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Magnate My Kickstarter Diary

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

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

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

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

Why have you set-up Naylor Games LLC?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Dave!

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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.

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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

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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.

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