Monday, February 24

Ready to Ship!

I spent Friday evening and Saturday daytime with Paul in York. Now the boxes for the games and expansions in the second Kickstarter have arrived, I needed to get down to York to sign almost 300 of them that are the deluxe rewards (the deluxe ones are signed, numbered, inscribed and optionally personalised on the inside of the box lid).

These are the games we signed, we did nearly twice as many expansions!

We did that in batches of 25 to give my arm and hand a rest between batches and in between batches talked games, marketing, game design, what’s next for FlickFleet and tried out the two new prototypes I'd brought with me (Coalescence and an idea we had together last time I visited with my family that I finished on the train down!).

It was a great and very productive 24 hours and we’re now in a position where we can start shipping the bulk of the rewards - everything due by the end of April is ready to parcel up and post and the rest of the rewards just need the laser-cutting and bits bagging done. We’re still on track for finishing fulfilment early again :-)

Monday, February 17

Designer Diary: Coalescence

As I mentioned last week, I’ve started designing games again after a crazy year of construction last year.

The first of these is Coalescence - a game of solar system engineering.

The theme for this one came first (I think it’s unique too!) - you start with a solar system at the proto-planetary disc stage (an amorphous disc of gas and dust) and take it to a finished solar system with planets and moons.

I first tried this game out with Paul towards the end of last year. At that point I was thinking of an action selection game with hidden goals that partially overlapped so there could be one or many winners.

As is often the case, that first game didn’t go very well (way too short and it didn’t feel particularly interesting).

The next step (at the end of last year) was to turn it into a dexterity game where the board mirrored the gravity well of the solar system - a layered board where things naturally fell towards the centre of the board:

The first dexterity prototype

I took that to the first session of Newcastle Playtest in early January. The dexterity element brought an immediacy that had been missing and also an element of chaos, which suits the theme of trillions of pieces interacting through gravity as they spiral round the new born star.

There were however a number of things that needed attention: the board was made of layers of 5mm foam core stacked on top of each other - the resulting steps were so high it was pretty much impossible to flick away from the star. That version was the first to feature the hidden goals, but they were very binary - by halfway through the game you knew you had won or lost, which made the rest a bit pointless. And there was no story for why you were doing it.

A couple of weeks ago I took a new prototype along Newcastle Playtest:

The second dexterity prototype

This one was made from layers of card so the steps (5 instead of 2) were easier to cross. I’d swapped out the wooden cubes for the gems in Incan Gold which had a much more interesting shape and added a time limit to the game rather than playing until you ran out of rocks to flick. I made the board bigger and I also came up with a story hook:

Captain, there is a new solar system forming in Sector X/A9-4. I don’t need to tell you how tactical important that location is. We need that system to be perfect for us to colonise. Your mission is to go there with a stealth ship and a fleet of mass-driver drones and give things a nudge so it ends up how we want it. Like everyone else we’ve signed the galactic treaties that forbid this, so your presence and actions must go undetected - this is strictly on the quiet. Of course we expect everyone else to do the same, so expect inference too. Get this right and your career will be stellar.

The final change, suggested by one of the playtesters, was to have hidden scoring criteria instead of goals. So you would spend the whole game trying to get more points rather than you play until you met your win condition and then lose interest. It was much better all round.

Next up is to swap the six hastily scribbled hidden scoring cards for a wider selection and then work on balancing them properly.

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Monday, February 10

Designing Again

Last year I spent making FlickFleet copies. It was all-encompassing. We needed to make about 300 for the first Kickstarter’s rewards and each one was entirely hand-made. At the beginning of the year my half of the construction (making the boxes, cutting the dashboards and packing the contents in the box) took me about 25 minutes per game. 

I work full time and have two young kids so my chance to do this is in the evenings after the kids are asleep and we’ve tidied up for the day, so I started somewhere between 8:30 and 9pm. My youngest sleeps terribly so to survive I need to get to bed pretty early - ideally 10pm. As a result I ended up spending three nights a week making games for most of the year.

As a result of that and wanting to spend some time with The Wife after the kids were asleep, I did pretty much nothing last year except making games. In 2012 I set up a playtesting group with another designer. Last year I didn’t make it once (and he’s moved on too, so it petered out). We have a local games club that meets twice a month. I didn’t make it to that either. Nor did I do any real games design either. Even after Paul (who works 3 days a week and has an older kid) took a load of the manufacturing off my plate.

