Producing Fun: The new podcast from Naylor Games

I just launched a new podcast about games. Here I explore the thinking behind it and introduce the first episode.

Time for something new?

For a while now, I’ve been finding myself less and less inclined to spend time writing a blog. This has probably been very clear from how sporadic, in general, my posts have become. My original plan – back at the end of 2019 – was to get back to blogging once the New Year started. I’d really enjoyed writing the pieces that explored the behind-the-scenes story of the Magnate Kickstarter. With a well-earned Christmas break behind me, I was fully planning to get back to proper blogging again shortly after. Of course, there were some un-forseen ups and downs and a few delays happened, unrelated to Naylor Games. But – I said to myself – before March 2020 was out, I’d be back in the swing of it: Not doing it with any fixed schedule, but just pushing out the odd thing every few weeks. Delightful!

Well…we all know what happened next. And because we all know (and I suspect as uninterested in talking about it as I am) I won’t address it directly. Instead I’ll leave this sentence as an odd and foreboding lacuna to future generations (should I be lucky enough that anyone is reading this in the dim distant future). After all, if a future reader has done their research they’ll work it out: even once it is – for them – just a fascinating curio about a time that a thing happened.

Given that so much of my life over the last year was already being spent sat at a computer on my own (as I suspect it was for many), the prospect of spending countless more hours writing at it grew less appealing by the day. And since I was only really interested in writing mostly detailed analysis pieces, I didn’t bother at all; save for one practical post on Mental Health I did because I think its really, really important and a highly visual one about our logo that was most relevant at the time it was posted.

What that left me without though was something of a creative outlet. With Magnate production much slower than I hoped, and playtesting greatly curtailed, I realise only now that I was feeling the lack of something important: making a creative thing that other people can actually enjoy, right now. It’s not that it’s been a total creative desert. Far from it: I have completed a considerable amount of valuable preparatory and behind-the-scenes work on future projects. Rather, it’s that precious little of this work comes with the buzz of human connection: of seeing the fruits of your labour in the faces of the people enjoying it. That payoff of seeing people enjoy something you’ve made is endlessly deferred. It’s all happening in here, not out there and it sucks.

But this locked-down time hadn’t been all negative. In happier developments, others reached out to me. I had recently been invited on several podcasts, streams and digital panels, some of which as projects had themselves been inspired by reduced human contact. They had all been successful and I found that I really enjoyed being a guest every time. It is never a substitute for physical presence, but they were hugely therapeutic and lots of fun in themselves.

Then I did an (as yet unreleased) interview with Mike of the Who?What?Why? podcast and got a bolt of very obvious inspiration – penetrating its way through a thick wall of my own obliviousness: “maybe I should do something like this?” Mike’s impressive ability to put me at total conversational ease while stealthily improvising key details of the conversation, made me suddenly see how good the experience of interviewing real people over video could be. I had already had so much fun with other skillful and charming hosts and I am already a podcast person; I listen to them, on average, for two hours or more of everyday. Clearly creating a show would be time consuming. But that time would be spent, at least partly, with people; not WordPress.

But what exactly?

I don’t know why I didn’t see the possibility earlier. It is, I suspect, partly because I never had an obvious topic for a show. Being someone who always wants to be making things that are useful to people other than me and – often dangerously valuing myself only as far as I do that – I didn’t give it a second thought. Perhaps there was also a degree of long-held prejudice in my assumptions about the medium. Years back, it seemed like everyone was starting a podcast, and many of these had a reputation for being the same: just two or three guys (always guys) joshing around in a makeshift studio about nothing in particular. No one needs more of that I thought, better I don’t add it unless I have something really, really specific in mind. It obviously never crossed my mind that current podcast world is far more diverse than that. And that most of my own favourite shows do not match that description at all. And that the ones I listen to that are a bit little like that are still good fun. And that even those that absolutely started that way have nearly all evolved into something much better, while their boring contemporaries have faded away.

Still, I was left with a problem: I needed to do a podcast, but about what? It was much easier to start the blog: There were a ton of very specific things I wanted to write about from the off and I’ve never found brainstorming ideas for it too challenging. It helped that I’d already run a newspaper for 6 years so the whole process was incredibly familiar; no new technology or kit and no shortage of a sense of what interesting content reads like and what edits well. But the podcast would be more uncharted. I knew the podcast needed to be guest orientated – that’s what I’d enjoyed – and I didn’t remotely have the time to create a scripted, documentary show. But what to make it about?

A podcast about what we do at Naylor Games: producing fun

At least half the answer came from research.

There’s plenty of board game shows out there – some of them excellent – but the more I looked at it, it seemed to me like there were relatively few truly industry focused pods. The well-known shows tend to, quite naturally, look at things more from a game design perspective (such as Boardgame Design Lab or Ludology) and while they are great at what they do, I don’t find they’re as interested in the product and market perspective: how games are positioned, how they’re made, how they’re marketed, how they come together as a whole to create fun (an experience that goes way beyond what you could usefully call game design alone) and especially how whole companies sit within an ecosystem; or the larger industry pressures and physical limitations that shape the titles we ultimately see on the shelves. As someone whose day job was running the product function of a multinational technology company, all of this happens to be my wheelhouse. And if you are a long-time reader, it’s also something you will know is a significant part of how I think about games. So it won’t surprise you at all, that such topics are an equally significant part of our internal conversations at Naylor Games either: for us it’s always about the whole product.

Those are topics then which I should – in theory – be able to do justice too. And given they probably haven’t been given the attention they could have in the podcast world, there looks to be some solid opportunity for product differentiation in the podcast itself. Hence, Producing Fun: a podcast about making games from a product perspective.

The other half of the answer is that I don’t think I can actually know yet. It seems all podcasts are experiments. Whatever shape episode one could have taken, I can be almost entirely sure that future episodes will be different; in improved quality, format, tone and – hopefully – my competence as a host (which will likely start low). I have been hugely cheered by listening to the early episodes of the some of the world’s biggest and best known podcasts. At their best these initial forays tend to be clanky, uneven and rather inelegant. At their worst, they are, to my modern ears, unlistenable, self-indulgent garbage. Today some of these command millions of listeners weekly. Times may have changed somewhat, but if they could do it then, then I, as someone with the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, can definitely do it now.

1st Episode: Louis Downs – Manufacturer

The first episode (already available across multiple podcasting platforms) is an interview with my good friend Louis, Managing Director of CMA Creative Solutions Ltd.

Louis is a skilled manufacturer – his company made the beautiful resin buildings in the Magnate prototype and produces minatures for the world’s top game companies. But he’s also a lot more: before he took over at CMA he was a publisher; first in books and then in games with Dropzone and Dropfleet commander (which raised around million dollars on Kickstarter). His advice to me, based on deep understanding of production processes and the convention circuit, has been absolutely invaluable to the success of Magnate so far. His expertise comes from a very different place that an experienced game designer would so he’s a perfect guest as far as setting out the show’s stall. Because we know each other so well, he’s also someone I can afford to make some mistakes with.

