How we made the Naylor Games logo

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

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

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

Why now?

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

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

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

What can a good logo do?

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

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

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

What was the process?

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

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

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

Why this design?

Now comes the part where I could look very silly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magnate My Kickstarter Diary

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

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

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

Exactly how wrong I was

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

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

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

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

So. much. typing.

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

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

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

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

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

If only it were made of bytes… rather than cardboard

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

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

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

“Err then don’t DO it?”

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

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

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

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

Maybe this blogpost just became a jobpost…

Image: paperwork by Camilo Rueda López

Magnate My Kickstarter Diary

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

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

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

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

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

Why so loooooooong James?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Header image: “Time is Money” by Tax Credits

Magnate My Kickstarter Diary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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