Stonesword Games’ latest title - The feudal Japan themed Senjutsu - hit Kickstarter with a bang last year, raising around one million pounds. This week, I talk to the company’s two founders - James Faulkner and Paul Allen - about how they achieved this success, from beyond-diligent historical research, endless testing and focusing on the power of good advertising over the world of BGG and content creators.
Senjutsu late pledge:https://senjutsu.backerkit.com/hosted_preorders
Daimyo, Battle For Japan Signup: https://bit.ly/3NQQYkP (Game Designed by Martin Wallace, Launching Oct 2022)
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Hi I'm James, and this is producing fun, a podcast about making games from a product perspective. Welcome to Producing fun. My guests this week are James Faulkner and Paul Allen of Stone Sword games. Last year Stone Sword hit it big on Kickstarter, their feudal Japan theme games Senjutsu raised almost a million pounds. At eight times the revenue of their previous project, the Hogs of War miniatures game, I was curious to know about what had driven this dramatic scaling up. I suspected there'll be a lot to learn here and that both of them would have some smart takes about what really drives commercial success in the market. I'm glad to say I was absolutely not wrong. In fact, this conversation was filled with lots of practical insights and to be frank, the odd absolute mind blower. James's direct and razor like in his focus on what really drives commercial value. He's fearless in his view that a lot of time spent on social media is wasted. And in the world of BGG, and the video creator landscape is hugely overstated. They're both passionate about product quality, and prepared to go to extreme lengths to make something really good. From endless iterations of graphic design to reading piles of history books, and even consulting with the Royal Armouries museum to make their samurais strictly accurate. From the moment that James told me how many 3d printers he had in his office, just to endlessly iterate their miniatures, I could tell I was among people who really, really care about product design. I don't think any listeners will fail to get something out of this. From the power of Tabletop Simulator, when it's used as a beta test tool, at least to their experience working with legendary designer Martin Wallace, and their smart product strategy, there's something here for everyone. We join, just as I've asked them about their 3d printing setup.
James Faulkner 02:07
So the seven we got seven at the moment and two on the way.
Sorry, se, seven 3D printers?
James Faulkner 02:16
Yeah. It escalated quickly, really. Basically, it says,as a creators and like designers, we use the printers to, we can really knock together components really quickly.
Paul Allen 02:31
James Faulkner 02:32
Exactly. To sculptors know what's right, and what's wrong about the sculpts. It's just invaluable, like even having one printer as a creator. It's a huge time saver, because what happens is, when you design a game, you order the miniatures, and then you might be going to production six months, 12 months after, after those miniatures have been got the you know, you've gotten back from a sculptor, and you've already paid the sculptor, you said to the sculptor, well done, you're finished. And then yeah, exactly. The manufacturer then gets those miniatures and they go, there's holes all over them, there's textures missing off the back of it, you know, we have to fix this, we have to fix that. This latest kind of assures that we don't we don't make those mistakes.
Paul Allen 03:08
And it's fun to have really to be honest. We kind of for Expo, obviously we can prototype really quickly and show off kind of like almost a game kind of products. Very, yeah. Within hours really.
James Faulkner 03:20
Also we can print off as an early ship. That's the real reason.
Even referencing Absolutely, well why not? Absolutely. Well, then. I mean, you basically have to take a loan don't need to buy most games workshop products now. So why not? Although obviously, officially that officially on record, you don't do that? Yeah, I mean, that's really interesting, isn't it? Like I think a lot of people assume and I certainly think when I went through the process of making some miniatures that is as long as it looks pretty good in the 3d model, I would have assumed that again, the process Oh, it's gonna look great when it comes out. But I guess the difference in those is, is pretty enormous. We had the fortune of being able to do resin miniatures before we did the injected moulded plastic, but I think
James Faulkner 04:01
it's the same kind of idea. There's, there's a bit of a, I don't know what you'd call it... a deception with 3d renders as well, where, depending on the quality of the render miniatures can look better than they do in real life, or miniatures, can look worse, details that you see on the render, you might think that's a fantastic detail, but in real life, it just doesn't translate or vice versa. Yeah. So there is there's definitely a worth to doing it. And if you're a creative designer, and you don't have a, I guarantee like even if you don't have a 3d printer, someone in your circle of friends will, so it's a very accessible resource these days.
Yeah, that's something interesting isn't it? Is that That's I think, until quite recently thought about it's quite distant, but so many people have got into 3d printing now. Like actually, I think the desktop I had I think about two or three people are not businesses necessarily even have kind of commercial 3d printers, but just individuals who have hobby ones.
James Faulkner 04:54
Yeah, that seems like a really smart call to make sure that at least do one round I guess. And is it just one round or do you find yourself reevaluating is mentioned more times,
James Faulkner 05:02
we'll do them as many as we need to.
Paul Allen 05:04
Yeah, it's again, it sounds like I'm a big fan of like aesthetics. So feel like it feeling good on the tabletop like commercial presence. So our latest game Daimyo, we've got these beautiful kind of busts of all the Daimyo like the Japanese warlords, and the incredible sculpts rendered. But then it's just how they feel in your hand, I wanted to kind of feel like big chess pieces. And so it's hard to go 50. If I say 50 for a meal, it's like, that sounds big. But then when you get it out, it's like that that feels right. It's a really nice kind of like weight to it.
James Faulkner 05:33
And even Daimyo is a really good example, because we printed them out in a previous iteration. And we found that they were actually kind of unbalanced. Like they would take Tickler. And so by getting them printed, we discovered that oh, these minatures tip over. So the base needs to be made, like wider for them so that doesn't happen.
Right? That's really interesting. So there's like, there's sort of physical properties as well. And I guess that also even goes down to like how it feels in the hand, and how people are handling it.
James Faulkner 06:00
Yes, exactly. There's also another there's one more I mean, I'm we need, we need commission for 3d printing companies. But there's one more, there's one more reason to do it as well. And it's a fantastic reason is, if you've got miniatures that are intrinsic to the game, but they are something that makes the game look good. Then you can hand those 3d prints off to a painter and get them painted up professionally. So your campaigns go the extra like the extra mile. And you can do that without having to go to Chinese and getting the moulds made, like you're doing it for, you know, pennies on the pound.
I mean, that's fantastic, isn't it? I mean, being able to show that off. That's something I find a little bit about a lot of Kickstarter campaigns that often they are just all 3d graphics.
James Faulkner 06:41
So I guess one things you get to avoid there is you get to see, not only do you know that the product is really, really good. But actually, you can show it off looking really great on the campaign, like as if it really be the, I guess, the aspirational element, right? Because I guess a lot of people aren't realistically actually not going to get around to painting their miniatures.
Paul Allen 06:59
No, but we tell ourselves we will and that's the secret there.
at least it's like, well, this maybe maybe if I finally choose to paint this one, like it could look this good.
James Faulkner 07:10
Absolutely. Yeah. In my in 50 years, when we've retired, we may be able to paint them.
Paul Allen 07:15
Yeah, one of our employees. Max is a professional artist, award winning miniature painter, but we've got him a list and it's kind of like quite a few personal things. Get them painted.
James Faulkner 07:27
Black Scorpions, cowboy range. Yeah, I definitely wanted Max paint them rather than me.
So to just funnel all their own personal painting through the company, why not? I think that sounds like a good plan. Oh, no, I have to cut this out later. So talking more about the minatures, particularly because I think this is such I mean, they are when I look to the campaign for Senjutsu, ah have I pronounced that correctly? Let's make
Paul Allen 07:54
Yes, right. Yeah.
James Faulkner 07:55
They were for want of a better word insane. I was looking at them and having a really, really kind of thorough kind of look at through your through your Kickstarter page for it. I kind of we're quite used to miniature quality, I think now going up and up and up. That seems at least from my perspective on Kickstarter, right like that. But these particularly were excellent in terms of the kind of level of detail the kind of interest in the poses, how did you go about even designing them, if we go right back to the beginning of your process to look that good? Because my experience is doing things that are even much simpler, non organic forms is actually really hard to get them to look good. So I'd love to know more about your process.
