Monday, January 28

Tax Return :(

In the UK, when starting your own small company you have a choice between forming a Limited Company (known as Company Name Ltd.) which is a separate legal entity (I assume very similar to the LLC in the US) or you can set up as a self-employed person (either as a sole trader or in a partnership) where the company is actually just yourself earning some money under a trading name.

When I set up Reiver Games back in July 2006, after getting some advice from Business Link, a now defunct government scheme to give free advice to new businesses, I chose the sole trader route - technically, Reiver Games was: Jackson Pope trading as Reiver Games.

Since at the time I was only setting up the business to try and sell 100 copies of Border Reivers that I was going to lovingly craft by hand, I wanted to keep things as cheap as possible. Setting up a limited company required paying someone to incorporate it, and then paying every year for employees liability insurance and to get an accountant to audit your books. All costs I could do without.

Setting up as a sole trader was much easier: open some bank accounts, create a website and tell HMRC (our equivalent of the IRS) that I was now self-employed as well as an employee and job done. As a self-employed person I would also have to start filling in a tax return every year. In the UK if you are just an ordinary wage-slave, paying taxes straight out of your pay cheque every month (PAYE) you don't need to file a tax return, but self-employed people do.

We have to file our tax returns by the end of January the year after the tax year we're filing for. So at the end of this month I have to file a tax return for the tax year from 6th April 2011 to the 5th April 2012. Reiver Games ceased trading in July 2011 and I finally closed all the bank accounts in November 2011, so this is the last time I'll have to file a tax return I hope.

While I was running Reiver Games (especially during the period when I was doing it full-time) I tried to keep on top of doing my books as I went along, then filing a tax return wasn't too onerous: read some numbers of the annual totals and that was pretty much it. Once I went back to work and Reiver Games was clearly going down the pan it was a bit harder to summon the enthusiasm for staying on top of my books, so filing a tax return turned into frantically catching up on the books, then filing a tax return at the last possible minute. It was like that last January and again this year. I've been doing it during the evenings over the last week or two after The Baby had gone to bed and finally finished and submitted it last night. Theoretically, HMRC will notice I've ceased being self-employed and remove the need to fill in a tax return, though they might need some prodding...

Needless to say, on top of the books, I've got pretty much nothing done on Codename: Vacuum the last couple of weeks, but I've still been having lots of ideas to try out. Now these damn books and tax return are out of the way I'll have to give them a whirl.

Monday, January 21

Codename Vacuum: Belatedly Getting Feedback

I had the idea for Codename: Vacuum about fifteen months ago now. It got its first proper play at Games Night during February last year then nothing really until July when I played it with my friend Paul whose Games Night I attended twice a week for most of our five year sojourn in York. Since October last year it's been played at least once a week as I try to iron out the kinks and fix the balance issues.

The first play was, to my mind, disastrous: the game lasted many hours and the play was dragged out by numerous discussions about things that could be changed about it, most of which would have completely changed it, certainly radically altering it from the game I first had (and still have) in mind. The second went much better with my friend Paul who had been one of my key playtesters during my Reiver Games days.

Since then, I've tried to focus on playing the game a lot with friends at work and at Games Night (there is a large overlap between those groups of people). The focus has been on teaching people the game and me personally working out which decks/cards are weak. Every month or so I've printed out a new version of the game incorporating potential fixes to the problems I've found.

Wary of the wealth of wildly restructuring ideas I had at the first public test, I've not been asking my playtesters for much in the way of feedback - I've just been using them as opponents to enable me to test the game and spot potential problems/weaknesses.

Obviously, this is a pants way to proceed, but it got me over the hump of not playing the game and has allowed me to make three or four complete revisions of the game, each of which I think is slightly better than the last. But playtesting is not just for playing the game - it's also for gathering feedback and I've been doing very little of that.

My current playtest crew for Vacuum is a core of four people who seem genuinely keen to play it. Dave has played it getting on for ten times I think, and gives me a good run for my money, winning as many (if not slightly more!) games than I do. The other three have probably played two or three times each, and I don't think any of them have beaten me yet (though I might be remember that wrong!). I'm now asking these core guys for really critical feedback after games in the hope I can use this information to hone the game still further and address the weaknesses of the game as a whole.

Possibly more interesting and useful would be feedback from the five or six people who've played it once or twice and don't seem particularly keen to play it again. What is it about the game that they don't like or do they have any ideas what it is about the game that doesn't excite them? I need to gather that feedback too, but I need to do it without seeming to be pulling them up for their lack of interest. How to do that, I'm not sure yet.

The other thing about my process that's changing is that I'm going from making a new version every month or so to just tweaking a card or a deck and re-print those out for testing. Printing and cutting out a whole new copy is about an hour and a half's work, but I can do a single deck pretty quickly (especially since I changed the form factor of the artwork - why oh why didn't I do that earlier?). It feels like the game is coming on nicely and I'm still having plenty of new card ideas - at this rate it's going to have an expansion's worth before I'm ready to publish/hawk it!

