Welcome to [Kick It], where we chat with developers and creators about their Kickstarter projects.
Today we’re talking with David Sirlin, of Sirlin Games, about his Kickstarter for Pandante.
If the name Sirlin sounds familiar, that’s because David has been a major contributor to both the tabletop and video game scenes; and he is known for his work on Fantasy Strike, Streetfighter HD Remix, and his famous book Playing to Win.
Because David had a ton to say about both Pandante and about the Kickstarter process, I’ve broken this interview into two separate articles. Part one, which is more specifically about the game itself, can be found here.
After the Kickstarter campaign, what will be your next steps?
SR: “I’ve already done a lot of work with manufacturing, but there still are a few more things to work out with final proofs. Basically boring administrative stuff. In the background, I’ve been working on getting beta releases ready for physical card and print-and-play versions of new Yomi decks AND of Codex. So after Pandante‘s Kickstarter ends, I’ll get back to getting those fully ready. And I think the iOS version of Yomi should be coming out around then too, not sure.
If the Kickstarter fails, what will happened? Are there any contingency plans?
SR: “If for some reason the Kickstarter fails, I would still produce the basic version of Pandante. It would just mean we don’t get to have the cool poker chip version. The most dangerous possible outcome is not even failure though, it’s if we only barely succeed. Actually, the costs involved in making this luxury version happen are SUBSTANTIALLY higher than the stated goal. So, basically I will be putting in a lot of my own money if we only go a bit over the funding level. That could be super bad for me, and I might have set the goal way too low, but I just really wanted this luxury version to exist. Let’s hope it doesn’t bankrupt me.
Can you describe your interaction with the Kickstarter process?
SR: “I think I started setting up the campaign almost 3 months ahead of time. There are just so many details. Just getting all the art and graphic design ready for the MANY elements and images was a big undertaking. There’s also the logistics of working out manufacturing and shipping ahead of time. I don’t like the idea of offering any commitment to people unless I have all that stuff already figured out. It would be too nerve-wracking to owe everyone stuff and be scrambling to figure out manufacturing or shipping, so I do a lot of preparation.
“I think I started setting up the campaign almost 3 months ahead of time.”
I guess my description of setting it was just…keep filling in more pieces of the puzzle, one by one, for about 2 or 3 months until it was all there.
What advice would you give developers and creators aspiring to use Kickstarter?
SR: “Kickstarter is a huge amount of work. It might just be way more work than you realize. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, but it means you have to plan for that. Like I said above, manufacturing and shipping is a big deal and it can kill your entire project unless you sort it out, THEN base your costs on that. I’d also say that building an audience ahead of time is a big advantage. If you have anyway of doing that, do it.
What do you think makes a successful Kickstarter campaign?
SR: “I have to say some bad things, so I want to start with a good thing just to be clear. It’s great that Kickstarter exists and I’m thankful for it as a creator and as a customer. The bad news is that “a good product” is not really what makes a successful Kickstarter. I mean we all want to have a good product, but other factors really overwhelm that. I’ll cover two such factors, one as old as time and the other a newer thing.
First, it’s all about marketing. Marketing, marketing, marketing. I wish it wasn’t. I wish it was about how good your product was. But seriously, you need to spend on marketing efforts. I’ve had to shift into this mode where I hardly do any game development and only do marketing stuff, and it’s just frustrating to me.
You need to post on social media and get other people to do that too. You need to write articles, post pictures, get mentioned in every possible news feed you can. You need to do interviews like the one I’m doing now. You need to interact with the Kickstarter backers, and with the forum posters on several different sites. You probably need to pay for ads. Paying a lot for them might be good.
Even though it’s almost all I’m doing right now, and thankfully I have a least a little bit of help from fans and volunteers, I feel like it’s not even close to enough. Giving it my 100% is like 10x less marketing than I’d like, at least. I don’t make these rules, and if I did, I wouldn’t make them this way, but the truth is: marketing, marketing, marketing.