James Faulkner 08:32
So there's two, I think there's kind of like two massive prongs for it. The first one is that Paul and I put in a hell of a lot of research into the historical period itself, and also what a swordsman and fighters of that of that time would have looked like on the battlefield and what those moves would have looked like so so unfortunately, like a lot of what we know about Bushido culture now is a remembrance. It's exactly, it's a post for the time, but we do kind of have a lot of like a fate amazing reenactors and historians out there who are going out and physically recreating what they what they imagined was on the battlefield. So from Paul and myself perspective, we've done a lot of character reference. But that's also balanced off against we've fantastic privilege to have a studio artist on salary in the office. And it was one of the early hires we decided to do. And the man the man is a legend. And what he allowed us to he basically did wireframe drawings of, of the fighters, so from different angles, so he drew them out, sketching them all out. And so we can look at how dynamic they were before we even committed to going finding a sculpture for them.
Paul Allen 09:41
Yeah, emphasising the dynamic. It's something I've really enjoyed. So my background is kind of in film, really, and TV as my degree and all that stuff. So I'm a big fan of kind of like the prior to Senjutsu like Akira Kurosawa style stuff. So watching them move, and having that on the tabletop was like essential. So let's come up with like previous boards about all kind About the decorative kind of this is the katana handle. This is the shoulder pads, the caboose all that stuff and then getting my Raven to kind of draw. Yeah, and then almost like pulling it and kind of looking at it from different angles run just straight on flat. It's like how's that gonna look? What has that sword going to go behind their head? Especially with the ninja the kusarigama spinning? It's like how is that going to look dynamic and I've run just static so obviously having it flex. So it's fatter on one angle than the other because obviously showing the idea that it's moving. Yeah, we're trying to get the southern kind of look like they're moving into poses, and they're moving around the battlefield that was poor from the start, rather than just standing still looking beautiful. It's kind of like how are they using their weapon? How are they moving? How they're kind of doing that stuff? And we again, we had like various consultants, but one was the Royal Armouries in Leeds. I mentioned that there. Yeah, from the start. We were in there quite early. And they were like every samurai is right handed. It's like, oh, I didn't that. And so changing up and also like one is the students pose particularly, he was holding the katana right to the hilt. And the casting was Keith, it was like, No, it has to be like X amount of distance from the handle. So we got the modelmaker to just shift the hand literally like we're talking like two mil, if that but it's like those things we really want to kind of add because their employees show that we care and it's all notes on that. That's really nice.
James Faulkner 11:13
Yeah, yeah, it's just a design philosophy of like, you're not doing this for every single fan. You're doing this for like one fan at a time. So if you can make one fan particularly happy through a detail like that's, that's something super rewarding, like, you know, we hope everyone's gonna enjoy the product. But we love going into the nitty gritty so that even the most like, I don't know, the the most discerning of like samurai fans, notice that we've put the effort in.
I'm really interested to know how you even went about starting your research, because you talked about, for example, the Royal armouries is, which makes a tremendous sense as a resource, right. And I know they're very knowledgeable, they're really good at engagement as well. They've got like this whole YouTube series, they talk about firearms, I know it's very popular. And they're really good at that kind of thing. You make it sound like quite effortless in the sense of oh, we spoke to the Royal Armouries, we did this, we designed this. And I'm thinking well, hang on. Whoa, whoa whoa how did you even start on this, this process? Because we're talking about an incredible level of detail there. Before we even get to the question of know how do you shape the model to bring out movement for example, in it
James Faulkner 12:17
Looks are a huge part of it. They really are.
Paul Allen 12:19
My mind is by how much is actually read by how young is um, I like research, I get really into kind of the rabbit hole I kind of go but it's generally internet kind of basis stuff, and I'll get lost in it and pull it apart. But then it's kind of like then showing it to James like nah that's not in my book or and then it's like from that point, we kind of have the cornerstones and then we'll go up to other people and go is this right? And then they're like, yes or no, then continuing down this path. So all the characters we wanted, like the range of admittedly this is something there's only like one or two actual kind of samurai Samurai, the classic samurai in the game, it's because after a while, if they're all looking the same, it's kind of, we wanted that dynamic like the warrior monk, we wanted to kind of see the Ninja, I mean, historically accurate as best we can, there's kind of periods in times like a three year period where they were kind of known as Shinto Shinobi, kind of post pre Shinobi. So all these things we kind of found and then previous them ourselves, obviously for bash them together, and then give them to Raven to kind of draw up, but from that. Yeah, it's kind of like then just double checking with kind of the materials of the time. It's, there's quite a lot if you kind of like, I mean, if certain books keep saying the same things, you kind of go that must be kind of relative In fact, some James has definitely kind of basis for kind of like that the military history
James Faulkner 13:33
Good old fashioned, go to the library, and get a stack of books and work through them. I just think like it's just a standard that that we're using. We're not like reinventing the wheel, though. It just is the hard graft in terms of like going through research material.
Paul Allen 13:33
Yeah, we've got books and books and notepads and stuff. It's not just like that will do. It's going back and forth. I mean, even hands on art. So last night, I didn't sleep at all last night, various thoughts. And so researching for our third game newgen is kind of like the more I keep saying ninja, just because it's easier to say than curve.
James Faulkner 14:03
I know what you mean.
Paul Allen 14:04
But yeah, I mean, they did work on ninja at the time. But just going through that, and I've just found out so much kind of like even the name of the hairpin that they use to potentially assassinate people with that kind of like, I love that stuff. So I'll find it out. And then I'm gonna now I've got a name for it. I'll try and find the exact version and which book it is and kind of like, again, like almost like degree, how do I evidence this thing existed? And we kind of do that. Really. Yeah.
So this is interesting, isn't it? Because I guess only a tiny fraction of this historical detail is going to in all its richness you talk about because there's so much here, right? That's gonna make it through to the final product,
James Faulkner 14:41
Correct. Yeah, that's, but it's a filter. So like, so like the foundations, you're building like the foundations of what the game is gonna be. And if you do that breadth, if you do that breadth of research, then I think authenticity will enter your product quite organically, because there are some games out there who take historical periods and it's clear they've just gone on a Wikipedia article for one specific thing, and then they've just ripped the top like top 10 things they've noticed. Yeah. It feels shallow. It's yeah, it's a start. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
Paul Allen 15:13
You need , you need that depth.
James Faulkner 15:14
Yeah. Only comes through like the hard work in the in the beforehand.
Yeah. Makes a tremendous amount of sense. So when, when you're briefing this to the artist, I'm kind of always curious to know a little bit more about the detail of this process. Because one of my experiences of doing art direction in general for games, is that there's actually a tremendous amount to it. And it's one things that I felt, in many ways in the rearview mirror least prepared for coming into. Yeah, yeah. Because I'm not illustrator myself. So I don't have those sort of natural skills to do that. So I'm intrigued to know, I mean, it must be very useful, just having someone on staff, but how you go about doing that.
James Faulkner 15:49
Are you saying on Illustrator, you don't have to be right, so you know, going get your partner, your wife, or whoever, and give them a broom handle? And then go and make them stand in the garden? I mean, and take a photo of them. And then immediately, you've got a dynamic pose for a spearmen.
Paul Allen 16:06
Yeah, it's that I mean, stuff like that. It's wonderful for a sculptor, because sculptors a lot of the time, they're very visual people and EBIT. They've given like lines of text, like going, like, you know, maybe he make sure his right hand float is less, so it's left knee's, this direction is right. That works just as well.
Yeah, well, I guess the text form is actually losing a lot of information, isn't it, because the amount of information in that in a photograph of just getting someone to pose it. And that makes a lot of sense for the sculpting. But I guess, then, when you're talking about translating that detail, you've gone away, you've read all this thing, you've come to speak to people at museums, but there's obviously there's a lot more to than get that information across.
James Faulkner 16:47
So so like I would do first example, you have like the line drawing or the representation of the person to pose, then you have like the zoomed in parts of the brief. So you zoom in on the helmet, and you give them, you know, almost every part of the uniform is then given like a sub briefing, which has like photographs and reference material, but you know, they're not gonna read it all. So you need to make sure that like, quite concisely, you're saying we want to know, like, like this. And if you can go and take pictures of museum pieces, if you can bring up like historical drawings, like at least it gives a sculptor something to, like, you know, look into, and also you've got to be careful with your sculptor because like, some sculptors, obviously, like Time is money. So like a sculptor, obviously. But if you if you find sculptors who are passionate about their work, and about that historical period, they are going to spend a lot more time, you know, ingratiate themselves with the brief than a sculptor who's just, you know, they want the next job and the next job or next job. So we were very lucky in our sculptor selection as well to find sculptors that had a genuine passion for authentically representing this period of history.
