Well I’ve made it to GEN CON and I can’t wait for the next few days. I haven’t written anything in awhile on this blog page but I’ve been taking some time reflecting on the games I’m trying to make and how I want to approach everything. I went to the Origins Convention this year in June and it was great and I know GEN CON will be even better! There are so many great games that are being made and I’ve signed up for a ton of classes as well to help me become the designer I want to be. I’ve redone Dinner’s at 4:30 from its original conception and even after changing the game into a deck-building type of game I’m still working with it to see if I can make it even better. I want to really develop the process of making great games, but even though I haven’t been posting regularly like before I am going to start back up after the convention, but I have been hard at work in some other areas, in fact I’ve been working on something BIG that is coming along really well and have a team working on this new project. If you’re discovering my webpage and gaming company for the first time then please come back often and follow me on the usual social websites. Thanks everyone and I’ll post some pics and stuff on FB and hopefully this website very soon! If you’re new be sure to sign up for our newsletter, it’s going to start coming out reguarly once this convention is over. Thanks everyone!
The prologue posts that I made were to show the background of my little company, how it began, how the ideas came about, and our approaches to the wonderful turbulent world of Kickstarter. Moving forward I’m going to address how I came to begin this new part of my journey by myself, and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
In my last post I explained that Ketner had passed away and I was left there having no real idea how to move forward. I ended the post by saying that it was simply one day I was ready to start again. So with my new resolve to move ahead I started to revamp my ideas on how I was going to get going. It was now about March of 2016 and there were a lot of things that I had to take control over that had been Ketner’s responsibility. These were some big tasks because of my own liabilities. Firstly, I am not very technologically savvy. I know enough to get by but I had no idea how to build a website, had no interest in social media, and had not had any dealings with the ever important task of shipping. These were things that Ketner had been working on, and doing a good job of, and now it was all on me.
One thing I quickly realized was that I was going to have to pay a little bit more to get the help I needed and this started with the website. I finally managed to get the previous hosting website to transfer over to Go Daddy. Now a lot of people don’t like Go Daddy but that’s because they’re more expensive, and a lot of added features they offer are things that a lot of people already know how to do. I’m a bit older and just never was a part of learning all this website stuff, so my decision to go with Go Daddy was because they offered excellent technical support, something that I have taken great advantage of because of my lack of understanding. The lesson here is if there is something that you struggle greatly with then you have to be willing to pay out more than you may want to in order for the job to get done right. For me it was the website, for others it could be any number of things.
Once I had the website back up I hired a web designer, a friend of mine, and paid him to create my web page making it simple and not complex. My intention was to learn how to do updates and all the rest, and learn as I went along, and for the most part I’ve done an okay job, although I know that my website isn’t at a professional level like some other companies.
I then took over all the social media aspects to the company, and really struggled with this. First, I had deleted my Facebook account years ago and discovered I had to set up a new one in order to take control of the business page. Biting my lip I did so, but recently I discovered that Social Media isn’t really all that difficult to keep up with, and is an amazing way to get information in whatever field you’re getting involved in. Sure, I don’t care about who had what for dinner, or necessarily about someone’s grandkids going to the park, but using Facebook to stay in contact with other game designers and reviewers has been a tremendous help. I’m enjoying it more and more each day and so if this is something that you’re struggling with in doing I promise the more you do it the more you’ll come to enjoy it! I hated the idea but now I love getting online and seeing what others are doing in the world of board games.
I then started to contact the people Ketner had been dealing with on the business side of things and letting them know that I was taking over and basically severing ties with most of them because he had lived in Chicago and I was in Columbus. So once all the foundation aspects of the business were comfortably under control I then made the decision that I knew was coming but had been putting off. I had to fire the artist we had hired.
I spoke before about the work she had done and although it was okay at first, slowly the art she began to turn in was worse each time. It was easy to see that what was getting completed was being rushed, with no thought and very little effort. On top of that, it had been the previous year we had hired her and in about 9 months she had turned in 13 images. She was supposed to be completing images each week with a total of 3 each time, and what she was averaging instead of 1.4 images every four weeks. So I called her up and let her know that I was terminating the contract.
The lesson here is make sure you have good contracts. When we originally made her contract we set a deadline and then this changed. We were okay with it, trying to work with her, and after Ketner passed away I let her know that I was okay with a few more delays since I was in no mood at the time to push ahead. I never told her to stop, just that if she needed a few more months I was okay with it. Those months came and went, and the artwork came to a trickle. Once she was in breach of the contract is when I notified her that I was terminating the contract. Don’t set yourself up for lawsuits, or legal problems when working with hired help. Regardless of who they are make sure the contract benefits your timeline of when you need things done. Also, don’t make threats about terminating contracts, if you have made the decision then when the contract is ‘breached’ then follow through. When I told her she was upset and told me she could work more on the artwork but I had already made the decision, and I had already started looking for new artists. I never made a proposal or even had a conversation with a new artist though until the contract with the old artist was terminated.
