The best four days in gaming have come and gone and I can say that this ranks as one of my top Gen Cons ever. I mean, I’ve only been to five, but still, this was right at the top. It wasn’t perfect, I left with some regrets, and yet I enjoyed it so thoroughly that even now as I write this two weeks later, to think of it puts a smile on my face.
Since I started going to Gen Con Indy, each year I have done it as part of something, never as a regular attendee. Last year I went as an Exhibitor to help out Rogue Games. This year I went back to being Press, as I’d done in 2007-08, but not for my own show/blog. This year I went as part of the team putting together This Just In… From Gen Con, along with my friend and co-host Rich Rogers (you can read about how that happened here). I knew it would be a lot of work, but it provided a great new window through which to view this awesome convention. Rather than go day-by-day, I’m doing thematic recaps.
Despite all the time devoted to the podcast, I did manage to find the opportunity to play a few games and do a few demos on the Exhibitor’s Hall. I ran a game of Lady Blackbird for five people, three of which had never played it. It wasn’t a planned game, just something to that came together when all of us found ourselves standing around without a game to join. It was the most interesting Lady Blackbird session I have played as I was able to put into action a few ideas about that game I had been mulling over for a while (skip the boring setup, force the agendas out in the open, get to the Pirate King!). One of my players, Amanda Valentine, wrote about it on her blog, and I am very happy that she and the entire group had a great experience (Steampunk Jane Austen FTW!). I also played in another game of Lady Blackbird on Sunday evening, and in a game of Shelter in Place, an upcoming zombie LARP game which was laugh-out-loud fun. Rounding it out were a few sessions of Martian Dice, which I bought, and two games of unpublished prototypes: Feed the Birds by Tim Rodriguez, which is really done and needs to be published, and Battletech Deckbuilding Mechfighting Game by Thomas Denagh, which needs tweaking but was actually fun and a great idea in the making.
Lastly, I got to do Sagefight, a one-on-one duel with Ryan Macklin which I won. You can see the entire duel below.
Last week at Gen Con, I had a chance to both run and play Lady Blackbird once more, which was just great. I played this little game extensively a couple of years ago and it never ceases to amaze me how much a few pages can deliver. After running it, I was talking to some friends at the lobby of the Embassy Suites about the game, comparing notes on how we ran the game, and I made the observation that for me, Lady Blackbird really sings when you have all the characters in one location, with their agendas out in the open where they can see how much at cross-purposes they are. After that it’s just a matter of seating back and enjoying the ensuing show.
Later, as I went back to thinking about Princess, Jock & Nerd, it occurred to me that the Lady Blackbird format would be a really amazing and simple way of doing this The Breakfast Club game since that is exactly what the movie is about: putting these characters in one location and letting them interact with each other. This was confirmed in my mind as I played the game on the last day of the con and then spoke about it some more with more people, including some of my players from the weekend.
I mentioned this on Twitter and immediately the idea was both liked and supported. It makes sense; Lady Blackbird is an experiment on character interaction at its core and fits well the theme and format of the movie.
So that’s what I’m doing now, turning The Breakfast Club into a Lady Blackbird hack that can be played quickly and in a short period of time, which fits my design goals to a T. In addition, Sean Nittner of the Narrative Control podcast issued me a challenge to have this done by the end of September so he can run it at Big Bad Con in Oakland, CA, which works for me as it lights a fire under my butt to get this done quickly. To that end, I’m just gonna go straight into writing, as opposed to blogging the process as I go along.
I’m starting it all by cheating, though.
I’m off to Gen Con in a couple hours. If you want to know what I’m up to there and my schedule, just head over to This Just In… From Gen Con and check the show schedule, because that is the one place where I will be for sure each day of the con. Other than that, I will be roaming and having a great time.
If you have my phone number, feel free to text me to get in touch with me. If not, use Twitter or email.
There has been a lot of attention this year on crowdfunding gaming projects, with Kickstarter being the overwhelming choice of crowdfunding swervice provider. For TJI we decided to go with a different service, IndieGoGo, and given there hasn’t been that much talk about this website I wanted to talk about my experience using it.
Both Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are crowdfunding sites giving project managers the tools to hold such campaigns. The biggest difference between them is in the manner in which they handle funds contributed: Kickstarter is a pledge-driven site where unless the set goal is met no funds are disbursed to the project creator, while IndieGoGo is a donation-driven site where funds are disbursed immediately to the creator, with a small bonus if the goal is met before the deadline.
The first question I get asked is, why did we go with IndieGoGo? Kickstarter has a lot of brand recognition in gaming circles due to some high profile projects having reach record-setting funds.[ref]Daniel Solis’ Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple and Happy Birthday, Robot; Jeremy Keller’s Technoir.[/ref] This decision was one Rich and I discussed at length, trust me. In the end we chose IndieGoGo for one big reason: every gaming-related crowdfunding campaign so far has been for a book, ours would be for a media project.