Setting my goals for the year a few weeks ago has really focussed my mind on moving things forward - I'm driven now to get a couple of copies out to my previous gaming groups in York and Bedford (both populated by Reiver Games playtesters!) by the end of February, but before I do that I want to improve the game still further.

I also need to create a rulebook that's complete enough to learn the game from, but time is tight, especially as I have to do a Self-Assessment Tax Return for the last year of Reiver Games before the end of this month :(

Monday, January 14

What's in a Name?

For many years I've been referring to new games by a codename that stands as a working title while the game is in development. It's Alive! was Codename: Monster, Carpe Astra was Codename: Network and Sumeria was Codename: Ancient before their official names were chosen or announced. And now I'm working on Codename: Vacuum.

If I decide to hawk it to publishers, job done, I can send it with the codename, since the publisher will almost certainly want to chose the name (and the artist and tweak the rules) themselves. However, if I decide I self publish again I'll need a real name for it at some point.

I've been toying with a couple of ideas (one of which I posited here to a conspicuous silence!), and it got me thinking about what makes a good game name.

Lots of euro games go for the place name option, e.g.: Goa, Macao, Cuba, Santiago, Puerto Rico; while more themed games chose something a bit more involved: e.g.: Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition, Race for the Galaxy, Space Hulk.

I would want something that gives you a flavour of the game, but it also needs to meet certain criteria:

  • There can't be an existing game with the same or a similar name
  • It's got to Google well
  • Ideally there's not a book/film/computer game with the same name
  • It's got to sound enticing
  • It ought to evoke the gameplay or setting

So Race for the Galaxy is out (taken) and Race for the Solar System is out (too similar). Sol is out (taken by a 2011 game, a forthcoming film plus brings back hundreds of BGG hits). Empire of the Sun is a film and book, Solar Empire is a 2012 game. So you can see there's a lot of competition!

Making up a word works in a lot of ways (it should be unique in the BGG database and should Google well), but it be awkward for searchers to guess the 'correct' spelling, plus it's difficult to evoke the theme, concept or mechanics of a game with a word that by definition doesn't mean anything.

I've been thinking about 'Full Steam to the Stars' or 'Steam to the Stars' for Codename: Vacuum. They both have a few things going for them:

  • No competition: a BGG search of 'steam stars' brings back no hits and Google doesn't find anything with that phrase in the first page
  • They both evoke the Steampunk initial setting of the game and the sci-fi finish with a sense of the transition in between
  • Full Steam gives a hint of the race to ensure that your target victory conditions are ones that get scored

Of course, the downside is that I'm too close to them so I've no idea whether they sound rubbish or not. The name has to be interesting enough that if you saw it on a shelf you'd pick up the box or if you saw it in the BGG Hotness you'd click the link. I'm not sure either of those have that kind of appeal.

For Carpe Astra I ran a BGG competition to choose a name (the winner got a mention in the rules and, I think, a free copy of the game). I could do the same thing here, but it's a bit of a wasted effort if I hawk it to publishers and they call it something else.

What do you all think of (Full) Steam to the Stars? Got any better ideas?

Monday, January 7

Setting Some Goals

It's a time of year traditionally dedicated to proudly proclaiming a set of Resolutions about how you will improve yourself that inevitably fall by the wayside by the end of January as things settle back to normal after your Christmas blowout.

Rather than set myself some New Year's Resolutions in that vein, I've decided instead to set myself some Games Design Goals instead. I'm not promising anything, I'm not changing the way I live my life (no matter how short-lived!), I'm just going to state for the record what I hope to achieve with Codename: Vacuum this year. I might achieve them, I might not, but I'll certainly try and it'll be interesting at the end of the year to look back and see how successful I've been in meeting them.

Creation and Play Goals

My goals are pretty simple for Creation and Play, now I'm back, I'd like to establish myself as a regular blogger again. The aim is to blog once a week on a Monday morning. I expect to miss a few due to holidays and illness/laziness, but I'd like to blog at least 45 times this year. I've hit 60,000 page views for the blog now over its 3 year history of stats. I'd like to get above 80,000 by the end of this year with a few extra followers to boot.

Codename: Vacuum Goals

I'm really pleased with the progress I'm making on Codename: Vacuum, the next stage is to get it out in the world. I'd like to get copies to my previous gaming buddies in York and Bedford by the end of February and then several copies to blind playtesters by the end of May. I hope that I'll be able to incorporate their feedback and have a print-ready game (sans artwork) by the end of November, when I need to decide whether the game is good enough to publish and if it is, what route to take to market.

There's a fair amount or graft needed to reach those goals, but if you don't set yourself something challenging you'll just fanny on interminably. Wish me luck!