The things to remember is that you won’t make the best decisions when you start out on your project. You may hire people who say all the right things and then things go south. When it happens, and it will happen, learn from it. If you’re hiring someone because the deal is really good then you’re going to end up with what you pay for. If you don’t hire a professional then don’t expect professional work. It’s a simple lesson and yet one that gets ignored every day.
I’ve thought for a long time on how to start this particular post. Once I renewed my ambition to start blogging and to include the lessons I’ve learned since starting this whole project I couldn’t get this post out of my mind because I never really knew how to say it or write it. The simplest way to do something difficult is to sometimes just say it, so with a heavy heart here it is, on October 4th, 2015, my best friend and project partner passed away.
I got the call while I was at work, and we were really busy that night and I was in the office for just a split second and saw that it was Ket calling. I quickly picked it up and said, “Make it fast man, I’m super busy.” Silence on the other end until I heard a voice that wasn’t Ket’s. It was his wife calling me to let me know that he had died that afternoon. I could barely move, and only mumbled a few things out saying, “What… wait… what? What are you talking about?” Once reality set back in, that this was true, I walked out of the office to find one of my employees and asked her to come to the office. With a large crowd in the club that I night I walked as best I could back to the office until my legs just gave out and I crumpled to the floor in front of the door. I don’t want to relive that moment in its entirety, in fact I hate reliving that moment at all. The truth is that I hate having to even write this because it’s not really a lesson learned in how to make a Kickstarter project, but it’s obviously something that happened that had a tremendous impact on everything going on.
I don’t really want to write anything about that day regarding my emotions because it’s fairly obvious how devastated I was. It’s hard enough to think about my friend being gone, and reliving that day is horrible in itself. I also don’t want to go into great detail about what happened, and I’m struggling right now as I write this on what I should really say about it. All that’s really important is that my friend was with me one day and gone the next. I had spoken to Ketner the day before only for a few minutes about our upcoming Tuesday meeting phone call. I had no clue it was the last time we would talk. I know I’m not the only person who has ever had a business partner pass away unexpectedly, and I really am not looking for sympathy from anyone as I write this even though I know so many people would give their condolences. What’s important, for this blog anyway, is that I explain what happened and how this affected our project, because when you have events happen that throw a wrench into everything you’re doing you have some really tough questions to ask yourself about moving forward.
The following week as friends and family prepared for the funeral I was just all over the place emotionally. I kept coming back to the project and felt guilty doing so. How do I do this? How do I pick up where we both left off? How do I start doing the things that he was doing when I’m already beyond busy with what I’m doing plus my full-time job? Should I just quit this whole thing? Is it disrespectful to move ahead? What do I do?
Questions like these wouldn’t leave my mind when all I really wanted to do was mourn the loss of my friend. For several months I just didn’t do anything. I went to work and came home and that was about it. I didn’t do any work on the project besides calling up the artist to let her know not to call Ket’s phone anymore, letting her know what happened and to just email or call me. I just couldn’t pick myself up for a long time to start thinking about moving ahead.
After several months, well into March of 2016 I finally did pick myself back up. I wasn’t waiting for a specific date, and I can’t honestly remember when I told myself, “Ok… let’s go.” All I can really remember is making the checklist of everything that I was going to need to do, and this was a long checklist.
I’ll close this out by saying that if there is a lesson to be learned here it’s having resolve is important, but focus is something else. When you’re not able to focus on what you’re doing for whatever reason, whether it’s a death of someone close, loss of a job, or just anything that demands the attention of your mind and emotions then take a break. Take a break for however long you have to. If you’re early on in the project then wait until you’re ready to start back up. If it’s late in the project then remember you don’t have to hit the “Launch” button until you’re ready. Having the resolve to work through the issues you’re facing is important, and also resolving to overcome every obstacle no matter what it is. This can make you successful in what you do, but when you can’t focus simply because you just can’t, when your mind just won’t let you, then it’s okay to take a step back.
Ketner’s death has been the biggest obstacle in my pursuit of this project. I didn’t have a specific moment where everything was all right with the world and I could start back up. One day it just happened. One day I knew I was ready to move ahead. When you get your focus back that’s when you can start again.
Ket and I just kind of sat there after our first meeting with Artist #1. We were so disappointed that it hadn’t worked out because we both really liked the sketches that he had done. It felt like having to start over and go back to square one, and this feeling will never go away when you run into problems in the future of a project. Some things will set you back and you’ll feel like all the work you’ve done has been for nothing. My advice is just accept setbacks but don’t accept defeat. Every mistake you make along the way is something that will help you avoid that mistake in the future, moving you one step closer to your goal.