And how many sculptors do you have in total? On you're kind of team?
James Faulkner 17:56
On the panel?
Paul Allen 17:57
trying to count them?
James Faulkner 17:58
Paul Allen 17:58
five or six on the panel?
James Faulkner 18:00
It's Yeah, six. But um, so we have six scuplt, yeah, we have six sculptors that we regularly use with to definite like two definitie and like, top tier, that we use them every time. And then there's like, four that we like will give work to as well. And it's just because they've the top two have just built up such a great record of communication and work.
Paul Allen 18:22
Like this, the quality is the time and honestly, it's the money. Yeah, if they, if it's a balance and then three out and we have two artists, which Yeah, they do that perfect every time. And we're happy to change stuff again it's the communication, if we're all on the same page. It's obviously quicker. And so these two particularly are just yeah, I mean, seems to so far Touchwood is great.
And your studio artist is then I guess producing sketches that help inform that so presumably they're creating different things that give a stylistic flair or a feel that you can then combined with all of that briefing information and then that's how you end up
James Faulkner 18:57
We're also very lucky that we're very lucky in that he's also he's done sculpting for 10 years as well. So he can he can open up yeah he's He's a talented man sorry yeah, that's why we like labs on him really, like you've got to work for us because he can take a file and also point out if anything is wrong with it so he really is our trump card really
So taking up a upper level why particularly this product why this project because this one has been absolutely huge for you I mean you were doing you've been consistently producing Is this your third Kickstarter Senjutsu was your third one?
James Faulkner 19:30
Yeah. Yeah third Kickstarter. Yeah, this is our gear shift for sure. Like Hogs of War miniatures game is has done really well. It shiped and people were like blown away by like the quality and dedication we put into it. But it was it was a niche market. Like it was a you know, a legacy 2000 PlayStation classic. It was very English and EU focused. You know, there was only so much room that project had to grow. And to be honest, I think taking as much money as we did. I think we've done really well there. Senjutst is kind of like us saying right now let's do something that we've devised completely ourselves. And it was a risk bringing it to like the wider market. And yeah, it just went, it just went gangbusters really.
Paul Allen 20:13
I mean, the kind of process Yeah,
James Faulkner 20:16
we knew when to say you start
Paul Allen 20:17
Yeah you had this idea for like, Daimyo, obviously our next one, you've had the idea for two years. And we had some we were playing around with it, we couldn't get it ready. And by through that process, I designed this little tiny kind of like fighter. And I was like, quite sneaky, like, oh, it could be samurai, trying to sneak in with the kind of like this Daimyo flavour. And then you played it and was like, Oh, no it needs to be like this. And then that develops so quickly. Because the game I really wanted a game that's basically a skirmish in 20 minutes, that's high end. Obviously, that kind of quotes, the sexy treasure chest sexy, twice. Sexy chest quotes, is that I wanted something that felt like it's been around for a while, that plays quite solidly, obviously, is quite fresh and stuff like that. But has a quick turnaround. And so I kind of had that as a core and and James kind of filled it up into kind of like no it needs to go on the original version was smooth it down and also
James Faulkner 21:14
Paul's a purist so. So when Paul creates something like it has to hit exactly the aspect of X and not deviate off X. And that's, that's in many ways, like a really interesting skin bone, everyone. It's basically Paul boiled down, of course, our film into into the concept of the game. And it was done really well like as in like the feel was there completely. It just hadn't got enough like flesh to be, bethe game. And then Paul and I have this fantastic process. Like, we have no ego with it. I think that's what's wonderful. I pull them I can pull, I can tear each other's ideas to bits, and put them back together again. And at the end of the day, we know what we're doing's good. You know, it's conducive to a good thing. We're not just we're not taking lumps out of each other's ideas. For the sake of it, we're doing it because we generally think this is how we'd improve each other's ideas. And because Senjutsu is a one v one player at its core, and it plays in 20 minutes, the the playtesting process for that between Paul and myself working over lockdown was very quick, because we could literally just, you know, in an afternoon. Yeah.
Paul Allen 22:20
And then going back to the question how we, I think there's two, in my opinion, the two things that we saw that we thought this could be quite good. When we released the front cover art of war game design. Yeah, yeah. And it went nuts. That's like, and we threw that together in a in an afternoon. It is a great cover, but it's like we just put it together. We had two, Yeah, I didn't know I like both. And as I don't know which one we should go with. So that and we noticed that was like a lot of traction. And then at UK games Expo last year, we had banners for it
James Faulkner 22:49
It was our first Expo, we had like a five by one metre stand, like a starter stand with a little bit of wet whip. And we had this banner for Senjutsu. And it was higher up than alot of the other banners. We put it on this old stock boxes. And we just have people coming like from all over the place.
Paul Allen 23:06
Every day. Yeah. And it was like this. And other people were just coming and watching it and coming back and playing it. Yeah. And then from that, it's like that sample audience of like, they're gonna buy it. Yeah. And we we were non stop on it. So I'm not saying it's 100 percent. So we knew we knew.
James Faulkner 23:20
Yeah, I think we got very lucky as well, because, like so so we have a theory with historical titles that historical epochs move in like cycles. So so. So Romans will be a gladiator and Romans will be in Rome by HBO and Gladiator or campolindo. There's, that's massive. And then suddenly, no one cares about Romans. No one cares about vikings. And then, and with Samurai, we just had Ghosts of Tsushima and secure come out. And then and they were these two AAA game video games that were absolutely amazing, and setting the, you know, the setting of feudal Japan. And so I just think inadvertently, with samurai we've we've just rode that wheel. We've rode that wheel into fashionability. You know, in the same way that maybe a Viking game a Viking game five years ago, if we'd have done Senjutsu with Vikings 5 years ago, I think we would have had the same success. If we did Senjutsu with Vikings at the period we did Senjutsu I don't think we'd have had half the success.
Paul Allen 24:15
It could be something we look at in cycles. We're constantly looking. It's something I find fascinating and why? You know why now he's all the time even as a kid to do Robin Hood movies in my career. It's like that I noticed that when I was like 11. So it's like, why are they all kind of jumping on the same bandwagon? Like why not you play a wave and why not ride the wave. I mean, it's nice to be on the top. It's definitely something that's kind of worked and again, I just set the record here. We came up with Senjutsu about for Japan. And also before the Netflix series, yeah, being document on like a day copy.
James Faulkner 24:51
They copied us!
If the cycle is that important, obviously that's an enormous effect. But also if you were working on it before these video games came out, that kind of implies, isn't it? It's quite difficult to predict that one. So it's quite hard to deliberately write it.
James Faulkner 25:08
But what you can do is what you can do is you can look at, kinda game studios will advertise especially to stockholders what they're going to be bringing out over the next few cycles. And Holly, exactly Hollywood does it as well Hollywood went out years in advance what films they're doing and so said why, you know, put the hundreds of hours into trying to guess what's going to be cool next, when you can go to these Hollywood studios with budgets in the billions of dollars and they've already done that work for you. They've already got they've already made like very educated guesses on what's going to be cool in a few years.
Interesting. So just mining these use announcement as a mind blowing.
James Faulkner 25:47
Like holy hell.
Yeah, I'm not I'm not considered that at all as a as an approach that's very clever. I think that's not to me, remotely obvious.
Paul Allen 25:56
It also backfires so cyberpunk. I don't think, I've watched it. I've been a big fan of like, Gibson, the whole Necromancer,
James Faulkner 26:03
Paul Allen 26:04
Thank you so much, been a big fan. watching it grow for like seven years, that video game, and then it flops. I don't, I don't think anyone would have predicted that.
James Faulkner 26:12
Look at the corner million. Now the Comey campaign now it's on half a million, it should be on four times that the game. variable. So you can't use it. So one word, there's a word of what Yeah, I guess it's a word of warning with a cycle of like, like, it's not a guaranteed, because companies will try and force stuff it like companies will try and force pirates to be in, for example. And if the market is ready for that, and doesn't want to anticipate it, then like that, you've put all your eggs in a basket by picking I mean, like Senjutsu still has to be an authentically good game. It's not it's not a case of like, there is wave, we can ride wave, therefore success it if it had been the case, that samurai hadn't resonated as well as they did, then, you know, Senjutsu would still have to stand on its own two legs as good title.