Louis is easily one of the most knowledgeable people that I have ever met in the games world. I hope you find what he has to say as interesting as I do.

What’s next for the podcast? What’s next for the blog?

I feel very honoured that several experienced industry figures, from a wide variety of professional backgrounds, have already agreed to be guests on the show. This gives me high hopes that I should be able to make some really interesting episodes. More details will follow on twitter ahead of show recordings.

I am not giving-up on the blog. I’ll be posting each episode here and, whenever I am inspired to do so, will post other content that suits a written format. It maybe there are pieces that actively build on what’s come-up in the podcast. But the blog is not likely to come roaring back, festooned with many ‘000s of words-long essays, just yet. I am enjoying this new medium and its creative possibilities. I want to spend as much time with other human beings in creative endeavours that I can. So for now, the podcast will be my main focus outside the business of actually producing games. I hope you will join me on this journey – I think it could be a lot of fun.


How we made the Naylor Games logo

The site’s name is officially changing and we’ve got a brand spanking new logo! Here’s why and – just because I thought it might be interesting – what the thinking behind the design is.

With Magnate now going into mass production, I realised it was time that Naylor Games had a proper logo and for the site’s name to change. After all, once Magnate is out there, Naylor Games can truly call itself a publisher and this site won’t just be a blog anymore. And what better time to start building some level of recognition than having the logo you really want on your first game?

Like any good logo, I wanted something to communicate what Naylor Games is trying to be that would be both memorable and visually distinct. Of course, that’s much easier said than done and I thought this post might be an opportunity to explore the thinking and process behind how we came up with this design.

Why now?

I deliberately didn’t spend much time on it in early stages for a couple of reasons.

First of all, I wasn’t sure if there was going to be a game beyond Magnate. Getting this to market was my dream and although I committed to the self publish route back in early 2018, I wasn’t initially sure I wanted to publish beyond that. The whole game development process turned out – for the most part – to be even more fun and fulfilling than I expected. And even if I don’t do this for the rest of my life, I now know I want to take a shot at building a successful publishing house.

The second reason is that at the beginning, a logo wasn’t all that important. A classic thing I see quite a lot in new businesses is the rush to focus on the trappings of business; rather than what it is actually about: creating an organisation that generates value for its customers at a profit. I understand why. When you don’t yet have customers or sales, making a logo, a website or even getting office space (really not a great idea unless the rent is *very* cheap) makes the whole thing feel more real, which can be a morale boost. But those things should ultimately only ever be a means to a particular end. In my view the initial priorities were clear: get Magnate into people’s hands so they can enjoy it and – when they don’t enjoy it so much – give me feedback which will enable me to improve it. For that purpose a Naylor Games logo wasn’t relevant. People don’t have a lot of space for you that you get to rent in their heads. If there was one word I wanted them to remember it isn’t my name, it’s MAGNATE: MAGNATE, MAGNATE, MAGNATE. That meant all the focus needed to be on that when it came to marketing material. Besides, given the design blog focus of the site (which I dearly want to get back to soon!) a title that befitted what I was trying to do – “James Naylor: Game creator” was better than just calling it by a URL I purchased for brevity and future proofing.

What can a good logo do?

A logo is an opportunity to do two things: 1) Create something eye-catching and memorable that people can attach in their mind to what they think and feel about your business and 2) Communicate something about what the organisation is about in that image.

By default, people will associate some image with your company. So the first thing is really just an opportunity to be stickier: the bolder and more distinct the logo, the better chance that the whole company identity will likely stick in the associative web that is human memory. Lots of logos are pretty bland or similar to others. This can sometimes be deliberate. Some companies would much rather a project a clean, unthreatening and professional if bland image than risk something that sends the wrong message and sticks in the mind for the wrong reasons.

But for games companies, I think this is normally less of a risk than it would be for a professional services business, for example. After all, games are supposed to be fun: so appearing unserious or even ‘wacky’ is unlikely to ever lose a publisher any business. This is why I think its a bit sad when entertainment company logos just ape the professional, clean style. They’re missing an opportunity to communicate their creativity. I think the same is also true when they embrace the fun but don’t spend enough time thinking about what they want to say – they’re missing out on the power of the second thing logos can do. Instead they often just go for something jazzy looking that is a literal iconified version of their company name. Or they choose some archetypal game imagery, relatively randomly, to indicate the company is about games without thinking about what it could say about their games. As a result, the relative distinctiveness is also lessened: If you’re not thinking hard about your unique identity, it’s easy to default to using the broader patterns of design that all similar companies use.

What was the process?

In this case, I had a somewhat clear idea for the design immediately. I sketched out some ideas and created a digital one of my own for the Magnate sample box like this:

I am not an artist, so these weren’t very satisfactory to begin with (the one on the left looks like a mountain-wear brand!). But crucially, they helped me start communicating the idea. Next I briefed the logo into two different designers so they could do some concepting work. I provided my sketches, described what I hoped the logo could achieve and included multiple reference materials to capture the kind of mountain I wanted. They tried out many different ideas – which allowed me to think through what it really needed and what was more/less important. I showed these to friends and colleagues and got them to give me their feedback to help steer it further. The two front-running concepts were these:

As you can see, they are very different styles, and neither was quite right yet. But with them, I could re-brief to the designers and even begin iterating myself using Adobe Illustrator. While I am not an artist and don’t have the required visual flair to take something from brief to finished art, I have become relatively competent with editing vector graphics. To make all the small visual changes required to bring Magnate to market, it became a practical necessity. So it was easy enough for me to spend a few hours playing with the designs, iterating further with more feedback from colleagues until I had the final design:

Why this design?

Now comes the part where I could look very silly.

It’s all well and good to describe the theory and note where others have, perhaps, not used the logo to its full potential. Its another thing to do a good job yourself. So here’s my explanation for why I made the choices I made for the Naylor Games logo. It’s up to you to decide if I did a good job or not.

First practically, I wanted something with strong black and white lines. It would be high contrast (more likely to stand out) and fits nicely with what limited design scheme we’ve been using so far: the current Naylor Games logo, the site template and little “NG” insignia we use on Kickstarter or other materials I’ve created already. Black and white can also lend a little gravitas to a design. That is appropriate because as any who knows me knows, I take all projects quite seriously, even when they are about fun. Hopefully it can subtly suggest we take the business of our customers amusement pretty seriously: We will work and think very hard so other people in the future have the very best game experiences we can possibly create for them. We’re not a group of people having a bit of a laugh while we happen to make games on the side: that’s just not our style. We are absolutely committed to making them as great as they can possibly be, sometimes at considerable cost to ourselves. Making games is just so inherently fun the pain sometimes involved is absolutely worth it. So some degree of gravitas is correct when it comes to communicating what we’re about more specifically.

Crucially though, I also wanted a big splash of colour – which we tried to achieve here with the gradient colours of the dawn light over the mountain. Ultimately Naylor Games is still making games: Its about bringing moments of joy into people’s lives – not professionals solving problems (however seriously and professionally we may take it!). Highly varied colour palettes symbolize cornucopia, possibility, variety and diversity. We’re still promising that fun. We don’t want you, the player, to have to take things too seriously. This is a promise of fun.

