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Subject: First design: start small, or go for the gold? rss

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Metäl Warrior
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I'm weighing the options of whether to start with a small game design first as my first game design project, or go for the Big One right away (think a more narrative Warhammer Quest ACG, roughly similar components-wise).

As it's heavily themed for mature audiences, and since I'm a newbie with zero track record or experience in the industry, and a control freak, an eventual Kickstarter project sounds like a better approach over a publisher. Perhaps.

I've backed dozens of projects over the years on KS so I'm well aware of the process and pitfalls. When a few years back a good idea with poor presentation would get mind share, these days you need a slick video, pre-existing following on social media, and a solid marketing campaign spanning the entire internets. Kinda defeats the purpose of KS, but I digress. Therefore I'd have to invest quite a bit of money to get the game and campaign into a presentable format, and overcome my dislike for all social media.

From the customer perspective and as a KS regular, I'm wary of any ambitious projects where the creator doesn't have any credentials in the industry, or history with delivering KS projects. Therefore I'm thinking of putting my #1 project on the back burner, and working on a less ambitious project first, such as a card game set in the same world as the Big One. That way I could build a following, as well as have actual experience in running and delivering a KS project when moving onto bigger things.

Any thoughts?
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Markus Hagenauer jr.
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Do what ever you like to do and what your inspiration tells you.

No matter if it is a small or a large game, it´s verry unlikely you will make money with it. So you must do it because you love to do it.
And if you love to designe a "huge game", the thousands of hours will not be a waste of time, no matter what happens in the talks to publishers or when running a KS campaign.
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Sturv Tafvherd
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Design the game ... Before you even think of KS.
Playtest the game ... Before you even think of KS.
Show the game (this forum, conventions) ... Before you even think of KS.

In other words, stop thinking about KS. The game design (big or small) should come first.

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Stijn Hommes
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If your goal is to eventually run a Kickstarter campaign for the game, I would recommend to start small. This allows you to get a good overview of all the things you have to keep in mind while running and fulfilling a Kickstarter, so when the big game comes around, you won't be surprised by shipping weight and customs fees to name just a couple of things.

If you fail at your first Kickstarter after funding, you want it to be a small project so you can recover without massive financial input with your personal savings.
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Peter Gray
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Stormtower wrote:
Design the game ... Before you even think of KS.
Playtest the game ... Before you even think of KS.
Show the game (this forum, conventions) ... Before you even think of KS.

In other words, stop thinking about KS. The game design (big or small) should come first.



agreed, get the design right and play test it to the extreme with as many different groups as you can. different people play the same game different ways so will likely try to "break" your design in just as many ways. don't be put off by this, it's not personal but essential if your design is to work well enough to even consider KS. this process will take you longer than you imagine, and your final design will likely be quite different to what you are thinking at the moment.

make and keep lots of notes throughout the process, and make lots of simple proof of concept prototypes before making nicer versions once the design works. likely as not most of your initial prototypes will end up either being binned in favour of improved versions, or cannibalised for said improved versions. if too much artistic efforts are invested at an early stage you can feel loathed to let them go as the design develops.

by all means though collect images and even sketch artwork to use at a later stage once it works.

scale is down to personal preference small designs can be easy to prototype and test but their compact nature means even small flaws become very evident. larger designs take more to prototype and test as there are more potential permutations for play, but minor flaws can be lost on the overall product.

good luck, post a wip thread here and don't be afraid to ask for advice
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Carl Frodge
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Jaffeli wrote:
I'm weighing the options of whether to start with a small game design first as my first game design project, or go for the Big One right away (think a more narrative Warhammer Quest ACG, roughly similar components-wise).

As it's heavily themed for mature audiences, and since I'm a newbie with zero track record or experience in the industry

Then I'd say, start small. I mean, go ahead and design big games, but for your first real project that you plan to get published, start with something you'll finish.

Quote:
, and a control freak, an eventual Kickstarter project sounds like a better approach over a publisher. Perhaps.

