Archive | February 2014

How to Human and the Thin Margin Stretch Goal Challenge

As I write this, How to Human is in it’s final few hours. It’s well past our very small goal of $500. We had a tough time with stretch goals on this one as we have so little financial room on the project. We have already made a set of digital downloads (screen desktops, phone lock screens, icons).

We did add a fairly unique stretch goal for this campaign already – we decided to open source the art if we hit $4K. What does this mean exactly? Well if any game developer out there wants to use any of the images from How to Human, they are free to do so. They don’t have to pay us even if their project is “for profit.” The only limitations are that they have to credit Ali who did the art and they can’t use the name Dr. Blobbleplop when referring to his image (names/characters are hard to open up like this). We hope that this is a good resource for other game designers both analog and digital who might not have access to art like we did.

We hit that $4K goal this morning. So with just 5 hours left, I wanted to make a new stretch goal. Which brings me to the story to how Jordan and I spent this last weekend. The two of us, along with JR Honeycutt of “DFW Nerdnight” fame went to Dreamation – a great smallish game convention in Morristown NJ. Somewhere along the way, and very unplanned, we had an idea for a “game jam” type of game. At about 5pm, we decided to jump in and actually design the game with the goal of running it at 10pm.

The idea was to design an RPG you could play in the elevator at cons. It ended up as an experimental RPG dragon slaying adventure. When players entered the elevator, they would see a large image of a Dragon, along with 4 character sheets on the wall. Your EM (Elevator Master) would then quickly tell you the story. “The Dragon will be eating the convention at 11pm and it’s up to all of us to deal enough damage to the dragon to defeat it before then.” The Riders/Adventurers would then pick one of the character classes, and choose which of the actions on the character sheet to take. A roll would be made which would result in some amount of damage to the dragon based on the choices of all of the party members. If all went well, the convention goers would defeat the dragon by 11pm.

Jordan took the reigns on the art – making 4 characters and a poster sized dragon that was just awesome. JR and I worked on the abilities and how to handle combat. We knew we had to both teach the game and play the game in the time that it takes to ride an elevator – which was limiting, but also a great challenge. We were done at 9pm with an hour to spare, so JR and I took the “Otis” dragon poster that Jordan had made around the con letting folks know that we would be running the game in the middle elevator from 10pm to 11.

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The end result was ridiculous and ridiculously fun. The players loved it at a level that far exceeded our hopes. Elevators are an odd place to play a game. Usually even talking in an elevator is uncomfortable, so to take folks from uncomfort to a team-based RPG adventure in such a short time really tickled our players. We had a line the whole time and players coming out of the elevators had great big smiles on their faces.

JR was the EM in the elevator and decided to give extra damage bonuses to the LARPers who had weapons. This resulted in one of the early parties returning like this for their second trip.

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It created this fantastic moment in time that I won’t soon forget and that I think those players will be talking about for years.

What does that have to do with the Year of Kickstarting Dangerously? Well, as our final stretch goal for How to Human, we’re going to include a free PDF download of “Level Up, the Elevator RPG con game” complete with all of Jordan’s awesome art. This project so “fits” the idea of what How to Human is, that I’m super happy to include it as a stretch goal.

I set the stretch goal at $5000 (about $800 will be needed in the last 4 hours to get there). I would have made it easier, but it will take Jordan a good bit of time to take the work we did at the show and turn it into something more polished. The goal is going to be challenging, and it will ONLY be achieved if there is actual demand for a crazy con elevator game.

If a campaign has very thin margins, you have to think outside the norm to create stretch goals. Don’t make the mistake of killing your margin by including lots of free stuff and hope to “make it up in volume” unless you really have your numbers down solid. For this campaign, we had to avoid free physical stuff at all costs, and in the end, I think we came up with some very thematic and appropriate stretch goals.

Other Campaign Updates

Meeple Playing Cards: First set of files off to the printer. We expect a good bit of back and forth here, but we’re right on time.

Next Up: Miskatonic and Meeple Action!


Fallout: Pushing Meeples Over the Line

Last weekend was a tough one here. The Meeple deck was well below it’s $6200 goal and my hopes were pretty low. I had a tough call to make – should I put in money to help it over the line?

As I discussed last week, this is called “Straw-Man” money as you have to coordinate it through someone else because you can’t use your own Amazon account. It gets done all the time, and while it does ring of dishonesty, under some circumstances I find it hard to blame folks who do it as long as they still have the capability to deliver the project. KS can still be about dream fulfillment, and the idea of getting close and not making it is a soul crusher.