This brings me next to the mountain itself. It’s a pretty bold symbol. But it captures – as a mountain peak to be climbed – at least what we aspire to: ambition in both product & game design. After all, our first game is an 812 component midweight, miniatures heavy game that recalls some Monopoly and SimCity nostalgia and aims to finally do a deep property game really well for modern tastes. On one hand, that’s an incredibly stupid first time project for a lot of fairly obvious reasons. On the other hand it is indisputably ambitious. And this to be honest, fits my approach, the rest of the team’s approach and many of our collaborators. We would all rather risk failing in a spectacular way trying to do something different and hard than play it safe. So I think of this also as a commitment to make sure we continue living by that approach. The sunrise over the mountain reinforces the same idea. We are trying to do new things – so the dawn is perfect. Symbolically speaking, it’s another big bet for us to live up to, of course. But I’d rather risk us looking silly in the future if this can, in some small way, motivate us to keep the faith and stay true to our ambitions.

Up the mountain there is a winding path leading towards its peak and where the snow gets thick. You could choose to see that as the difficult journey to make something as good as it can be. But that’s not really why its there. What it’s really about is a sense of adventure, the journey we want to take players on. This idea came from one of the designers who worked on it – to capture the spirit of old fantasy illustrations – like this original art from the Hobbit :

In that case, the path is straight rather than winding but it conveys exactly the same idea. A winding path in a more compact design is an easier, even more archetypal storybook way to convey a journey or adventure. And that’s perfect because most games are storytelling experiences too – although the players make the story. They can take you out of yourself for a time and participate in a world you’ve made with other players. Personally, I love games that use powerful theming to do this and such titles are, in general, the ones we want to make. Again it can say something about what we promise and we want to be remembered for.

Lastly we come to the bottom of the logo – the text itself. Here the story is pretty simple. I wanted Naylor to be a stark and boldly rendered. It its after all, the differentiating part of the company name: itself chosen because it was one less thing for people to remember in the early days. They know me and they know a specific game (e.g. Magnate). My view was that they don’t really need to know about a third thing – a company name – which doesn’t really begin to have a real identity of its own until many years and many products have passed. “Naylor” is also a name which is short, punchy and easy to say in pretty much every country I have ever been to. By pure accident of birth, that made it an easier choice than it would have been for other folk. “Featherstonhaugh Games” (pronounced Fanshaw Games!?!) is just not going to cut it in the same way.

Why is “Games” rendered in the more fun font that resembles the squares of a board? This is my attempt to balance the logo further away from the overly serious and finally eliminate the mountain-wear vibes. I think situations like this is where a bit of explicit game imagery can be useful. Alongside all the other imagery, it still highlights that we are a games company, but it’s also fairly subtle and relatively classy, allowing the mountain image to take centre stage. I tried a few other objects, but squares (with the odd triangle) turned out to be the best. I don’t think its a bad ting they could also look a bit like pixels too (a pure accident) as, since the end of the arcade era, such imagery also communicates the idea of fun & games.

Is this all a bit pretentious? Possibly. But I am willing to take the bet that the level of thought in this logo is substantially less than many successful companies spend trying to get the right one (even if they end-up crap in the end). Hopefully it will succeed. Only you and time can tell.


Mental Health First Aid for people in boardgames: My pledge

I’m pledging my support to the boardgame community as a Mental Health First Aider – a first line support person for mental health. You can contact me at to talk about anything: everything you tell me will be confidential. Organisations interested in using me as a ‘virtual’ Mental Health First Aider for their team should drop me an email.

It’s already a cliche to say – using classic British understatement – that 2020 has not been a good year. I don’t need to re-capitulate why. But one aspect which is only beginning to really dawn on us are the profound and damaging mental health effects it has.

It should not be a surprise to us at all and should have been predicted by every sober thinking person from about March onward. Most of us are living in fear of a serious respiratory infection and watching an endless stream of updates about a worldwide natural disaster unfold. We’re having nearly all face-to-face contact with our friends and most of our loved ones cut off (in some cases, even before they died) and facing the prospect of a decimated economy where we may lose our jobs. An absolutely normal and appropriate human reaction to that is to be angry, depressed, grief-stricken and anxious.

When this does come to an end, many of us will bounce back. Some will even be mentally stronger for it. But many of us will not. The nature of many mental health problems is that, without attention, they can become a vicious cycle of negative emotion and unhelpful behaviours in the face of destructive experiences and worsening symptoms. For people already struggling, these kind of events can be a trigger for a long episode of abject misery or lifelong battle with mental ill health. That’s why early intervention in mental health is so important. Getting people the right treatment for the problems they’re dealing with early on dramatically improves long term outcomes. The hopeful part is this: If people get the support they need, most can make a full recovery from even very serious mental health problems. And for the majority of us, even simple measures can dramatically improve our own mental wellbeing: we can be better than we were before by consciously engaging in a positive way with our own psyche.

That’s why I recently got trained as a Mental Health First Aider. I am providing myself as a resource to help people overcome these challenges in our little corner of the world: boardgames.

What is mental health first aid?

Mental Health First Aid is a training program that teaches members of the public how to help a person developing a mental health problem (including a substance use problem), experiencing a worsening of an existing mental health problem or in a mental health crisis. Like traditional first aid, Mental Health First Aid does not teach people to treat or diagnose mental health or substance use conditions. Instead, the training teaches people how to offer initial support until appropriate professional help is received or until the crisis resolves.” Wikpedia

Mental Health First Aiders are becoming increasingly common in large organisations as recognition of the importance of mental health grows. Of course, given the size of most companies in boardgames, MHFAs are few and far between. Few companies will be able to justify the time and resources involved in getting someone trained. In tiny, passion driven outfits there’s always a thousand other things to do! But having someone outside the organisations to fill this role as a free, on-demand resource seems like a workable alternative.

Both the wikipedia entry and US website for the initiative have lots more great information if you want to learn more.

Why am I doing this?

Personally I’ve always been interested in mental health, long before I even experienced many of my own issues with anxiety and long episodes of depersonalisation/derealisation. The mind is an amazing place, and seeing people mentally thrive is something I have always found beautiful and energising. I have a very long term ambition to study to become a psychotherapist, but with this growing crisis, being able to help people with their mental health right now has never been more important. Early indications are not good: Depression has doubled during the pandemic and the London Ambulance service, for instance, are already receiving double the callouts to attempted suicides from last year. This initiative seems like a practical way I can help: By providing my immediate assistance to those in need while directing them onto other forms of long term support; including professional help.

How will it work?

The idea is really simple: If you have a concern about your mental health and wellbeing – or have concern for someone else – get in touch and I will do my best to support you, directing you to what might be the appropriate next steps for you, based on what you want to do.

My current plan is also that organisations can treat me as their own designated Mental Health First Aider as they wish to – letting their people know I am available for their staff and collaborators to speak to. As far as I know, this ‘virtual’ MHFA approach hasn’t been tried before. There may be limitations. I can’t, for instance, be there in an office to proactively watch for warning signs and let people know I am there if they should need it. But I can provide a very similar kind of support when someone does chose to get in touch. This is very much an experiment but I hope it can, at least, be genuinely useful for someone.

