Sunday, March 30

Good Weekend

Since I decided that I was quitting my day job I've slacked off a bit. I figure I'll have plenty of time for Reiver Games stuff once I'm doing it full-time, and I've really enjoyed spending more time with The Wife as a result. We've been hanging out in the evenings more together, rather than me making games, on the computer trying to publicise It's Alive! or responding to emails.

This weekend I got to do a bit of both. Friday night we went to the pub with some friends for a birthday do, then Saturday I went to Leeds for the day with The Wife and seven of her friends. The main goal was going for sushi at lunchtime, but I managed to nip off while they were lady-shopping to visit the games and comic shop: Travelling Man. I was going to a friend's house afterwards for a games afternoon, so I had a copy of It's Alive! in my bag. While I was in there looking at comics, the Managing Director walked in. I'd spoken to him a couple of times before about making games and got some really good advice and contacts. Seeing as I was there, with a copy of It's Alive! in my bag I asked him if he had time for a brief chat. I sat down with him and showed him It's Alive! He really liked the look of the game, and was interested in stocking it. He also suggested I come along to their games night and demo it, and also demo it in the store on Saturday for a small cut. Excellent! Interesting tidbit: he asked what the rating on BoardGameGeek was. They don't stock games with a lower average than six.

After sushi, I headed over to Hugo's for a games afternoon. There were five of us, so too many for the two games I'd brought: Race for the Galaxy and Philip duBarry's Revolution!, so instead we played Cleopatra and the Society of Architects. I'd been meaning to play it for ages so I was really happy to give it a try. It was fairly long, but chromed up to the nines, and I really enjoyed the corruption mechanic. Fantastic fun, I'd like to play it again soon.

Sunday was great too. I've been busy on the Geek, writing a Geeklist about turning pro, it's generated a lot of good wishes and a few sales of It's Alive! too. Excellent. It's also led to several extra submissions which is a great bonus. Things are ramping up nicely in preparation for the week after next.

Thursday, March 27

Going Full-Time: Justification

I've been thinking a lot about why I decided to quit my job and try to get Reiver Games off the ground as a full-time job. I thought I'd try and get my thoughts down on (electronic!) paper.

First I ought to give a description of where I stand now. I've been running Reiver Games in my spare time for about eighteen months. I have a full-time job that requires frequent travel to London (approximately once a week), plus infrequent travel around the world (six trips last year: San Francisco, Paris x 2, Copenhagen, Oslo and New York). In addition, my ordinary journey time to work varies between thirty and seventy-five minutes. The job does occasionally allow me to work from home though, and being civil service it comes with a great pension and reasonable salary.

In order to spend time on Reiver Games, making the games by hand, I've needed to do RG work a couple of nights a week and on the weekend almost every week for the last year and a half. I've also had to take holiday to make games in the run up to conventions so I had enough stock to take to them. This has been possible due to The Wife's PhD, which has meant she's been home late frequently, plus has trips away of her own and can't afford to take as much holiday as I can.

Things at work have been changing, with my role expanding to include some technical support for a new service we're offering. This is work I'm not so interested in, so from that point of view I fancied a change. My diagnosis with MS a year ago has led to a few minor health problems which make working from home more appealing and international travel less so, and on a lighter note, some money.

The Wife's PhD is coming to an end, and so we might have to move in a few months, which makes getting another real job awkward. Also, it will mean that she will get home earlier and have more holiday time to spend with me. At some point we're going to want kids, and so if I'm going to do this, now is the time, as this level of risk is not appropriate when you've got kids to support.

But the real question is why do I want to make games for a living? Is this some half-baked plan to have a year's holiday while quietly pissing our savings up the wall?

I've played games (board and computer) for as long as I can remember, even now when I spend an inordinate amount of time making them, I still want to play games with Paul (at least once a week) and Dave (alas no more!), at Beyond Monopoly! and with my friends further afield when I visit them for a weekend, or when they visit us. I'm obsessed. There I said it - the first stage is always admitting you have a problem.

Ever since I started making Border Reivers, I've had a pipe-dream that one day I could do this as a living. I enjoy the development of other peoples' games as much as designing my own and also get a real kick out of the graphic design and the final product. There's definitely more money to be made in the publishing side of things than designing (unless you're a really big name like Reiner Knizia, Klaus Teuber, Klaus-J├╝rgen Wrede or Alan Moon), but it also carries with it the lion's share of the risk - it's the publishers who invest their money in the game, and they're left holding the bag if a game doesn't sell. That makes it exciting, but also terrifying. Bigger companies balance the risk, they have enough money to invest in lots of games, some will work, some won't, but as long as more work than don't they'll make money, and hopefully some of those will be fantastically successful like The Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride, and make them a fortune. I can't afford to cock up until Reiver Games is quite a lot bigger, however.