Ket and I called his brother-in-law Josh right after this meeting. He gave us some reassurances saying he would help us to find an artist, one that could work within our budget. A few days later Ket called me to say he had spoken with someone that Josh had put him in contact with and wanted to know if I could go and meet her. I called up Artist #2 and we met at a local coffee shop where we discussed terms and looked over her portfolio. Some of her artwork was very good and some of it wasn’t. This wasn’t a knock against her, the range of drawings and sketches were all over the place and I felt confident that if we could express the images that I did like as to be examples for our cards that she wouldn’t have any problems in making what we wanted. Our terms at the time were good, really good. We agreed to pay $200 up front and then $20 per finished image, as well as $50 per logo that she was going to design for the game and for the company. We were looking at about 40 images, plus logos. The total we were looking at then was going to be $1,100. This seemed like a great deal and one that Josh was right on, that we could find an artist willing to do our project for a lot less than the first guy who demanded $6,000.
So instead of giving her $200 up front I wrote her a check for $400. Here’s what I thought, if I show her I’m willing to give her more than she’s asking for she’ll really get behind the project and do some great work very quickly. I overpaid thinking this was a good way to build rapport with her but it turned out all I did was throw money away because the work wasn’t completed. More on that later.
The agreement was that she was going to have 3 completed images each week. We would give her a buffer to work on sketches to get approval but once approved she would give us finished artwork each week, barring a few times where she had some conventions to go to, and some other personal things that required some of her time. This was acceptable because this still meant that the majority of the images would be completed in a timely manner. What was the problem? Very simple, she wasn’t a professional artist. This was going to be a side project for her, something to do to help her art career that she wanted to get started but she was still working other jobs that weren’t in the art world. We were going to be her only client, but that was to be a back seat to everything else going on in her life. We weren’t priority number one, or two, or even three, and honestly I don’t know where we ranked in the order of things. This is the risk you run when someone takes on your project who isn’t a professional. You don’t truly know where you stand in their mind as being important.
Here’s a lesson I learned from the business I owned at the time. When you rely on friends or even people who you pay to do some work for you, if they perceive the work as a form of ‘help’ then you are on their schedule rather than them being on yours. Maybe all you can afford is to have friends and family ‘help’ you, but you have to be willing to accept the results as they are and the results whenever they get done. Hiring a professional avoids this. This doesn’t mean a professional can’t do crappy work, or miss deadlines, but there is a much greater chance the work gets done on time and the right way, plus if things go south then you have more flexibility to take whatever actions are needed to stop payments or recoup money spent. When it’s your friends and family then you run the risk of hurting your relationships. Even to this day I still ask for occasional help in some areas from friends and family and the whole time I’m left on their schedule, not my own.
Things seemed to be working out well for Ket and I. We were getting further into our project, the foundation was being laid, and some of the minor business aspects that went into a new company were coming together. The new artist had even sent in some first images and as I began to drive to Chicago to visit with Ketner, being only the second vacation I had taken in 4 years, I never once thought the coming weeks would be the last happiest moments I would have for a long time.
Ket called me one day and said, “Good news, I’m coming into Columbus next weekend so let’s try to meet the artist.” Ketner’s transition into Chicago was still underway, and after his visit to Ohio the following weekend he wouldn’t be back for a long time so there were a bunch of things that we wanted to address while he was home. We planned on doing a number of things that day, finishing up some paperwork that formed the company, getting a business account at a bank, working on our game, and also getting a face to face with the artist we had been talking to. There were some mistakes that Ket and I made in preparing our company but I don’t think it’s necessary to cover those mistakes. One of the reasons is that every state is different, and obviously every country is different. I have no idea the requirements in the different districts of Italy for example, but all I can truly say is make sure you understand the requirements to form a business. I may mention in a later post one of these mistakes when we formed because it caused a bit of a problem later on, but this problem got worked out (eventually) so my best advice for anyone is just understand your local requirements because if you don’t then it can cause problems. I also had the advantage of having a very good accountant who I worked with on my other business and he was going to be our accountant for No Echo as well and he helped fix some problems that I was unaware of at the time. I’m not saying go get an accountant, but in all honesty it really helps to have someone who is an expert in taxes and especially tax law so you don’t make a mistake that will cost you a ton of money or possibly something worse!
After speaking with Ket about his upcoming visit I immediately sent an email to the artist that Ket and I had been corresponding with. Here’s my advice on finding an artist early on in your project… don’t do it. The mistake was that Ket and I had not worked out all the details with our game, it was far from finished, and on top of that we didn’t realize at the time that we had made a game that wasn’t going to be successful. What we thought was that things were moving ahead with our idea, why not go find an artist? If we find one now then he can work on the artwork so by the time we’re ready to go we won’t have to wait on artwork. This is a mistake that we were far from the only people to make. At Origins in 2016 I met Jordan Goddard and his partner Mandy Moulin, two game designers out of Indiana who were also new to the game design world. Shortly after Origins I looked them up online and found an interview Jordan gave to Popular Mechanics about being a first time designer and he mentioned that this was also a mistake they had made in their game. They had artwork completed before they were finished which ended up costing them money that didn’t need to be spent. You can read the interview here.
