Archive | January 2014

Making History – Blank Paper to Funded Kickstarter in 44 hours

Last weekend, three of my good friends (Jordan, Rob, and Ali) and I took part in the “Global Game Jam.” A Game Jam is an event where the participants have a goal of creating a game in a limited amount of time. Most Game Jams come with a “prompt” – something that is supposed to be the core idea or inspiration for the game. You aren’t given the prompt until the clock starts, so you can’t cheat and design your game before you get there.

The Global Game Jam (GGJ) is one of the biggest with more than 20,000 jammers in 600+ locations all over the world. We went to the Harrisburg University site (I do some teaching there). While the vast majority of participants are there to make digital games, we wanted to make an analog game AND get it on Kickstarter before the end of the 48 hour event.

Why do this? Well, I think that digital designers need to see the value of analog design first hand. In the time it took the rest of the jammers to make partial rough mock-ups of ideas, we were going to take our product all the way to the consumer market through Kickstarter. I felt like leading by example for these kids – many of whom I’ve taught in class – would be good for them.

But mostly, we did it because it was going to be really hard and no one had ever done it before. It was our chance, to make Game Jam and Kickstarter history.

So we prepared as best we could – put together our game design kits, art kits, supplies, and Jordan created some blank graphic design templates for various types of products we might make (cards, books, etc…). I talked with the folks at Kickstarter to clear the way for a super fast campaign, which they were very kind to allow.

At the beginning of the GGJ, we got our prompt:

GGJ prompt

We each then had 10 minutes to come up with a game concept. We agreed that we would limit ourselves to a game that could be done with high quality print on demand. Our group went with Robs idea – a game where monsters were trying to pass as human. Then we were off to the races. With very little sleep, some BBQ, and a few moments of real creative brilliance, We beat even our own internal goal.

We went from a blank sheet to a LIVE Kickstarter campaign – complete with a funny animated video, art, etc… in less than 24 hours with a game we really like. This tweet from the GGJ organizers had us cheering out loud.

Screen Shot 2014-01-31 at 11.00.25 AM

Our goal was just $500. We could keep the goal low as we were going to use Print on Demand. While the goal is low, so was the price to get the game – just $4. That meant we’d still need to get quite a few backers to fund, but we had also just committed probably the biggest error you can make in a KS campaign – we didn’t do any pre-marketing. Most Kickstarter campaigns don’t launch until the creators have worked hard to create a lot of excitement – ensuring that the launch of the campaign will be good. We had none of that due to the fact we didn’t know what we were even going to make 24 hours earlier.

So in addition to continuing to work on the game – we had to START marketing our newly launched campaign. We did what we could with social media to share our excitement for what we were doing and surprisingly, backers started to find us. 4 hours before the GGJ ended Rob got to tweet this (retweeted by the GGJ staff).

GGJ funded Tweets

Hard to fully express how awesome this felt. Literally a blank page to a funded Kickstarter in less than 48 hours. Are we going to make lots of money on this? Nope – If How to Human ever shows up at retail, it’ll probably have to cost at least DOUBLE what we’re charging. But we didn’t do this to make money, we did this because it was hard and we wanted a challenge. This might not make sense to everyone, but the 4 of us are gamers – people who expose themselves to challenges for fun – and we now get to file How to Human under the category “epic win.”



Quick check on campaigns.

How to Human – Going well. 300% funded. Looking into seeing if we can do the first printing by a larger printer instead of a POD printer. If we reach those minimums, we can start adding physical stretch goals – but even if we can’t we have some unique stretch goal options available to us.

Meeple Deck – It’s in the stagnant period before the final push. I’m a little worried about this one. I hope we can get some momentum soon or it might end up just short. On the good side I just received an email from a wholesaler who is in interested in helping out.

