Over the last 3 years I have put a lot of time, money, and effort into bringing an idea for a game to Kickstarter. This Instructable will describe my Kickstarter journey for Robit Riddle so hopefully others can learn from my toils.
First and foremost, this is a long yet rewarding process. It is not something you do overnight and are successful (at least in my experience). As long as you are willing to put in the time, effort, and money then you can be proud no matter the outcome. Along with realizing your success will be based more on effort than anything, you need to realize your idea isn't some special flower.
I always thought that an idea was a special gem that could be turned into an amazing thing given some work. As such there is this desire to protect it, keep it hidden and safe. This can not be the case here, unless you have a known name or have some kind of hook that will bring the people day one. If not, you need to get your product out in front of as many people as you possibly can as soon as you can.
The rest of this Instructable will show the amount of time, effort, money, and letting go of my idea to make it the best possible experience I can.
You can read more on my blog. I also relied heavily on the following people:
- Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games
- James Mathe of Minion Games
- The Bamboozle Brothers
- Randy Hoyt of Foxtrot Games
Disclaimers: This is my first Kickstarter, so time will tell how successful I actually am. I will update this Instructable as things unfold.
Step 1: The Core: Initial Idea & Design
Establish a Core
The way I design games is to first establish what the game is trying to get across. This forms the core of the game and everything flows from and is applied to.
I may start with a cool theme or mechanic, but usually I am trying to solve a problem. This goes to my root of creativity. Find a problem and solve it. When trying to solve the problem the core forms around this root idea. These core concepts are little more than a bulleted list of items that are trying to solve the problem.
I do this all before flushing out any mechanics, or putting together a prototype. But really it is a quick exercise that helps focus me. When creating prototypes and adding/removing mechanics I always refer back to my core list and see what should get added and what gets removed.
Over time the core may adjust as I get feedback and test out different theories. For the most part they are minor tweaks, but could be bigger.
For Robit Riddle my root problem was getting my two sons, one a reluctant reader, the other a reluctant story teller, past these issues is a fun and engaging way. From that I came up with these core items:
- Reading and story telling involved
- Quick to keep their attention (around 30 minutes as a bedtime story replacement)
- Ages 6 or older while playing with older siblings or parents
- Fun, silly, and engaging
- Win and lose together
The last item "Win and lose together" used to be "Should not be able to fail" was one of the original core items since my boys hate to fail, but this has changed as I got feedback from both my boys and other play testers.
From these core concepts, some mechanics came easily:
- Easy RPG with no Game Master using a Game Book
- RPG for story telling
- No Game Master for win and loose together
- Game Book for reading, no game master, and quick play
- Dice are engaging and add excitement
- Win and lose together
- Fun (my boys love coop vs competitive)
- Fun and silly can be done more easily in make-believe
- Story telling is easier when everything is already made up
- Pre-made to keep the game quick
From here I quickly put together a hand made prototype. In this case it was some character type sheets, some dice, and our imagination as I made up stories on the fly. Then I get much more serious if the idea has potential based on initial game plays.
Step 2: Iterating on Design
Game design and development is all about going over an idea over and over again, making changes and improvements along the way. Really this is the same for any idea or project that I have worked on. Iteration is KING!
This was my first time making a board game that is going to be consumed by the public. As a rookie I needed to learn a lot that I didn't know I needed to learn. Some of these things that I had to learn were very tangible, like how to find play-testers, and what to do when I want to quickly test a new idea. Other learnings were more intangible, like some people could see an issue but not know how to fix it (that is my job), or some people tried to change what the game was. I had to learn what to do and what not to do. This meant I did things that I probably shouldn't have which wasted my time.
Robit Riddle has gone through 16 different prototypes! Maybe this is normal, but seems like if I were to do another game I would have far fewer, which in turn would take much less time.
To test idea's quickly, get the idea down in a format where you can play-test with a bunch of rubber duckies (or stuffed animals, or fruits, or whatever you have laying around). This way you can work through the issue without having to spend time redesigning or getting it ready for play-tester consumption. This allows you to move much faster.
Finding & Working with Play-testers
Play-testers are all around. Here are some things that I did to find them:
- Go to Meetup groups, both player and designer groups.
- Establish a Meetup group for other designers if there already isn't one .
- Go to conventions both local and big if you can.