So with our faulty thinking on finding an artist we began our search. There were so many places to look to find an artist, and what we decided was that we wanted to find someone who could be cheaper, so we had the great idea to find an art student in an art school. I posted a job opportunity at a Columbus area art school and received some interest right away. Some students sent us their work and it wasn’t what we were interested in but one guy in particular really nailed what we were thinking in his sketches. I told Ket confidently, “This is the guy! He’s perfect with what he’s done!”. We made arrangements to meet with him while Ket was in town and so we had our meeting. We didn’t give him an amount beforehand, and didn’t ask for a quote. We thought we’d just meet and discuss terms at that point because we thought we had a good idea on what to offer but who knows… maybe he’ll come in for less. This isn’t the worst business idea, this happens all the time in the business world where people negotiate contract work and both sides are wanting to get the best deal. The problem is that if we had simply asked him before about a quote we would’ve realized very quickly that we were never going to come to terms.
The artist showed up for our meeting and we spent about an hour discussing the game, and some details into how many revisions, format, etc. Then we said, “Okay, what are you looking for in compensation?” His response, “I need $6,000, and $1,500 of it right now to start working.” Ket and I just stared at him. We were not prepared for that.
Here is what we were prepared for, and this shows how naive we were about this process. We thought we could offer $500 up front, and $1,500 throughout the process, and then we could offer him a percentage of our initial funds raised through our Kickstarter campaign, and we agreed that 15% would work. (I’m embarrassed to write this because so many of you are shaking your heads) This made sense to us at the time, we could budget for it, and it opened up the door for the artist to make a lot more money possibly on the back-end. Turns out he wasn’t interested in the back-end. He gave us his price and it wasn’t negotiable.
What the artist didn’t know was that right before he arrived Ket had been talking with his brother-in-law who lived nearby, Josh. Josh was somewhat in the Kickstarter scene and had developed some mobile app games, and worked in the graphic design and sound industry, and told us “Do NOT give that guy what you’re thinking. He’s a student, there’s no way you should be paying him what you want to pay him because you can find someone a lot cheaper.” Josh thought what we were offering was too much, let alone when he found out what the artist was demanding afterwards. So Josh’s words were ringing in our ears as the artist sat across from us with his non-negotiable terms. We spent about 15 minutes trying to negotiate and he wouldn’t budge. We finally agreed that it wasn’t going to work and that was that, and then he left.
I want to wrap this post up so I’m only going to mention a few more things here as lessons learned. What we should’ve done was have a completed game, play-tested, and perfected before we had artwork started. (Keep in mind, when I say ‘perfected’ I mean have your project almost perfect. Allow yourself to be able to change something if you need to, but most of the project should be near completion, near perfected.) This mistake wasn’t learned for quite some time even after this encounter. When it came to the artist what we should’ve done was not go for ‘cheap’ and find a student. The thinking was sound, but you get what you pay for. If you’re working with an art student you have to realize how much they don’t know about their own industry. I eventually found the professional artist for my game, and I won’t go into detail about what I paid him, but I can promise you that I paid him less than what this art student demanded. What we also learned was that no artist, with any intelligence, is going to take a back-end deal on a first time game designer. Not being successful never entered into our minds so why wouldn’t an artist take a chance on making a lot more money, what if the game is a huge success? If it’s a proven game designer then this deal makes sense, but no game designer who is successful would ever make this deal. So if you’ve got this idea anywhere in your head remove it now.
It turns out that we weren’t finished hiring bad artists but we did learn some things from this encounter. If you’re somehow an art student reading this I would encourage you to think it through a little bit more as well, because the last time I checked the art student we met was working part-time at a business in Columbus doing caricatures. He had an opportunity to get his foot in the door, help his portfolio, and gain experience, but he wasn’t interested in any of those things, and to be honest, I’m kind of thankful.
In the last post I mentioned our first success, which was coming to an agreement about a game that we could both be excited about. This truly was a success because to get excited about a project means you’re going to be invested in it, and having a partnership requires equal amounts of excitement. So my next posts are going to focus on mistakes we made at the beginning of this journey.
