I must admit that in 2020 I was too naive.
I thought that I was privileged because I had the chance to work from home every day, carrying out loads of projects, as usual, and I still think I am privileged. Of course, cancelling all the game fairs was a terrible blow for us, especially due to the lack of B2B meetings with clients, suppliers, and reviewers etc., however, on the other hand, the online sales rocketed and probably the number of players in the world increased too, with people approaching our hobby thanks to forced lockdowns. And to top it all off, Shogun no Katana’s Kickstarter Campaign had been really successful.
For this reason, I naively thought that the pandemic didn’t have such a big effect on our job. Well… 2021 brought me back to the sad reality.
Probably, readers of a blog like this one have already read many posts on Facebook or Twitter where publishers or other industry insiders complain about this year’s productive situation, because everything is slower and more complex than usual and because shipping costs from China have increased unpredictably (in the scale of 500/600%), with terrible consequences on publishers’ business plans, especially in relation to their Kickstarter campaigns.
This alone would already be a terrible news, especially because the world of games publishing is mainly made up of small companies (even though in many cases they don’t look small), that would struggle to take such a sudden unexpected blow, and it might be impossible for them to recover. In our case we don’t know yet how things will go: considering that Shogun no Katana is not ready yet for shipping, and that quotes change on a daily basis, we don’t know what the future holds for us. We know that we are a solid company and that we can absorb higher expenses than what we had predicted, however, we won’t put our mind at ease until we know how much higher the expenses will be.
Obviously, this solution will have consequences on our games in the coming years. At the moment we’re working on three new games that are going to be launched on Kickstarter and I can’t hide that I am a bit more nervous than usual (as if I wasn’t nervous enough in general, when launching a new campaign).
“Why don’t you produce in Europe so?” You might wonder. First of all, it’s not always possible for technical reasons, because some components (such as miniatures, but also many more) are created only in East Asia. But it is true that we could import only those components and print everything else here, but here’s the side effect: because producing in China is difficult, all the European suppliers at the moment are overworked and have ridiculously long printing queues. For example: to carry out our third-party consultancy work we have been working closely with different printers, one in particular who prints at least 30,000 boxes a year for us and had guaranteed certain delivery times for 2021 if we agreed to print more (which we did). During the first quarter they actually met the deadlines, but in April they emailed us communicating that they would push the deadline back one month. This implied a considerable change in our plans, but nothing too drastic, because we had planned our productions well in advance and we were ready to face this type of issue. The problem was that a week later they pushed back the deadlines one more month, saying that they weren’t accepting any more orders for 2021, except for their main customers, which included us. To sum up, we ended up closing all the productions of the year with our main supplier by July, which had never happened before.
The problem is that, usually, our consultancy work receives more requests in the last months of the year, with the request of receiving the games by Christmas. Actually, our main strength has always been being able to ensure extremely short turnaround times, and making “miracles” which would otherwise be impossible. It took us years to set up a quick and efficient production chain, based on the fact that, putting together the works of many clients we have more commercial power than what they have as individuals. We still have this strength, because we also work with other providers who are interested in receiving big orders like ours, but it is obvious that any change to normal routines imply extra work, and it creates a queue for them, who, in turn have to increase their turnaround times. And of course all this has an impact also on the production of new games for our catalogue.
This is the sorest point because planning future publications is already very complicated and risky, especially when you have to choose the print run, and to this we had already met further difficulties due to the impossibility of meeting our partner in fair, but now we aren’t sure of when our games can reach the destination or how much it will cost to produce them.
Even on games that were planned and that I considered “done and dusted” there were delays, because all (all!) the providers say that paper provision is more difficult and more expensive than it has ever been, I tell you for sure that this situation is unprecedented, certainly in my 16 years of activity with Post Scriptum.
Publishing a game is long and difficult, and often it’s also very stressful. You have to put together the work of different professionals, taking care with passion and precision every detail of the rules, the art, the materials, the promotion, and this year we face the unprecedented risk that this work is jeopardised by external factors that we could have never foreseen.
For what concerns Post Scripum, I can ensure you that business is moving forward and that our games will still be published, but please note that for every game that we’ll publish in the coming months there should have been at least another that should have been published and is still waiting for better times.
What pushes us to go forward is the enthusiasm that you show for every Kickstarter campaign and for every publication, so please continue supporting us, and all of your favourite publishers!
And subscribe to https://t.me/postscriptumgames not to miss any of Post Scriptum’s articles!
This is a BGG copy of the official blog of Post Scriptum Games. Twitter: @Mario_Sacchi_PS and @PScriptum_games
Archive for Mario Sacchi
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In the list of Post Scriptum and Placentia’s authors there is one name who has worked on all the latest productions… just have a look: Shogun no Katana, Radetzky: Milano 1848, Florenza: X Anniversary Edition…. These titles all include a mysterious signature;
Who is P.S. Martensen? Why do we believe in them so much to entrust them with all our latest games?