Working from home can be difficult, I did it for a year when we first moved to York. I hated being stuck at home alone all day - how will this be any different? At the time we were living in a small village about five miles outside of York. The village had almost no amenities, appalling bus service into town, and to make matters worse I hadn't passed my driving test yet, so I felt like a prisoner in my own home. Plus, I didn't know anyone here, as all my friends and colleagues were still in Newcastle. This time round there will be some pretty substantial differences:

  • After three and a half years here, I've now got good friends in York
  • We now live a short walk from town, so I have plenty of amenities within reach
  • My mate Paul has offered to help with playtesting during the week

Hopefully those differences will be enough to stop me going mad!

In other news, I've started a thread on BoardGameGeek asking for name ideas for Codename: Network - it's had a lot of responses.

Tuesday, March 25

GameFlow

When you speak to anyone about running a business you can guarantee that 'cashflow' will be mentioned at some point. It's basically keeping track of when money comes into the company and when it goes out. You might have a brilliant idea that will guarantee a 300% return on investment, but it you have to pay out the investment up front, and you get the return over a year you might run out of money in the meantime - hence keeping an eye on your cashflow.

I'll need another measure too: Gameflow(tm). I've just coined the phrase - it means keeping your games pipeline full. The games pipeline consists of receiving submissions from designers, playtesting the submissions to weed out the inferior and improve the others, publicising the game, doing the artwork for the game, sending the game to the manufacturer, receiving finished stock from the manufacturer and then selling the stock to shops, distributors and gamers.

You need to keep the pipeline full, ensuring that you have enough games in progress that you don't end up with nothing to work on or sell.

Receiving enough quality submissions for the first stage will be hard to start off with, people with good game designs will approach the big boys (Fantasy Flight, Rio Grande Games, etc.), and most people have never heard of Reiver Games, so won't consider sending games to me. I need to put some effort into publicity to ensure that people know I exist, and consider me as a publisher for their games. I've started recently with this thread on BoardGameGeek, it has led to eleven submissions so far. Not all of them will be the sort of thing I'm interested in, but it's a start...

Wednesday, March 19

Google AdWords Experience

A while ago I told you I was going to try out Google AdWords, and that I would let you know how it went. Well, my £30 voucher has been used up, so now I can tell you how it went.

Setting it up was easy enough, but I found the offer email confusing, as from my reading of the email I understood it would be totally free to me, and it wasn't. I had to pay £10, the £5 account activation fee had to be paid (it couldn't come out of the voucher), and the minimum payment was £10. At this stage I was already pretty disillusioned, but I figured £35 worth of advertising might be worth it for £10 expenditure, so I went ahead and paid the fee.

Creating the advert itself was easy, just enter a title, body, keywords and how much you want to spend a month. Google recommend at least £30 per month, but I went with £15 per month initially. One minor niggle was that the use of an exclamation mark in the advert title was unacceptable, so I had to write an explanation of why I had and it took several days before the advert became available on Google's own network of hosters. Another was that I was only allowed to advertise in the UK, not further afield, I sell a lot of games abroad, and would have liked to be able to advertise in the US and Australasia - sadly not an option.

I went for the following advert:

  • Title: It's Alive! Card Game
  • Body: Get the Frankenstein card game for only £15 + P&P
  • Keywords: Game, Card Game, Card Games, Board Game, Board Games, Horror, Frankenstein, It's Alive, Eurogames

The reporting is excellent, you can get both graphs and the raw numbers, broken down by keywords, over any time frame from a single day to all time. You get running totals of how much you've spent, and the option of an advanced mode where you can specify exactly how the bidding works for an impression. I just went for the basic mode.

Pretty early on it was clear that the £15 a month wasn't working out for me, so I upped it to their recommended minimum of £30. With this level of spend I need to sell at least £30 worth of games through AdWords to make it worthwhile. Realistically more like £75 once the cost of the games and all the fees are taken into account. For marketing purposes I ask customers where they heard of my games when they buy one, they don't always answer, but often they do, so I was able to get a pretty good idea of the effectiveness of the scheme.

