Monday, September 25

Working in the Cloud

Back when I started Reiver Games in 2006 there wasn't a lot of cloud functionality (I had GMail, that was about it). I didn't own a smartphone or a tablet. My bookkeeping was done on paper (in a physical ledger book), all the spreadsheets I had of game manufacturing details, orders, sales tracking, etc. were OpenOffice (it's free!) spreadsheets on my laptop.

As someone who traveled a lot for work it made running the business quite awkward. I would only be able to update things properly at home. Doing my books turned into a weekly, then monthly and then yearly nightmare. I could only respond to emails when sat at a computer with a physical internet connection. It made things harder and less productive.

This time round I'm approaching things differently. I've a smartphone with a decent data plan that I can use in the UK, Europe and the US. So I can check and respond to emails at home, on the move, at lunch or even while travelling abroad.

Clouds by theaucitron on Flickr
Clouds by theaucitron on Flickr

I've made a concious decision to host as much of my Eurydice Games stuff as possible in the cloud. My books are online, so I can update them as soon as I receive an order or incur an expense, keeping them up to date like this removes the horror of the 'my taxes are due. Quick! Let's catch up the months of bookkeeping I've been putting off!'. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my task list is in Trello which I can access from my laptop, from my iPad and my phone. If I think of a cool idea I can just write it down.

I use Evernote to record information about the game ideas I have in flight - so I've got notes, rules, ideas all written down and accessible from all my devices.

I even use the CC (Creative Cloud) version of InDesign and Illustrator for the graphic design of my games, so I can work on them while travelling too.

Having all this data and information available while out of the house, on a trip to the US for work, on the train to Manchester or at lunchtime means I can be more productive and have to keep less stuff in my head. It's a great way to work and I really appreciate the improvement over the first time round.

Monday, September 18

I Need Data!

This time round I want to do a better job than I did with Reiver Games. Reiver Games was actually pretty successful during the first couple of years when I was hand-crafting Border Reivers and first edition of Its Alive! It wasn't until I tried to make the jump to professional publisher that it all went wrong.

There are a large number of reasons why it went wrong, but one of the most egregious was my inefficient use of my time in the professional phase of Reiver Games. To compound matters, I kept very little data on the things I was doing and how well they worked, so it was difficult to determine what was the best thing to be doing anyway.

This time round I'm trying to keep better information so that I can use that to inform decisions, especially around how best to use my limited time. I'm keeping track of what sources lead to Zombology orders, web traffic to my blog and website and twitter analytics. I'm even trying to get very accurate information about how long it takes to make each part of the games too (a set of cards take 21 minutes to cut out and then another 4 minutes to round the corners and pack them in the box!).

I'm not making much use of this data yet, but once I've collected a decent amount of it I can start using it to drive some of my decision making - hopefully leading to higher productivity or better marketing efforts.

In other news, I've started shipping Zombology to my pre-orders. Only three so far, but I've now got a stock of games so I can start working through the list. I'm hoping to make at least twenty copies this month, so hopefully a decent chunk of my pre-ordering customers will get their games soon!

Monday, September 11

Habitual Game Designer

Daniel Pink (author of Drive) sent me to the Farnham Street blog this week and I ended up reading this blog post about Habits vs. Goals. It got me thinking about my approach to running Eurydice Games.

This time round I'm far more organised than I was during my Reiver Games days - I've written a business plan and I've a Trello board with all my tasks in. I set myself deadlines that are aggressive (I hit most of them in July, but missed a lot in August due to work travel and holidays).

What I need to do to be successful is to maximise the impact I get from the very limited amount of time I have to work on this around my day job and my family life. I need to build a set of habits that enable me to get loads done without stressing me out. Making them habits means they just become a natural part of my week rather than something I'm straining to achieve and stressing about.

I've already got habits in place for social media (twitter, BGG and Google+) plus blogging, hopefully these will allow me to raise enough awareness for me to find the 197 customers I need to sell out of Zombology. The next most obvious thing to add is actually crafting the games I'm trying to sell. If I habitually make five games each week I will finish building the print run for Zombology in nine months - i.e. the end of May next year. That would be great.

As part of my approach of continuous improvement I'll be reviewing my achievements each month and I can adjust my habits accordingly.

Monday, September 4

Small Print Runs are Liberating

Most people designing and self-publishing board games are turning to Kickstarter to share them with the world. There are a lot of advantages to this (not least getting a good idea of the market size and not having to front the all of the production costs yourself), but I've chosen a different route. I've mentioned before why I don't like Kickstarter (see here, here and here).

But there are distinct advantages to the opposite approach too:
  • Knowing what you're getting into up front
  • Personal connection with your customers
  • Personal connection with the games
  • Freedom to do the unusual

Knowing what what you're getting into up front

I've not done a Kickstarter and I've only backed two, but reading Brandon the Game Dev, you need to have art ready to go before you start your Kickstarter. So unless you are or you know really well, an artist you're already a few thousand pounds out of pocket before you start. Then, with pledges and stretch goals you don't really know what you're getting into until the day the campaign finishes, when you have hundreds or thousands of people out of pocket awaiting you to deliver on your promises. That's stress I could do without.

I knew before I spent any money that I was risking £785 of my own money on Zombology. No more, no less. I've spent that £785 and now I'm just waiting to see how much of it I can recoup/will I make a profit to invest in my next game. 80 odd orders and I break even, 100 odd and I fund the other things like website costs and other game development costs. All 200 and I make a small profit to reinvest in my next game.

Because I've funded it myself there's no-one out of pocket but me, I'm not taking money from my customers until I have their games ready to ship, so it's no risk for them, which eases the pressure a bit, seeing as I'm not sitting on a pile of other people's money with obligations to deliver.

Personal connection to the customers

Lots of the pre-orders I've received so far are from people who bought games from Reiver Games. They are people who've supported my games designing and publishing over the last thirteen years. I've never met many of them (they are worldwide), but I feel like we have a connection and I hugely value their support.

Selling hand-crafted games direct lets you form a bond with the customer in a way that selling to distributors who sell to shops who sell to customers really doesn't. Plus, hand-crafting the games lets you personalise them a bit too - with signed and numbered copies each of which can have a personalised message inside.

Personal connection to the games

As awesome as it is to walk down the aisle of a dusty warehouse surveying the pallets on which your games are piled, it's not the same as making the game yourself. Personally cutting the box net, folding it, taping it and then applying the label. Folding the rules sheet and the individually cutting out each card and then rounding their corners gives you a close bond to each and every copy. Time is money. Doubly so when you have a busy job and a young family. That I've devoted 45 minutes to the construction of each and every copy makes them more valuable to me and hopefully to you.
Zombology before I start crafting it

Freedom to do the unusual

I've got 200 copies of Zombology to sell, probably 195 after review copies and a copy for myself. Of the 7.4 billion people in the world I need to find only 195 that are willing to part with a tenner for my game. In that position, I can afford to make a quirky game that appeals to a niche within the strategy gaming niche market. If you're kickstarting a game it needs to appeal to as many people as possible to increase its chance of funding. Glorious art, loads of minis, popular mechanics. I can afford to try something a little more off the beaten track (e.g. semi-cooperative) and do the art myself (with crowd-sourced art direction!).

It's liberating doing small print runs and now I've started making the games I'm really appreciating the route I've taken once again.