It’s important to remember that both Ket and I were brand new to this whole process, so some smaller mistakes at the beginning were bound to happen that could easily be identified and either fixed or passed over because they weren’t anything to worry about. Ketner had developed a rather complex game several years before, but our focus to start out with was to be as simple as possible. The more simple it is the easier it will be to develop, and easier for people to want to play it. If we make a game that is overly complex then we could exclude a larger portion of the public. This has merit in itself in that if you are truly trying to create something for the masses then make it simple for everyone to use. The problem with this is that Kickstarter and the game board industry isn’t really the masses. Even though the board game community is massive, really really massive, it’s still a niche group. We simply thought, “Go simple,” and that was that. What happened instead was we ended up making a game where the rules were, for lack of a better word, childish. We all remember growing up, playing children’s board games. They were simple, get your token from the “Start” to the “Finish”. Whether it was Candyland, or Sorry, or any number of other games, this was the relative standard upon which we all first learned how to play. Without truly realizing what we had done we made in essence a children’s game. The object would be to get your elderly person to the Cafeteria, and along the way you’d count your steps (it took 21 steps to reach your goal) and then attack other opponents or boost yourself along the way. Cards were played with different dice results for each card, and we thought how clever we were coming up with the different results. Keep in mind, the game we originally made was indeed fun! It really was. It was simple, not complex, and we enjoyed playing it. Do you see the problem? WE enjoyed playing it.
Why didn’t we do more play-testing? Why didn’t we bounce ideas off people online? There certainly are a lot of places we could have gone to get some validation for our gameplay ideas, so why didn’t we do it? The answer to these questions simply is this, we chose to be naive. We decided that we had a good idea. We decided to use each other as our sounding board. We decided that the game was going to be great and therefore we decided not to use all the tools available to us to find objective critical assessments on what we were doing, whether online or in person, especially when we had so many friends and family members saying, “great idea!”. So the point is that we weren’t refusing critical opinions, we just thought we had been critical already when in fact we hadn’t.
Now, before anyone thinks too harshly about us please keep in mind a few things that led to this, and if you find yourself in the same type of situation how to avoid it. The first thing that led to our naivety was that I was in Columbus and Ket was in Chicago. I was still working full-time, and Ket was in the middle of moving and starting a new job. What time we had, and we had little, we did our best to work on the game and to begin the foundation of other areas that would be needed, such as research on shipping, etc. We were naive because it never donned on us to ask tough questions about our game because we were so excited, and because we only really got to talk once a week, so being critical about what we were making simply didn’t register once the ball started rolling.
This was a hard lesson, and yet so obvious when I look back on those early days. Having a goal is great, having vision, purpose, and especially having someone along with you who feels the same way as you do will make it that much harder for you to be critical about yourself and what you’re doing. As I move forward and come up with new ideas for games, games that I want to play, I keep stopping and asking if anyone else would want to play it. Before I begin to go full steam on a new game I know that I have to find out what’s good about my idea and what’s bad about it. Some people reading this will say, “Well… duh”. I’d love to have a pithy comeback, and defend myself, but in all honesty I have to agree. This is probably the most important lesson for anyone starting a project, and it doesn’t really matter how busy you are, how much time you get to spend on what you’re doing, or whatever excuse you can come up with. If you find yourself hitting the ‘Launch’ button and you haven’t 100% confirmed that you’ve made something that others are going to enjoy, and I mean really enjoy, then don’t be shocked at the results.
Moving forward in a project is a lesson in itself. You’re going to find so many things that you either don’t know or that you think you know only to find out later how wrong you were. That’s okay. You don’t have to be an expert in every single area that you’re going to have to address, but the simplest thing to find out is really the most critical, is your idea any good. Being naive isn’t an excuse. There are too many tools, and honestly, there are too many people out there who are truly willing to give you good advice, telling you the pros and cons of your idea. Find these people and listen. I belong to a group on Facebook called Board Game Reivewers, and I can’t stress how great this group is. They’re kind, considerate, and willing to give honest feedback. Find people like this for whatever project you’re doing, it will save you a ton of headache later on. Also, after reading this post you can’t say you’re naive anymore. I just wish I didn’t have to be the one to teach you that.