In short, I wasn’t 100% sure that we would be able to meet our funding goal. With Kickstarter, if we hadn’t, we wouldn’t get any of the pledged funds, meaning our entire strategy of going for fan support instead of corporate backing would’ve backfired and quite likely TJI would not have happened. With IndieGoGo, even if we didn’t meet our goal, whatever was donated was immediately given to us, so we could count with some funds at least.
Did using IndieGoGo hurt us? Hard to say. I know I had to do a lot more explaining about what IndieGoGo was than had we used Kickstarter (and usually I defaulted to, “It’s another website like Kickstarter.”), though the fact that Graham Walmsley had recently completed successfully a campaign on IndieGoGo for his book, Stealing Cthulhu, meant there was some name recognition out there already. I also don’t know to what extend the way funds are handled by IndieGoGo affected our campaign. I have heard/read comments that people prefer the pledge model to the instant donation, but I have no concrete evidence to support that and no comment was ever said to me to that effect (though I’d love to know if that is the case).
In the end we met our goal and even passed it by 33%. I was pleased as punch, honestly, and humbled that people did believe in us enough to give us their money for a product that is topical and of limited duration (unlike, say, a game book). We set a number of reward levels so there would be something for everyone (a lesson I have learned from seeing other crowdfunding projects), and even so on the first day we had a suggestion to modify one of our levels (Sponsor) to make it more affordable and in the end better for us.
The pattern learned from other campaigns, a lot of action at the beginning and the end with a slow-but-steady stream in the middle, held true. We got our first backer in less than an hour after launching and our first Sponsor on the first day. We picked up our Patron before the first week was over. Along the way we had a good number of backers in the default $10 level and the “deluxe” $50, and right at the end, with two days to go, we picked up three Sponsors, including a local Indy business! We even had one backer upgrade to Sponsor level (see below about upgrading) and then cede that slot to a favorite company.
We also sweetened the rewards by reaching out to friends in the game design community. I first reached out to Jeremy Keller, whose Technoir RPG was just about to close when we launched, and asked if he would be interested in helping us out. Jeremy agreed and we added an exclusive Indianapolis Transmission for Technoir[ref]Though this Transmission is indeed exclusive to our campaign, all Technoir Transmissions are released under Creative Commons licensing, so there will be ways to get it even if you did not participate in our campaign.[/ref] to our $10 reward level. I then reached out to David A. Hill, Jr, whose Guestbook RPG provided the perfect opportunity for a neat exclusive reward given its single-page-character all-you-need format. Rich’s co-host on The Voice of the Revolution, Brennan Taylor, then jumped in with a new adventure for his new sci-fi RPG, Bulldogs!, and a new campaign frame for Mortal Coil. These were all added to the $10 reward level in order to make that level enticing. Lastly, Chris Perrin offered a full PDF copy of his MECHA RPG to all $50 reward level backers, as well as a custom-made setting supplement to the Patron level.
We ended up with 48 backers, broken down by levels as follows:
- Fan of the Show ($5): 4 [one upgraded to Friend]
- Friend of the Show ($10): 26
- Supporter of the Show ($50): 9 [one upgraded to Sponsor]
- Sponsor of the Show ($125): 6/7
- Patron of the Show ($500): 1/1
I have not used Kickstarter so my comparison here is based on what I have seen as a backer of other campaigns.
Overall IndieGoGo was very easy to use and provided good tools to manage the campaign. Setting up the campaign was a matter of filling out a series of blanks over a number of tabs/categories, ensuring I hit all the necessary information. The hardest part was coming up with all the reward levels but that’s gonna be an issue for any campaign regardless of site used, I think. Financial info setup was extremely easy as I was using PayPal as my account; I had also the option of using a bank account but PayPal just made things a lot easier, especially as final funds for the campaign would be divided among three people. This is one of the biggest differences with Kickstarter, which uses only Amazon Payments.[ref]For non-US residents, IndieGoGo is the only option, as Kickstarter also requires a US-based bank account.[/ref]
Once the campaign launched, I had tools to promote it right from the campaign page, including sending out notices to social media, embedding widgets (see the image above), and sending emails. I could also create Updates that would post on the site and go out via email to all backers, as well as a section for Comments, which allowed us a way to interact with our backers more publicly. The dashboard has a little To-Do link that keeps you updated on things to do to promote your campaign when it launches and as it progresses, which I found handy. We also received some help from IndieGoGo via their Twitter account, which both re-tweeted one of our tweets and then featured us as the Twitter Campaign of the Day on July 7th.
