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The End of the BHAG

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Well, it was a fine effort. I got 4 Kickstarters done in 5 months before I hit some serious snags. I was still hopeful that I could get the other 8 done before the end of the year and was on track with some great projects, but then a few things happened that have caused me to wave off the BHAG.

BHAG Killer #1

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The Lap Bomb*
. I received a call out of the blue about 6 weeks ago. It was from someone I’ve done a lot of work with in the past, asking if I would be available for a new project. In the course of just a couple of days, that call turned into an offer. The project is one of those rare projects that just don’t come around very often and it fits my skill set exactly. It’s also for a client that is important for my long-term career. There is no way for me to turn this project down without feeling incredibly irresponsible and selfish. I pride myself in having a high-level of dedication to clients, it’s what I’ve built my consulting business on. There is just about no way on earth for me to do this project AND 8 more Kickstarters this year.

BHAG Killer #2 (and #3)

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Falling in love with 2 of my planned upcoming Kickstarter projects
. I knew that doing all of these Kickstarter projects meant I couldn’t give each one 100% attention, and I was good with that. I told myself that the #1 thing I wouldn’t compromise on is product quality. If the marketing suffered, or my social networking, then so be it. Recently, two projects I was working on became much more important to me than I expected. And because of the types of products they are, they would take a lot of time to get right. If I rushed them just to be part of the BHAG, I would have likely regretted it for a long long time.

In addition, both of these projects are also being done with partners who I consider great friends. I just can’t see giving them (the products and my good friends) anything less than my best just so that I can hit my BHAG.

Between the love of these two products and my lap bomb, it was clear that the BHAG had to go.

What’s Next?

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Project “Lap Bomb” is going to be taking up a lot of my time until the first major chunk of work (then it settles down to a more predictable development-style schedule and perhaps some staff to help me). The two projects that I’m super excited about will take up a bunch of my time as well. I’ve got some other friends who want to work with me on future projects, but I’ll need to be selective on that for awhile. I’m also 100% committed to delivering Kickstarter project 3 and 4 on time (and I’m still on track there thanks to Jay!).

Fun to 11 will be transitioning into something different at the end of the year as well. Kai and Dave are just too busy with other work entanglements, so I’ll need to manage that shift as well. I am super proud of all the things Fun to 11 has accomplished and I want to keep producing product through the company at a reasonable pace (NOT 12 a year…what was I thinking?). This means figuring out how to handle distribution and shipping, and those plans are coming together nicely.

But What of the Other BHAG Projects?

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I’m going to use this space to talk about some of the planned Kickstarters that I’m abandoning. If any of the ideas spark you, feel free to take them and do with the idea what you will. I would love to see some of these things happen and just because I’m not going to have time, it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be made!

——-

* – “Lap Bomb” is a term for a bunch of work that gets “dropped on your lap” when you weren’t expecting it. Usually it refers to a boss dropping a bunch of work off to a subordinate at 4:45pm and requesting that it’s done by the next morning (as boss leaves the office)

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)

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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

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)

–or-

–       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.