Next Post: Final Push


Benefits of Getting More Social

First, a quick check in on the current campaign…

Meeple Poker Deck – 18 days left, raised $3270 of the goal of $6200

meeple 18 day

It’s gonna be a nail biter…

Social Issues

I know I need to get more social with my media. Because I spent 7 years (yikes!) with a focus on kids products, I couldn’t really be that “out there” on social media. During those years, my public persona needed to be very kid-friendly. This meant I had to be careful with how I communicated on-line and I knew I couldn’t hide anything I posted from kids. Kids are smart. I also don’t believe in hiding behind a fake name on-line ever. It’s not a moral thing, it’s just my way of making sure that the dreaded “virtual spine” never takes hold of me. Anything I say on-line, I would say to someone’s face. And because I was spending some weekends signing 1000 autographs for 8 year olds who called me “Master Luke”, I figured I should just limit my on-line interactions. The last thing I wanted was a kid and/or parent to yell at me at an event for taking a position on an adult topic on-line – better to be all positive, zero controversy, and focus on making the best product experience I could for those kids!

But being out of the social circle for that long has left me with few Twitter followers, few Facebook friends, and a mouthpiece that speaks well to companies, but not nearly as well to individuals – which is the bread and butter of Kickstarter. This year, I know I need to fix that. So in addition to being active on relevant Facebook groups and community groups, and tweeting about relevant issues, I also want to meet more folks face-to-face in an environment where I can speak on the topic of the day freely.

I had a couple of projects that needed outside playtesting, so I went to Unpub4 last weekend. It’s a consumer convention in reverse. Game Designers pay to get a “table” and playtesters show up to test your UNPUBlished games for free.

The first day of the show I dedicated to interacting with other game designers, playtesting their games. I played tons of games. Some were fantastic, others a little rough around the edges, but all of the designers were wonderful people. The quality of the playtesting was stunning – fantastic feedback was given in good spirit AND received in the same spirit by the designers. It was very energizing to be around that much creative energy. One game caught my eye in particular as I passed by it on day 1 – it looked like a design I’ve been kicking around, but I didn’t have time to check it out that day.

Day two I had a table where I tested the expansion for a game I designed and published through Kickstarter called “Castle Dice” (I’ll be Kickstarting this expansion later this year). That went very well. After playtesters try a game, they fill out a short report on the game anonymously. After the show, designers can see what folks said so that the designers can take action. Various parts of the game are rated on a 1-to-5 scale. Here was how the Castle Dice expansion faired with the very tough playtesters that were there…

unpub feedback score


As I closed up my table, I had a chance to get a quick overview of the game that I thought looked like something I had been working on. The game wasn’t as far along as mine, but damn, this guys theme was 1000 times better than mine. Basically, I had focused on sort of a mean/funny angle (I seem to be doing that a lot much lately) where he focused on a fun/competitive angle. As my game is further along, I’m hoping to work with him on the project this year and he seems interested in the idea. I think the two of us as a team would knock it out of the park.

Unpub4 reminded me that being “more social” isn’t just so you can market your goods. It’s to give and receive support and encouragement and to remind yourself why you do what you do. I’m going to keep the pedal down on being more social, it’s awesome.

Back to the current campaign…

The Meeple deck is on cruise control, which is not a good thing. I’ve only done 3 updates in the first 12 days – mostly because with a poker deck like this, there isn’t all that much to say and I have a hard time writing pointless updates just to do them (although that often works to get backers to spread the word). I’ve also been hitting the other projects in the queue hard as well. But there was an interesting Meeple-related development. Jordan, my good friend and graphic designer on the deck, bought some new gear which allows him to create custom heavy duty vinyl stickers. He made me a set for my laptop…

Meeple on Computer

I posted the pic above to the Meeple Deck Kickstarter and got positive responses from a few folks. I think we’re going to add this to the campaign. It might only bring in $50 total, but it’s something both Jordan and I like and as he can create them from beginning to end, logistics should be simple. If we get too many orders, we can get them made out of house, but I think there is little chance of that. What I’m really excited about though is that this skill could translate well to other Kickstarters I might run this year. Once again proving that every Kickstarter creator benefits from having friends with skills – be they photography, marketing, or making vinyl stickers! Working out the kinks in the creation and delivery of these custom add-ons with the Meeple campaign could pay nice dividends later.

Next week, I’ll probably do two updates to the campaign, one about the stickers once we get the pricing and visuals done. The second showing the updated Ace of Spaces – which is a card that always deserves special treatment in a playing card deck.

The other news of the week was that the USPS just raised their postal rates for 2014. This happens every year, but it makes a fine argument to get your products out the door before the rates go up again!

Next Blog: Game Jam to Kickstarter

Why do This BHAG, and Why the Meeple Deck?

