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Game Designers Notebook: Kickstarter Prep

Kickstarter build in progress.

Building a Kickstarter is a complicated beast. In my time developing Broken Contract I've built several that I have never launched, and I have pulled the trigger on two. I learned a lot from both of those experiences, but there are so many variables at play that it is always hard to feel ready - even when you know you are more ready than you've ever been!

With getting ready for the next Kickstarter I wanted to take some time to reflect on some of those lessons.

Broken Contract - Deep Underground 
Cancelled Kickstarter 09/2014

I can still remember how I felt going into that first Kickstarter. I had been working relentlessly on Broken Contract for a year. Most of that time was while I was on worker's compensation from an ACL tear on the job. I had a strong vision and what I thought at the time was a lot development put into art and sculpting. Most importantly, I had calculated what I needed to launch a boxed game and I had exhausted my financial resources at the time. I felt like, "I do this now or never!" so I created my own video with my rudimentary video editing skills, and I used my equally amateur Photoshop skills to create some semi-attractive looking headers out of part of the Broken Contract logo. Looking at what I listed as the box contents, it would have made a fun little game set, though it would have been released woefully behind schedule had it succeeded. I knew where I was headed, and I was impatient to get there. I had read all of the Stonemaier Games Kickstarter Lessons and knew I wasn't entirely prepared but when I was looking at the thought of needing to move onto the "next thing" in my life and being out of money to continue on the path I was on, I just needed to launch and succeed.

History shows, it didn't play out like that. My vision and execution were not conveyed strongly enough to warm the hearts of a weary gaming community. By 2014 so many had been burned by a bunch of other dreamers like myself. I understand now that I just didn't have enough development to show. I had a playable game with some art and sculpts, but I had only a fraction of what I needed to make a strong presentation, I had no traction in the community, and I had very lofty goals. Those aforementioned Kickstarter Lessons told me I needed to make 25% of my Goal by Day 7. At the end of Week 2 I had only reached less than 10% of my $30K Goal. I cancelled the project, absolutely devastated. Still, I needed that money to reach the next stage of development and it didn't come. I gathered myself together and found it in me to pushed on.

The Broken Contract Miniature Starter Set KS
had a lot of pics like this one.

Broken Contract Miniature Starter Set
Successful Kickstarter 04/2015

Impressed by my drive, even if it resulted in failure, my family took notice and gave me some investment capital to work with. I spent the next 8 months pressing forward. My graphic designer, Sam Alcarez, was churning out versions of cards, and character dashboards. My sculptor at the time, Tim Barry, kept sculpting more and more Breakers and Black Squadron models. My artist, John Gendall, kept concept sketches coming. And I continued to develop the game. Most importantly, I continued to refine the Kickstarter.

I started to think really hard about the words Minimum Viable Product, something I had learned about in another Stonemaier Games Kickstarter Lesson. At this point, most of the investment capital had gone into models, and the models themselves, even without the game, were a viable product and the best way for me to recoup some of the investment already put in. With that in mind, Kickstarter attempt number two would be for me to complete the development and manufacture of the models, with a tiny financial goal of $2000.

My real goal though, this time, was to create a "can't lose" Kickstarter. This was meant to be a confidence builder. I needed to show the world what I was capable of, and build trust with the gaming community. I also needed to build confidence in myself and my dream. I needed to know that this was something worth pursuing. The emotions you go through during and after a failed Kickstarter are difficult. I've seen others go the same route as I on that first Kickstarter and then give up their own dream. In my mind though, this was the sort of game I wanted to play, and I had put in too much to give up.

Once again, I slapped together my own Kickstarter video, a little more honed than the one before but still amateur. I had just started working with a new artist, Filip Dudek, and his pieces built great atmosphere to supplement the concept sketches and sculpts I had amassed. Rewatching it now, with this blog post brewing in my head, I can see that I actually did a solid job of highlighting exactly what I had developed, and had to offer people. It was a video designed to sell a set of models for the Broken Contract setting, and it does that as best as I could muster with my skillset.

It was still a stressful experience, but I focused hard on keeping in communication with my artists and sculptors while maintaining constant communication with my Backers to keep them enthused about the project and every development that entered my inbox. It succeeded in three goals: 1) Giving me a success to build confidence. 2) Giving me valuable experience to carry into future endeavors. 3) Giving me capital and time to keep the development process moving forward. In all those regards it was a success.

Aerial shot of a game of Broken Contract 
with the current components.

Broken Contract Rulebook
Kickstarter Coming in September (Hopefully)

During the process of getting everything complete for the last Kickstarter, a whole stack of play aids were created to coincide with the Broken Contract Rulebook. This week Sam sent me his first draft of the rulebook itself without art and it looks great so far. Of course, there will still be proof reading and last minute rules tweaks, that's expected, but we're almost ready to launch this Kickstarter and move onto the next phase of development.

The reality is, we've been preparing for this Kickstarter for a year now. In September of last year I thought we were "wrapping up" the last Kickstarter and I sent out the Backer Surveys and started planning, "the next thing," but the gears of progress sometimes grind more slowly than anticipated with nothing shipping for another 6+ months. I remember using some of that time to start structuring the next Kickstarter, pricing things out, and building the new page. Since then, my printer has offered new and exciting options, pricing has been recalculated a couple of times, and everything has been refocused and refined over and over again.

The next Kickstarter isn't going to focus on models at all. Once again it will be another minimum viable product KS with all of the materials developed during and after last year's Kickstarter. It will push the Broken Contract Rulebook as it's focus and give people access to the game tiles, character dashboards, custom dice, rulers, initiative deck, game chits, and fleshed out ability and equipment decks. Most of this work is completed. If the Kickstarter goes well I'd like to include a couple more models, but that isn't the focus here. I'm working with what I have developed, instead of pushing for something that needs substantially more time and investment.

I started work on a prototype of the next Kickstarter's video, and I'm struggling to decide if I go with my own work, or use the prototype to have a legit video editor take a crack at it. I have some promotion lined up to coincide with the Kickstarter as well, but it's hard getting all of the ducks in a row. As I started the post with, building a Kickstarter is complicated. It's more than throwing an idea out there and hoping it sticks - and the better I understand the process, the more I wrack my brain trying to cover all of the bases. I almost miss my ignorance. It made me more fearless!

Concerns and fears can be the mark of wisdom though. We've learned so much and this Kickstarter will be bigger and better than the last because of it.

Thanks for reading!
-Nick

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