I don’t know what the demand for this will look like. If its very substantial, I may need to start enlisting other MHFAs to join me. Equally, it might be few people feel comfortable talking to someone they don’t know too well; and I don’t get many enquiries at all . But I figure, given what’s going, on why not try it? It can only help.

Can you provide professional help or therapy of any kind?

I am not a therapist. I can provide information and give you, hopefully, a fuller understanding of the wide variety of options there are out there. This can include self-help options if you decide you don’t want to take things to a professional. I will listen to you, we can talk things through and I can be a helpful sounding board or listening ear. But I can’t do the job of a mental health professional.

Is everything I or others tell you confidential?

Yes. I will not pass on anything you tell me to anyone else. However, it is my duty to get help and disclose what I have been told if I believe someone is in real danger of harming themselves or others. Outside of such a situation, I will always ask you first if its ok to share some details with people around you, if it sounds like that could help.

I don’t live in the UK, can you help me?

I can provide support to anyone, anywhere. We will need to be organised if the time zone difference is significant, but even that is only a small obstacle. The only major limiting factor is language. I can only provide support in English.

How do I get you to become our company’s designed MHFA?

Just drop me a line at and we can take it from there.

How do I get in touch with you if I need help?

For now, just drop me an email at Only I have access to that email address. We can set-up a further chat or conversation using any means you feel comfortable with after that or keep it by email; whatever you prefer.

I’m James – don’t be afraid to ask me for help.


Naylor Games Conventions – 2020

Even though all of the big physical conventions have been called off this year, Naylor Games will still be hitting the virtual convention circuit. Check out our event calendar below!

Events calendar

Our virtual events calendar shows all the events we’ve got coming-up:

Virtually Expo – 21st-23rd August 2020

At this replacement for the usual UKGE show we’ll be staffing a virtual stand and streaming some demo games you can watch:

  • Virtual stand number: V-23540 (Link will go live during the event)
  • We’re available to chat on Discord to answer any of your questions at any of the times shown in the calendar above.
  • We’re streaming demo games at several points throughout the weekend – check the virtual calendar above to see when and what we’re playing. Just copy an event to your own calendar to get a reminder.


Magnate My Kickstarter Diary

My Kickstarter Diary – Day 36: Thank you everyone! We’re going in…

More than 1 year after we began touring, almost 2 years after I decided to self-publish and more than EIGHT YEARS after I made the very first version of the game, Magnate: The First City goes live on Kickstarter.

This is one of the most exciting moments of my life and probably one of the most nerve-racking. Not in the way giving a performance does; it’s a very different kind of nerves. Not like butterflies in the stomach or a rush of adrenaline, but a constant dull sensation: a sudden dawning that – holy crap – so much has been building to this moment and the weight of that is only beginning to dawn on me.

Is it because I feel unprepared? No.

There are SO MANY THINGS I would want to do better if we had the time again. Maybe I’ll even detail them in the blog someday (I’ve still yet to post that one about backer prediction! It will have to wait for later now). But I am proud of the preparation we have done. We have listened to the experts, put in the hours, tested what works, and dropped what didn’t: both the game and how its marketed (spoilers KS creators: they’re both really important!). It it, as they say, in the hands of the gods now. Indeed, along with these dull nerves, I have a strange sense of relief building. Right up until the last minute there are things you can do in advance to achieve different results – things you could be better at: “Maybe there’s still time to try X? Should we contact Y? What if we changed this to Z?” After a certain point the very impossibility of changing those things frees you from the weight of expectation. Sure, the campaign itself is yet to be managed and I can still fiddle with graphics till launch. But the reality is the vast majority of what could get us to funding (and beyond!) has already been decided: The vast hours of product development, the endless playtesting, the gradual building up of real grassroots interest and outreach. The campaign is critical but its also only the last few % of the actual work required to get to funding. The die – to use a rare historical reference and game analogy – is cast.

Uncertainty is stressful and constricting. This strange feeling – that I can no longer really change anything much – is quite counter-intuitively the most liberating thing of all. So with less than 24 hours to go, I approach this moment content and excited for what tomorrow will bring. And it makes me full of thanks for everyone who’s been a part of this journey. Because as much as this is my baby, my vision; it really did take village to get this far. Such a complex project only affirms my view that it requires a vast number of people collaborating and supporting such a thing to make it successful: both directly and indirectly.

Thanking you!

I am terrified of thanking everyone individually for the fear I will miss someone out. So for now, I will only name those people by group, and hopefully avert the full blown outpouring of the Oscar acceptance speech (I’m British, after all).

First there is family who have supported the dream throughout the many years of design. Then there are the particular close friends, confidants and co-workers who suffered through less than ideal versions of the game, even with its euphemistically titled “runtime problem” (“you know 8 hours is not a marketable tabletop experience, James”) which took me too many attempts to solve. They’ve been there through thick and thin to make this happen and some have been beyond instrumental. Next are all the new friends I’ve made along the way as I began the journey into the world of tabletop publishing. Many were readers or professional contacts at first, but my experience so far is that (aside from the odd rotten apple) most of the people in the hobby games industry are lovely people and great company, even when the conversation is – shock horror – not about games. Then there’s my wider professional network (and I am sure many friends in waiting!), the importance of which cannot be overstated. Critical to what we’ve done so far are all the reliable individuals who share the same professional high standards as me; and are dedicated to helping their customers and peers succeed. They know that a rising tide floats all boats! Last, but no means least, all the fans that we have been so very , very lucky to attract already. Those awesome people who believe in the game and are anxious to get their hands on it before we’ve launched – in the end, only they will help us hit that target.

Thank you all.

A final request

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog series. I do hope you continue along, as I plan to continue creating it. Magnate is not the end for me, but – I hope – just the beginning if the fates will permit it.

If you are also keen to support the game, it would be wonderful if you can back it tomorrow. The truth is that momentum is critical to Kickstarter. Every backer counts. But a day 1 back, makes it much more likely we will hit our goal, and maybe, fly beyond it! Just hit that notify me button here and you’ll get that notification the moment we go live.

Now for some only semi-ironically enjoyed music to get me there. See you on the other side of that launch button.

Magnate My Kickstarter Diary

My Kickstarter Diary – Day 29: Naylor Games… of Wyoming

First an apology: Inevitably this diary has become a lot less frequent than I would like! The sheer amount of work of involved in launching a Kickstarter, as day 3 explored, is vast. And, much as I would like to blog more, its absolutely not the most pressing task in long list. It doesn’t compete, for example, with officially announcing on our launch on the 21st and putting up a shiny new site! No promises, but let’s hope I have more time to share thoughts because SO MUCH IS HAPPENING. Anyway…on with the main event!

Those of you know me well will be pretty sure I did not grow-up among the majestic mountains of the ‘cowboy state’. Those of you who do not know me well yet would confidently take that bet.

