My first Kickstarter blew past my expectations, and really stretched my beliefs.
It’s a Victorian Steampunk themed modular tabletop terrain system that I hoped I’d be able to sell $1,000 – $2,000 worth of on Kickstarter.
The campaign ended up selling just over $17,000 worth in 30 days, and it totally blew my mind how much support the terrain system got and how much fun it was to go through the process.
With the design, marketing and funding phases of the Kickstarter now completed, I’m now in the production phase which actually gives me quite a bit of time to think about potential future Kickstarter campaigns I might want to do.
The reason why is because unlike the design and marketing phases of the Kickstarter which really required a very active, and mentally focused effort on my part, the production phase really just involves me spending time in my laser workshop for 10-12 hours a day, and the majority of that time is spent waiting for the laser cutting and engraving process to complete for each sheet of MDF, in between swapping and sorting sheets.
The cool thing is that this affords me some time during this production phase to think about and plan out my future Kickstarter projects.
One project that I’ve been dreaming about and wanted to launch for years and years now is my own miniatures game with my own line of miniatures.
I’ve been researching and quite frankly daydreaming / fantasizing about this for years, but it wasn’t until I saw the support that my current Kickstarter received that really made me start thinking that it might be time to stop daydreaming and to start making it a reality.
Why I Delayed Pursuing This Dream in the Past
Creating my own miniatures game has been a dream of mine for a long time, but I’ve put it off until now for a number of reasons which I think some of you might able to relate to.
I know that I’m not the only tabletop gamer out there who dreams about creating their own miniatures game. It’s a dream that quite a few of us have, but most of us quickly dismiss it once we do enough research to realize the actual scope and magnitude of taking on such a project.
I’ve looked into the viability of launching a project like this in the past a few times but as soon as I did even just a bit of in-depth research I ran into some road blocks which put the idea on hold.
In fact, this is what happens to most people who want to create a miniatures game. At first the idea sounds awesome, exciting and like a lot of fun to explore, but most people never get the project past the idea phase.
Well, part of the reason is because creating your own miniatures game requires a massive investment of time, money and energy to execute on that idea.
On the surface, it appears that the tabletop miniatures gaming model could be quite lucrative. I can’t count how many times I’ve been to a local gaming store and overheard people discussing how much money Games Workshop must be “raking in” based on the prices they charge.
Visions of Scrooge McDuck swimming in a vault of gold coins enter their minds as they look at a boxes of miniatures priced at $80 and think to themselves “There’s what?… $10 in plastic here? They must be making a killing on this stuff!!!”
In reality though, a careful study of the GW annual report paints a totally different picture. All of a sudden, the fantasy of what on the surface may seem like an “ultra lucrative” business model starts to now be overshadowed by the reality behind running a miniatures company and all the expenses associated with it.
Of course Games Workshop is not the only player in town. There are dozens of tabletop gaming companies out there, but I mention Games Workshop because they’re one of the oldest, most established companies and because they are publicly traded which means we get a glimpse at what their financials look like.
Although management philosophies vary from company to company, I’d venture a guess that for the most part, most tabletop miniatures companies have similar financials albeit just not as big as Games Workshop.
But let’s put all of that aside for a moment.
Let’s assume that once a tabletop gaming company reaches a certain point in growth and size there is enough money to be made for the company to not only survive but to thrive in the current economy.
The first and biggest challenge is not so much in how to manage a company of that size and to keep it sustainable and growing.
The first and biggest challenge lies in actually GETTING THERE in the first place and the biggest challenge with that is what I’ll refer to as the “Chicken / Egg Factor” in this tabletop gaming market of ours.
The Chicken / Egg Factor
What do I mean by the “Chicken / Egg Factor”?
The “Chicken and Egg” factor is simply this…
Tabletop Gaming Market Reality #1 (The Chicken Factor)
In order for a tabletop miniatures game company to be able to afford to launch a successful miniatures game, it needs the support of the tabletop gaming community to actually “buy into” that game and the miniatures range on a large enough scale for it to be viable.
Coming up with a concept for a game, the “fluff”, the rules and a unique game play experience, and then designing the miniatures, creating sketches, sculpts and producing a line of miniatures, as well as all the other aspects of producing a game adds up to a LOT of up-front expenses, and it doesn’t matter whether you then sell 10,000 copies, 1,000 copies, 100 copies or 1 copy of the game – those up front expenses are still there.
Meaning, when producing a game, there are certain up-front expenses that have to be met which can cost tens of thousands of dollars or more in addition to the cost of actually manufacturing the actual miniatures in whatever quantity that is sold and it doesn’t matter whether you sell ONE copy of a game or ONE THOUSAND copies of that game, those up front expenses still have to be paid.
Gaming companies with an already established client base and distribution channels know that when they put up the up-front costs of producing an expansion pack to their existing game, those up-front costs will be covered by the volume of sales that they generate.
Launching a game from scratch, however, you have no idea whether a thousand, ten thousand or even if even ONE person will buy your game.