This time we’ve managed to reach the scale where we can get the dashboards cut for us and the boxes manufactured too (they’re finally turning up at Paul’s today!), so Paul is going to do all the construction (which is laser cutting the bits, bagging everything and then putting stuff in the boxes).

I’ll finish off the remaining stock from the first Kickstarter, do the books, website, marketing and admin stuff.

This frees up a lot of my time (especially good as I started a new job last week!) and as a result I’ve been in the mood for designing again. I’ve restarted the playtest group, started work on two designs and almost made it to Newcastle Gamers (the bi-monthly games club) this week, but was foiled by a truly terrible night’s sleep the preceding night.

I’ve got two ideas on the go at the moment: Coalescence: a dexterity game of solar system engineering and a multi-session game set in the FlickFleet universe that Paul and I came up with over breakfast on our recent trip to York.

I’ll be sharing more about these two games over the next few weeks.

Monday, February 3

Taking the Pledge

We didn't use a pledge manager (a separate system for managing fulfilment, late pledges and pledge upgrades after the Kickstarter closes, e.g. Backerkit or Gamefound) for our first Kickstarter and weren't intending to for our second. As the second Kickstarter came to an end and it was clear we weren't going to unlock all the stretch goals, people started asking if they could get the missed stretch goals as add-ons in a pledge manager. We asked backers if they wanted a pledge manager and nearly 70% of respondents said yes. So we found ourselves at the end of the campaign quickly fishing around for a pledge manager we were not intending to use.

We were not expecting to generate much income through this, so ones like Backerkit that charge a flat fee were a bit off-putting. In the end we found Gamefound which is free to both backers and creators (I've no idea how they fund themselves!). So we went with that.

At the end of the Kickstarter we raised £13,162 which, after dropped pledges, fell to £12,879. The pledge manager ran for about a month and allowed people who missed the Kickstarter to late pledge at Kickstarter prices, people who wanted to upgrade their pledges to do so and anyone to add some extra asteroids on to their order for only £3-4 with free shipping for a single copy.

We had no idea what to expect, but it end up raising an additional £1,688 (an additional 13.1%), of which £552 came from nine late pledges and £442 from add-ons (the asteroids). The remaining £694 came from people who had backed the Kickstarter adding extra copies of the game or expansion or upgrading from standard to deluxe copies. Which is pretty incredible and way beyond what we expected.

Gamefound dashboard for FlickFleet

For comparison on our first Kickstarter we just used the Kickstarter reward surveys and offered to take PayPal payment for anyone interested in an upgrade (we had seven upgrades and an additional deluxe and standard ordered for a total of £198 (an additional 1.6%). It's not a fair comparison as we didn't have an equivalent of the £3-4 add-on, but it's clear the pledge manager was a good thing from a sales point-of-view.

It was not all smooth sailing, however.

Before we get into this, the problems were exacerbated by my own mistake: I told backers (via a Kickstarter update) that the Pledge Manager was live for late pledges before I'd loaded in their rewards from Kickstarter. Some of them immediately leapt on to Gamefound and completed their Gamefound order before I'd uploaded their Kickstarter credits or the rewards for which they had pledged. Afraid this was the beginning of an avalanche of excited backers jumping on early, I quickly uploaded the credits only and cancelled the too-early orders.

So now people who know how to use Gamefound could re-select the rewards they got through Kickstarter and add on anything extra they wanted while only paying for the add-ons or upgrades. But quite a few people didn't realise they needed to add their original pledge to the order (due to my mistake), so we got several orders for just an add-on (and shipping on that), which later needed cancelling along with info to the backer on how to correct the (my!) mistake.

I've spent about 40 hours over the last couple of weeks building a fulfilment spreadsheet from three sources: PayPal (where we received the upgrade/add-on/late pledge money), Gamefound and Kickstarter. I've had to cross-reference them all to ensure we didn't miss anyone. I've had to deal with Kickstarter backers who haven't fulfilled the pledge manager (about 10%), all the erroneous pledges caused by my mistake and include the late pledges that weren't in Kickstarter. That has been just about doable, but clearly is not sustainable if our next Kickstarter is (a lot) more successful. Having to merge the two formats and then do a three way cross-check has been very painful and slow. And even after all the chasing, I'm still missing 6 shipping addresses (about 2%) and 57 (about 34%) lots of personalisation info. The Gamefound support was good (they have a guy in the UK), and things were definitely made worse by my mistakes, but I wonder how much effort would have been saved if I done things right in the first place.