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Mike Selinker
United States
Seattle
Washington
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Folks might like to read this post we sent our backers about the game going to press soon and being broken into different sets.

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Now that we can see the end of our build on Apocrypha coming, I'm going to take a moment to give you an update on where we are and how we made our decisions to get there. Apocrypha is the largest project Lone Shark has ever taken on, and we made four sets of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, so we know large. I liken Apocrypha to producing an entire new edition of Dungeons & Dragons, except without knowing in advance what the core rules of D&D are.

So here's some news: The Apocrypha base set will be going to the printer in December. We don't know when it will come back from the printer, and we promise we will tell you when we know. But here's even more news: When it comes back, we're going to send it to our backers.

That means that we're dividing the base set from the expansions. Yes, I said expansions, plural. I'll go into details below about why there are now three boxes, but here's the plan for those: Box 1 is the base set and Skinwalkers, box 2 is the next four expansions (currently Deathless, Fae, Dreamers, and Physicians), and box 3 is the last four expansions (currently Golems, Animus, Serpents, and Damned). These last two boxes don't have names yet, but they're currently codenamed "Alpha" and "Omega."

We're going to print expansion 1 (Alpha) and expansion 2 (Omega) at the same time, and send them both to our backers at the same time, but they will not hit retail at the same time. There's a lot of thought behind that decision, and why we're making other Lone Shark games at the same time as we're making this one. If you'll bear with me, I'll explain the three reasons all of this is happening like it is.

Reason 1: Distribution wants multiple games from us

Here's some truths about the game business of retail and distribution. Retailers need distributors so that they can get multiple titles and save on shipping. Distributors like publishers that have multiple titles so they can also get free shipping and are also supporting a publisher that shows a strong commitment to their titles. With over 5,000 games coming out next year, we can understand their trepidation. While our reputation has gotten us further than most first-time game publishers, the process has been slow.

But the current distribution system for tabletop has taught us one thing: Even if they want to, retailers and distributors are not set up to support companies with just one game very well, if at all. Publishers succeed in the retail channel because of a robust product line that drags all their products upward. This message was hammered on us over and over.

So we began a strategy to make a very specific type of game: immersive, world-spanning, interactive. The three prongs of that strategy were Apocrypha, The Ninth World, and the three-game line Eyrewood Adventures, the first of which is Thornwatch. That required an immense amount of capital and a whole lot of simultaneous work. Our game designers have been on salary working on these games for more than a year. We've bought at least $150,000 worth of art alone. We will have very big printing and shipping bills. It's a lot of stuff at the same time.

But the good news is that all that work is now paying off, and all that capital and time is being spent on producing the games. The Apocrypha base set and Ninth World are reasonably close to their print dates, the chapter boxes from Apocrypha will follow, and then Thornwatch after that. We think we'll have a powerful product line at retail, including what you have been seeing in Apocrypha.

Reason 2: Distribution wants multiple products in each line

We originally started with the idea that all of Apocrypha would be available in one big drop: a giant base box and a giant expansion box. Apocrypha is like three sets of Pathfinder in its story content, and we wanted to deliver that to the channel all at once.

Over and over, we heard that while distribution would tolerate that approach, they didn't love it. A vastly better strategy, said the distributors, would be to do exactly what we always do: dole out the game over time. And eventually, after months of trying to get people to see our side, we had to accept that our original idea did not take into account the experience of the distributors or the individual customer knowledge of the retailers. When we presented the plan—base set first, then Alpha, then Omega—they loved it. This meant that they'd get a full-size base game and two smaller (and thus cheaper) expansions. That got all the buy-in we needed.

It's highly probable that Ninth World will come out at retail in the middle of that set of Apocrypha products. This was also popular with distributors. But we don't imagine waiting all that time will be popular with the Apocrypha backers. So that's why we're going to send backers the base set and the first promos as soon as we have them, and then print all of the expansions and the bonus mission pack at once and ship them to backers together. Backers will have Omega long before anyone else does, we expect.

This is a massive hit for us in the production and shipping costs, because obviously we're not charging our backers more to extend our product line. We'll suck up those costs, because we hope people are really going to like the game and we'll make those expenses up later.

Reason 3: This game takes a lot of time to test and lay out

With 20 characters and 99 missions and many hundreds of gifts and threats and omens and everything else, all of those things need to be balanced against each other. This game has more than 100 pages of rulebooks and storybooks. And while we're done with all the art and most of the rules text, not all of it is tested, flavortexted, or laid out. We are cranking on that as fast as possible, but it's a major job for half a dozen full-time employees.

We take playtesting very seriously at Lone Shark. Our games are colossal and have tens of thousands of moving parts. So we have to check and track all of them. It's a lot of work. But it's good work, and it's going well.

Our current estimate is that we'll be done with playtesting most of Alpha and Omega in late January and they will be finished in layout by late February. That's an estimate. We've given those before, and we've been wrong. But we can see the game taking its final shape, so we think we're closer to right this time. (Also, if you're in the Seattle area and you want to help us with that, you can join our Remoras playtest groups. If so, email us at info @ [the name of our company] dot com.)

Finally, all of this activity means we are shutting off the Apocrypha PledgeManager on November 30. If you have any last-minute items you want to preorder from us, or you have a friend that wants in at these prices, get over there soon. (FYI: The expansion box is still listed as one item. It causes too much disruption in PledgeManager to change that, but just know that the expansion will really be two boxes.)

We hope you are as excited about this as we are. We're working very hard to make this game the best it can be and get it to you as quickly as possible. We are way beyond the budget and timeline we set out early on, but we are committed and think this first self-published title will be worth it. We also believe we have come up with a solution that gets our backers a game sooner, the distribution and retail channel what it wants, and a proper amount of playtesting and proofing for these gigantic projects. If you think so too, please let us know.

Thanks for your support on Apocrypha, and for everything we do. We really appreciate it.

Mike and the Sharks
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Joe D
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Thanks for the detailed update Mike. Lookin forward to Apocrypha!
 
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Stuart Holttum
United Kingdom
Southend on Sea
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Since that post is from "Mike and the Sharks", I feel justified in asking:

mike selinker wrote:

We're working very hard to ... get (this game) to you as quickly as possible....we are committed and think this first self-published title will be worth it. We also believe we have come up with a solution that gets our backers a game sooner.....


Do ALL the Sharks fully commit to those principles?
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