- Reach out to friends & family.
Once you have solid rules you need to test your rulebook, for that you need blind play-testing. I would reach out to friends that were not local to me and ship them the game. This is a seriously important step and should not be skipped.
You can read more about working with play-testers here.
- If something feels wrong, it probably is
- If someone says something feels wrong it is at least worth exploring the thought
- Before making changes always check the change to your core concepts and problem
- Do your best to only try one idea per iteration
Something is wrong
Some things would nag in the back of my head that they were off. Sometimes this was confirmed by play-testers, other times I eventually ended up resolving it on my own. All of these times made the game that much better.
Keep the Core Close
If I forgot to compare a change or fix to the core, I ended up in the weeds. It didn't matter where the idea came from (myself or play-testers) if it fit the core and made sense I tried it.
If I tried to change too many things at once they would get lost in the shuffle. To clearly see an idea through it helps to test it in isolation. This doesn't mean only make one change. It means change everything you need to to test the one idea.
Step 3: Motivation for the Long Haul
The constant changes and long project lifecycle has been hard on my psyche at times. I needed to find ways to keep myself energized, especially when their are set backs. I had three goto things that I did when I felt myself slipping away.
Changing My Focus
Since it has been just me on the project, it allows switching between jobs. If I would get stuck on one thing I could easily change jobs.
For example I got stuck with some of the mechanics not flowing in Robit Riddle. Instead of letting that get me down I switched to making the base of the graphic design. Since I was going to have to change the mechanics at some point, I knew I was going to change the graphic design too, but this was acceptable as it got me unstuck.
Taking it to the Public
Submitting Robit Riddle to a local game designer showcase focused my brain and my desire to see this thing get out into the public. I didn’t even know if I was going to be accepted or not but I did notice my drive increased. Once my passion increased so did the quality of my game. It was becoming much more engaging.
Once i caught the bug from just submitting to a local showcase I started looking for more ways to reach the public. I signed up for conventions, especially ones that catered to up and coming designers/games.
The more I got it out there the better it got and the better I got with talking about it.
In board game design everyone says to hold off on art for your designs. While this rule should be followed in most scenarios (especially if you are not self-publishing), sometimes rules should be broken. Art can be very motivating.
Robot Riddle started as just an idea that filled a hole in gaming that my family needed. After working on it for awhile, I knew I would try and bring it to market, but had no idea on a time frame. It is a very story driven game that I could picture in my mind. What I didn’t have was a complete picture of what things would eventually look like.
I went and hunted around DeviantArt for artists that style aligned with what I was looking for. I found a few and reached out to them. I had them do some quick sketches which I paid for. I did this to make sure we were compatible. Two of them lined up well. In the end most of the pieces were done by just one of them, John Ariosa. I was very lucky to stumble upon him.
What I noticed though after getting the first pieces is it kept me motivated. I would come up with some story and the artist would send me concepts. Sometimes it would work in reverse, the artist sketching on some basic idea, and story would flow from their piece. This collaborative work flow helped even more.
Not only was the art itself an inspiration for me, but the money was as well. I was spending money on my game. It made it that much more precious to me. It helped me stay resolved to bring this to market.
Step 4: Spread the Word
If you design and develop your game in a bubble you will get little to no support when it matters, no matter how good it is. So your job is not just trying to make the best game you can it is also getting that game out into the wild where people will get excited about it. There are several ways to accomplish this, starting with the easiest and cheapest and working out from there.
Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS)
This should be your first point of contact. Depending on the store they will have different ways of being able to help you. These are the ways that my FLGS (Diversions) has helped me:
- Access to local board game groups that play there.
- Giving a retailers perspective on games. Including:
- Pricing (both MSRP and wholesale)
- Shelf Presence (how box will be display)
- What games sell well and their opinion on why
- In store promotions with flyers
- Staff that talk about my game with others
- Featured as a local designer on game days
- Kickstarter backer
Local Game Groups
Some of the groups meet at the FLGS, but some meet around town at different places like coffee shops or the local university. I will take my game to these places as well and playtest with the different groups. Not only does this help with getting good feedback about improving the game, but also allows more eyes on it. The more eyes and people getting excited about it, the more it will generate a buzz.
I have mentioned these before in the other steps, but they are important enough to mention again. I would start with going to local conventions. They are usually smaller and will cost you the least amount of money. It will get you a good amount of people that are in your demographic in a compressed timeframe.