Well, from a few weeks ago, Wyoming suddenly became more important to me, Naylor Games and the Magnate Kickstarter with the formation of a new US entity called NaylorGames LLC. 

Why have you set-up Naylor Games LLC?

Some of you may have heard that the UK has some very minor kerfuffle at the moment with something called Brexit. If you want to know more about that, feel free to read that wiki page (it’s actually pretty good!) or better yet don’t because it’s frankly a bit of a mess.

One way its a bit of a mess that matters here is that its causing the pound to fluctuate quite a bit. While fears of a highly disruptive no-deal Brexit have subsided a bit now, nothing in the process is certain. Crucially, nine weeks ago when I needed to start making a decision about what to do about it, it looked a lot more immediately uncertain than it does today. That uncertainty can quickly turn into a huge problem for people manufacturing things like me. Because if the pound suddenly drops in value against the dollar, my costs – which are billed in dollars – go way up even if the product has not changed at all. For a game like Magnate where I am trying to bring in a lot of quality components at a really good price, that’s a big problem. It could mean (if the drop is real bad) the difference between a successful or unsuccessful project.

Lots of creators have faced this recently and dealt with it in different ways (although you are unlikely to have heard about it). Massively sandbagging your budget is one way. But that generally means compromising either price or quality. Another way is to just hope for the best. That’s not my style and, again, in Magnate’s case just too much of a risk.

The way I’ve picked is to set-up a US company to manage the process. So the Kickstarter will run in the US, rather than the UK, and be raised in dollars. This means if the worst happens, UK backers would be subjected to an effective price hike – which is really crap – but the overall project is still looking strong for a nicely delivered product. If the pound magically goes back to pre June 2016 levels, UK backers clean-up, no one else gets hit and the finances still look good. The only loser there is me paying back sunk costs over time. That is fine by me though, because I still get to make Magnate. Lastly, if things are stable, then everything remains the same as previous. 

Having a properly registered US entity, could useful for Naylor Games’ expansion anyway in the future if we choose to take it further. But what matters now is that after spending a lot of time researching it and securing legal and financial opinions, it turns out for me that this legal structure and location was the overall best for us for now.

In general creators are loathed to talk about this stuff because they fear the potential negative publicity around it or raising thorny commercial and legal questions. That’s understandable and logical and totally sensible – it is no critique of them and it requires a fair bit of research to be sure what you are saying and doing is correct. But as you will know if you’ve read this blog before, you know that I love transparency of process. The way I see it is this: if you’re going to trust me with your money as a backer, I sure as hell need to earn that trust. One way to earn that trust by being as transparent with you as I can so you know what’s going on.

Setting up a US  company is not one of your holiday games

The path I’ve taken looks to me like the most complete answer to the problem. But the work involved is very, very substantial. A big chunk (though by no means most!) of that admin I complained about last time has been flowing from this.  From picking a state, to picking a type of entity, from forming a new company which is owned by a UK company to applying for a US bank account, there is a huge amount involved.

Every state has different laws, reporting requirements and tax systems and, above them all, federal law has its own requirements. Even simple forms require notaries to confirm your identity – in person – that are simply submitted for processing in the UK. Until recently it was very hard to even open a bank account without physically travelling there to sign the necessary forms. After going through this process it’s no surprise to me that, despite its reputation for massive international technical innovation, the US actually ranks quite poorly in terms of red tape; worse than “socialist” Finland. But now its done, I have to say, it’s pretty cool being able to say I have a properly registered US company!

Why am I a glutton for this admin punishment? I think its worth for it for the project and actually, I found this quite interesting compared to the other admin I have done. The challenge of tackling a new system! Knowing how to spin-up a multinational firm (which is what Naylor Games now is, madly enough) is some pretty useful knowledge to have in business.

Meet Dave!


Luckily, I am not alone in this. US Tabletop miniatures man and all round trooper Dave Taylor is helping me out with the campaign. Dave is not an employee of Naylor Games (we don’t have any yet!) but is working on the campaign with me, providing advice and specific administrative assistance to make sure all the boxes are ticked and we end the process with a well fulfilled project! Because Dave is helping out, you’ll see his name on our Kickstarter page alongside mine and naturally, Naylor Games.

Dave works over the tabletop industry in different roles, but most recently has launched his own terrain creation manual, which raised a whopping $269,000! You can see why I’d want his help. Luckily for me, he is not only highly competent, but a lovely chap to boot.

Magnate My Kickstarter Diary

My Kickstarter Diary – Day 13: ARRGGGH SO. MUCH. ADMIN. Why does my game generate so much of it?!

Thinking about running a Kickstarter? Well, 19 months after I decided to self publish my game, Magnate: The First City, I am entering the final build-up of mine. This is the inside story of the challenges, joys, thrills and spills of running a Kickstarter campaign and the nerve-racking final weeks before launch…

…Today: How admin is getting me down and why publishing a game might be an especially admin hungry business. 

Exactly how wrong I was

As I alluded to in Day 3’s post, I significantly underestimated the time that would be involved in publishing Magnate. I knew it would be investment of time, but I thought it would be somewhere in the same region as running my newspaper project: 1-2 days per week) for 12 or so months, from the day I started to the day manufacturing began. Given the fact that the game was already pretty good before I hit the self-publish button, that didn’t seem like a hopelessly optimistic estimate. As someone with long experience of running something as complex as the Croydon Citizen alongside a full-time job, that felt like a careful, even pessimistic assessment, premised on experience. 

I was, as you now know, very wrong. But exactly how wrong?

It will actually be two years between those two points in time if everything goes to plan from this point. What’s more, the total time commitment involved has been way more than 2 days per week. When you add-up everything involved, my original estimate has to be out by a factor of 3x at the very least.

Day 3 already touched on the many reasons this is the case and why people should never, ever underestimate the time involved in making a game into a fully marketed game product. One could write an entire series exploring the many economic and practical reasons why this is, exploring the minutiae of work involved. But today – feeling a little battered, but also rather reflective – I want to write about how the work feels. If you ever want to get into this, you hopefully know it’s going to be a ton of work by now. But if you have the time and financial budget to do it, the days involved themselves don’t matter. It’s the fun (or lack thereof) you have living them.

So. much. typing.

Fundamentally, administration is what’s got me a bit down today. And so much of my job as a publisher is administration. Not game development, marketing strategy, building relationships, financial planning (even that, I legitimately enjoy – honest!), conceptualising with artists or even writing this blog, but good ol’ fashioned business admin: following-up emails, setting up meetings and events, organising materials, populating databases, assigning tasks and creating agendas.

Why is this? Because as fun and interesting as all these activities are they each generate a ton of their own, for me, characterless busywork. They’re all basically the same.

Take playtesting. The exercise itself is wonderful even when it goes horribly wrong. On a basic level, its just tremendously enjoyable to see another person engaging with your game. There’s huge joy in them finding things you couldn’t see, even when those things are gaping holes in your design. There are pleasures too: the exhilarating flashes of inspiration as you spot ways to make it better or the chuckles of shared laughter when it falls over or does something entirely unexpected. Most rewarding of all, there are the fixed, unconscious smiles and brows furrowed in deep thought as your creation clicks with your player-victims: fun has been found.