The results are shown below, impressions are the number of times the advert was shown, clicks (the only thing you get charged for) are clicks on an advert that take the browser to your website.

KeywordImpressionsClicksClicks/Impression
Games10,27780.000778
Card Game8,602140.001627
Board Game3,98520.000501
Board Games2,58140.001549
Card Games1,99640.002004
Horror270N/A
Frankenstein190N/A
Google Network191,850480.000250
Total219,337800.000365

Neither 'It's Alive' nor 'Eurogames' led to any impressions. From this it looks like plurals are slightly more popular, but it's definitely worth using both singular and plural forms as both return a decent number of impressions.

Unfortunately the bottom line is that the adverts, despite leading eighty people to my site over a month or so, didn't lead to any sales at all, and hence weren't worth the tenner I spent on them. Maybe the advert was badly worded, or the keywords badly chosen. Maybe directing random punters to a website about 'home-made' games was never going to work.

Monday, March 17

Jenga - Surprisingly Fun

Friday night at the pub we played Jenga. Our local is great - not only does it have a good range of constantly changing guest ales, it also has a few bar games including Jenga. I've also played Border Reivers in there before - a games-friendly pub.

Admittedly we didn't play vanilla Jenga, and a few drinks had been consumed, so my judgement may have been impaired, but it was good fun all the same. We played a variant where initially there are no rules, each time someone knocked over the tower they had to drink, but also invent a new rule to use in subsequent games.

The first rule we added was 'no testing' i.e. you have to take the first piece you touch, then after someone blew over the tower on someone else's turn, 'no blowing' was added - no surprise there! Then the rules started to get more interesting:

  • On your turn you must be touching your nose (which forced one-handed play)
  • You must take from the lowest full row
  • You're only allowed to use you thumb and little finger
  • You can only take one of the outermost blocks from the row

Of course any rules violations required drinking :-) Jenga was much more fun played that way - I can recommend it.

In other news, I got very little time for games last week. I had a couple of trips to London for work, both of which overran so I got home quite late a couple of times. Couple that with the washing machine failure (fixed!) I didn't manage to get to Paul's for games, and Dave was away for the week on a course. Although Beyond Monopoly! was on on Saturday, The Wife and I spent almost all weekend shopping for a new car (ours is finally on it's way out, and I'd like not to be responsible for its next service and MOT), so I didn't get along this week.

I also failed in my quest to do some more work on Codename: Network. I printed out some new cards, but I've not had time to fill them in or even cut them out. Hopefully I can do that this week.

This week will hopefully be better, I'm hoping to make it to Paul's tonight, and Dave's last games night before he moves to the South is tomorrow. I may even get some time to work on things on Friday - it's a Bank Holiday in the UK, but The Wife is on a course, so I'll be at home alone. I might see if Dave is suitably recovered from his work-leaving do the night before to play games/playtest in the afternoon.

Friday, March 14

Things Are Moving Forward

Wednesday I was working from home, so in my lunchtime I did the groundwork for the meetings with the manufacturer and my bank manager. My bank manager is being transferred to a different branch next week, so instead of dealing with the guy who I've built up a relationship over the last eighteen months I've got to start from scratch with someone else, typical.

Yesterday was like a picture postcard of everything I'm trying to avoid by moving full-time. I was hoping to go to Paul's for games in the evening, but I had to go to London for work, and the trains were running slowly because of damage caused by Wednesday's storms. After spending six and a half hours on trains and waiting in stations I finally managed to get home at 7:30pm, to find the washing machine was broken. By the time I had (maybe) fixed it, it was 10pm. No games. Still, I did manage to speak to Paul about daytime playtesting once I finish my job, and he's definitely interested :-)

I'm closer to having a confirmed leaving date at work, but there's a bit of a flap on about my leaving, especially as it comes during the absence of my boss who got promoted at the beginning of the year and is still to be replaced. I've probably got three or four weeks left - not sure which yet.

In game related news, I've had a better week of It's Alive! sales this week, with the interview I did for a German games site generating some interest. The editor of another German games site bought a copy as a result, and hopes to interview me in a few weeks once he's had a chance to play it. One of my German friends has also finished translating the rules into German, so I should be able to post them in the next few days and the publicise the fact - which hopefully will lead to more interest from the German-speaking parts of Europe.