From here you can decide if your game is far enough along to go to the bigger conventions. They definitely cost more as you usually have to travel and get a place to stay. But there are huge benefits at the larger conventions.
- Last longer, so more people can see your game.
- Have more people, so more can see your game.
- Dedicated spaces, for an even more targeted demographic.
- Possible press coverage, which opens up a whole new world.
For me an intangible for going to a big convention is that it makes things feel much more real to me. Like "I am doing this!" It is very exciting. Some of the larger conventions to go to are:
- GenCon: (My Coverage: Part 1, Part 2, Conclusion)
- PAX (all, but especially South for Table Top)
- Essen (Haven't been to)
All of the items above here (FLGS, Local Game Groups, and Conventions) lead to gorilla marketing. There will be some people that get so excited about your game that they actually work for you for free! They tell people about your game, they send people to your locations. These are your ambassadors, treat them well!
At one convention I had someone at another booth telling people about my game. Several people that came by told me about this person. Let me tell you, that felt AMAZING!
When you start getting closer to your Kickstarter launch, you need to reach out to whatever media outlets you can. I try to do this as early as possible 4 to 6 months before your launch. Some are scheduling their coverage out that far. Some will ignore you, some will respond.
To get more to respond means do not send them some canned email. Take the time to look at what they do, and send a more personalized message. It will also have helped greatly if you meet them at a convention already.
I also look for a variety of different sources that target different demographics. Some that have a more general audience, some that are specific to role playing games, some that cater to board gamers.
Once you have them you need to get them your game and support them in whatever means you can. Just be available.
The last and one of the more costly is advertising. I have limited experience with this. I mention it as a thing I am going to do, but I don't really know how much it is going to pay off. Keep it in mind and try to find sources that will pay off for you. These can include:
- Board Game Geek
- Media sites
Step 5: Holy Logistics!
Everything has led to this, the creation and launch of the Kickstarter. Not only is there a ton of work to design, develop, and promote the game, but also to prep everything for the Kickstarter.
In the Tabletop world of Kickstarter games people want to see your product. They want to know what you are going to deliver to them is something real, and that real something is going to be amazing. You cannot go into this with some rough concepts a generic looking prototype and maybe an example of the art.
The previous steps should make sure that you have what you need as far as the game goes and hopefully a following too. Outside of that there are many things that are specific to the Kickstarter that need to be done. This in itself could be a whole series of articles, but I will briefly cover each based on timing.
These might have the longest lead time, but you also have to have a mostly complete game to send them. Balancing act. Reviews of your product will add validation to it. They will assure the people backing the game that there is something real and they can trust that you have spent the time to make it fairly complete.
The reason these are the next thing is because so many other steps require at least some understanding of what is going to go in the box. You don't need to figure out all the stretch goals, but you do need a good idea. You don't want to decide to put heavy metal coins in the box after you have already figured out your shipping costs.
In order to know how much the game will retail for you need to know how much it is going to cost to make. This should take into account both with and without stretch goals. Get quotes from a few different sources, especially if you do not know how many you are going to need.
The rule of thumb is that it should be 5 times what your cost is to get it shipped to you or a distributor. Also talk with the retailer to make sure your game can warrant the price you are looking to charge.
I think this is the most complicated part leading up to the Kickstarter. If you are going to do world wide shipping it gets even more complicated. Books could probably be written on this subject (and probably are). Decide if you are going to ship everything from your location or if you are going to find distributors around the world. Then adjust your shipping costs accordingly.
The Kickstarter must have a video. If you are doing the video yourself make sure it looks have way decent. It doesn't have to be slick or even all that professional, but it must have a hook. Something that will energize the watchers. It should also convey what your game is about.
How to Play
This can be a video or a quick bit of text and graphics or both. But let people know that this thing is real.
What the Game Comes With
This is little more than a components list, but again it lets people know that this thing is real. It also allows them to internalize a value for your game.
Info About You & Team
Give some background about yourself, why you are doing this, and why it is important. Show your progress of the game.
There is a ton that goes into bringing a game to Kickstarter. Do not go into it thinking this is going to be easy, everyone is doing it. I didn't even cover the running of, or the after funding. Those I can talk about after my campaign is a huge success!