Well, I mean, yes, that seems to be critical, isn't it? I mean, there are so many games out there now that a basic level of really solid quality strikes me as a fundamental hygiene factor really, like without that the game just isn't going to work. And it's interesting, you mentioned about the speed at which it plays I mean, that's exceptionally quick for a skirmish game, 20 minutes.
James Faulkner 27:21
We that was completely deliberate as well we basically we we basically we took a reading of the room really with there's so many people have have lost time, like over the last few years, like work has got more intense, hours are getting more intense, childcare sucking up more time, we deliberately like wrote Senjutsu to be like we there's a like a love letters, people without time, your life are all busy at the moment that you don't want to spend eight hours playing Twilight Imperium, like, here's a game that you can play with your mates in 20 minutes. Now a lot of fun,
Paul Allen 27:53
Dramatically, like a fight doesn't last more than a couple minutes. And it's still intense. Obviously. There's a great mechanic that we kind of built from the first iteration of like, you reveal the cards at the same time. And as a squeaky bum moment. Yeah, I found I used to play poker a lot in my youth. And it has that moment when you flip through I read that right or wrong. And it has that. So you have these really intense bursts of kind of like bluffing and guessing and also trying to get read each other. If you spread that over two hours, you'd be like a wreck. That would be like a world poker tournament, you don't want to do that. So again, it has this kind of really intense thematic and mechanically, again, from day one, I needed that I that was the kind of premise of the core. So yeah, 20 minutes,
20 minutes very, very fast indeed. And I guess that also means that presumably it is when you were first demoing the game, you could actually play full games with people quite easily rather than having to demo.
Paul Allen 28:48
Yeah, it's the perfect expo game. Yeah. This year, we were playing it non stop and the turnarounds amazing. We've got plans for next year to kind of like grow
James Faulkner 28:57
With people waiting to play we're they? And now it's like, it wasn't like, you know, there's a lot of wonderful games at Expo that have to abstract their entire game into like a snapshot, because you just can't like the table turnover is hard. But you know, just like a hamburger like we get people to play in the game and then off we need to get new people in and enjoying the game. So we didn't. Although we had queues the entire Expo we didn't struggle to get people to get a game in.
Paul Allen 29:21
I remember a pair they waited 20 minutes, but then they came back so it's good again. It's like it also watching it's really fun. Yeah, something that James mentioned, like back in like version, like one or two was when you play the card everyone everyone needs to see again, like poker when the reveal happens, it's not just me and you. It's everyone around the table can see that aw man he's got him or she's kind of blocked out, whatever.
James Faulkner 29:43
So yeah, we've leaned away from magic, the magic formula and we've leaned away from the magic. So magic like beautiful cards, but half the cards taken up by art. And what we've done deliberately is we've made the call that the art goes on like a side panel. And most of the card is actually like the just the mechanics of the card and it's quite language light. Because the idea is that like poker, yeah, we will, we'll be want people to gather around.
Paul Allen 30:09
I can't possibly look at the fibre parts is discussing that it's a mechanic and it's, it does what it needs to do when you reveal a car and it's got like a forward arrow. Yeah. And it's got like a flame, you're like oh it's attacking forward. It's like you know what he's gonna do, yeah, and it's really important. It was kind of it was the balance of the original iteration. So I do the graphic design on it. It was simple. It was like Hieroglyphics. There was so many symbols, the first versions were like, I wanted no language, but that really kind of lay hands on big dungeon. Like 15 symbols. It's kind of like dialogue, one that basically is like discard one card, rather than having a symbol for every single thing. You've got some language,
James Faulkner 30:46
there's a balance.
Paul Allen 30:46
Yeah. But the majority is, you know, if someone plays a card called flaming Phoenix art.
That's very interesting. So as the process then does it come to generally Paul you then kind of coming up with most of the game ideas yourself? And then James, you're more developer? Or is it more equal?
James Faulkner 31:05
Everyone says this! It's so crazy!
Paul Allen 31:10
I've got the age gap. I'll be coming up with ideas since I was four or five and I'm 40 this year. So I've got like a stack of books. So I think the origin comes from me, but it doesn't, without James, it doesn't go anywhere else, it stays in my head or stays as, as a poor exam, a poor example. But like a version, James is really good at just bashing like almost hammering it into something like steel, like something beautiful. And it's something that I kind of, I built a lot of good ideas, but that's all I do. You know, I've done it for 35 years all the time, like it's potentially some sort of ADHD. I can't stop, I'll go to the co-op, and I'll be thinking of games. I'll be coming home, I'll be thinking of games. And it's a now it's the full time job. It's not exhausting. But it's, there's a balance on that. So yeah, it's definitely a lot of ideas from me. But not to say that, again, like the first iteration of Senjutsu would not make a million quid. So there's definitely like needs to be polished. I think usually, when I first started working together, it was like, it was I was the engineer with the rudder. Like I'm powering this thing forward. But I have no idea where it's going where you can steam it into kind of an area of like that will make it and
James Faulkner 32:21
I don't think it's a universal rule though. But I mean, I looked at hogs a miniatures game. Yeah, that was that was like that was the opposite, almost the opposite way around like a lot of that was like, I've got this idea for Command and Conquer. Did and you're like, No, that can't work. And that
Paul Allen 32:36
comes back and find me Daimyo more. Yeah. I mean, the origin idea was from you. And I've got my own walls to kind of polish up, and oh designing. Red light, you've changed very much wanted this like Daimyo is very much your idea. Yeah, I just came along for some pictures. That's all I've really done on that.
James Faulkner 32:51
There's only been a film director as well, isn't it like game design, film directors, you can get as involved or as, as not involved as they want. So like, Spielberg sometimes takes a script and rewrites the entire thing himself, or Spielberg sometimes goes, nope, the script is good, and just does all the shots. And sometimes Spielberg doesn't even do that. He just sits in his office and says, I want it to come out like this. And I think, as a game designer, and you've had a massive success, as well. So you must now be seeing this kind of dynamic of like, I can be as much involved with listening involved with any projects as I want, as long as I'm able to top making sure that it follows the course. And I think that Paul and I are discovering that that relationship more and more where we've handed off, for example, Cosmatos, Mr. Henry Odom, and my damage to Martin Wallace and Nothing's caught fire. Like we haven't, you know, the office is still open, you know, the birds are still singing and we, you know, we're learning to trust now that actually our red lines can be very good sometimes. So when we say red lines, we mean like the basic guidance principles for the project, but yeah, like this. Yeah, exactly. But we can now Step Start step away sometimes and hand game design off, you know, to offer a very accredited people.
Certainly, that's also been my experience that different games can actually have very different development processes. They can they follow a very different structure. As you say, it's a little bit like I said, Spielberg could be produced by Spielberg. He's in an office, he gives a few notes. That's it. Versus I'm very hands on working with the special effects team because we need exactly this process. Then sorry, different. What's it been like working with Martin Wallace?
James Faulkner 34:27
Um, he's good. He's definitely I think that very nicely. I think he's of a different generation to like, for example, Henry Overton who's done cosmopolis and so a lot of the interactions have been different so so for example, Henry will work with Chris he'll be on a zoom call for two hours that we work at the same time, there'll be on TTS like Tabletop Simulator working together. Well, Martin is very much of like an older pedigree, like a more classic like game design thing, which is you given the brief he sends you it back a week later and so like a backwards and forwards by email out, you know, you he'll, he'll send you the components and there'll be on like a big png that you have to cut up. So so in that way, it's been different and sometimes, I don't want to say difficult. It's something different. Because we know Paul and I are both, you know, under 40, and we quite new in this game. So we're very used to it being like an interactive digital experience. But it's also been a very, like, wonderful experience to see into the mind of someone like Martin Wallace and see, like, how he considers game design to work, you know, and there's been a lot of times we've gone Hmm, that's kind of how we would have done it. And there's a lot of times being like, Oh, that's not at all how we would have done it. I think it's, it's been great. This can't be the official announcement can it. No, but I can say we're working with Martin Wallace a lot more in the future. We're looking to basically take his magnum opus into the market. He's created a masterpiece that he's worked on for years. And he's given us the trust to do it.
Paul Allen 35:52
Yeah I think he's liked our process as well.