To a lot of people, KS does sound like the better option, but most people don't realize how much work is involved in running a KS campaign, compared to going to a publisher. Consider this:
Things you have to do yourself with a KS Campaign:
-Find Printers
-Find Manufacturers
-Find Artists
-Find Graphic Designers
-Ship everything yourself and deal with people who don't receive their copy and other shipping complications.
-Constantly keep the KS updated, making sure the stretch goal and everything are up to date, and all that.
-Find a publisher to pick up your game for retail (or start your own company, which is a whole other realm of stuff to do).
-Figuring out the math of everything (how many units you need to sell in order to make enough money to create enough product for all those units you sold, etc.)

Things you have to do yourself with a publisher:
-Create the game.
-Approach the publisher and ask if they'd be interested in trying your portotype. You'll probably have to do this a lot.
-Once your game is accepted by a publisher, you have to discuss contracts and stuff, but the publisher will take care of art, design, everything. You won't make a lot of money off sales, but if you're in game design for the money, you're in the wrong place.

Just something to think about.

Quote:
I've backed dozens of projects over the years on KS so I'm well aware of the process and pitfalls. When a few years back a good idea with poor presentation would get mind share, these days you need a slick video, pre-existing following on social media, and a solid marketing campaign spanning the entire internets. Kinda defeats the purpose of KS, but I digress. Therefore I'd have to invest quite a bit of money to get the game and campaign into a presentable format, and overcome my dislike for all social media.

Yes you would, in addition to all the other stuff I mentioned.

Quote:
From the customer perspective and as a KS regular, I'm wary of any ambitious projects where the creator doesn't have any credentials in the industry, or history with delivering KS projects. Therefore I'm thinking of putting my #1 project on the back burner, and working on a less ambitious project first, such as a card game set in the same world as the Big One. That way I could build a following, as well as have actual experience in running and delivering a KS project when moving onto bigger things.

True, but I still say going straight to a publisher is the better option.

Quote:
Any thoughts?

Yes, above.
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Keng Leong Yeo
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My Significant Other and I went "big" and it was a really tough route. Made tougher by our geographical position. You can read about our designing and publishing story in the series of geeklists below:

We Are Taking The Plunge! (Part 1)
We Are Taking The Plunge! (Part 2)
We Are Taking The Plunge! (Part 3)
We Are Taking The Plunge! (Part 4)
We Are Taking The Plunge! (Part 5)

You may also be interested in the following two geeklists we wrote up with the benefit of hindsight:

Lessons Learnt as a First-time Board Game Designer
Lessons Learnt as a First-time Board Game Publisher
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I like this quote by novelist Brandon Sanderson.

"Remember that the product of your writing career is NOT the books themselves, but YOU. Your purpose in writing is to train yourself to be someone who can write incredible books, and you get there by finishing story after story. Don't get too bogged down in the project of the moment; keep moving forward. YOU are what you are creating, not the story."

I believe it's best to just start designing games and do it for your own enjoyment. Develop your skills as a designer. Play other games. Share some of your work with the community here. Learn and improve. Playtest. Keep a design notebook. Have fun.

Eventually, you might come up with a design that you think is worth publishing. Consider pitching it to publishers as others have mentioned. Self-publishing is possible but it's a lot of work as well.

Good luck to you on your journey.
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Craig Stockwell
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My thoughts, as a designer, and as a backer of ~100 game projects on KS:

1. Every game you design will teach you things, therefore it's worthwhile to design more games. (And play more!)

2. Your game will evolve and get better with playtesting -- especially blind playtesting. You'll probably think the game is pretty good when you've played it home, or with close friends ... and then feel sure it's really quite good after a dozne playtest sessions; in reality, I think prototype games ripen between the 50th and 100th playthrough.

3. It's very unlikely you'll make much money from your first game. If you crowdsource, it's entirely possible you'll lose money (or make next to nothing in exchange for a LOT of hours managing your campaign); if you go the publishing route, it's possible the game will never get made -- but you're not risking losing a lot of your own money.

4. The more you pitch a game to publishers, the better you get at doing so.

5. Not everyone is the same, but myself and most designers I know have more than one game in progress at a time. (And a lot of abandoned projects which they may or may not come back to in months/years).