“Ket, I know what game we can make!” I was really excited to give Ketner a call that night after inspiration struck me earlier in the day. He and I had spent about a week trying to come up with ideas for a game and some of them were decent enough ideas but nothing that really got us excited. Earlier that day I had dinner with my grandmother. I visit her once a week in her Assisted Living Home to have dinner with her and spend time with her, usually watching game shows. I would get to the Home early typically to make sure we got to the cafeteria before they opened, and on this particular day as I wheeled her into our usual place just outside the doors something happened, and I’ve come to call it “The Slowest Tornado of Chaos”. At 4:20 p.m. there were only a few people in the lounge area, but by 4:25 the hallways were filled with old folks making their way to us. I saw a traffic jam that actually made me laugh, and that may sound cruel in a way, as though I was laughing at old people, but the truth was I saw the faces of these elderly people who lived with each other every single day, and as a group of them either using canes, walkers, and there was even a scooter, met all at once no one knew what to do, and they all just laughed and said to each other, “Go ahead”, “No you go on”. One would start to move, then the others, then they would all stop, starting the process over. This went on for nearly 2 minutes, which was an eternity it seemed, and that’s where the idea for our game came from. I knew right then to call it “Dinner’s at 4:30”, and a flood of ideas came into my brain all at once. “We could make a card over this incident, and a card for this, and a card for that…”, drawing from things I had seen at the Home for the past year. All I knew at the time was that making a game that could place you as an elderly person in a Home could be really funny. I knew as well right then that I didn’t want to make a game that was making fun of these people. I loved and respected my grandma and to use things in a game that mocked her wasn’t anything I could stomach. If I did this then the game would have to focus on the aspects more or less of the Assisted Living Home rather than a game that’s sole focus was just on being old. I know someday I’ll be old, and maybe in a Home myself so why make fun of a group of people that I’ll join?!
I explained the idea and concept to Ket and his reaction was what I wanted to hear. “Man… that is hilarious! We could really come up with some great cards and great artwork for a game like that!” This was our first ‘success’ as a team and it made me feel great. Here was an idea that we both agreed on, and an idea that we could both get behind equally.
For any creator the point should be to let inspiration hit you however it does. Not every idea is going to be great. Some ideas are going to be the best idea ever, but possibly only to you and to no one else, especially the public who you want to get behind your project. Let ideas spring into your mind and run with them for a bit, see if they have any traction at all. The ones that don’t should make themselves known, and when they are obviously bad ideas or bad concepts then don’t be afraid to stop. It’s possible to come back to them later because maybe you were approaching the idea in the wrong way. However, if something is dead in the water in the development stage then quit trying to bring it back to life and realize it doesn’t mean you’re a failure.
In fact I had a game recently that I was beginning to work on developing and got quite a bit far with my notes, gameplay, and was even starting to build a prototype only to realize the game just wasn’t going to be what I wanted it to be. I’ve taken time from it, thought it over, and the conclusion I’ve come to at the moment is that I’m not going to make it. It’s possible I come back to it, and maybe later a different game mechanic can make it’s way into my brain to make the game into something that both I and the player want. Until then I know I can put my time and resources into something else.
So how exactly did we know we had the right idea? We began to develop the game, coming up with ideas on gameplay, cards that could be included, and most importantly we ran the idea through some friends and others who said the concept was great! When we told them about the idea of being an old person in an Assisted Living Home attacking other people with your dentures we always got a smile. We continued to create more card ideas, and the more we created, and the more we talked with others the more we realized we were making something that people could really enjoy.
I’m continuing these ‘prologue’ posts because I’m still creating the backdrop of everything that went right and wrong for No Echo Games, but just this past month I was able to sit down with some game designers who’s first reaction to seeing the game I had made, the artwork, the board, the cards and just the concept had them give a reaction of, “When I first saw the box and you explained the concept, I loved the idea!”. Unfortunately that was about as good as it got, but trust me, I’m getting to that fateful meeting soon enough.
“Okay, so what kind of game should we make?” Ket’s question to me was simple and to the point. My response was just as simple, “I have no idea.” As Ketner and I began to talk over the next few days when our schedules allowed we knew we didn’t want to rush into an idea, we wanted to take some time and really think about what our goals should be for the game. We approached it from a perspective of not wanting to just make a game, or try to make several games at once and see what stuck. We agreed that whatever we decided on had to provide us with reaching our goals, and that was probably the most important aspect to this early process.
When we started to create goals for our new venture we didn’t set any kind of goals related to money. We had no reservation or aim to hit a ‘home-run’ making a ton of money, or that we could even come close to what Exploding Kittens had made. Instead, the more we had talked that first week the more we realized that we weren’t just interested in making one game but that we realized Kickstarter could open up the doors for us to make games long into the future. Our first goal was basically just a mindset, knowing that however we started, whatever game we were to make first would be the first of many. Now some people might say this was a mistake, that if you are trying to use Kickstarter to start a business you’re not approaching it from a creative point of view focusing just on one project that you’re passionate about. I would kindly disagree with these people. They aren’t wrong in that if you put the ‘cart before the horse’ you are more likely to fail, because I would agree with them. However, I disagree in that the way Ket and I talked that first week we both realized that making games was something we both were really interested in, and now crowd-funding provided a way to set long term goals because this new business medium allowed you to think about what you’re doing today and what you can be doing down the road.