James Faulkner 35:54
Yes. Well, when we video called him Yes, we can. Yeah, it's nice. We just wish we could go down to pub with him, though. Sad that he's in Australia, yeah,
Paul Allen 36:03
Quite social people would like to
James Faulkner 36:05
He's absolutely lovely.
So actually, you don't even maybe speak to him on Zoom or something like that very much. It's mostly just by email, that you're mostly working.
James Faulkner 36:13
Oh he still use Skype, Skype, we Skype every couple of weeks. Yeah.
Fantastic. Excellent. Yeah, I think it's a pity, isn't it not being able to work together in person? That's something I really struggle with the idea of working without my close collaborator, Jaya, without being able to work in person, because it seems that, particularly as you get that incredibly fast, iterative thing, and for you must have been really thrilling. Yes, yeah, just play test Senjutsu over and over and over again. And you'll you'll feel like you're making these all these improvements, and it has this kind of energy to it. And to me, that seems really hard to recreate at like massive distance,
James Faulkner 36:46
And you know it is. It is it is you need that you need like the vibrancy. And you also need like the authentic, emotive, like reaction you need for...
Paul Allen 36:54
social aspect. Gaming, is very few games. You just play especially games and we like and we play with magic is you need to play off each other. Yeah. TTS is a process.
James Faulkner 37:05
Also, Also, I think there's a lot of like, the reception, the reception of the feedback is different as well. Because if for example, you made a game, and via email every week, I was telling you, it was crap or I was telling you, it was great. I think like the way you take that feedback will be different. Because in real life, you can see that reaction is genuine. Like, if I'm genuinely not having a good time, you'll be able to pick up on why and when I'm not having a good time.
Paul Allen 37:30
And what point of a game you're not enjoying.
James Faulkner 37:32
Paul Allen 37:33
rather than a written document afterwards, or something like that. It's like, they may not notice something.
James Faulkner 37:38
Correct Yeah. And then when Steve Jobs said it didn't, he said the customer doesn't know what they want. And I feel like that applies to game designers as well. We don't always know what we want out of our own designs. So you know, having that collaborative partner in the room, they can really pick up on that.
I guess, yeah, without that it's very difficult to come up even right with some of what those red lines are. Because Because if you don't really truly know yet, it takes some time to discover what the design wants to be on some level, which makes that really challenging, but it's really, really interesting. So Paul, you mentioned TTS. I'm not a fan of of that. So yeah. What's your sort of take on it? Because this, this has become so popular, but I've got a bit of scepticism, too. I'd be interested to know what your thoughts are.
Paul Allen 38:19
Yeah, I think it does jobs well, and it does jobs not so well. Obviously set up on a game when you click a button it's all there. Especially not too bad. Like a game with many, many parts. Setting up is a pain in the in the bum.
James Faulkner 38:35
I find it's like Kickstarter. It's an invaluable but clunky mess.
Paul Allen 38:37
Yeah, it works. I wish they I wish they probably again, take feedback from customers audience and kinda improve on it. I mean, Hogs of War for when we play testing onto force, obviously, we create a whole game through lockdown. So only me and James were in the bubble. Yeah, so we, we did X amount. When we play online, it's a simple mechanic of tucking a card underneath the card. So you can see part of the card, right? TTS. The amount of times I've flipped the table or a card or they stick and then they pull off and it's like, it's just one card under a card. And then you start to lose that kind of like, what's the word? Almost flow? You know, the flow theory, when you in a game,
James Faulkner 39:15
the gameplay loop like yeah, you can take a false positive like a reading for the gameplay loop of like, this loop doesn't work. And it's because on TTS, it just can't. It's too clunky.
Paul Allen 39:24
Rolling the dice, when you press roll, and it goes up in the air and come straight down, you're like that isn't a roll! And it's a really important game moment, and you're like do it again, it's like cool, because it failed. And it's I think it actually does a job. Yeah, and that's great. Yeah, but it can't be the only way if you only playtesting through that. I think you're gonna miss a lot.
James Faulkner 39:43
It's allowed us to beta test Senjutsu though, to a degree that I don't think any living card game has been ever tested. But we have six we had 600 people playing that game, like regularly over TTS.
600 Regular players.
Paul Allen 39:59
We can't we don't know
James Faulkner 40:01
It's beyond us now isn't it, it's like a living thing.
Paul Allen 40:06
We've had 5 months of being played every day. We've already, it got down to like a core of 30 which were every day.
James Faulkner 40:12
Yeah, yeah. So yeah 30 People have been playing every day
Paul Allen 40:16
it's because at the heart we want it to be tight. We don't want to version two to be oh, you know, thing we made earlier. It wasn't very good. Fantastic. Well, here's a second version. Exactly comes out and it's the best it can be.
James Faulkner 40:27
Someone said once a game designer said, Oh, mistakes, that's what, that's what second prints are for, or something. And I feel like I feel like a revulsion about that statement.
So I can imagine you just felt sick to your stomach just like I want to vomit a little bit.
James Faulkner 40:44
It haunts me. I'm like curse in the jungle. I just like the horror the horror. Like, wait, because of the discord and our wonderful community, we it's been in our power to make sure the game works. And yes, there will be things that everyone misses because, you know, we've got 45,000 copies of this game coming out. And we've had 600 testers. So there will be someone out there who will discover a problem with the game. And yeah, we can fix that in a second print. But we've done our all to make sure it's good. Like, you know, like it's there, we've done as much as we can possibly do to make Senjutsu the best system it can be on launch, which is called Design alone.
Paul Allen 41:24
I don't even know now the iteration 17. Visual. It's almost every other day for the last six months, I've had to change just because it's like this is benefits like this feed spec. So like say yes, is the best product we can make. That is literally again, the time that we've had is the double edge of like it's exploded, we assumed I assumed about 2000 copies would sell in maybe two, three languages. It then sells 45,000 Plus in 11 languages, which then created a time is now create a huge amount of time for us to make all that stuff. So again, double edged sword, I'm sorry, to backers, it's taking longer, but it gave us another six months to make it even tighter, while languages and all that stuff has been done. And all the models have been put through manufacture. And so hopefully it's yeah, this is the best best game we can make, I think is relying Yeah.
Yeah, I mean that well, that's absolutely fantastic. And I guess the reason that it could work so well on TTS doing that massive amount of play testing is because you've already got something that's pretty clear exactly what it is. This is this is beta testing. This is like making sure is it balanced, presumably questions like that are these cards right? Is this clear? Like you're you're no longer at the stage of what does this need to be? How does it feel? That's all done.
James Faulkner 42:45
Yeah, we're just gonna We're just expanding on or expanding on the thing. Yeah, we're just, it's not a lateral change. We're just we're adding more so a strata of game that's already done. Yeah.
Yeah, it makes it makes a lot of sense. So with this, again, this absolutely for success for this, particularly this title. And it's a very big step up, isn't it from hogs of war was something like 150,000? Was that right? That approximate that region, which again, for an IP title? It's as you said, it's not a particularly famous IP.
James Faulkner 43:13
But it's, it's weird. It's weird. I want to push back against that. Hogs of War is a weird IP. Where actually, if you ask any, as I say, any bloke aged 30 to 45 Do you remember hogs of war? You get this? Like slow pause, then sucking of the tongue? And then yeah, yeah. And you always get Rick mail, right? And then that's it. That's interaction. So incredibly famous is weirdly famous. It just isn't like prevalent, because it's always almost like buried under 20 years of like, social clutter. But I think it's weirdly relevant. Like it like so many people. Remember it? It's just, you know,
more famous than well loved maybe, perhaps is a way to think about it.
James Faulkner 44:00
Paul Allen 44:02
It was almost like cult when it came out. Yeah, kind of remained that place. It did well, I mean, it was good enough for us to make Stone Sword games, our official full time jobs. So that was nice. Pride, just with support and help from others. But yeah, it kind of like leave. It's also there's no way we would have made that game without putting 40 hours a week plus into it. You know, there's no way we could have that because prior to that, obviously, I was just lecturing as teacher. So every hour we had made it. Yeah, I think good figures. Yeah, I think Senjutsu threw the doors off a little bit more.
Yeah. It's, it's a very big step. Right. So if you, for example, did double your previous Kickstarter raise that would be a strong result. But But what but obviously this times, yeah, right. It's it was more than a million and presumably lots in pledgemanager stuff and things afterwards.
James Faulkner 44:54
Yeah. It's been crazy. Yeah.
