Now that you have a basic idea if you want to get published or be self published, worked out some intricacies to the game, done a lot of testing. It was time to give it a greater form.
Forming the Team
Ultimately to be successful you need a good team. There are going to be a lot of points in the process where it helps to have someone pick you up and kick you in the butt. It also helps having a varied point of view and people who you can bounce ideas off of.
I started with my wife who is also a gamer and a couple friends as we set out on this journey. A couple friends who I used to do rules with back during the World of Warcraft TCG days helped with testing, rule lawyering and design. Then we had a friend who is a 3D sculptor, although fresh out of school, he didn’t have a lot of experience but was someone that I could trust. I also have a friend who has a really successful local print shop. Other than artwork and graphic design, it seemed like a great team.
For probably everyone except me this adventure was probably more of a hobby, considering I am focused to make this work and the one doing the main investing. I worked with the print shop to get costs down but still keep high quality media. Starting out this would probably require me working for free but I’ve helped out at the shop during holiday rush before so this wasn’t new. I did work out future costs so that eventually it wouldn’t need me working for free. The casting we’ve worked with and had that part down. Now that the production pieces seemed to be handled we just needed something to actually produce.
When you think about it the concept of creating and publishing a game is pretty simple:
- Develop game, write out rules, test them along with the story/lore.
- Acquire artwork*, concept artwork for sculpting and final artwork.
- Get sculpting done*, either through traditional methods or 3D digital work.
- If digitally sculpted, print out 3D masters*.
- If traditional sculpted, get miniature cut up for casting*.
- Get masters created and initial production cast*.
- Get tokens, manuals, print materials, boxes done*.
- Package everything up and sell it*.
There is a bit more in between each of those steps. Hopefully I’ll try to cover them all, along with where possible delays happen. Every point there is a * is a possible place, if you are working solo, that you are waiting for material or someone else to finish. Each of those points is a place that if there is a delay, it can cause a chain reaction of delays. That is all assuming you have the initial funds to create a print run, we haven’t gotten into funding methods and minimum order quantity (MOQ) yet but I’ll cover that part soon.
There are four games that we’ve been working on, two of them are board games and two are miniatures games. We decided to go the self-publishing route for multiple reasons. One was I wanted to be more involved with the process but I also wasn’t too keen on someone changing my concept. I also think it is important to understand the full process, to be part of that, as it can be useful when you get to designing games.
Event Horizon / Interstellar Crisis
Before there was Star Wars X-Wing, Star Wars Armada, Halo Fleet Battles and Dropfleet there was Full Thrust, Star Fleet Battles, Battlefleet Gothic and a couple others. For the longest time those were the dominators of the spaceship battle games on the market. Even though a couple of them weren’t supported anymore, they were still popular. Compared to ground miniatures wargames and skirmish games though, the space games were a handful. It was partially for that reason we chose that as our starting point.
There are also design decisions on this route. Spaceships sculpting wise as the more forgivable than infantry, they are also easier to sculpt which meant I could rely on a partner who may not had full experience yet. 3D costs for sculpting ships were more inexpensive, they were easier to cast and we believe we could offer something new. I’ll go more into this project a bit later but for now I want to lay the groundwork for some things.
The Name Game
One of the first rules of design is to not be married to the game. You might think that an idea or part is integral for the game, your local area might agree but then you find out it isn’t the majority. You also have to be aware that you can’t make everyone happy so you’ll have to make a decision that benefits the majority of your client-base.
When we chose “Event Horizon” we thought we were being clever. An event horizon is a boundary in spacetime beyond which events cannot affect an outside observer, in layman’s terms it is referred to as the “the point of no return”. Since conflict reached a certain point, a point of no return, before conflict erupted into full war it seemed to match. The jump drives the ships use for travel also create a gravitational field, which essentially creates a mini blackhole between the destination and place of origin. The name seemed to match that as well. Unfortunately everyone only saw the name as a reference to the 1997 horror / science fiction movie Event Horizon.
You can be too clever… sometimes when you try to keep utilize the KISS (Keep it simple, stupid) method it ends up being more complex. This is what happens when you have two friends that are engineers. The end result was that we needed to change the name.
Funding / Kickstarter / IndieGoGo
Before I segment more into sculpting, artwork and additional games we should take a look at funding. If we were going to seek a publisher, funding isn’t really an issue. Since we decided to self-publish, then that means something has to pay for the work being done. Even if I make the sacrifice of not getting paid, it isn’t fair to ask someone else unless they are partner to do it. It could be the greatest idea and might even make millions, however you shouldn’t have anyone working for free… that goes for artwork and sculpting as well. No simply getting credit for being part of a project isn’t enough to compensate someone for their time and work.
That means your project will need to have funds. You have to put money into something to make something. The traditional method is to take out a line of credit, get a business loan or find funds from a generous benefactor. There are multiple ways to get funding through traditional methods. Even though I made the leap to do this, I am still working a full time job and I wasn’t allowed to take a 2nd mortgage on the house to fund my games.
I did have some money which was put aside for hobbies. I set a certain amount of my paycheck aside that goes to personal expenses and hobbies. This meant funneling that money into the business, mostly to obtain artwork and sculpting. That also meant I couldn’t get too far ahead so had to make a careful plan, prioritize what I wanted and in what order. Some of that will be a bit more evident when I talk about art acquisition.