So we both agreed that even though we could set long-term goals what we needed to do was focus on the short-term. Keep in mind that our short-term goals for our first game was still going to take a long time. To actually make a game and get it released on Kickstarter is a long long process. So knowing this what we decided was that the purpose of this first game was going to be what allowed us to learn all about Kickstarter. We had so much that we had to learn, and we mapped out different areas that had to be addressed in addition to the game. We had to:
- Get a website – Neither one of us knew how to build websites
- Research Manufacturing – Neither one of us had ever had to contact a manufacturer before
- Research Shipping – Neither one of us had ever had to ship anything in bulk
- Find an artist – Neither one of us could draw, let alone use programs like Photoshop, and we had never gone through the process of hiring someone like this to do the work
- Learn about Distribution – Neither of us had experience in this either
The list could go on and on about all the big things and little things that go into a project. Starting from scratch with no experience in so many different categories can be incredibly daunting, but we were bound and determined to start learning piece by piece. The same goes for you if you’re reading this blog and you’re interested in starting a project or even if you’re on your way. There is a MASSIVE amount of information that you have to have, and if you let it overwhelm you then you can get frustrated and just quit. Don’t do that. Keep your head up, admit you don’t know everything, and when you approach a new category that is essential for your project then dive in and learn as much as you can.
So the idea after the first week was pretty solid, at least in our eyes at the time. “Let’s make a simple game, nothing overtly complex. Let’s make something that allows us to learn all the steps we’ll have to take in order to use Kickstarter properly, and as we learn more and more we’ll be able to roll out bigger games down the line, but by then we’ll have all this experience! Aren’t we smart!?!?”. The answer to this question is both yes and no. I’d love to go into detail right now about this but I’m going to save my explanation for a future post. I know that if I start commenting now I’ll go on and on, and that’s not really the point of these early blog posts. I’m trying to set the stage as to what we thought and why we thought the way we did. Trust me, if you’re a creator you’re going to want to read more about why creating something simple, I mean really simple, is really good on paper and in your head, and yet possibly the worst decision you can make.
So after the first week both Ket and I were very happy about the decisions we had made so far. We pledged to talk every Tuesday to go over what we were doing for the project, after having broke down some early job responsibilities. The only thing missing at this point was an idea for a brand new game. As luck would have it, I found this new idea while sitting on a couch watching the slowest traffic jam I had ever witnessed, while the person next to me said, “They have fish tonight. Do you like fish?”.
“Hey man, how you been!”. The voice on the phone was one of my best friends growing up, Ryan Ketner. When we first met at school it was after moving in the 10th grade to a new town. I was afraid I wasn’t going to make any friends with only about a month to go before summer. How wrong I was because I met someone who was my best friend for not only that summer but for 25 years more. Ryan, or as we always called him, ‘Ket’, (In fact my name is Ryan as well and we had a number of friends named Jason for some reason, and therefore no one was ever called by their first name, it was always their last which is not really uncommon among guys to do) was one of the most hilarious individuals I had ever know. We got into all kinds of trouble with our group of friends, but through it all he and I remained close even after graduation. We had drifted apart as this happens to everyone who ‘grows up’ and gets on with their lives, but we always managed to stay in touch and saw each other when we could. Ket was the first person I decided to call after having my thoughts churn about Kickstarter.
“Dude, you have to check out this article I found online about a card game on Kickstarter. It’s insane how much money they raised, but look, here’s an opportunity for you and I to work on something together.” He found the article about Exploding Kittens and was immediately interested.
There were a couple of reasons I had reached out to Ket. The most important reason was I thought he was someone who would want to make a game, and would join me in this venture if we could come up with a good plan. Something I had always wanted to do was to work with someone who I trusted, who could put me in check and I could do the same to them. Friends are the ones who won’t pull punches, they tell you like it is because they know that your love for them is based on loyalty. That’s what I had wanted when I started my poker club, and I had started it with two friends, but the partnership deteriorated after only a few weeks, and this happened for a number of reasons that to this day I don’t blame any one of us alone, but we didn’t plan ahead like we should’ve, and so I was left alone with the club to either sink or swim. What I had wanted was to work with friends but quickly found out that if not done right the new business venture can help dissolve that friendship. I had wanted to avoid this in the future, and as Ket and I talked about possibly working together we quickly established that if we did this we would take the steps needed to make sure we didn’t hurt our friendship.
The second reason I wanted to work with Ket was that he had already designed a game a few years earlier. He spent a long long time on it, but had never published it or pursued it once he had gotten a teaching job at a college. I still thought that he would be perfect to work with because he had spent so much time developing his game, working out the mechanics, and he did a phenomenal job on it.
Our conversation went on for a bit and then Ket explained to me that although he was still living where he had been, about 2 hours from me, he was getting ready to move to Chicago for a new job. My heart sank when he started to explain this because I thought that this was not going to work and I’d have to start this venture on my own. He told me the idea was interesting though and he’d have to think about it, but with the move, new job, etc., he wasn’t sure he’d be able to make it happen with everything on his plate.