So the kind of two questions that come from that, number one, where did you think it was going to land I guess. And then number two, I guess we can talk a bit about how you coped with the fact that it was much bigger because that can be a problem, right? That when it goes to a bigger scale than you're expecting, that creates new problems.
James Faulkner 45:10
Yeah, absolutely. First one, where did we think it was gonna go? I think it was, like 400k or 200? Because Oh, this is, this is this is the thing that happened. So we went to Martin Paul at backer kit. And we got a pre launch page started with a tight adspend, I think was the ad spend, like 10, grand or something, wasn't it? And we had we set an internal record for return on adspend. They Yeah, they will. They're one of the guys, one of the guys sent us an email saying, I don't know what's going wrong with the campaign Play page. Like, we've got to look into this. Because we took like 17,000 pre launch emails, and 8000 signups on like a shoestring budget. And yeah, in six weeks, and just like, they literally thought there was a problem with the system, like there were, you know, because of how well it was doing, which was nice. But it gave us an indicator. Yeah, we knew we had something like we knew it wasn't it was it was gonna take like, more than twice hogs. And then yeah, how did we deal with it? I mean, it has created a lot of problems in terms of like, when you sign an international partner, suddenly, you've got like another set of email contacts you need to to know and be in contact with. I won't say it changes backer expectations, like we know it does. But I think our intention was always to make the best game we could. So so the fact they'd sold 45 files against 2000? Well, I'll just point listeners to hogs of war miniatures game, which was a thorough loss of the company in the end, which shipping crisis, but like the amount of hours we've put into that shows, it doesn't matter the size of the project will still given our all, but it has changed backer or expectations in terms of like communication strategy and stuff. Because like the way people expect to be informed, and the way information can like, like, run it organically into the community, like, you know, like, you have to be a lot more careful. You can't just like use offhand comments, because they will get picked up on like, people will go, Oh, they're doing this or they're doing that in the future. So there's obviously a lot of care now with that kind of messaging. Yeah.
Paul Allen 47:13
The way we handled it was employ four members of staff? Yes, yeah, in our work between us two, we want to be able to do it, just like we haven't stopped working on it. It's literally, we do more 40 hours a week. So it's really well my partner was like she was like employmore staff, and I still do more work. If we hadn't done that, what would have happened, just exploded. Handle it. We're just kind of running with it. And passion and kind of passion. And hard work is a good line that we stick to between us. And we'll get everything done as best we can at all times, and then figure everything else as we go.
And with those international partners are those companies that are official kind of localizers of A, they're just doing translation for you, or they kind of taking on some of the financial risk of the project.
James Faulkner 48:01
No, that's so they're distributing as well. So like, for example, Massimo in France has taken like several 1000 copies, and they're also translating them to French. That's a thing they've taken on, because they basically seen the strength of the product, the cost price to them is like we've we've worked really hard to make sure that they're getting good value for money. And they've they obviously know that samurai will do very well, in France, it's a massive samurai following in France, and so that we've like they've come on board.
Paul Allen 48:30
And what it does, obviously, as a creator is that makes your print run bigger, which makes your per cost copy cheaper. So like there's a massive advantage in it for us in terms of like the more copies we sell, like the margins get better across the board, which then insulates us against the shipping crisis. So
yeah, this seems to be a radical. I mean, that's that, for example, is quite a big hit, right that if even a campaign the size of hogs of war, which compared to most creators is still in the top few percent of campaigns, you could still make a loss on because of shipping, that,
James Faulkner 49:02
we made a big loss. rapidly. Shipping is really bad. Like I think we've just moved six pallets to the US and it's cost us like three and a half, four and a half grand. And then that's not counting the actual distribution to customers alone. And you just think like it's just, it's gonna kill a lot of like small to medium studios off. It's not a good time in the moment for shipping. And it's frustrating because it seems that no country or government seem to want to get a grip on the situation either. It's just it is it is I mean to Paul and I have said that if we can make Senjutsu successful through Corona, which was like the one of the worst pandemics of all time and shipping crisis, which is one of the worst economical logistical fallouts of all time, then we know when the times are fat when we're having when we're in good times. We're going to have a great time here.
Yeah, that's a really great point. That's actually something I think about quite a lot as well because we've started up at a fairly similar time. And yeah, it's the same pain of just the the insane cost of shipping. We were on our first print run looking fully profitable already. And then suddenly it was like, oh, but now I'm paying $20,000 a container. Suddenly, it's amazing how quickly that can just be wiped out.
James Faulkner 50:16
And as you said, very disappointing that governments aren't really seem to be doing a tremendous amount about it.
James Faulkner 50:21
I mean, if you look at the shipping companies in China, there's only like a dozen or so large freight, like freight companies, and they obviously fixed prices between them. And I imagine there's a lot of talks going on at the government level, but no one has a solution to it yet. So so it will get better. Because, you know, prices rise like a rocket and fall like a feather, so it will get better, but slowly,
That I think is a yes, it's an important saying to keep in mind in this situation is that it will get better, but it's not going to get better for creators. Massively better anytime soon. No, but this thing that yeah, that as you said that I very much feel the same. But is that I guess if you can make it through this really, really dark difficult period, then you are you've been prepared for the worst already, which is better than colliding into it.
James Faulkner 51:06
Well, as a business as well, you can't become insular. Like, just because you're in lean times, you still have to focus on growth. And I think that's the lesson that like, when I speak to creators, I have to like stress, because a lot of creators are coming at it from like a passion and a, you know, like a point of view that isn't necessarily business orientated. And I think one of the largest lessons is like, like your business should always be growing. Like, if you're not growing your business, there's something fundamentally wrong with your model. And so like, just because we know that well, we know Senjutsu is going to be expensive to ship and we know that, you know, hogs of war has been expensive to ship, but we're still signing IPs, developing games at like a faster pace than we've ever done. Because if we're not growing, we're just gonna stagnate.
If it's not growing, it's dying, that I think it's unfortunately, that's something which is just a harsh truth of how it works, isn't it? Speaking of IPs, what was it like working on an IP and how much oversight was there over everything you were doing? And what kind of things did you have to get signed off on
James Faulkner 52:04
in share from from with Hogs of War, for example, it was just, it was a blast process. Really a dream process? Yeah, we gave him we gave him our pitch. And it was quite comprehensive. And he knew we had a passion for the title. And he just let us run with it. It was just a really wonderful kind of process. But I think the trick is that I mean, when you look at hogs of war, it's a legacy IP. It's over 20 years old. Like it hasn't had a huge deluge of releases like since it's since its initial, they've gotten
Paul Allen 52:34
really into it. So it's kind of anything that we did
James Faulkner 52:36
kinda doing the IP a favour. Yeah, yeah. So it wasn't it wasn't it wasn't a typical experience. Like if you worked on something current, like, yeah, like any any kind of video game title, like there would be much many more checks and balances in your way, I think, when it comes to working on the IP. Now we're working on lone wolf, which was a adventure game series, adventure book series, a massive one, and we're working on a lone wolf board game. And there's already like, a lot more checks and balances. And that's even with the Creator saying, like, you can do pretty much what you want to do. But there's still like a sign off process that that, you know, it's an interesting one, I say, like, as a creator, having an IP is a fantastic thing to give you like bandwidth, like area, like, you know, like to get you in people's like front rooms, because, like, you're basically riding the coattails of what the IP is already successfully, like, achieved by becoming an IP in the first place. But at the same time, like if you're one of those people who struggles with being told what you can and can't do with your creative process, then like, stay away from it like the plague really.
Yeah, because there is going to be interesting, the more popular the bigger it is, the more current it is, there's going to be so much more control over what you can and can't do with it.
James Faulkner 53:51
Exactly. And if you've got any ego at all with that, like it's just it won't be for you, but it will just be a difficult journey.
Is that the something that students see on your site is full moon jacket, is that under original one or is that another IP?