The dashboard let me track all funds by backer/reward level and also kept track of all the backer’s info which I could then export to a CSV spreadsheet. Since funds donated are immediately disbursed, I could keep track of all backings as they happened via email. The funds would go into my PayPal account,[ref]E-checks, of which we got one, take a couple days to clear, but that’s a PayPal end-of-things issue, not an IndieGoGo one.[/ref] the fees to IndieGoGo would be automatically paid via PayPal as well, freeing me from having to calculate and remember to pay them. IndieGoGo’s fee is 9% of any funds donated; if you meet your goal before deadline, they give you back 5%, effectively making their fee only 4%. PayPal charges its own fees on all payments as well, which would vary whether the payment was made via PayPal balance or credit card. In general, we got about 90% of the funds donated, the other 10% being fees.
There were two drawbacks that I found dealing with IndieGoGo:
- No Way to Upgrade: Because IndieGoGo deals with actual money disbursed and not pledges, upgrading between reward levels isn’t as easy as with Kickstarter. I offered the option to upgrade by telling people to donate the difference between their current level and the one they wanted to upgrade to, and making a comment about their intent. I had to keep track of that info myself, as the comments were not a field included in the info gathered by the dashboard. Thankfully there were only two upgrades so it was easy. I would like to see IndieGoGo address this. The system can track what you already funded, so it would be a matter of adding the option to add the difference to a higher reward level.[ref]I say this not knowing a fig about what it would take to code this feature, but I am sure it can be done.[/ref] A lot of potential money is left on the table because this option cannot be exploited, and I have seen firsthand how effective it can be in some Kickstarter campaigns.
- No Way to Contact Backers Post-Campaign: Updates do indeed go out via email to all backers, but post-campaign you sometimes need to get in touch with them for info like their shirt sizes, mailing address, etc, which you ideally want to do in private. As a Kickstarter backer, I know that website offers the option of sending out an email with a questionnaire where all this info can be requested. IndieGoGo had no tool for this; actually, it had no tool to email all my backers, period. I had to download the CSV spreadsheet and gather the emails myself, then send out batches of BCC emails to my different groups of backers asking for their info. This was tedious, especially because I know it can be done by the service provider. This is another feature I truly hope they implement as soon as possible.
Overall I was very happy with IndieGoGo when all was said and done, and would probably run another campaign using their service if their particular set of features were the best match for my project.
There were two holes in our reward levels we did not exploit: between the $10 Friend and $50 Supporter levels, and between the $50 Supporter and the $125 Sponsor level. That’s something to keep in mind for the future: don’t leave gaping holes like that open, offer something there as an option.
I was actually very surprised that we did not have more backers at the $10 Friend level. I set that one as default and piled on as many as the rewards as I could on that level because I wanted to make it an affordable and attractive option. In terms of net profit, the $5 was better for us, since with fees and rewards costs taken out the $10 was really netting us about $6-ish, but I also wanted to give something back to the backers. Yes, we did get 26 backers at that level, but I thought we would get a lot more.
We did end up with one Sponsor slot “unsold” which surprised us, given the relatively low price to promote your product to a fairly good number of listeners in a target market.
I would’ve loved to have seen our campaign soar over the set goal like many other ones have, but I wasn’t really expecting it as it goes back to the reason why we went with IndieGoGo in the first place. Rich and I also thought that we would get totally funded within the first week–two weeks tops–but it wasn’t until the end of the third week that we met our goal. Again, this goes back to the reason why we chose IndieGoGo at all.
It will be interesting to see how other non-book gaming-related crowdfunding projects do in the future. I don’t think we set any records or broke new ground here, but we did prove that it is possible to do with the right project.
Final Funding: $2025
IndieGoGo Fees: -$182.25
PayPal Fees: -$78.03
IndieGoGo 5% Bonus: +$101.25
Rewards Expenses: -$683.90[ref]Shirts, stickers, artwork, shipping.[/ref]
Net Total: $1182.07
The Net Total is to be divided between Rich, Ryan and myself (I will keep the percentages private as I’ve not cleared with the other two). I don’t think we would have gotten this kind of funding had we gone with seeking traditional corporate sponsors, even though the work involved in making the show does deserve that kind of backing, if not more. Once funds are divided, both Rich and I are getting more than what Ryan did in previous years[ref]Funny enough, even though Ryan is getting a smaller percentage than Rich and I–I consider it a Licensing Fee for the TJI brand–he’s making almost as much as he made last year with a miniscule fraction of the work involved. That should give you a ballpark idea of how little was being charged for sponsoring TJI.[/ref], which, while it doesn’t cover our entire Gen Con travel & rooming expense, does help significantly.[ref]At least in my case, it accounts for about half of my expenses.[/ref]
Thanks to all our backers, from our hearts. I hope that you will all enjoy this season of This Just In… From Gen Con because I am very much looking forward to bringing it to you.
If there’s any other question you have about our IndieGoGo campaign, please just ask in the comments and I’ll answer it as honestly as I can.