I wonder if any of these ideas were good.

I wonder if any of these ideas were good.

Sometimes, I think people need to do things just because they are hard. Run a marathon, climb a mountain, stop eating French fries, whatever. These activities give a great sense of accomplishment because they are hard.

My BHAG is certainly hard, but it’s not that sort of random challenge. The reason for the BHAG is based on the frustrating I have with the ratio of ideas I have to products I’ve actually got made. In the hobby gaming industry, you work with some super creative people and it spawns lots of ideas. I probably have more product ideas in a year than most people have in a lifetime. That might sound boastful, but it’s really not, it’s just that the industry I have worked in for 2 decades makes your brain think that way. If fact, I’m probably on the low-side of the hobby game industry in the “number of ideas” list. People like John Zinser, Eric Lang, and Ken Hite probably have more good ideas in a month than I will have in my life. And these ideas are NOT just for games. The group of industry folks I hang out with will just as easily have a great idea for a new TV show or food item as they would for a new game.

Because I spent almost 5 years working on a single product – Bakugan – I’ve got baskets and baskets of ideas that might be really good. They might be good ideas and not knowing is driving me nuts. Kickstarter can help me find out if they are good or not. That’s why I started along this path.

But because I’m always having ideas, the original path of doing 12 Kickstartrs has already changed due to newer ideas layered on top of the general goal.

Now I want to do more than just 12 of my old ideas on Kickstarter this year. I want to attempt things that no one has ever done on Kickstarter for at least a few of the campaigns. I want to tackle some serious projects in addition to entertainment projects. I want to test some theories I have about Kickstarter with projects. And I want to do at least one project that makes people say “I’ve never seen crowdsourcing used in that way before.”

Will they all fund? Probably not. Am I going to work stupidly hard to give each the best chance I can? You bet. But the one thing that I know will suffer is my ability to market each idea at maximum capacity as there simply isn’t enough time. That means each idea has to be extra good to get funded. What I will not do is compromise on the quality of the project as that would undercut the entire point and it would make me sad.

Why start with the Meeple Deck? It seems so plebeian?

The Meeple Deck (and one more project I plan later) is a test of Kickstarter category loyalty. Two very “hot” categories in Kickstarter are playing cards and hobby games. The Meeple deck sits somewhere between those two groups. I’m curious how many gamers who go to Kickstarter for their games will pick up a deck of playing cards themed for their other hobby. I’m also curious how many playing card collectors would be interested in an high quality deck of cards that looks very little like the decks they normally back (but treats the category with respect).

After a week, the jury is mostly in on the Meeple deck. If it continues as it is going, there is no way it’ll fund at the $12K level. The minimum printing for a high quality deck is 2500 units per design. Since the Meeple deck was planned to have two different back options, I needed to set the limit at $12K so I could print 5000 total decks. If I only raised $12K I would still lose money, but I’d have a lot of inventory left to sell at trade shows and through other campaigns, so I was cool with that risk. I’m currently working on a replacement campaign that has only one back so I can drop the funding goal to $6K (with 2500 decks printed, a smaller out of pocket maximum loss, and less extra inventory to sell afterwards). Even at $6K it’s likely going to be a challenge.

What have I learned from the Meeple Deck?

–       Either most people who shop on KS for games don’t shop on KS for playing cards (i.e. I buy art on KS, but not mugs even if they have art on them)


–       People who shop for games and playing cards on Kickstarter make their decisions based on their opinions on each category. (i.e. I buy art on KS and I buy mugs on KS, but I buy the best mug I can and the best art I can independent of each other).

When someone backs a project, the creator can see what else that person has backed. From that additional information, I think it’s pretty clear the first option above is likely the true one.

Whatever the case, there appears to be little consumer cross-over between these two categories. I think if the art was a gamery topic (say LotR), but done in the style of playing cards (highly intricate), the result may have been different. The Meeple is about as far away from playing card art style as possible! And of course, it’s just one piece of data, but I do feel like I learned something.

I really hope that this deck gets funded. I want to see how well this deck will sell at retail shows like GenCon. I want to get at least a data point at how different the retail shopping audience is from the KS shopping audience. I think this deck could easily find good sales and traction on-line as well, particularly during the holiday season as it would be a solid stocking stuffer for a Eurogamer.