Paul Allen 54:04
That's an original so that's my would you call it um yeah I designed the game couch troublesome emotionally? Yeah, I designed the game I before James before everything it was me on my own I left teaching to make full moon jacket, I kickstarted it with no knowledge, just passion, it got to the point where it obviously funded, I'm are very proud of it. But then it came to a sticky situation of kind of the business side obviously no no kind of like thoughts or not thoughts but any processes are no no no known processes or new post campaign really. So it kind of sat there for a bit then obviously meeting James through other means but obviously he came on board and really helped out kind of get our projects together at the end and kind of get it out there so kind of almost white knights come along and kind of helped it which kind of secured it got finally got into people's homes. Again, the beautiful thing About this industry and crowdfunding is people with passion can make stuff. And that's like, incredible. But obviously, from me, it's it's the post, I imagined quite a few games design are so like myself and after, when he goes to post campaign, what do you do? Where's he going? How are you going to languages? How are you going to start with China distribution tax VAT. It's like a whole new job. And knowing that, and game designing and graphic designing, it's like, that's one person really get someone involved as soon as possible that e can help you with that. Yes, yeah. So passion projects is the first step into this.
James Faulkner 55:35
It'll definitely be back as well. Because at it's core it's a wonderful, like game and a wonderful nod to like 80s action films. And also, I think, talking about like, referencing back to the the wheels of like pop culture and what's, you know, history, I think Vietnam is about to have like a release on to in media.
That's very interesting.
James Faulkner 55:55
Yeah, you just kind of like a little as I've seen from like, certain ranges coming out from companies and certain film rights being assigned, I think, being an entrepreneur back. So full moon jacket will have like a full set of attention again on it. But fundamentally, it's cool. It's just, it's a fantastic little game. It just, it just has it just had this like troublesome, like delivery.
Paul Allen 56:16
It's the double edge of crowdfunding, people entrust you to do the best you can and then then they complain you're not doing enough or aren't good enough. And it's like, again, it's as a human. Again, as a passionate part of this game was like, two years in the making is like completely absorbed, it went into like personalised, so much attachment to that game. That's a piece of art for me, but it means more than just a game. So yeah, it's, it's good. Again, crowdfunding incredible, allows you to kind of get projects off the ground allows you to meet other people and, and kind of collaborate and grow from that. So yeah, that's what Full Moon is. In a nutshell. That's right.
Well, that's a great example, that sense of that, even though obviously, you had some you had some difficulties towards the end of the process. You had that amazing moment of it being funded, and you get the chance to learn and go through that process. Right, and make it make it real. And then that takes you to where you are now?
Paul Allen 57:06
James Faulkner 57:07
I think it's very lonely. It's a very lonely process. So like, the thing about the thing about, like, being a one man band on Kickstarter, it's just like, if you were to become a plumber, right, like, if you were to go to like college and become a plumber, you then are apprenticed under a plumber for like, couple of years. And then you go out, and you hire a van, and you buy your tools, and you do your first job. And if you mess up your first job, you can you learn from it, and then go into your second job and your third job, whatever until you're qualified, you know what you're doing. And then you can grow the business. Kickstarter isn't like that at all. Kickstarter is you go and you don't qualify as anything, you just create an idea. And then suddenly, if you've got 10,000 clients all in one go, and you mess up, you've messed up for all 10,000 clients in one go. And it's an enormous amount of a burden, like to put on people that, you know, it's very like Randy, and like, it's very, like, you know, ideologically it's the American Dream kind of ideology of like, you can do anything you want. But there is a cold, hard truth that we don't talk about in this industry, which is that actually 90% of the job about game design is not designing the game, it's all the other stuff and it's way too much for one person to handle, I'd recommend any solo game designer out there who's kickstarting immediately find a partner because you just sometimes you just need a shoulder to cry on or someone to just pull you out of your pit because that's what Paul was in he was in a pit and he wasn't gonna get out of that pit there was no ladder there was no escape hatch it was like I had to literally reach them and drag it out and that's fine like that's fine if you if you want to be like a resolute creator on your own though like just
Well, the problem is is that you're effectively building an entire publishing company
James Faulkner 58:55
in one go yeah,
in one go for because even if you only want to do one game on Kickstarter, that's basically what's the what you're doing. And then you build your entire publishing company that has so much to it finance marketing so much that's got absolutely fractious, mostly finance and marketing and a lot less to do with to do with game design, you know, product development, manufacturing, logistics. I mean, my God logistics has been a big lesson for me at the end of last year was just how complex particularly this mad environment were in
James Faulkner 59:25
even and also like, there are bad agents out there as well. There are people in there are people who are willing will take your money they will rinse you off it and I think like I mean, I had to tell a board game designer a few months ago that he could haggle the Chinese quotes. He didn't realise that he could like those prices like that. Never accept the initial price and I had to tell someone that I just seem like it's it's quite it's quite crazy. Like you know, you can get all this money from Kickstarter and then go into the wider world without a clue really? Yeah, it It's interesting. Now there's six of us like, I think that the professional gears are turning. And everything's, everything's been nailed down like systems and processes, and so will only really grow from here. And obviously, like full moon jacket mistakes were made hogs of war card game mistakes were made, hogs of war miniatures game fewer mistakes were made. Senjutsu, I mean, Senjutsu will have even fewer mistakes, like it's one of those things where like, look fine, as long as you keep refining, and also you keep that you're on the ball that you mean, you make sure you don't settle. You know, you're not like asleep at the wheel. Like we should just gear up and get better and better and better. We'll be doing.
Yeah, yeah, I mean, that's a really critical point, isn't it? Is that you're getting better, So is there six of you full time now than
James Faulkner 1:00:41
Six of us full time. Yeah, we were twice as big as Stonemeier. Take that Stonemeier.
There is I'm sure Jamie has quaking in his boots right now. Especially when he hears this podcast, I know he's an avid listener.
James Faulkner 1:00:57
We're Westside Story, our gangs massive.
Oh, that's fantastic. They Well, I think that I mean, that's something very much that I feel like I really want us to get to at some point where we could have a good size full time team because I we have I have got I've got so many different contractors and different people that I work closely with. Jaya works with me most most of the time, which is great. But yeah, getting to the point where you can start really, if you're smart about it, you can make sure that all of that amazing time and those people are deployed to do something, I guess yes, I guess at the same time, there's the classic thing of Oh, wow, now we have even more of an ongoing monthly liability of what we have to pay for.
James Faulkner 1:01:37
Exactly, you have loads more work as well as sub like staff are meant to take work off for you. But they also come with their own challenges of like training and, and direction like, because it's very easy to have like an internal monologue of like, this is what I'm going to do. And this is what I'm gonna do in this what I'm gonna do, but then, like when you actually say that out loud, and try and translate those ideas over to a staff member. That is completely different. You have to put them in your own context. And, you know, there's totally different motivation, for example, like people self motivate, you don't need to give yourself a motivation, why you're gonna do a thing necessarily, but then when you give it to a staff member, like they need to know why they're doing the job, like otherwise, it's just kind of aimless. So like life lessons, and lessons later will be learned, you know, through recruiting staff.
Fantastic. And do you work together in office together?
James Faulkner 1:02:22
Yes, yeah, we're the size of this in the office and one of us is coming in. And then the Sixers comes in two days a week. And hopefully, we'll be in the office full time soon.
Fantastic. Well, that must be really good as well just from an energy level because I always find again, the part of the development process of all these things, being able to be physically together, especially when you're dealing with an analogue product just seems so valuable.
James Faulkner 1:02:42
Paul Allen 1:02:43
And it's really nice. Obviously with graphic designing, I sit next to Raven the artist and it's just the immediacy that you can go is this any good, yes. Rather than an email get back to you like a day later. It's it's so much quicker and he's finds it incredible like because he's been freelancing and working on our work for various companies from years and years and years for him to sit next to it kind of similar creative, but kind of working off each other. It's It's so fast, Daimyo just kind of heads up on Daimyo, we made a copy. We got a copy made for UK games Expo. We it took us like a week or so to develop develop an eye and it hands on. It looks incredible now. So I hope people will be like when they see that the Kickstarter and stuff. It's yeah, it's been great. Because obviously that teamwork you've been really they said, really bounce off each other. And it's the energy is insane. And it's beautiful. Really nice.
