive room, of which about a quarter was set aside for the seminars - the rest was open gaming and a cafe. Would I be stood up there, mic'd up, chatting to Paul as the sole audience member while loads of uninterested people around the room were wondering what on earth was going on? A serious risk.

I was also beginning to regret the two hours slot. 2 hours is a long time. A very long time. Especially when you're at a convention looking to try and play and buy games. If an audience turned up, how long would I be able to hold their attention? 30 mins? An hour?

As it turned out I needn't have worried. There must have been 30-40 people at the start and even at the 1.5 hour mark when I finished making the game (I actually finished it!), there were probably 15-20 people still there. A good proportion of those subscribed to our mailing list and I sold seven copies of Zombology (I only sold one at the Expo seminar - to the guy I knew from twitter) - so it was a huge success.

Then I had the 6 hour drive home, via York to drop Paul off. A great, but very tiring day!

Monday, September 24

Solid Progress at Last

Since returning from our holiday a few weeks ago I’ve been struggling to make decent progress on FlickFleet. We’ve taken some impromptu holiday, had friends to visit and weathered a long baby cold which led to sleepless nights and hence curtailed evenings.

This week I had a work trip to Manchester that was supposed to include a couple of nights in a hotel (it ended up being only one as a storm blocked all trains out of Newcastle on Wednesday evening).

With six hours of train travel and an evening in a hotel I managed make a huge amount of progress. I’ve now finished the Kickstarter page first draft and we’ve a rough cut of the video too. I’ve written a press release and am about halfway through updating the website with changes reflecting the move to a limited company. I’ve also finally completed the bank account application for the limited company too.


Kickstarter preview is ready!

The next step is to get some eyes on the Kickstarter page and get some feedback and finish off the website changes and make those live.

Finally, next weekend is Tabletop Gaming Live at Alexandra Palace in London. Paul and I will be there on Sunday (with FlickFleet and Zombology) and I’ll be repeating my hand-crafting seminar from 2-4pm. I’m hoping that with a bit longer I can answer more questions and make more of the game without having to rush the final bit. If you’re going, please come along and say hi!

Monday, September 17

An Unconventional Kickstarter

If you've been a reader of this blog for a while you'll know I'm very wary of Kickstarter. So why exactly are we Kickstarting FlickFleet?

The short answer is we can't afford not to. Zombology has broken even now, but I've still a decent stock pile to sell through, and a large chunk of the money I've recouped on Zombology sales has been invested in FlickFleet development - I have less cash on hand now than I started with. And FlickFleet is a far more expensive game to manufacturing than Zombology. Zombology is just a card game with a box, 108 cards and a rules sheet. FlickFleet has acrylic ships, wooden bits, ship dashboards, dice, a rulebook and a box.

I think FlickFleet is the most fun and approachable of the six games I've published, but if there's one thing Reiver Games taught me, it's that I don't want to be getting a bank loan to fund a large print run of FlickFleet to find out I've judged it wrong again and I'm left with a big pile of stock and little money coming in while we haemorrhage money through warehousing costs and bank loan repayments.

A photo for the box back

Kickstarter gives us a chance to judge the size of the market for FlickFleet and size our print run accordingly. It also lets us change the shape of the print run as the campaign becomes more successful.

I'm hopeless at marketing, so my best guess is that we'll fund somewhere between 50% and 125% of our target. We're setting that low in an attempt to increase our chances of success - but that brings other challenges. To reduce the target to the minimum, we're aiming for a hand-crafted run of 500 copies (half the minimum order of our professional manufacturer). So to do this we'll need to pay the kickstarter cut, then buy the raw materials for 500 games and we'll need to do the laser-cutting ourselves, so we also need a laser-cutter.

In the unlikely event that something miraculous happens and we're much more successful, the Stretch Goals are aimed at improving components for everyone (not adding in expansions and extra bits we haven't had time to properly test). And at some point the time and effort it would take us to make the hand-crafted boxes and dashboards, plus bag all the wooden components and laser cut the ships would be prohibitive - so we'll have to switch over to professional manufacturing (of at least the box, dashboards, rules and wooden bits - the status of the laser-cutting is still under investigation).

Have you seen a kickstarter that switches from hand-crafted to professionally manufactured as a Stretch Goal?

Monday, September 10

Moving Goalposts

I’m back from my two week blogging hiatus! During that time I’ve had a week long holiday, an impromptu camping weekend and a visit from my FlickFleet co-designer, Paul and his family.

Progress on the FlickFleet Kickstarter has picked up in the last week, but in total has been slower than I’d like, hindered by some terrible nights’ sleep while The Toddler had bad cough and fever.

But now that the holidays are over and The Toddler is on the mend, things are looking up. This weekend, during Paul’s visit, we discussed the kickstarter in some depth and then spent Saturday night with my mate Wilka taking some photos of the game and its components and recording the footage for the kickstarter video (with a new shorter script crafted minutes before Wilka arrived) and a videoed play-through of the game.


All the FlickFleet components

The kickstarter page is taking shape finally, it’s mostly there now, pending a few images of the game, a few more reviews and some images for the stretch and social goals. I’ll be soliciting feedback on it shortly.

We had hoped to bring it to Kickstarter last week, but we’ve clearly missed that. I’ve pushed it back to the 24th, but we’re not going to be ready for that either - so we’re now aiming for mid-October. Hopefully we’ll hit that one! But as everyone says, it’s better to wait until you’re ready than rush out a half-finished campaign to hit an arbitrary deadline you’ve given yourself.

Still disappointing though :-(

Monday, August 20

Holiday

I’ll keep this brief this week - I’m on holiday with the family in Northumberland - north of Newcastle where I live. Before I left I made some progress on the Kickstarter page for FlickFleet, finished a first draft of a script for the Kickstarter video (and recorded a very rough test to see how long it was - answer: too long).

While we’re away I’m hoping to get some games in with the family and when I return both Paul and I will be back from our respective holidays, so we should be able to make decent progress on getting FlickFleet ready.

Do you have any thoughts on the video (obviously the quality will be much better on the final one!)? What should we cut?