“You need to write articles, post pictures, get mentioned in every possible news feed you can.”
Ok, there’s a second thing that in some ways is even worse news than marketing thing. Spending a ton of time on marketing as an indie developer can indirectly make your product worse because it takes time away from development, but this next issue can DIRECTLY make your product worse if you aren’t careful.
Here’s the summary: the most elegant possible board game in the world would be a terrible Kickstarter project. You’d hope that the most elegant possible board game capable of lasting 1000 years or something would be the most successful Kickstarted project ever. But I think it would be struggle to even get funded. An elegant game has nothing extra, nothing that didn’t need to be there. It’s a complete thing.
Ok, now let’s make a successful Kickstarter product. It needs to be as incomplete as possible. It needs to have the maximum number of pieces possible, lots of non-essential pieces. That way we can can sell a low-cost version, then have like 100 different ways you can spend more to add more pieces. Ideally, tons of these are stretch goals, too. The project creator needs “two dimensions” of extras: one set of things for stretch goals and a second set of thing that higher and higher rewards tiers get. “Here is my one game, there is only one thing to buy, that’s it, it doesn’t need anything more,” would be some kind of joke thing on Kickstarter. Even though it’s exactly what would make a good product, in my opinion. But everyone would say there aren’t stretch goals so it’s not worth it.
Pandante is a very elegant and small game. So it was at risk to be that game that is really good, but that completely fails on Kickstarter. So as you can see, I have “played the Kickstarter game” somewhat here. Instead of developing Yomi and Codex, I stopped and designed posters and art prints and promotional Yomi decks and so on. I had to carefully plan out at least a few stretch goals, mostly it’s about the stretch goal for the extra kind of chip though. What I’m doing with extra rewards and stretch goals is waaaaaaay less than most successful Kickstarters are doing though. To really fully “play the game” I would have gone way further. I just did what I had to to survive here and try to make the deluxe version happen.
Anyway, those are frustrating things to me. That so much time has to be spent on marketing and also on creating as many extra pieces as you can. That’s just what you have to do, though. As a last thought on that, Dan Yarrington of Game Salute said something interesting to me. He said that the whole kickstarter thing is just getting more and more extreme with extras and stretch goals. It’s such a burden on game makers who want to make actual games instead, so he bets there’s a demand amongst game makers to have a new platform that is JUST for pre-orders. Something like: “Hey, I want to print this new board game. If we get 1000 people to pre-order, we’ll have the money to print it. And if we don’t we don’t and you’ll get your money back. That’s it!” Amen to that. I told him to make that platform and I’d be his first customer.
“Kickstarter does a lot of good, and has done well for me as a creator and customer.”
Oh, and I know he’d include a reasonable way to collect shipping money from international customers. It’s amazing that Kickstarter still has no reasonable interface for this, still project creators have to tell various different regions to manually enter different amounts for shipping. There also isn’t a reasonable way to offer like 3 add-ons and say “click the checkboxes for the particular ones you want.” It’s kind of baffling that such a successful platform is missing basic functionality like charging for international shipping or choosing which extras from a list when it’s so long after the platform launched.
Even with all that, Kickstarter does a lot of good, and has done well for me as a creator and customer.”
If you were to redo the Kickstarter, what would you change?
SR: “I gave it my all, and did the best I could. I don’t really know what to do differently.”
That about wraps us up, any thing else you’d like to add?
SR: “Just a plea for people to check out the luxury version of Pandante. And a reminder that beta Yomi decks and beta Codex materials will be coming somewhat soon after, at least I hope!”
End of Part Two
And that is the end of part two of my interview. Part one of the interview can be found here and contains commentary about Pandante itself and the inspiration behind this unique game. I want to, again, extend a warm thanks to David Sirlin for taking the time to answer my questions! If you are looking for more details about the game you can visit the Pandante Kickstarter page, or visit the website. Keep track of the development of Pandante by following David on Twitter @Sirlin or on Facebook.
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