If a person needs to spend a few weekend nights with Netflix and ramen instead of going out for dinner and a movie but gets to make a product, then who am I to call that sacrifice anything other than dedication to their idea?

This is the call I was having to make. I already have an underfund goal, so I didn’t expect the Meeple Deck to make money out of the gate, but was I willing to go deeper in pocket if I had to? I decided yes and no. I was willing to give up something to help make the project fund, but I was not willing for that to be cash. I looked around my office and found this..

Adrian Smith Painting

It’s a really nice original painting done for a CCG I worked on years ago. It’s by a very well known Games Workshop artist named Adrian Smith and it’s killer. I own a fair bit of art from my time in the industry and this is one of the better pieces I have. Adrian’s drawings tend to go for $150-$200 and his paintings like this are easily in the $600-$800+ range (his big cover paintings are much much more expensive). I told myself that this is what I would give up to have the meeple deck fund. I figured I should be able to easily sell it for $500 on ebay if I had to sell it quickly, so that was the maximum I was willing to put in.

I was contacted by a reader of the blog who asked if I would swap funding with her. Each of us funding the other’s project at $22. After looking at her game, I did it right away. I really like the type of game she had made, so I was all good with this swap and don’t consider it anything other than supporting another creator.

Then I asked my friend to put in what I thought would be the first $100. I wasn’t proud of this, but I love this project.

Important to note here – I had not given up. In fact, my hustle increased to a ludicrous level that final weekend. Other than zipping out to see Frozen with my family, I don’t think I left my office for anything other than sleep and meals. I probably tried a dozen ideas. Some worked a little, some worked not at all. I was gaining momentum, but it still looked like I was going to be short – by more than $500. Then I tried one more idea – give stuff away.

High quality playing cards require a minimum printing of 2500 decks. The decks left over after fulfilling KS pledges is really where my profit lies. At my funding level I was going to have a LOT of decks left. Most of my work that last weekend had been to get new backers. For this tactic, I decided to used those decks as an incentive to get current backers to up their pledge – 1 free deck with order of six, 3 free decks with an order of 12. The only out-of-pocket cost to me would be shipping as the printing was a sunk cost. I would only notice those decks not being around when/if I was very close to selling out of the entire run – a point I don’t expect to get to for 18 months or more.

The result was strong and immediate. Pledges were very strong in the minutes after the update. I had my friend take out the $100 he put in (it was only in for about 4 hours or so I think). We funded with a few hours left and ended up a few hundred over what was needed with NO straw-man money.

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In the final days, I noticed quite a few 1-deck backers becoming 2-deck backers. My assumption is a lot of folks really did want to help so they personally stretched themselves. After the campaign was a few hundred dollars over what was needed to fund, many of those backers lowered their pledge back to the lower amounts. I want to use this space to thank those folks – it means a lot that you were willing to help us make this project and I’m glad you got to back off your levels to something that more accurately reflects your wants.

Odd side-note. After the campaign was over, I looked at the painting and realized what it now represented to me – a thing that I am willing to sell so that I can make something else. I put it on Ebay this morning. I’ll use the money on whatever the next project is I do – either to lower the goal or just make it cooler.

How to Human Update:

244 backers, $2400 (goal: $500)


If the Meeple Deck was an odd campaign, the How to Human one is from another galaxy. Due to the compressed time-line, we had no time to think about “stretch goals” or even put down a plan for updates where we leak out information over time. As it is, this campaign has no financial room for stretch goals unless we move from high quality Print on Demand (POD) to traditional printing. That would mean either lowering the quality, taking a HUGE inventory position, or printing overseas (which has it’s own complications).

We’ve also got some publisher interest in the game – so we’ll have to see how that plays out. As this is a game we have no intention of making available at retail, a publisher could be nice, but it would be one more complication for what was supposed to be a one-off “event” product.

Trying to keep with the larger event/purpose of the project, we’re using updates to interview other microgame creators and trying to pull back the veil a little as to what it takes to make a project like these. We also want to point out things that digital designers can learn from working on analog projects.

If I could change one thing about this campaign though, it would be to shorten it. I think small games feel more right with short campaigns. They are impulse purchase decisions at their core, not ones that should require 30 days of info for potential backers.

Next Up: The Fame Game

Final Push – Bailiff, break out the Right Guard

Final 28 hours of the Meeple Playing Card KS campaign. How does it look? 83% there, and I’m 90% towards a coronary.