Yeah, something that I think people could could bear in mind. So the kinda last thing want to talk about today is a bit more about the marketing side of what we do. So something that you've done very effectively on all of your titles, is really got the word out there about them. You succeeded in building awareness and a huge amount then engagement with that. One of the things you mentioned earlier, which was really intrigued, as you talked a bit about the ad budget you talked about and you said it kind of was a thing. You described it as like a monster ad budget, you described as quite a sensible, small budget of 10,000 pounds. But I think what's really interesting is I think if I can imagine there'd be a lot of people listening in thinking about launching their first Kickstarter project and thinking, Whoa, 10,000 pounds of advertising to them seems like a lot of money. So I'd be within
James Faulkner 1:04:10
10,000 so they're going to spend 10,000 on cover art, miniatures, on on professional testers on everything. And then they'll run out the budget. And what they're left with what they're left is they're left with a Ferrari on their front drive, but they can't afford to put fuel into. And so what's the point of having a car? And that's kind of how you should view ad budget ad budget, like if you're if your campaign has a Ferrari, and it's beautiful, and it wants to get shown off? What's the point of not putting fuel in it? advertising budget has to be planned is
Paul Allen 1:04:40
working really helped us work out this thing called a ROS which is basically in return on adspend and they set it so basically the money every last dollar you put in you need to see more come back and they set that so basically, I mean unless your projects I mean
James Faulkner 1:04:59
they So, so just context on that they backerkit, for example, will pre pay adverts. So we didn't have that 10,000 pounds sitting in the bank account. And then we spent it, backerkit spent 10,000 pounds, and then we reimburse them post campaign.
Paul Allen 1:05:16
So that's the trick. Obviously, there's a guarantee. Yeah. So obviously this measures in place that if your project doesn't fund, or whatever, and obviously, yeah, but their job is to make sure the project does fund and so the more they fund into it, the more you make, the more they make. So it's kind of It does,
James Faulkner 1:05:29
yeah, you don't need money, it kind of goes out. Thanks to companies like Dell up and backerkit, you don't actually need money to advertise. You just need a product that can sell itself. Because the thing is like, if, for example, you go to a bank, and you say, Yeah, let's put 10,000 into adverts, and then they come back to you two days later, after run the adverts, and they say they're doing quite well, we can up your ad spend, and you can bring more money in. Or they'll say it's not performing as well as it should be. And I've dropped the adspend which means it limits your exposure to the market like it. That's that's, I think, is a minimum guarantee of what you need to have. Because if you run no adverts, like very few people are going to see your products. And if you time cost it, it just won't be worthwhile. If you run adverts, and the game does really well like Senjutsu you're putting in more like more fuel for that flat car, you're making it run faster and more people are seeing it. And then that fuels that gives you gives you more fuel. It's it's this virtuous circle of like ad spend equals exposure equals purchases, which gives you more ad spend, but you need to do it, the idea of launching any game in today's crowded industry. Without advertising. It's just a suicide. They say like, you know, it's just like it's just project suicide because there are so many companies bigger than like a small creators that can afford to put like, hundreds of 1000s of dollars into advertising. And if you're not going to put a cent in you can't compete. Like it's so so so it's crucial. Absolutely crucial.
Would you say that's crucial about the in Campaign Ad Spend as well as the campaigns ad spend pre launch?
James Faulkner 1:07:03
That's an that's a very interesting one. If you're not debating project to project as creators, like you do, like you've, you've grown conceited, I think with Senjutsu because the core games only 35 pounds. We we had no trouble bringing in new backers, isn't it?
Paul Allen 1:07:22
It's a really interesting one, just a client as well. Something that's not really mentioned, oh the comment section. So Senjutsu, obviously, quite proud of the campaign that I can't deal with the visuals. But James, when people came on board, I think that we set a record, I heard, the number of people that commented as backers, it was like almost like every other person commented, and James spent, and this is something very important, his entire birthday, around my house, commenting and doing this stuff, because and keeping them there. So obviously adspend. And that's that's great. But also when you're on the campaign, you can keep them there by interacting with them in a glorious manner, making them feel part of the campaign. And we got like an A plus rating was someone saying how good the campaign was like, How come no one else does this, it's like
James Faulkner 1:08:04
And that gives you retention. The difference between ad spend before campaign and during campaign is about retention and momentum. So backers, backers can be quite fickle, sometimes with a project momentum. So if they check back every day, and if that projects growing, then in a cycle, encourage them to keep back check, keep checking every day and tell their friends about this highly exciting, it's like it's so I feel like I'm part of a wider journey. If the campaign launches, and it just starts receding like you know, the first day you take 200 grand, and then you're losing pledges every day until the end of it, you can bleed out really badly. And I think this happened to a game called Missing goal, which was like a fantasy football game that launched a year and a half ago, I think it was, yeah, they put a funding goal at a very, very high. And they brought in you can they did loads of advertising pre campaign, because I was seeing it continuously. And they they run they didn't hit the funding goal, it just about hit the funding goal. And then the ad spend, they I think so must have made the call that these ads aren't performing as well as they should and the marketing diminished. And it just meant the campaign had this like death by 1000 cuts. Because, you know, backers were checking in every day, seeing that there wasn't new stuff on the page, they were seeing that the game wasn't going anywhere. And then they were just pulling their pledges. And once you're into that death spiral, it's just painful, like absolutely painful.
Paul Allen 1:09:30
bloodstone by you know, bloodstone when when they went by, same thing, you you're campaigning it into a death spiral. And one way of getting out of that death spiral is with an ad spend during the campaign. So that so that's bringing new, bring in new blood, fresh eyes, fresh excitement.
So you'd say that's really useful to drive momentum. But the ad spend beforehand is sounds like it's really critical. I mean, so the 10,000 pounds you talked about was just email signups. Right.
James Faulkner 1:09:55
That's exactly it, so I think the ad spend before the campaign is critical in the first place to getting so many people into the campaign they organically so so you've just started getting started like a chainsaw or like or a lawn mower with a ripcord. So the way like the rip cord works is if you pull it slowly, like you're putting fuel in the engine, but you're flooding it. And it makes it harder and harder to start it. If you if you really, if you really rip it if you really rip it and the engine will start first time. And then obviously the engine catches and it runs. And that's exactly the way to view pre ad spend. And during the ad a pre campaign ad spend and during the campaign ad spend, if you can put so much if you can rip that cord so hard at the start that you bring in like 100,000 pledges, then the game is going to self sustain because you've got 100,000 people going and telling all their neighbours and their friends look at this game isn't this awesome. You've got the organic like it's game found, Kickstarter, the backerkit's new platform, they're all They're all they will reward you for bringing that much traffic to the website in the first place, like Kickstarter will put you in taking off, Kickstarter will put you on their list, kicktrack and put your at number one board game hotlist will put your number one and your campaign will just go it will just go and go and go. And you will only need to put a little bit of petrol in to make sure that it's ticking over. But if you don't rip that cord hard enough at the start, you're just kind of like wetly flop your way into like the funding. You need to make sure that campaign goes off from the bag. And that's why I would say if I had to like Yeah, exactly as long as I said, if I had to choose one one, if I you know if they give me 1000 pounds to spend on ads, and I had to I had to divvy them up. I do 80/20, and I would put 80% In the pre campaign.
That will be very, very, very, very useful to know I think for lots of listeners. Well, thank you very much indeed. This has been absolutely fascinating. I feel like I've learned a tremendous amount today. absolutely enormous amount. Is there anything else that we should be looking out for from you obviously got an potentially exciting announcement soon on this Martin Wallace game, but anything else we should be keeping an eye on?
James Faulkner 1:11:59
So Daimyo, so Daimyo, which is the sequel to Senjutsu it's like a three part trilogy is a area control classic masterminds euro it's beautiful samurai historically grounded the Kickstarter signups for that have just gone live. And they're starting now for a late October launch. We've also got Henry Audubon, who who's responsible for parks. He's got cars marks first coming out at the end of October, which is going for our sister studio. And that she
Paul Allen 1:12:36
came up with a name. Shall we redo that one? Paper for games.
James Faulkner 1:12:41
Just cut that one in. Yeah, and that goes to those sales will go live soon as well. So there are two games that are coming out. Firstly, for sensing games, we've also got lone wolf, the board game, which should be coming out early 2023. We're also looking at securing some big IP soon so kind of watch this space on on that.
Fantastic. Awesome. Well, thank you very much.
Paul Allen 1:13:01
No worries. Thanks, James. Nice to meet you mate.
Producing fun is produced by Naylor games. If you enjoyed the show, follow us on Spotify, Stitcher or other major podcasting platforms. Remember, producing fun is also a product and it's thrives on feedback. So please leave a review wherever possible, or simply send me your feedback directly. You can message me on Twitter at Naylor James and write me an email James at Naylor games.com. Until next time,