I won’t go into a lot of detail about Kickstarter and IndieGoGo as I feel there are better posts that cover it. I will give a brief summary for those not familiar with them (are there people who still don’t know about them?).
This is one of the least popular methods. Don’t get me wrong, it has benefits for certain projects but isn’t the most popular for funding games. One of the main reasons is because you can set your campaign to fixed or flexible funding. Flexible funding means even if the goal isn’t met, the creator still gets all the money (minus fees of course). The other disadvantage is that it pulls money and charges you immediately when you back vs Kickstarter which waits until the campaign is over with. I think because of those things it gets the least amount of traffic and has a stigma associated with it unfortunately.
This is the most popular method. I have been part of a three fairly successful Kickstarters, assisted in posting, administering the campaign and been part of the process. I will say it is a constant roller coaster for a creator. There isn’t a group account or admin account, so essentially we shared a creator login, but it allowed us to always have a presence in comments and post updates when needed. They were queued in an approved post so all that was left was to cut and paste when certain campaign levels were reached. I also ran my own campaign, although unsuccessful, but the experience was worthwhile.
The main thing is Kickstarter today is much different than it was three years ago. This is mostly uniquely related to the games category than any other category. Some of it due to backers having more knowledge readily available to them. Another reason is unfortunately a few people have been stung by it, not received product which has made people very cautious and can create a semi-toxic environment at times. This has made it a bit more difficult for the new or smaller guy since backers want to see more product examples, than just renders and concept art.
The advantages of Kickstarter however still make it worthwhile. You have to remember to communicate and outline the details early on. Estimating production time can be hard depending if you are dealing with overseas, no matter the estimates add on 20% more time as a buffer. Worse case is you’ll be delivering early. Don’t try an aggressive schedule for your first one. Be aware that even if you have vendors/sales saying you only need money and you are good, that doesn’t guarantee your place in a queue. Be sure you have your contracts and agreements outlined otherwise it is just cursory promise. I’ll try to cover a bit more of that when we get to dealing with other manufacturing companies.
This should go without saying but it still doesn’t happen, be sure you understand all the costs with delivering your product from manufacturing to shipping, then estimate more. I’ve seen too many projects where if the initial product they funded have been fine, but after aggressively doing stretch goals they find they underestimated not only time but money. You’ll notice Kickstarters are starting to have 2 waves which is becoming a normal thing. The first wave usually handles the initial product, while the 2nd wave are additional add-on and/or stretch goals.
I will be coming back to this topic but wanted to say a couple things and add a few pictures, afterall no one just wants to read a bunch of text… there needs to be some shiny.
Artist skill level and expectations vary greatly. You need to be clear, concise and understand the terms you set with an artist when you are acquiring artwork. Simply paying for a commission doesn’t mean you own the copyright to something. Often lower priced commissions are not meant for commercial resale, they are for people who want to pay for custom artwork (possibly fanart) created for them. If you plan on using it for commercial purposes, you need to communicate it with the artist. This will most likely cause a change in the price. It doesn’t matter if it is just concept art, not going on a box, if it is for a retail product you really want to communicate it.
Some artists will require full payment up front. This isn’t uncommon for first time customers. However that doesn’t mean you should just blindly accept someone, be sure you research them, their work and make sure they are who you want to work with. Others will require half or a percentage up front and the rest upon delivery. When you’ve developed a good relationship with an artist they might start work and collect payment upon delivery. Outline payment terms up front, know what you are paying and when you are paying.
How artists approach creating artwork can vary pretty big. Be sure you research the artists, that their styles match what you are looking for. Each artist has strengths, weakness and styles so you want to make sure what you are trying to get made they can do it. Don’t assume because they do great mecha, that they might be able to a dynamic battle or maybe you want them to create a character with some direction. They always want examples, clear information on what they are drawing to make sure what you are visualizing matches what they will actually draw. How they approach drawing the artwork may vary as well. I’m going to cover 4 different approaches by different artists but all roughly cost the same give or take about $50.
Approach A: Given some reference pictures, type up descriptions they created this piece from scratch. There wasn’t a lot of questions after we outlined what we were looking for. There wasn’t additional feedback to determine if they were going down the same route or drafts, it was just one shot drawing.
Approach B: Similar to above, we gave the artist an information packet. The packet contains reference pictures, descriptions of what we are looking for and examples. We received an initial draft which let us choose a style of outfit for the armor we were looking for. Then we received the final colored version after we picked the style.
Approach C: Again similar to above, once the information packet was received. This time we got a rough draft with poses, then another draft later with outfit choices and then the final piece.
Approach D: We got a real rough draft which I didn’t include in the examples. Then we received a primary draft with multiple options to choose from. We were able to give feedback on what we liked and didn’t like. This helped the artist get a better feel for what we wanted. Then was a third rough draft going a bit more detail on our choices, some matched and some stretching boundaries. Then a finalized concept which we went over color palette choices. Then we received the final versions.
My communication with all these artists was pretty much the same thing. When I approached them I outlined what I was planning to do, I outlined which of their pieces in their portfolio/galleries interested me and provided them with information packet to determine prices. After discussing rights for the images and payment terms we went to work. The artwork doesn’t take too long to complete and I tend to give 1-2 weeks, although some took a month due to other projects. We communicated and wasn’t in a hurry so these were fine. Each one approached things differently though and that is part of what you want to highlight in your communication. If you expecting Approach D but instead get Approach A, it is probably because you weren’t clear in what you were looking for.
Edited by Shinlocke