Now of course things like Kickstarter have been a huge help in helping new companies to bridge that gap, but even getting a concept for a game to the point of it being ready for a Kickstarter launch can be very expensive…
… and there is no guarantee that you’ll ever recover any of those costs because that is where “The Egg” factor comes in…
Tabletop Gaming Market Reality #2 (The Egg Factor)
The “Egg Factor” in tabletop gaming is simply this…
Most people will only part with their hard-earned money and actually spend money on a game IF the following are true:
- IF the game is already proven to be successful in the community overall
- IF the game already has an established player base that is LOCAL to that player
- IF the game is unique and different enough to warrant them spending money on IT as opposed to a game they’re already playing
In other words, for the most part, even if people are excited about a game and it’s miniatures and think it could be awesome, they don’t buy in right away and instead WAIT for a bunch of other people to buy in first.
The challenge with that is that while THEY are waiting for everyone else, everyone else is waiting for THEM!
Hence the “Chicken and Egg” reference.
A new tabletop miniatures gaming company needs a large enough buy-in from players up front to make the economics work in terms of producing a game without going bankrupt in the process (The Chicken Factor), and most players don’t really want to spend their money up-front even if the game and the miniatures are awesome, because they’re waiting to see if everyone else buys in first so that they have a bunch of people to play against (The Egg Factor).
What This Means From a Business Perspective
What this basically means is that even though the idea of launching your own tabletop miniatures gaming company sounds awesome, fun and exciting, from the business perspective it’s a very risky business model with a lot of challenges that have to be overcome in order to get the idea off the ground.
In fact, I’d venture a guess and say that most business analysts would look at the idea of launching your own tabletop miniatures gaming company as too risky and not worth the hassle based on a purely “logical” analysis of the model.
And this is precisely why such an idea remains nothing more than a dream for the vast majority of people, with only a handful of companies that successfully pulled it off in the last 30 years.
I applaud each and every single one of them for overcoming the odds and breaking through into the market despite the “Chicken and Egg” factor.
So what made these companies different?
How did they overcome the odds?
From my research and understanding, the main differentiating factor between those companies that succeeded and those which didn’t or didn’t even bother attempting comes down to one thing…
… PASSION to make their dream come true, and the support of the community.
I don’t care if you’re talking about Games Workshop, or Privateer Press, or Corvus Belli or CMON or Wyrd or any of the other tabletop gaming companies that have made it – the driving factor behind all of their successes comes down to the PASSION the founders of these companies had for their dream of creating a tabletop gaming company, and the support that they received from the community.
They beat the odds and overcame the “Chicken and Egg Factor” because their passion was bigger than the challenges that they had to overcome, and because the tabletop gaming community rallied behind that passion and supported each of those companies when they needed it most.
Building on Passion
Even though I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 20 years now and have quite a bit of experience in building successful businesses, the main reason why I want to build a tabletop miniatures gaming company is because I have a passion for it, not because I think it’s the easiest and most lucrative business model to pursue.
I have some of my own ideas on how to overcome the “Chicken and Egg Factor” and I’m looking forward to the challenge.
I don’t think for one second that it’s going to be easy competing in a marketplace where the big companies have a huge advantage over anyone just starting out, due to the their access to resources like manpower and money, as well as due to the support of the tabletop community and their already established player base – BUT I think it will be a fun challenge to see if I can do it.
As crazy as the idea may sound looking at it purely from a “logical” business perspective, I think that fueled by a passion and a dream, and with proper planning, a lot of patience, a crap-load of hard work, and the support from the tabletop gaming community, I may just be able to pull this off.
The worst case scenario would be that I try and fail miserably, losing a lot of time, energy, and money in the process, and not getting the support from the community that will be needed to get the project off the ground. That is definitely a possibility.
But hey, as an entrepreneur, betting on myself and my crazy ideas is what I’ve been doing for over 20 years now, and so far it’s paid off. Even when I’ve failed (so many times), I’ve always learned something and leveraged what I learned into success later on.
Sharing My Journey
When I decided to start working on this project, investing my time, energy and money into it, one decision I knew I needed to make was how much of this journey I should share with the world.
Meaning, traditionally when someone decides to create a new miniatures game or project, they keep everything top secret and “hush hush” until the big reveal when the game is ready for launch.
A few details might be shared here and there and a few teasers might be leaked out to generate interested before an official launch, but for the most part people keep everything hidden from public view.
The reasons behind keeping everything “hush hush” are very valid, as most people are afraid of having their ideas stolen or copied with a few minor differences by another company which has bigger resources at their disposal to execute on those ideas faster.
Also, there’s something to be said about a big reveal where something is already at the “OMG that looks awesome!” stage of the creation process, as opposed to releasing information over a period of time as the development process unfolds.
I think both angles have their advantages and disadvantages and I think it’s a gamble either way.
If you DO share more information during the development process, you can get feedback from the community and gauge support for the game early on and as it develops. If you can make the process interesting and fun, you can get people invested in your project mentally and emotionally long before the game is even ready for release, which can be a great benefit when the game actually launches.