I'm very excited about this change in direction, the difficult thing will be turning this energy into momentum for the company. I need to concentrate on getting rid of the last of It's Alive! and preparing Codename: Network for release, but I also need to build some excitement around Network, so there are customers waiting to buy it, and shops wanting to stock it. Of course I can't do that until I've chosen a name. How bad does 'Seize the Stellar Throne' sound? It's the best I've come up with so far.

Tuesday, March 11

First Steps On My Own

So, I've handed in my notice, I've four weeks (minus a few days holiday) left at work - then what?

First up, I need to get my company off to a good start. To help this I've a few meetings to line up over the next few weeks.

  • Bank Manager - I need to keep my manager on side. My eighteen months free banking has just ended, but they apparently have a 'electronic' tariff which could save me some money. I also need to tell him my plans and see what advice he has.
  • Small Business Advisor - I need to talk to someone about VAT-registering (which I know other publishers have done), and advice about how best to market my games.
  • Manufacturer - I want to move into professionally manufactured games, but I know almost nothing about it. How do I reduce the cost? What little things make a big difference to the cost? What software should I use to prepare the artwork? Hopefully a meeting with a manufacturer will answer some of these qustions.

I'm now fairly convinced my next game will be Codename: Network, but it's still changing fairly rapidly as the designer and I try out new ideas. I need to spend a decent amount of time improving it, stabilise the rules, get a signed contract with the designer and then start on the artwork and publicity. I'm thinking of a pre-order drive, offering fans a chance to get the game early (and cheap) and by cutting out the middle-man making more money myself than I would if I sold to a shop. I also need to get shops interested in ordering the game in bulk. How to do that? I'm not really sure yet. One way is to contact the shops directly, another is to get gamers who want the game to contact their local shop (this already happened for It's Alive!), a third method is to get a distributor to stock the game and then run a solicitation advert in their trade magazine. I've no idea yet which one will work best.

It's an exciting time, but even with eighteen months experience in the industry, the change of situation, and hence business model will incur a steep learning curve.

Monday, March 10

Gulp! This is Scary!

The last few days I've been off work sick, and as a result I've had plenty of time at home alone to think. As a result I handed in my notice today to start up Reiver Games as a full-time outfit. Man, that's scary.

My reasoning was thus:

  • Firstly, I can afford not to earn for a while to try it out, if it doesn't work, I'll just have to find another job.
  • I think it might work!
  • I'd love to do it - it's been a pipe-dream for ages now.
  • The Wife is 100% behind it.
  • I'm way too busy with a full-time job that involves a lot of travel to devote the time I need to Reiver Games.
  • I've been in IT now professionally for eight years, and did six years in IT at University, time for a change.

So what does this mean for Reiver Games? I'm going to move into making professional runs, predominantly sold through shops & distributors, so my time will be spent doing the graphic design and trying to flog copies to shops and I'll obviously have much more time for playtesting, designing and developing games. I'm aiming for three professional runs by next April (not this April!), with maybe a hand-made run thrown in as a bonus.

I'll also have more time for blogging, so hopefully you'll be hearing more from me too.

What are the downsides? I've given up a well-paid job for no financial security whatsoever. I've enough money squirrelled away to last me a year, but there's every chance I could end up having pissed it all up the wall in a year's time, with nothing to show for it but a flat full of unwanted games. Professional runs means cheaper production, so I can afford to sell to shops and distributors, but it also means much more risk, and if I choose badly I could end up throwing lots of money after a game which no-one wants. I've got to be damn sure a game is excellent before I publish it, and I've got to make sure the production is right, as fixing problems could drive me under. So anally-retentive checking of everything before it goes to the printer is required.

Good decision? I'll not know for a while yet, but feel free to call me an idiot, commend my bravery or offer me spare change when I'm destitute in the comments below...

Sunday, March 9

Meepile on BGG

A while back I was watching my daughters stack their meeples in a little pile and got the idea to make a game out of it. I started sketching some meeple like characters with on hand in the air, both hands in the air and in other strange positions. I decided the one hand in the air would look and work the best. I proceeded to cut out and paint the first "Meepile Megameeple". Then we set to work developing some super simple rules. MEEPILE has since been added to the BGG database and there has been an amazing amount of interest. One of the images is currently on the front page of BGG and has received just under 70 thumbs. The game itself has received so many hits that it's worked it's way up into the "Hot Games" list on BGG's front page. When I started getting emails asking for the game I made a couple dozen and created some packaging. Now just over night I have received over 30 requests for the game. I'll have to start on the next 2 or 3 dozen tomorrow. You can see the game at: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/35054 Just goes to show that you never really know!