Let’s lift the veil: because P.S. Martensen is us! Unexpected, right?
P.S. Martensen is the nom de plume that we chose for our work as authors, carried out by Post Scriptum’s partners, Mario, Matteo and Marco “Tambu”.
It’s the name that we actually chose to differentiate our publishing work from our game design effort.
Since the beginning of Post Scriptum we’ve always been particularly meticulous in the development our games, both for our productions and when we were working as advisors. As time went by, we realised that our job wasn’t limited to game development – meaning balancing and refining rules that had already been written, i.e. playtesting – we often had the chance to create brand new rules taking on the role of co-authors.
We felt the need of being recognised as such.
The first game that we signed, together with Alberto Barbieri, was Radetzky: Milano 1848, published in 2018 together with Demoelà. Since then, the name P.S. Martensen has appeared in almost all the games published by us.
But what is our contribution as authors?
The needs of every member of the “P.S. Martensen” team are different but go really well together (there isn’t one rule or any mechanics that get introduced without unanimous approval by all of the partners!) Mario is meticulously thorough at removing any exceptions to the rules. Mario believes that games should be fluid, with as little rules as possible, while respecting coherence and settings. Matteo’s job is to to minimize downtimes (between different turns) by finding solutions that can offer a good control for all the players during the opponents’ turns. Tambu comes up with varied and interesting solutions, he’s the innovative one. P.S. Martensen’s mission, hence the mission of all the team members, is the creation of elegant, neat and fluid designs.
What is the relationship with Post Scriptum and Placentia Game’s original games’ authors?
First of all, we would like to clarify one thing: even though we ask if we can sign the games if we deem it necessary, we do not take any cut off the original games authors’ percentage of the revenue. We respect their work and fully recognise their merits (at the end of the day, it’s them who had the initial genial spark).
Moreover, we always try to build a balanced relationship with the authors, working on the development together, playtesting and having continuous brainstorming sessions, leaving our notes on shared documents and talking in person. Their idea might end up being very different from the original, but we try to respect the spirit that brought to life the first creative intuition.
P.S. Martensen is also a way of conveying that the game has been developed with care and respecting the ideas of the original creator. A sort of warranty seal on the quality of the work.
What did P.S. Martensen create concretely?
We can talk about Wendake’s fight system, Florenza: X Anniversary solitaire mode, or Shogun No Katana’s Palace mechanic… but we prefer to talk about all this in the next articles of Inside the box – Game Design Diaries.
Subscribe to https://t.me/postscriptumgames not to miss any of Post Scriptum’s articles!
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Here in Italy, self publishing is widespread: in many gaming fairs, it’s common to see a lot of self-publishers who present (and try to sell) their games. While speaking with them, I often heard that self-publishing is somehow virtuous, while Kickstarter is a sort of evil shortcut. Having experimented with both traditional self-publishing and Kickstarter in my career, I think I’m qualified to pitch in… and so I will
In my opinion, the idea that investing from your own pocket is brave and that turning to Kickstarter isn’t, is deeply flawed. From personal experience, I can assure you that Wendake campaign (only the campaign, not considering artwork and all the other aspects of the game edition) cost more than the entire production of our first game BauSquitMiao and took many, many more hours of work… And Shogun no Katana has so far greatly exceeded Wendake! Of course, between them are 15 years of experience, much more attention to detail and the individual products are VERY different. But if we had wanted to consider launching the most famous, pink-boxed game in Italy on Kickstarter, it certainly would have cost us much more than making it as we did. The fact is that nowadays Kickstarter has unwritten but ironclad rules that cannot be ignored. ‘Homemade’ self-published games are often targeted at a casual audience, sold at non-specialist fairs and markets where you’re more likely to meet a family than an expert gamer. These buyers’ needs are certainly much simpler, and it must not be underestimated that they can hold the product in their own hands; they’ve just played it and, if they enjoyed it, that’s all they need to make the purchase.
On Kickstarter on the other hand, it’s a whole different ballgame. You have to convince passionate people who live and breathe games to give you lots of money months in advance, to pick your project above the many others. Obviously, this is possible, but it requires months and months of work and a lot of money. Around twenty people ultimately reporting to me worked on the Wendake and Shogun no Katana campaigns, not including the play-testers. I worked on more than 70 games (only counting the actually completed ones) and without a doubt Shogun no Katana was the most complex and difficult to develop. The process of turning out an excellent game is already long and difficult, but one that gives me the utmost satisfaction. Convincing more than 2000 people to support the game without having even opened the box however was laborious and exhausting and cost me stress and sleepless nights as had only happened twice before… And yes, you are guessing right: it was for the Kickstarter campaigns of Kepler-3042 and Wendake.