There is sort of a general assumption with a Kickstarter project – you get a 1/3rd your backers in the first few days. 1/3rd in the slow middle, and `1/3rd in the final push. I can’t rely on this for the Meeple deck for two reasons.

1)    Total number of backers is low at about 205. The final push 1/3rd assumption is based in a lot of ways on getting your current backers to get real “viral” and that requires a certain density of backers to create compelling social noise. 200-ish could too few for that.

2)    Because this is a re-launched campaign, it got an artificially fast start. I got most of the backers from the first launch to jump on very early in this campaign. Expecting an end with the same vigor is probably misplaced hope.

Most of the stats on Kickstarter programs say that if you get to 50% of the target, you almost always make it. This campaign might buck that trend, which in a lot of ways makes it more interesting to me. It brings up some interesting questions. The two I’ve been dealing with today are “Straw-Man money” and “what WON’T I do to make my campaign hit it’s goal?”

What I’m Not Willing to Do

When your campaign is close, it’s easy to get tempted to do things that you find annoying when other people do them. Because I knew marketing would suffer by trying to do 12 campaigns in a year, I really feel this pressure today. One of the things that normally bugs me is when other campaigns ask me to do a “cross-pitch.” In almost all of those offers, it’s someone I don’t know with a very small campaign asking for help from a very successful campaign. Often those small campaigns are for really inferior products.

I’ve been asked probably 100 times for a cross-promotion on previous campaigns, and I’ve done it exactly twice. In those two cases, I felt like the project I was asked to cross-promote was both really good (something I would/did back), and appropriate for the folks who likely backed whatever I was doing at the time. And both times, the person who asked didn’t do it with a form letter that was obviously spammed to every other project in the category.

Today I was tempted to be that guy and send out 50 form emails to anyone who has ever done a playing card release. I decided not to go that route (I just couldn’t be ‘that guy’). But I did cross promote to two previous groups that I had personally sold too: The backers of the Miskatonic School for Girls, and Castle Dice games. I owed both of those groups an update on expansions anyway and I felt like since it was me again, it wasn’t too spammy.

I also requested a shout out from one very well known playing card creator/group called Uusi. I not only backed their awesome Pagan cards when they came out, but after sharing it on Facebook, so did one of my sisters. Their campaign was a real motivator for us, and as our styles couldn’t be more different, I felt like they wouldn’t look at us as any sort of competitor. I have no idea if they’ve shared the link, but I didn’t feel bad asking.

Straw-Man Money?

The tougher question that comes up now though regards “Straw-Man” money. KS has a policy that you can’t contribute to your own campaign. But it is a very common practice for folks to do this through a friend or relative. Some folks put this Straw-Man money into their campaigns at the beginning in hopes of getting a big boost that feeds on itself, and later they take the money out. Check out this graph:

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This project had a $10K goal. And amazingly, on day 1 a single person dropped $10K into the campaign… odd that… Then after the campaign had reached a level of success that allowed it, and just 8 days before the end, that backer left and took the $10K with him/her. That at least LOOKS a lot like Straw-Man money.

The other main use of Straw-Man money is to get a campaign to “just fund.” This is very common in certain areas of KS – just look at how many 100% funded kids books there are on KS. This is a pretty logical thing to do because not everyone running a KS campaign needs every single dollar to make their project a reality. Some people use KS just as a way to get some pre-sales on a project they are going to release anyway. Some folks use KS as a way to raise “all the money they can’t afford to put in themselves” as well.

For the Meeple Deck, I have an Underfund Goal (a goal amount that won’t totally cover all of my expenses). I didn’t do that as a marketing trick, but because I fully expect to sell a lot of these decks at gaming conventions and I’m fortunate to be in a situation where I can invest a couple thousand dollars in inventory. So, should I put in a  few hundred more dollars to make it fund? eek…

In 27 hours, I may come face-to-face with the Straw-Man decision to get the project funded. Right now, I’m torn. I’ve got a lot on my plate and having one less thing to produce this year wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen. This year isn’t about going 12-for-12 on my Kickstarters – it’s about trying hard. But over the course of trying hard on this one, I think I’m falling in love with the idea somewhat irrationatly. I really really like these cards.

I have two more tricks up my sleeve that I’m going to try out before the end of the campaign and hopefully, they will eliminate the need for me to even make the call. I did make a promise to myself to be totally honest on this blog, so whatever happens, you’ll find the truth here.

Next Up: Fallout