But every time we do a playtest, there’s a venue to secure, people to invite and a timeslot to find. Afterwards there’s notes to take, notes to organise and rulebooks to modify (even if your rulebook is in ugly, internal shorthand at this point). Once you have your changes and a new playest to organise, the cycle starts afresh. The event itself is as fun for me as playing a game. Excited discussions between myself and my developer aside, the work either side of it is no fun at all; at least for me.

Marketing is much the same, but arguably worse. What do you want to say? How do you want to reach people? What do you need to know about a market? All these are all questions I thoroughly enjoy. But once I’ve settled on a marketing strategy, most of those questions are done for. Now begins the busywork: collecting facts (copying pasting URLs, checking stats, googling around the world of boardgames, making lists of events, totting up the costs) and actioning them (filling forms, making more lists of the things you’ll need for a convention, emailing contacts, organising staff rotas). Those tasks account for 99% of the time actually spent on marketing. Playtesting, by percentage of fun, including its attendant admin, is an absolute laugh riot by comparison.

If only it were made of bytes… rather than cardboard

Is boardgame publishing worse than any other business in this regard? Certainly worse than some. The problem with game publishing is that you have to do so many, many jobs even when you’re starting-up. You have to manage manufacturing requirements, organise events, network, plan budgets, develop products, direct art, provide customer service, produce flyers, banners, websites and social media images, make sales calls and find every opportunity you can to promote yourself and your product without feeling like I’m my own shameless shill (…whether one actually is or is not is… another question).

If I were running a pure software start-up, there’s several items on that list that wouldn’t exist. They’d be no physical product to translate into, so all the concerns and management of manufacturing disappear in an instant. For the same reasons making changes to the product would be easier, faster and wouldn’t have to slot into a few physical prototype versions with long lead times and complicated set-up requirements. I could reasonably chose to promote my product entirely through online channels, skipping out the whole business of events altogether. After all getting people to test it would be as complicated as sending someone a link, not a meeting. And it would be a long time until art and graphic design became so critical that it would occupy much of my time. I’ve said before that the game itself is wonderfully easy to change when compared against an equivalent piece of game software. But so far, I’ve found with the publishing side of it the inverse is true.

Does that mean I’d spend less time on it overall? Probably not – I’d want to give it my awl, just as much as Magnate. But I think I’d be spending less of that time on admin. Why? Because admin isn’t really proportional to the amount of work you are doing, its proportional to the number of different things you need to do. Anything that has to be arranged that can’t be completely automated creates admin no matter how much time that thing takes up. Take events: one enormous event that lasted three weeks would be hugely less time consuming, admin wise, than ten smaller ones. That’s because each of them needs its own directions, rota, materials, timetable, booking form, accomodation plans, travel etc.  The single monster event requires only one of each of those things. And remember, everything creates admin, even delegating this kind of work to other people – something which has been a necessity even to maintain this timeline.

“Err then don’t DO it?”

I always fear writing more personal posts like this for fear it might make me seem terribly entitled (maybe I am!). After all, admin is what people do everyday to support their life. Otherwise I am privileged enough that I don’t have to do too much of it in the career that currently pays the bills. A fair question emerges: Why do I do all this if I’m so bored of the so much of its many everyday responsibilities?

Two things account for that. First is my sheer bloody mindedness. I don’t care how frustrating some of this has been because its all worth it for the end goal; making a dream come true that – might – turn into life sustaining business. As long as I remain fixed on that I will happily put up with what is, when put into real world perspective, more of nuisance than anything else. Having come this far, how foolish would it be not to power on through now?

Second, because I am improving. Already, the second time round is easier. This goes for almost everything I am doing. The speed development of my other game projects are coming along an order of magnitude faster than Magnate because of everything I have learned. The databases, processes and systems I have designed, populated and configured are, right now, making doing things on Magnate itself much faster then before. And while forging connections with people in the world of games felt incredibly awkward at first – like attending a singles event on your own with a million people – I am lucky enough to have actual friends all over the world, online and off through it. It doesn’t feel awkward anymore, I’m just hanging out with lots of lovely people that I like and like me – it’s straight up just life. 

Would I do it all over again? Of course! Am I going to do it all again? Not like this. Not only because I know so much or have done much of the groundwork already so I don’t need to. But because I am sure as hell going to pay people to do more of this admin for me! As much as I can possibly afford.

Maybe this blogpost just became a jobpost…

Image: paperwork by Camilo Rueda López

Magnate My Kickstarter Diary

My Kickstarter Diary: Day 8 – How many backers am I going to get? (1/2)

Thinking about running a Kickstarter? Well, 19 months after I decided to self publish my game, Magnate: The First City, I am entering the final build-up of mine. This is the inside story of the challenges, joys, thrills and spills of running a Kickstarter campaign and the nerve-racking final weeks before launch… read on if you dare. 


Good! If you’re here just for the KS tips, you’re done with this blogpost already. In the chaotic world of the Kickstarter campaign, no one knows anything and its presumptuous to try to even work it out. You can get on with the rest of your day. Bye!

*James sobs quietly in the corner, filled with existential dread facing next month…*

Except… that’s not really good enough is it?

Kickstarter is a fundraising/sales platform in which you convince a people who believe in you (and your product!) to part with their hard earned cash on the promise of something awesome. I can’t think of any such commercial endeavour where it would make any sense to settle for that answer; no matter how terribly humble it makes you sound. How do you financially plan for that? How would you know what a reasonable manufacturing budget is? Most crucially, how would you begin to estimate you’ll achieve sufficient marketing reach to actually fund the project?

Of course you don’t know the number – it’s the future – you literally can’t. But it is your job as a business person (that’s what you are now!) to solve this problem and estimate it.  As such a person, I am not actually sobbing (so don’t worry!). Instead, today’s post is inspired by the fact I have been working this very day on this problem, and have been updating my predictive model to solve just this problem.

But I am going to make you wait for the model itself. Today’s post is about the thing you can and should do early on. It’s widely accepted practice that I’ve summarised here and not just a piece of educated guesswork that is yet to be actually proved by the launch of my game. It’ll be critical for sanity checking your model if you choose to follow me down this path.

First and foremost: Look at similar projects to get a ‘ballpark’

A very straightforward way to work out a solid ballpark is what almost anyone will tell you to do: look at previous projects. It will only give you a very basic guide. But a basic estimate is always better than a shot in the dark.

Before I go further, it’s worth addressing that the number of backers and money raised are very different things. They are obviously intrinsically connected. But the relationship is complex and somewhat weak between game unit price and success: Both Kingdom Death Monster ($200 core pledge) and Exploding kittens ($20 core pledge) were monumentally successful raising $12.3m and $8.7m respectively. Their product, intended audience and price point couldn’t be more different. While basic economics will tell you that cheaper products will sell more units… perception of value is critical and too easily overlooked. I can tell you now with my product hat on (which is easily observed in the games world specifically) that an expensive product with a high core pledge that feels like great value will garner more backers than a much cheaper product that is perceived as expensive for what it is. 