It's tough going, seeing your first game from concept all the way to being "pitch ready" (or "crowdfunding campaign ready"). It will be emotionally and mentally taxing. I'd suggest focusing on whichever one of your game ideas you're most passionate about. (And then when you're stuck, or waiting for playtest feedback, work on another game.)

As far as crowdfunding versus publishing, they both have their challenges, and can both be rewarding. But given your dislike of social media, why not invest the time/effort you were going to put into developing your online presence/brand ... and put that into [more] game design as well?

If you do decide to pitch to publishers, one thing I can't stress enough -- and this is something you can start doing now -- is to research publishers, to see which produces what type of game. For example, if you're looking for a home for a heavy ACG, it's probably not going to be Iello. Then see if they're currently accepting submissions, and what their process requires.

Best of luck!
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Metäl Warrior
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Thank you for the insightful comments!

I've no illusions of retiring to the Bahamas with profits from designing the board game equivalent of Star Citizen (they've crowdfunded one hundred and twenty two million dollars and counting). I'm designing because I like the mental exercise, the tinkering, and think I can do a better job than some other games. Perhaps I'm being naive.

Nevertheless, I would like it to reach a wider audience beyond my friends. For that it's either KS or publisher. I don't see harm in designing a game from ground up with that in mind, as opposed to aiming for a homebrew or P2P. And I'm a sucker for high production values and beautiful art - unfortunately I do photography which isn't very suitable for board game art so it's commissions, which is mucho dinero.

Publishing deal does have its merits, and I'll take a closer look at the options when I'm closer to a finished game in a year or two...

Based on the discussion, I'm leaning towards branching to two separate games. First in finishing the design for the fantasy world, and then building a less ambitious game in that same world.
 
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Sturv Tafvherd
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My opinion:

It's hard to run when you haven't learned to walk.
You may be setting yourself up for a bigger fall if you aim for Olympic races ... before learning to walk.

It's hard to build a table when you haven't built an IKEA shelf.
You may be setting yourself up for a bigger fall if you aim to build a house ... before building an IKEA shelf.


Start small. Homebrew ... then PnP.
Expect to fail; you learn more from failures.

Be prepared to take things apart and rebuild.

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Keith Wynn
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so much great advice in this thread. I love to create games I want to play - no other agenda. If during play-testing others suggest publishing; I'd carefully consider, then I'd re-consider .

I wholeheartedly agree with my geekbuddies here: Design from a pure desire just to play and enjoy something unique, and of your own creation.
Then gauge interest with friends & BGG users. Take small steps, and think about KS only when you (and your game) are absolutely ready!
 
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Derek H
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Jaffeli wrote:
I've no illusions of retiring to the Bahamas with profits from designing the board game equivalent of Star Citizen (they've crowdfunded one hundred and twenty two million dollars and counting).

Surely the issue is the production cost - if this game costs $123 million to make, there is not going to be that much of a profit margin.
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Derek H
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Jaffeli wrote:
Nevertheless, I would like it to reach a wider audience beyond my friends. For that it's either KS or publisher.

No; you can also self-publish ("just in time" production) via a third-party service like Gamecrafter. You can promote the game here and on various social media sites etc. but all the actual making-and-sending of the game is handled by them.
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Will Lentz
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I have to say that I've been in similar ruminations to the OP. In the end, I think it's much better to learn the ins and outs of the publishing and Kickstarter process on a smaller project which has a lower bar to get over and then once familiar with things, use that knowledge to help knock a larger project out of the park.
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Ben Pinchback
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You need to work on the design that you're most passionate about. Choosing the design based on anything else will lead to a worse product than the game you love and will pour over/play/revivse/ hundreds of times. The biggest factor to long term success is to make great games. The other factors need to fall in line with that.
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Ian Stedman
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Like some others have said, don't get lost in the details of the Kickstarter at this stage, get the game done first. And of course work on what you are passionate about right now.

HOWEVER, keeping costs in mind is an extremely smart thing to do from the getgo and keeping your component counts low and simple will make for a much easier first project to handle as a learning experience. For your first 'sell,' smaller can be a safer long-term strategy.

