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!

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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.

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.

Why I’m giving up regular blogging

 

Thou shalt blog each week is the mantra of the SEO age. Does it make sense?

Infinite Content

I stare at the queue of articles I have saved to Pocket. As push my thumb up the page I begin to realise there are more than a thousand articles sitting there, waiting for me to read. I resist the next thought: There are a thousand articles sitting here I will *never* read.

I’m not the first person to notice we’re drowning in content. The over abundance of information is perhaps one of the great cliches of our age. I’m not even the first person to notice that read-it-later tools like Pocket or Instapaper have just moved the problem of losing track of interesting articles along one link in the chain: to the more unavoidable reality we never had time to read the things we were losing in the first place. But I am somewhat shamefully, given this foreknowledge, one of many people who have done nothing about the problem. Instead, I am part of it: relentlessly churning out content without fail every week. Not solely because I love it (the one and only good non-commercial reason) but because I feel I ought to.

But writing is fun…right?

The truth is that I do really enjoy writing – sometimes. Sometimes it gives me incredible moments of elation. There are subjects I am passionate about that I want to share with the world. There are ideas, thoughts and feelings I deeply want to communicate. There is a nuance and power in the written word that no medium can match. But the pleasure of the craft of writing is for me has always been a more muted joy.

For me writing has always been a pastime in the truest, original sense of the word. Most of the time it’s a more fun way to spend a few hours than slumped in-front of the TV. Like a good swim it can come with a wonderful endorphin rush at the end. But I don’t live for swimming; I would never describe myself as a swimmer. I was never a newspaper editor because I loved journalism. I was a newspaper editor because I love the town I live it and believe in what a newspaper could do to make it better. I never started this blog because I wanted to be a boardgame critic, but because I had specific ideas, analysis, reflections on experience I wanted to share. The actual content of the content is what I live for, not its craft.

So when the well of content I am actually passionate to share runs dry – when it has to be forced – it turns from a pastime into a slog. Very soon, writing for me becomes a battle to constantly think-up new ideas are easy to execute; rather than full me with joy. As time has gone by I find myself asking more and more: Is that battle to fulfil a blogging schedule because “that’s what you’re supposed to do” worth it?

Some might think this is just typical writers block. The constant fight to apply to seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. Perhaps this is just the whinging of someone in a very privileged situation; the educated man’s first world problem par excellence. All of this is about me, it ignores what I am giving to readers entirely.

Maybe all of that is fair enough. Every writer goes through some of this after all. The difference is that I am not sure there is a good reason why I am putting myself through it; however more or less comfortable a problem it is in the grand scheme of things.

The hard facts

I am not a professional writer. I don’t need to earn a living from it and I don’t love the craft itself. If there were another medium I felt I could communicate in just as effectively, I would change to it in a heart beat. In general, as far as intellectual buzz goes, I get my greatest bang-for-buck when I talk about these topics in person; not in in their written form, essay or discussion.

What I write here takes a lot of time to create. I am something of a perfectionist and I can’t help myself when it comes to diving deep into topics. This has it’s positives. I have been complimented on my forensic and detailed approach. I think it’s genuinely different and seems to be useful. It’s also the only form of writing I do that really rewards me personally.

But it cannot be rushed. While I have improved my speed since I launched this site last year, it still takes a total of approx. 5-7 hours to create an average analysis piece; outside of specific research like playing some of these titles a few times. That’s closing on an equivalent of a working day per blog post and some pieces taken even longer. I’ve tried just going faster, but that only really works when the format itself leads to quick execution – like a newsletter. For articles that don’t fit that mould, going faster usually means dropping the quality. I just can’t bring myself to do that.

Looking to more mercenary subjects, regular blogging is not likely to be a huge commercial driver of success for Naylor Games either; at least for now.  Diverting time to it becomes something harder to justify each day.

Blogging is widely touted as a panacea for building businesses online. Ever since the SEO goldrush of the 00s, creating endless amounts of content to build-up their web presence is something nearly everyone is doing in the hopes it will translate directly into sales. It became a mantra that you needed to constantly put out new content. Without it you would become lost and irrelevant. But what was probably an innovative and effective strategy back in the day, is now seriously attenuated by the fact that everyone is doing it. Very simply: it doesn’t differentiate you at all to have content if everyone has content. For e-commerce sites battling to the death for the top three spaces on Google organic search, the additional technical values of higher value links-in may be a small but critical edge. For companies where business is not directly generated from search results, such technical value is small beer.