As I mentioned a few weeks back, I will be one of the hosts of the 2011 season of This Just In… From Gen Con, the only live-from-the-con podcast. This year, instead of going to corporate sponsors directly, we decided to turn it over to the fans and crowdfund the project via IndieGoGo. Check out the video we did:
I’m a child of the 80s, raised on a steady diet of romantic comedies and high school movies, king among them being The Breakfast Club. Movieland High School is as mythical a land for me as is Middle Earth or A Galaxy Far, Far Away; it bears little to no resemblance to my own high school experience, but it captures my imagination as if there were dragons or lightsabers. Naturally, it has always seemed to me to be a perfect setting for a roleplaying game.
I’ve been aware of fellow blogger Michael Wolf (Stargazer’s World) has a free game called Warrior, Rogue & Mage in which those three words are the characters’ stats as opposed to their class. MWP’s Leverage also does this with the roles of Hacker, Hitter, Grifter, Thief & Mastermind being also character stats. Given how in Breakfast Club the whole point of the movie is that the characters are/are not the stereotypes of a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal, it seemed riffing off the roles-as-stats idea in these two games was the way to go.
Thus I came up with Princess, Jock & Nerd.
Mythender is a game of epic heroes fighting gods in Mythic Norden being developed by Ryan Macklin. He’s been working on it for a couple years now and it looks like things are finally moving towards the final stretch. Last week he posted the first draft of the character creation rules and I decided to take them for a spin to help Ryan out with whatever feedback I could provide.
The game is set in mythic Norse country, but the image that jumped right out at me was not a Viking warrior, but an Irish one (unsurprising for anyone who knows me, really). Given there is a connection between the Irish and the Vikings, I used that as the jumping off point to create my own Mythender.
Behold Eire, raised by Morrigan to be the embodiment of the land of Ireland, sent by the Raven Queen to Norden to end the northmen and their heathen demon-gods.
The news is out and it’s now official: I will be one of the hosts of this year’s This Just In… From Gen Con podcast. My co-host will be Rich Rogers of Canon Puncture and The Voice of the Revolution fame.
For the last three years, I have thoroughly this innovative show, recorded at and released during Gen Con, which captures a small sample of the beautiful chaos that is the best four days in gaming. While I’ve attended, the show gives me a window into some of the other cool stuff going on all around me, and especially the year I did not go right after my mother passed away, This Just In managed to give me a little bit of the excitement of being at the con. I won’t lie, there’s a bit of an intimidation factor in being the next one in the legacy, especially being on the first season without any of the two founders, but I’m up for it.
How did I end up here? Well…
I always had the vague notion that what I had termed Joys and Sorrows was where the core of this game I’ve been working on lied; in a game about the loss of Humanity, the loss of the Self, Joys and Sorrows represented that which defined what was being lost. But for some reason that I couldn’t pinpoint I wasn’t entirely happy with the mechanic (and I call it that only as a technicality, as it never really became part of a moving system but remained only a cog off to one side).
A few weeks ago while at work, I had a small Eureka moment in regards Joys and Sorrows and the central place I wanted them to have but hadn’t quite achieved. The game, in essence, is about the loss of that which makes you Human, and the stories that emerge from that downward spiral. I was on to the right idea with Joys and Sorrows in that these are player-created statements that describe that which is important and connect the character to their Humanity, as well as defining where the sources of interest and conflict will lie as the story develops. But it was still clunky. I hadn’t found a way to express mechanically, on the physical game level, the loss of these bonds.
And then it hit me.
A statement from my latest post on Rebuilding Vampire about the Vampire: The Masquerade character sheet turned into an all-day Twitter discussion about character sheets in RPGs in general. It was a good series of chats, actually, but it highlighted very quickly that I was talking to two different groups of people and that what I wanted to convey about why I said what I said about the VtM sheet was not clear at all for those who lacked a certain context. This post is me trying to explain my views on character sheets and what I see is their role in an RPG. I would love it if from there we can launch a greater conversation about RPG character sheet design in general.
In 2008 I listened to episode 54 of the Master Plan podcast, in which Ryan Macklin interviewed Daniel Solis. The name of that episode, and the idea that was hashed out over the half-hour interview, was that “A Cover Is A Promise.” Briefly (and really, you should listen to the episode to get the better explanation), Daniel poses the idea that when looking at the cover of an RPG, it gives the prospective customer a solid idea of either what you will do in the game or an emotion/theme that the game will create; the cover makes a promise of what’s to be found inside and in play. That phrase has stuck with me since then, and I have brought it up in various conversations ever since because it speaks to me, and solidifies a feeling I have had about roleplaying games that I simply had no way to voice. Following that line of thought, when I think of character sheets, this is the statement that comes to mind:
A character sheet is a map.