Wednesday, March 5

Gaming Weekend

Last weekend I was in Newcastle visiting a bunch of friends I see far too infrequently. Mal had raised some concerns about Jorvik, which he'd played a version of at New Year. So I said I'd go up an play Jorvik & Network with the boys up there, to see if Mal preferred the latest version.

Friday night was spent at the pub with a surprisingly high turn out. As well as the usual suspects a few more of my old colleagues turned up. I finished working in Newcastle nearly two and a half years ago, so it was really good to see people again.

Saturday morning Mal fancied some Border Reivers. I'd not really played since I finished selling it last spring, as I don't suggest it any more (I don't want people to end up playing because they don't want to hurt my feelings by saying no), but I'm very happy to play it when someone else suggests it. Except for me, Mal is the person who has played it the most, we have a long running series, we must have played about thirty games together. In the beginning Mal couldn't win a game if his life depended on it, I must have won the first sixteen or seventeen games we played. But more recently, Mal had started to win as many as he lost.

This time he wiped the floor with me. We played five games on Saturday morning, and Mal won four of them! Properly owned. Still, it was fun to play, nonetheless. I couldn't help thinking of ways the game could be improved while we played, I had a few ideas that were interesting, but I don't know when I'll have the chance to try them out.

In the afternoon Chief & Linz came round and we tried out Network and Jorvik. We played a few three player games of Network (Chief and Linz weren't around at the same time), plus Chief & I had a couple of games of Jorvik. Network was the best received of the two games, I'll post the feedback questionnaire results in a couple of days.

That evening Mal and I headed into Newcastle to play some pool. I used to be quite good at pool, but I've not really played in years. I was expecting to be hopeless, but was pleasantly surprised when I wasn't too bad. Mal creamed me again though (13-4!). Need more practice.

Sunday morning, before I went home, Mal and I played a couple of games of Jorvik. He agreed that it had improved since he played it at New Year, but still wasn't a fan. The card placement options were just too confusing.

To round off a great weekend, The Wife and I played a few games of Race for the Galaxy on my return, then we went for a curry with Dave and Pip. Great stuff. I need more weekends like that!

Sunday, March 2

February Report

I didn't get to play many games in February, but I did loads of creation, so all in all it was a pretty good month.

Play

Yeay! I finally broke out Twiglet during February which was great fun, it's a real shame that comes out so infrequently, but when you give up a whole day to play it that's a real limiting factor. Race for the Galaxy was a new purchase, and it lived up to the hype - The Wife and I love it. I also got to Beyond Monopoly! during February, and learnt a few new games. So despite only playing nineteen games in total it was good stuff. The multiples:

And the shrapnel: Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition, Carcassonne, Citadels, The Thief of Baghdad, Salamanca, Age of Steam, TransAmerica and Diamant.

Of those, Gipsy King, Cartagena, The Thief of Baghdad and Salamanca were new to me, all at Beyond Monopoly! I was underwhelmed by Salamanca, and Cartagena we tried once with the cards open and once hidden - it didn't really grab me either way. I enjoyed both Gipsy King and The Thief of Baghdad though, couldn't really pick a favourite though.

Creation

It's been a mixed month for game creation. I've received a couple more submissions, Network has come on nicely, and I've had few ideas about Jorvik, but I've had to realise that I can't get a game ready in time for the Expo, so I'm not going there in an official capacity, I'm in discussions with the organisers about appearing in a different capacity - keep an eye peeled here for more info soon.

It's Alive!

It's been a fairly quiet month again on It's Alive! sales have been picking up since the Christmas lull, but last week was my first ever week of no sales for It's Alive! since it was released. I've run a competition on BoardGameGeek to try and raise its profile, and given a copy to a video blogger. There's a few things in the pipeline that will hopefully raise its profile over the next few weeks.

Jorvik

I got to play-test Jorvik with several friends, it's coming on, and has improved over the last few months, but it' not going to be ready for the Expo unfortunately. I need to work on the spatial complexity of the card placement.

Network

It's been a really exciting time on Network. I've really enjoyed backing and forthing with the designer, and I feel that the game is pretty nearly ready now. We've made a bunch of changes between us (with a little help from my playtesters) and it's all coming together. Watch this space!

All in all, a good month for creation.