To put it in perspective though, if you put together a $10 card game and find out it's going to cost you 15% more than anticipated. That's not a real expensive lesson to learn, and if you sold enough copies for bulk quantity discounts those flubs can pay for themselves sometimes.

If you put together a $99 epic board game and find out it's going to cost you 15% more than anticipated, you're probably going to be in big trouble and once you fail to deliver a project, you're pretty much done on KS. (by this, I don't mean delivering late, I mean discovering that the game won't happen and your backers won't get anything. I cannot stress this enough, late is better than never. Just be honest with your customers, they are human too.)

From both a designer's and a publisher's perspective, going smaller on the first project would have made a lot of learning experiences easier to handle for me. Especially with the climate of KS becoming more competitive, something with a low price and a low goal will win you an audience that will eagerly buy your next game after proving you can deliver on something small.

You should very much be concerned about growing your name and reputation before attempting something ambitious and expensive. The lower your base goal, the better. The Game Crafter offers some great tools for crowdfunding, manufacturing small runs, fulfillment, or even just getting an idea of what the net of all your components will cost you.I highly recommend checking out what they offer for your early projects.


TL;DR, Succeeding with a small project will make success dramatically easier to attain with a big project. You'll have more knowledge, more resources, and a built-up following.
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Metäl Warrior
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Endymian wrote:
Like some others have said, don't get lost in the details of the Kickstarter at this stage, get the game done first. And of course work on what you are passionate about right now.

HOWEVER, keeping costs in mind is an extremely smart thing to do from the getgo and keeping your component counts low and simple will make for a much easier first project to handle as a learning experience. For your first 'sell,' smaller can be a safer long-term strategy.

To put it in perspective though, if you put together a $10 card game and find out it's going to cost you 15% more than anticipated. That's not a real expensive lesson to learn, and if you sold enough copies for bulk quantity discounts those flubs can pay for themselves sometimes.

If you put together a $99 epic board game and find out it's going to cost you 15% more than anticipated, you're probably going to be in big trouble and once you fail to deliver a project, you're pretty much done on KS. (by this, I don't mean delivering late, I mean discovering that the game won't happen and your backers won't get anything. I cannot stress this enough, late is better than never. Just be honest with your customers, they are human too.)

From both a designer's and a publisher's perspective, going smaller on the first project would have made a lot of learning experiences easier to handle for me. Especially with the climate of KS becoming more competitive, something with a low price and a low goal will win you an audience that will eagerly buy your next game after proving you can deliver on something small.

You should very much be concerned about growing your name and reputation before attempting something ambitious and expensive. The lower your base goal, the better. The Game Crafter offers some great tools for crowdfunding, manufacturing small runs, fulfillment, or even just getting an idea of what the net of all your components will cost you.I highly recommend checking out what they offer for your early projects.


TL;DR, Succeeding with a small project will make success dramatically easier to attain with a big project. You'll have more knowledge, more resources, and a built-up following.


Thanks for this, it is very much aligned with what I've taken away from this discussion.

I'm currently working on two games set in the same world, one is the Big One, the other is a much less demanding card game - perhaps a few tokens or dice in addition.
 
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Tiarnan Murphy
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R4D6 wrote:
I like this quote by novelist Brandon Sanderson.

"Remember that the product of your writing career is NOT the books themselves, but YOU. Your purpose in writing is to train yourself to be someone who can write incredible books, and you get there by finishing story after story. Don't get too bogged down in the project of the moment; keep moving forward. YOU are what you are creating, not the story."

I believe it's best to just start designing games and do it for your own enjoyment. Develop your skills as a designer. Play other games. Share some of your work with the community here. Learn and improve. Playtest. Keep a design notebook. Have fun.

Eventually, you might come up with a design that you think is worth publishing. Consider pitching it to publishers as others have mentioned. Self-publishing is possible but it's a lot of work as well.

Good luck to you on your journey.


Apart from agreeing with everything you said about designing games/writing books.
Damn Brandon Sanders on can write some great books.
 
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