However, you do open yourself up to scrutiny, criticism, idea and concept thieves, which could negatively affect your enthusiasm for developing a game, as compared to just keeping things “hush hush”.
The other downside to being to open about your project and getting community feedback is that it is completely impossible to take everyone’s ideas and implement them into your project. Everyone loves to offer feedback, suggestions and their opinions, but in most cases those ideas don’t fit within the overall vision of the entire project itself.
Also, in a lot of situations, people’s ideas conflict and contradict each other, and for the most part, everyone maintains a strong belief that THEIR idea is the best idea in such a situation. So then, what ends up happening is that even if you DO take such an idea and implement it into your project because it DOES fit within the overall vision you have in your mind, as you implement that idea and make that ONE person happy because you listened to their opinion/idea, you are simultaneously rejecting all the other people who had the exact opposite in mind.
When I was working on the designs and stretch goals for my last Kickstarter, as an example, I would receive emails, private messages and comments from people who sometimes wanted the complete opposite of what another person was suggesting.
And of course in some situations there were people who wanted the same thing, but that thing didn’t fit in with the vision I had for the overall project. So in situations like these, that “community feedback” can be very distracting and it’s not always easy to effectively communicate to someone that their idea is valid and great, or that their idea stinks, or that their idea might be great but just not for your project, without that person feeling rejected.
I mean, just imagine taking 100 Star Wars fans, locking them in a room and asking them to come up with an idea for what should happen in the next Star Wars movie. GOOD LUCK getting even a few of them to agree on one thing. You’ll have 100 people with 100 different ideas, and all of them convinced that THEIR idea is the best idea. 🙂
Essentially you inadvertently create the “too many chefs in the kitchen syndrome”.
So the on the other side of that coin, if you DON’T share too much information besides maybe a teaser, you can keep the “too many chefs in the kitchen syndrome” out of the picture, you can keep critics out of your energy field and allow your idea to incubate long enough to produce something exciting to then finally be ready to be revealed and shared with the world once it’s all ready to go.
However, the down side of this is that you are then developing something with no feedback at all, essentially in a “vacuum” which is your own mind and imagination, which might end up meaning that when your idea finally is revealed it could either be totally brilliant or a complete FLOP. In either case, by the time you learn which of those things it is, you’ve already gone past the point of no return in terms of investing time, energy and capital into making it a reality so you’ll most likely just try to PUSH the game into the market regardless whether or not it’s a flop or not.
As you can tell, I’ve thought about all this quite a bit.
So what’s the best option?
The Early Adopters Tribe
Earlier on I stated that one of the biggest challenges of creating your own game is what I called the “Chicken and Egg Syndrome”.
I stated that what this syndrome basically means is that for a game to launch successfully it needs the support of a large enough group of tabletop gamers to make it viable to produce the game in the first place – AND – that MOST tabletop gamers will not support a game until it is already successful.
If this is true, then how can it be possible to launch a successful game?
Well, what I said is that MOST tabletop gamers will not buy into a game until later on, once the game is already successful, BUT that doesn’t mean that EVERYONE falls into that category.
There is a group of tabletop gamers out there, who are the “Early Adopters and Supporters Tribe” of our tabletop gaming community.
These people are the free-thinkers, the ones who are willing to take a risk on a new game that they think is awesome and to support a project right from the start regardless whether it eventually becomes a mass-scale success or not.
They’re the people who are willing to invest in a great concept and a great line of miniatures because they want to MAKE it successful with their support, instead of just waiting to see what the rest of the crowd does.
They’re happy to own the first release of a game even if all that it becomes is a cult classic they can enjoy with their friend.
Of course if the game does become successful and accepted by the rest of the masses of tabletop gamers, the “Early Adopters and Supporters Tribe” can take great pride in knowing that they were right there in the beginning, as the founding members and supporters of a game which later became a huge success.
I consider myself a member of this tribe, and am just as likely to spend my hard earned money into a brand new game that looks awesome that is just being launched and has hardly any supporters, as I am to spend it on a game that’s been around for 30+ years.
The reason I decided to write this Blog post and to start sharing my journey of developing my own game and line of tabletop miniatures is because I want to connect with others who are also a part of this tribe.
If you too consider yourself a part of this tribe, I want to offer you a front-row seat in seeing exactly how I go through this process of creating a game from scratch, as I think that maybe one day, if it is a dream of yours as well, learning from some of the successes and failures that I will share here on my Blog could help you to launch your own game as well.
At the very least, you’ll get a front row seat at seeing a game develop from concept to actual reality, which I know for me is always something I find completely fascinating.
If you consider yourself a part of this “Early Adopters and Supporters Tribe“, and you want to follow my journey, I’d recommend signing up for my free newsletter (fill out the form below) , as well as hitting the LIKE button on my Facebook page (click here) so that you are notified of future blog posts and updates on this topic.
And in the meantime, I welcome your questions, comments and suggestions in the comments below.
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