Crucially, if you have an approximately fair price for your core rewards you can use existing data to guide to guesstimate how many people you need to convert from a funding amount.  You’ll see why backer number is really  important for the second part of this post.

Getting a funding amount should start with data

Datasets like this 2018 data set from ICO Partners can be a useful overview. You can see right away that the vast number of tabletop game projects are not raising many millions but less than $50,000. Out of 2,336 projects, only 68 raised more than $500,000 – ICO’s top tier category. Whenever I’ve closely examine those (just have a look at the top KS overall projects overall) it’s clear to me that they are doing so for basically three reasons (or a combination thereof):

  1. The companies involved have a long track record of making games (see CMON)
  2. The game is associated to an existing intellectual property or IP for short (A comic, a film or computer game franchise)
  3. A reprint of another more moderately successful initial KS or otherwise published game

So unless any of these is true of your project, I would personally disregard this tier entirely or the purposes of your project.


Below the very top, there’s a solid and surprisingly evenly distributed minority group of projects (400, approx 17% of all the successful ones) that raised between $50,000 and $500,000. If you bring your A-game, have a great product, a big marketing budget and are willing to put in a massive amount of work, this should be the top end of your reasonable expectations.

That’s still a huge range though and includes quite a few projects by big companies that were – for them – relative flops or only average performers. So they’re more limited success may still have been rooted in methods that only encumbents or companies armed with (often very expensive IPs) can exploit. So if you want to avoid disappointment, it’s probably best to think of the lower end of this broad range as your maximum bar.

Deciding any more exactly where your project is likely to land, is dependent – from my observations – on three more factors that, I think, are equally important:

  • What similar genre games have raised
  • How much budget/time you are prepared to spend marketing it
  • Your optimism/pessimism bias

Similar games

The first is obvious but also I think the easiest to overstate. To have the best chance of success you absolutely need to research similar games to make your campaign as good a it can be anyway. If you’re making the dry euro I alluded to in the last post, these games are your competitor set. If you’re making a light, take that card game with a silly theme, it’s those kind of titles.

If this is your first RPG where you’re selling only a book your funding amount will be lower. Miniatures games can easily raise more money because of price point and KS’s reputation for miniatures games. But the problem is, from what I can see, that these two are among the most extreme examples and almost every other kind of game will fall between these. More importantly, what separates out the very successful from the less successful projects in any genre, isn’t the genre: its how well executed they are.


Marketing budget is a critical factor but also a fickle one. Projects that spend a lot of money on marketing will nearly always do better than those that spend very small amounts. But how much better is a matter of how good the marketing is, how well it is speaking to the game’s potential audience and a random luck factor no one can control (oh boy, if you don’t like the random outcomes of dice, you are not going to like this marketing business!). But if we assume you get it right, then you can only expect to get to those bigger numbers (the many tens of thousands of dollars) in one of two ways: pounding the pavements to kingdom come which is a personal time/opportunity cost (Joseph Chen of Fantastic Factories signed up 800 people to a mailing list from playtesting his game at small cons almost entirely alone) or by putting aside thousands of dollars for paid marketing in different forms (trade shows, ads, previews etc.).


If it’s easy to overstate comparison to other projects, it’s really easy to overlook the important of your own bias. Because this is all about estimation whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist will have a huge bearing on this. When I talk to pessimisst creators, they usually assume they’ll be in the bottom funding level (below $10k) despite the fact that a lot of these projects in this bracket have not actually executed that well (which can happen easily because this stuff is really, really hard – so no disrespect to them). When I talk to optimists, they tend more towards believing they will be the one in a 1,000 whose 1st time project will raise half a million dollars. They can do this with the same data or even their assessment of the same project.  This is a problem because this affects every part of your estimation process: you will compare more or less favourably to others, believe your marketing efforts are more or less successful (there are limited objective metrics available on this) and simply back yourself more or less to smash the goal.

Whats to be done? Nothing much but make yourself aware of it. Entrepreneurs (which is what self publishers are) need to be optimists to keep going when the odds are massively stacked against them. Why? Because what they’re learning and the hard work they are doing as they go are, over time, actually shortening those odds. But financial planning is best done with a more pessimistic mindset because doing better than you thought is ,nearly always, much better than doing worse than you expect: generally only one of those costs you money you may or may not have to spend. Paradoxically, utilising both mindsets is important to success. Its up to the individual creator to to use them both to pick a figure they are comfortable with.

It can’t be overstated that this ultimately comes down to comfort. Whatever you decide will be a subjective melange of all of these factors. That’s not a bad thing – it’s still much better than nothing and I don’t personally believe it can be improved at this stage. Though please let me know in the comments if you have a reliable, proven method for this!

Calculating backer numbers

Let’s imagine you’ve decided the amount of funding you think you could raise, not your funding goal – which should only ever be your absolute minimum bar. You’ve pegged it at $30,000 and your core pledge will cost $60, working from an assumption that your manufacturing budget is really low and that your project can be profitable at this level. This assumption needs to be carefully examined in a budgeting process, but this can be a simple exercise as long as you have no especially expensive to make components (…unlike me). If you assume everyone goes in for the core pledge (which is pessimistic assumption if you have a deluxe one), then you will get 500 backers.

Is that it?

Yes! For now, it is. Remember what I said about price. As long as $60 is fair you can assume you will get some customers. If you had a cheaper product with an equally good product-market fit, you would get more backers because more people could afford it. But you would also raise less money per backer. So in my view, this relationship is a kind of constant. And where there is variation, its hidden – you can’t know how much more or less. As a result, simple division of your funding goal by pledge level is actually pretty legitimate approach to get this number.

Why is this number really important? Because now you have the number of customers you need to buy into what you are trying to do. That’s, in advertising language, the number of converters you must secure and immediately gives you a real sense of the difficulty (or ease!) of the marketing exercise involved.

In part 2, you’ll see why I think that’s also a really important number for my method of prediction.

Magnate My Kickstarter Diary

My Kickstarter Diary – Day 3: How much time is this going to cost me?

Thinking about running a Kickstarter? Well, 19 months after I decided to self publish my game, Magnate: The First City, I am entering the final build-up of mine. This is the inside story of the challenges, joys, thrills and spills of running a Kickstarter campaign and the nerve-racking final weeks before launch… read on if you dare. 

Am I burying the lede? I’ll leave it up to you to decide!

For the last couple of days I’ve been spending lots of time and effort preparing for and attending critical meetings for the job that actually pays the bills: my work as a contractor consulting on the product & engineering strategy of software businesses. The company I’m working with today is pretty interesting: it uses distributed ledger technology, to promote transparency and trust in advertising. Working for them is really interesting and if they succeed, they will actually make online advertising a better place! So for me, there’s actually a great mission there too.

But as good as that all is (not just because it gives me the resources that I need to, you know – continue to live), it doesn’t come at the best possible time for Magnate. There’s still so much to do. So very many things I want to do to make the project as successful as it can be, even in this last month when the game itself is substantively done. As I said before, this is 19 months after I decided to self publish. I really didn’t plan to still be doing things with this degree of intensity at this point, but – lo and behold, here we are.