We hung up and I was immediately discouraged. I started going about my day and later as I was getting ready for work I realized that even though it would’ve been nice to work with one of my best friends I shouldn’t be discouraged. Sure, I was starting to put together in my mind what creating a game would entail, and started thinking about everything else that would have to go into a project like this. “How can I do this by myself?” “How do I even start?” All I truly knew that first day was that I was going to be determined. I was going to make a game, and I might even try to make a ton of games! Would it be hard? Sure it would, nothing worth doing is easy. I knew how ‘green’ and naive I was, but when you begin to feel passion for something you quickly start to overcome your anxiety to figure it out.
One week went by and I had already created my ‘To Do’ list. I had already sketched some ideas down for possible games, and started looking into websites, web design, etc. I was trying to identify the areas that I knew I would need to have down the road but that I would struggle with in order to get a jump start. That’s when the phone rang. It was Ket and he said the best thing I could’ve heard, “Hey man, I’ve been thinking about our last conversation. I just wanted tell you… I’m in!”.
I’ve decided to get this blog going and I have a lot of things that I want to start incorporating. One of the biggest things that game designers and Kickstarter creators face is shipping. It’s the most convoluted and confusing aspect to Kickstarter, and so I’m working now on getting more and more data that I can include in the future to help tackle this problem. However I also want to help explain the creative process and business aspects that got me to where I’m at today. In a way this is cathartic for me to help see the struggles I’ve faced and how I overcame them, and also the short-comings I’ve faced and how I made the mistakes that led me there. I’m hoping that my story will sound similar to others who are moving ahead in their projects or even help those just starting out in things to avoid. In order to do everything I really want to I need to start at the beginning. So for the next few posts I’m going to detail how I got to this stage of No Echo Games. If you can glean anything from it I hope it is simply this… “Advice is nothing more than the person who went ahead of you making all the mistakes they hope you can avoid.” That’s my own quote, feel free to use it, and I hope you can use these posts for some good advice.
Passion, but for what?
Every morning I get up and get a cup of coffee then sit down to read the news. This has been my routine for years and this one particular day I stumbled onto an article about a game on Kickstarter. I knew what Kickstarter was, had even been to the website but never payed much attention to it. Then I read about Exploding Kittens and my jaw dropped. At the time of the article the game had raised $2.5 million and went on to raise a total of just over $8 million. Here is where someone would say, “Wait… if the money another game earned is what propelled you into making games of your own, hoping to get rich, then you really don’t understand how Kickstarter works. It’s not a get-rich-scheme.” Yes, they would be correct, that anyone who thinks they are going to simply make something and a bunch of suckers at their computer are going to make that person rich then you’d be right to criticize. Even today there are people who think crowd-funding campaigns can be a quick way to make a buck, but those people usually won’t earn a dime, their projects are doomed to fail because they lack the one thing that a creator has to have… passion.
Where exactly was my passion? I had owned a business for several years, a poker club to be exact. I always considered poker to be the most strategic game ever made because of all the intangibles that go into it. The saying goes for Texas Hold’Em, “It takes 10 minutes to learn, and a lifetime to master.” So for several years I owned this club, having good days and bad as happens with anyone who owns a business. I was making good money, not rich mind you, but I made a decent living and I got to play poker whenever I wanted and enjoyed lots of friendships with the patrons who came in. However, Poker simply wasn’t my passion, yet it gave me part of what I wanted. All I’ve ever truly wanted in a job is to work for myself with no boss except the customer. So I was able to really enjoy aspects of my business because I didn’t have HR meetings like before in other jobs. I had a lot of freedom to run the business the way I wanted. I knew that I could consider myself successful because I had started with nothing and built a great club over several years with no sign of it coming to a halt.
The day I read the article for Exploding Kittens though I realized something. I had absolutely no passion at all for what I was doing anymore. Instead, here was a group of guys who said, “Hey, I’ve got an idea for a card game, let’s see what we can do.” This is where you should realize that there’s nothing wrong with seeing what someone else has done before you and saying to yourself, “I want to be able to do that too!”. That’s what I said to myself, but it wasn’t the amount of money, because I doubt I can ever raise that amount and I’d be a fool to make that a goal. What I wanted is what they had. They had an idea, a purpose, a goal, and Kickstarter made this goal endless in possibilities.
I’ve said all that to get to this paragraph. I love playing games. Love it. I love card games, board games, computer games, console games, mobile app games, you name it. However, the most fun I’ve ever had in playing games was playing with friends over board games like Talisman, Battletech, Mutant Chronicles, D&D, and even card games like Phase 10, Hearts, Euchre. This list is far from complete, but the point is reading the article about Exploding Kittens made me realize the one thing that I truly loved was playing games with people I cared about. This is the moment when everything began to change for me in what I was doing. This is when the thoughts began to stir, while sipping my coffee. Right then is when I knew I had a phone call to make.