That’s not to say it hasn’t led to some solid traffic. I – a total industry newbie with no published game yet and no real credentials, who writes ludicrously specific posts that are typically three thousand words in length – am averaging well in excess of a thousand visitors a month well before the site’s first anniversary. It’s not a huge number, but I am still immensely flattered by it: the mere thought people want to read what I have to say about these topics is genuinely heartwarming. A lot of the previewers who come to pitch to me for trade are in similar brackets. But ultimately, Naylor Games doesn’t have anything to sell direct and won’t for a while. Analysed on solely commercial grounds as a sales channel, that traffic would still need to be greater: to make its impact outweigh the opportunity cost of putting my time into something else.

Infinite_Content

But for me the ultimate problem is this: Even if the practical obstacles with creating such content on a regular schedule were vanished away with the flick of a wand, I am not convinced it would be desirable to keep creating it – even in that scenario.

When I write pieces that I am not inspired by I can see the difference between them. Even more importantly, the site’s greatest hits are nearly always the ones *I* was most inspired to create: My article on Dominion’s VPs or the distillation of much of my experience designed thinking in this piece from December. That’s not to say the others weren’t also good. I refuse to let anything be published on this site that isn’t up to a high minimum bar. But I just can’t fake that spark. The articles without it are just not as good.

The thing is though, things that are exceptionally good is what the world actually needs. There is too much content. We almost certainly don’t have time to read all the things that are very good indeed. We absolutely do not have time to read anything less good than that. The wider malaise about “too many games” being released in the board-game community is just a subset of a wider problem. There is simply too much stuff to consume in general. Yet, everyday we create more, taking shot after random shot in the hope we will beat the market or beat the algorithm and get ourselves noticed.

I don’t want to add to that gigantic heap of stuff born out of what amounts to a kind of arms race. The merely quite good merely risks obscuring the really good stuff: the things I don’t want to miss out on.

I want to read critics like Charlie Theel, Matt Thrower or Dan Thurot because they are doing a fantastic job of capturing the experience of games. I want to read Jamey Stegmaier because he’s done the whole business of publishing a game from scratch himself without the help of someone like Jamey Stegmaier to see him through. I want to read MeepleLikeUs because they are actually making gaming more accessible for everyone. I want to read all of these people because they are at the top of their respective journalistic fields. I don’t honestly think I have much time for everything else.

That’s my philosophy in general. Take Magnate: endlessly refining it has been a joy; I love development, down to the tiniest detail of game experience. But it’s also been a commitment to values. In a world full of games and so little time to play them in, I’d rather have just one that was really, really good and never make a game again than a ton that are pretty good. I’d rather have one title with enduring appeal that could be enjoyed by a wide audience outside of a gaming hardcore for years to come. I firmly believe Magnate can be that kind of success and it’s my job to do everything I can to make it that.

Of course, it’s nowhere remotely close to a certain bet it will be: I understand the logic of why designers and publishers cautiously diversify for fear that the majority of their games will not sell. No one can make a hit on demand. But, from what I have seen, it definitely won’t be if I follow the approach of throwing many games at the wall and hoping for one. And after all, if every publisher only produced a couple of exceptional titles a year, the great glut of games we complain of so much would instead be a steady stream of gold.

Why shouldn’t my aims for this blog be any different?

Where now?

I don’t think I will ever stop writing. This isn’t me swearing off the keyboard forever and I see no reason not to publish regular news at it happens. But I don’t think the regularity of the weekly blogging schedule is for me. Instead, I would much rather share a fraction of articles with you and every single one be right from the heart, head and soul.

Magnate: New site launched

The new Magnate site has launched today.  It contains key information about the game’s  many features: like its comprehensive tutorial mode (designed to allow players to learn without a rulebook) or its realistic 3D buildings of different types. As we get closer to launch, I’ll be adding more details about the game as well as updating the art and design elements as they develop.

If you aren’t already subscribed to this blog, you can sign-up there to get notified when the Kickstarter launches.  The campaign is the due to launch in the Autumn of 2018.