Why so loooooooong James?

I will say now, I don’t think its because I am absolutely terrible at this publishing thing. It is true to say that I am doing many things for the first time, which means I am learning a lot and taking 3x longer to do those things as a result. But it is also true to say that I started this journey with a few advantages: I know a lot about product management, I’ve run a couple of businesses before and I’ve played a lot of games (though this is likely the least important of those three!).

It’s because boardgames are expensive to make in a different way than you might think – and certainly different to what I expected.

In pure financial expenditure terms, boardgames have an incredibly low barrier to entry. It’s very possible to run a Kickstarter campaign for a few hundred pounds. If you use only free social media to market your game, attend only the most affordable conventions in the most affordable way and do your own art, there aren’t really any other substantial costs you absolutely need to pay for. Successful indie publishers like Bez have proven that it’s not only 100% possible to make a game on a very small budget but that much bigger things can follow. This is great because it puts publishing games within the financial reach of most people.

I knew before I started that launching a game would be way less expensive than a typical software product. But I was still very surprised just how cheap it could be talking to other creators.

But in time terms, boardgames are normally mammoth commitments. The minimum time involved in even relatively simple games is substantial. And, as you would expect to be, the less money you spend, the worse that generally gets because you can’t afford to just pay people to solve problems for you.

To take even a simple project from initial idea to finished project being shipped to backers or sold to customers requires considerable investment of labour and intellectual capital. The initial design process alone can easily take a first time game creator years of creative pondering, note-taking, informal playtesting with friends and colleagues. And this is before a game is ready to be “tested to destruction” by an army of punters and publisher appointed developers, themselves each sometimes playing entire long games several times. The publishing process (any development time aside) requires even more time, as art is carefully briefed, developed and the impact of changes to gameplay subtly interplay with graphic design. There’s financial planning, working closely with manufacturers to create a finely tuned budget. There is marketing to be done – the publisher’s biggest responsibility of all. For a small company, that means lots of attending conventions, events, building relationships and repping your game to the point people are almost sick of you. Lastly, all of this has to be project managed. And I can tell you now there are a million more tiny tasks that grow-up around these major responsibilities that will need to be seen to. Things you cannot even begin to imagine before you start.

I speculate that if the upfront investment of all of this time to all be priced even at minimum wage, it would blow the other line items in a low-cost project’s budget out of the water. Use some kind of potential earnings as your pricing method instead and… many people will not want to know what number actually is.

The implications of this invisible unpaid work for the whole games industry are way too complex to unpick in this post. But I will speculate that it really represents a hidden barrier to entry that monetary cost is not. If you have a very simple card game to take to market, you might be able to find time to launch it around all of life’s other commitments without major sacrifices if you’re really organised. But if you plan to take a mechanically innovative heavy euro to market, I can’t see how it could be done without taking a lot of hits, access to absolutely mad stacks of capital or having a lever like mine: The fact I don’t want work a regular job and can control my hours. Maybe Jamey Stegmaier can do it. But the man is a living legend.

To be fair, this is exactly why publishers exist. I think this is why many people sensibly and rationally choose this route to getting their game made, even if it means a lot of meetings, disappointments and pounding the pavement. Even with all of that to put up with, its a fraction of the work.

Does that mean you shouldn’t try self-publish your mechanically innovative, physically ambitious, down-right ‘offputtingly’ themed heavy euro? No! If you choose this reckless path, I will positively welcome you to the club of unhinged self publishers with wide open arms. Just be hinged enough to think seriously about how you’re going to find the time to do it justice.

Header image: “Time is Money” by Tax Credits

Magnate My Kickstarter Diary

My Kickstarter Diary – Day 1: The business of launch dates

Thinking about running a Kickstarter? Well, 19 months after I decided to self publish my game, Magnate: The First City, I am entering the final build-up of mine. This is the inside story of the challenges, joys, thrills and spills of running a Kickstarter campaign and the nerve-racking final weeks before launch… read on if you dare. 

“So smart guy, if you’re building up to launch why does this blog count UP rather than count DOWN?”

I can think of no better symbol of the sometimes messy reality of running a Kickstarter campaign than the answer to this question. Because of course, a Countdown would be WAY more sexy.

We recently announced that we’re launching Magnate in November, but not what date we’re launching on. Why? Because, like most creators we don’t really 100% know our exact launch date until relatively close to launch… and you can’t countdown to an estimate.

Why can’t you be a specific about a date too early?

Because your actual launch day (rather than month) is dependent on factors which, early on in your project are beyond your control. But to succeed in today’s ever more competitive Kickstarter environment, you need to have have adequately managed those factors.

First there are strategy questions. Is your marketing build-up sufficient, including reviews, any advertising or events and general awareness of your game? Are you launching on an optimal day of the week? What other similar seeming games are going to launch at the same time? Are you really, genuinely confident in your product? That means, are you confident that your game works, is blind-tested (if you’re doing it right!) and meets the needs of the market segment you are going for? The product ones should be easy to answer by this point but the marketing ones can still be tough to gauge and – because of what competitors might do – the ground might suddenly shift.

Second there are the more immediate practical issues. Your project needs to be approved by Kickstarter before it can launch. You can do some of this early (we began writing text months ago for instance) but if you make too many changes to your page, I understand it can occasionally need to be re-approved. It doesn’t matter that you’re otherwise ready to go – you can’t hit that big ‘ol button until Kickstarter says so.

Even if you’ve been approved there may be some last minute changes you need to make because something you expected to be done for your page still isn’t done. As someone with a fair amount of experience of complex projects I can tell you now that *something* like that will go wrong. Worse – it may be some small thing you didn’t think about at all. The more complex and ambitious a project and the fewer similar projects you’ve done before… the more chance these things will happen. Strong preparation generally prevents these issues become too serious. But it’s never possible to eliminate uncertainty.

Your attitude to the quality of execution of all of this is also critical here. If you’re like me and the bar you intend to meet or exceed is pretty high – the best work of the best retail publishers – then you have to work harder to mitigate risk and be more prepared to be flexible to meet your goals: you simply have less room for error because you want everything to be really great. It’s why I’ve had to reset the official launch from September once and why my informal plans of when it would go live have shifted a couple more times before this. If you’re more relaxed about the final state of your campaign (e.g. you’re using it as a low cost learning exercise first and foremost) then you can afford to accommodate more things going wrong.

Does that mean I don’t have a clear target launch date? No – I have an exact target. Of that target I am relatively confident: I have a game I know some people love and have good reasons for thinking many others will really enjoy. It looks good  (at least I think so!), has a blind tested rulebook and 1 player/AI mode that is (in the very least) my favourite one player game. My review copies are just about to shipped all over the world, I have a draft KS page and a simple but clear marketing plan. Most importantly, I am confident we have achieved a fair bit of awareness and there are quite a few people who will back right away (even if I don’t know how many or can afford to assume anything about success).

But I am sure not going to tell you that target launch date just yet… for that you’ll have to wait for another instalment of my Kickstarter diary.