So, I think I’m allowed to write that in my opinion, you need to be braver to launch on Kickstarter than to self-publish in the traditional way. In fact, you need to be more reckless. And it’s worth saying that I don’t mean this in a positive way. You should think ten, a hundred, a thousand times before you launch a campaign!
It’s by no means a shortcut, rather it’s an amplifier that boosts everything – visibility definitely, but also hassle. Even just the number of hours you’ll have to dedicate to replying to comments and messages is a lot more than you’d expect, I can assure you. And the replies have to be just right, or you won’t be forgiven.
It’s true that a success would have a wider reach, but so would a failure. You don’t really want to make a bad impression in front of everyone, right?
Moreover, and most importantly, Kickstarter exacerbates the main problem of self-publishing – the lack of a publisher to filter the products! The game that seems so fun to you and your friends may not be quite so entertaining in reality. And your cousin’s illustrations that you like so much might seem ugly to the majority of potential backers. Not to mention that without the right contacts with suppliers (especially when it comes to logistics), you could end up getting your figures wrong and so unable to produce the requested run without losing out.
So, it begs the question, has Kickstarter completely lost its spirit of support to those who want to realise their dreams and become but another tool in the hands of those already involved in games publishing?
Well … More or less yes: it has certainly lost it for people who want to present their project from 0, as a real dream, and hope to raise capital to start making it happen. It is still a valid springboard for those who are able to tackle the campaign exactly as a professional publisher would (and there are some striking examples about this), but this is not free, as written above. Kickstarter is certainly an essential tool for companies like ours, which need the visibility guaranteed by a successful campaign to make their projects known. From this point of view, Kickstarter actually maintains a part of its original purpose, because if one of our games failed on the platform, it really couldn’t be realeased… And this would be a disaster, for us, in spite of those who say that “Kickstarter is now just a presale and you don’t risk anything”.
At the risk of seeming repetitive, to conclude I’ll write it clearly once again: if you want to self-publish, don’t delude yourself that Kickstarter will make the task any easier and will flood you with money, because it won’t happen. In my opinion, self-publishing on Kickstarter without experience in game development (or business) is a terrible, terrible idea.
I certainly don’t say this to get you to hire us to back your campaign. We’ve turned down many people who have already asked us this, because it’s very lengthy, very expensive work that needs very long-term planning. However, feel free to ask for advice.
But I warn you not to expect encouraging replies!
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“If you aim high, you might reach above the clouds”
Shogun no Katana, by Federico Randazzo and P.S. Martensen, is our most ambitious project branded Placentia Games: an epic work that took 5 years of development alongside different projects, a massive kickstarter campaign with more than 2000 backers and approximately 150.000€ raised. We are more than happy with these numbers.
What made us believe so much in Shogun no Katana and invest so much time in it?
The reason why we fell in love with this game was that every idea, since the very first draft, was oozing feudal Japan vibes, with fluid and elegant dynamics, like in Hokusai’s most fascinating works. Well, on top of the fact that we loved the game itself!
We wanted the players to feel like real katanas forger and to convey the essence of this noble art with ancient origins.
Aiming at holding this vision throughout the whole development, since the beginning we decided to give great value to our settings, providing every rule and every component with a philological meaning. Tambu carried out extensive research, studying clothes, tools, and dynasties’ coats of arms, in order to make everything believable and respectful of the Japanese world.
We needed some help for this challenge (because understanding the rich Japanese tradition is a Titanic effort!), so we asked Dai Kurahara, professor at Tokyo Denki University, expert researcher of Japanese documents, with a great passion for war games, and Silvia Teodora Vallerga, who graduated summa cum laude with a master’s degree in the history of Japan and who currently lives in Tokyo. Thanks to Dai and Silvia we avoided mistakes that would compromise the setting credibility: for example, we edited our noble women’s illustrations, because we had drawn them with their hair tied up, as Western people tend to imagine Japanese women, but historically, it was actually compulsory for women of high status, to keep their hair down. Moreover, we received precious advice for the selection of the four main resources for the creation of katanas.
Considering this philological process, it might seem weird that the idea of adding miniature statues came up only halfway through development: it was Federico Randazzo himself, during a gaming exposition, who thought about changing the original wooden components with miniature statues.
This turned out to be the last missing piece that make Shogun no Katana complete: the original tokens did not do justice to Giorgia Lanza’s meticulous work, the illustrator who found the perfect balance between modern taste and traditional style. We had to make the game characters such as the Monk, the Geisha and the Samurai more real.
When the Kickstarter campaign was about to start, we decided to stop everything and take more time to face this challenge.
But this is another story, we are going to talk about it in the next article
We cannot know if players will love Shogun no Katana as much as we do. But one thing is sure: we have put in all the energy and all the effort to finish it, perfect it, make it polished and elegant, both in terms of gameplay and the experience. We hope that whoever decides to dive into the Far East to craft and polish the legendary katanas will feel all this. For us it was certainly a long journey that made us grow and find new potential – in the world of board games but also in our inner world.
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