Non-Kickstarter: Going Back to the Drawing Board

Person at Drawing Board

We’re back online after a respite from the intensity of Kickstarter (and the whole family getting sick in the middle of it). The Kickstarter didn’t go very far, but I was warned by fellow game designers that if the Kickstarter doesn’t go well in the first few days, it is hard to get it back on track. The Kickstarter wasn’t a bad experience: I learned more about marketing Tox in a month than I would have in half a year (or more), as well as generating a lot of great materials, including:

So it’s been a very productive time, even if it didn’t result in funding professional illustration for a full-length RPG book.

What Didn’t Work

Going into the Kickstarter, we had two major assets: 5,000 Facebook likes and a local gaming convention at the start of the Kickstart. We had hoped that, between a large audience interested in Tox and the opportunity to do lots of local word of mouth, we’d get enough early momentum. As it turns out, there’s a pretty big gulf between someone liking your product and getting them to take the next step… and it was a much slower year for roleplayers at the Pacificon, so that momentum didn’t materialize.

Feedback for Round 2

Most of our backers didn’t actually come from the Google+ communities that we participate in or Facebook followers… they browsed into the RPG site via Kickstarter. So it turns out that focusing on the Kickstarter content would have been more successful than our many efforts to drive large volumes of people to the page. Specifically, the advice I received was:

  • Have a high-quality intro video before launch.
  • Don’t worry about the details so much. Most people want the general impression of the game more than specific rules or examples around how it works.
  • Replace copy with images or diagrams. Again, people just don’t want to read a lot.

The Future of Tox

The playtesting feedback for Tox has been very positive so far: it has a unique take on powers, allows for very unique/customized characters, and makes easier for GMs and players alike to tell an exciting, character-driven story. We don’t believe the non-Kickstarter was a failure of the product, but it’s clear our marketing skills are lagging behind our product development skills. We plan on improving our marketing in both the short term and the long term.

Short-Term Plans

  • We’ve set up a schedule for high-quality content: releasing settings, storylines, and characters for Tox.
  • Be more conscientious about how we build connections within the RPG community. We have FB groups, we belong to several Google communities, but we need to think more strategically about how to make Tox more visible.

Medium-Term Plans

  • We’re going to pair-down the Demo (currently, we’re offering most of our Gifts + Tox types, with all 5 levels). The future demo will be smaller, with few Gifts and Tox types, and only include descriptions of powers up to level 3.
  • Simultaneously, we’ll go ahead and create a version 1 of Tox RPG. Since the Kickstarter didn’t get funded, art will be limited to the 9 characters already commissioned and the volume will be slimmer. The first edition will be light on examples, equipment, pre-made stories/settings, GM advice, alternate rules, and guidelines for how to create custom settings… however, it will have all the stats & rules needed to play the game and enough examples to get you started. You’ll be able to check the blog for example characters, settings, and resources.

Long-Term Plans

  • At some point, when we go for an illustrated 2nd edition, we will run another Kickstarter campaign. We’ll wait until we see a lot more engagement on our blog or communities, and we’ll do a lot more video planning. We’ll also do a lot more visual planning of the page itself: fewer words, more pictures.
  • As a backup or alternative, we might look into other ways to fund the art for the Kickstarter. Because the art is by far the most expensive piece of creating an RPG book, and because we have a lot of the writing, layout, and copy-editing skills in-house, finding another method to acquire or commission art would allow us to skip the Kickstarter completely. However, the Kickstarter was such a helpful learning experience that I see Varza kickstarting games in the future.

Onwards and upwards!

2500 Likes! Sneak peak of Kickstarter Art!

Wizard character concepts

We’re very excited at Varza Games to be getting our 2500th like on Facebook.  People are really interested the concept of our core Legendary RPG concept: characters with highly customizable powers that trigger equally customizable weaknesses.  We’re right on track for launching a Kickstarter this summer for a lusciously illustrated Legendary RPG core book.  As a reward for our many supporters, we thought we would give you a sneak peak on the Kickstarter art we’re commissioning!

We’ve been working with illustrator Randy Hagmann, and it’s been a wonderful collaboration.  Legendary is a game that can create all types of characters in all types of genres, so we’re working hard to convey the widest variety we can on our our art budget.  We’ve commissioned 3 sets of characters: 1 fantasy set, 1 modern set, and 1 sci-fi set.

Goals for Legendary RPG Art

Our goals for the art have been:

  1. The characters are larger-than-life heroes as befits a game called Legendary RPG.
  2. The character art tells a story about a character’s personality, powers, and weaknesses.
  3. Be as diverse as possible: different character types, personalities, genders, races, ages, etc.  This is a game for any character and any player!

The Artistic Process

Meg started us off.  Since she’s a fan of logic problems, she worked out how we might get the most diversity our of 3 sets of 3 characters.  She considered things like how to maximize diversity in gender, race, character mood, and character role/class across all 9 individual characters, in addition to trying to balance each set of 3.  Then Alec worked with Randy to come up with loose character concepts, for example.  Here’s an example some of the initial thoughts Alec sent.

Left: black male wizard.  Strong physique.  Arcane lightning wrapped around one hand, ready to throw it… but also covered in scorch marks (possibly standing on a large scorch mark).

Middle: white female, elf paladin.  Attractive, dressed for battle (something more practical than chain mail bikini please!), tired and sore, but heroically defiant/determined. A few different options for her: an arrow sticking out of an Achilles heal, some kind of imp nipping at her heals, or maybe she’s lofting a torch that’s casting ominous shadows.

Right: gypsy dwarf (or Satyr?) female. Very curvy but very confident.  Throwing a pair of (enchanted?) dice with a smirk, oblivious to an ominous black cat crosser her path.

Notice a lot of room for interpretation, or different options for characters?  This is were Randy brought in quite a bit of artist license and visual story telling to flesh out the characters with his own creative flair.  You can see this in his initial sketches:

Wizard character concepts Paladin character concepts. Fortune maker character concepts

Having to choose only one version was really hard.  For example, the shamanic version A of the wizard has a very different look and personality than the sorcerous, levitating version B, but both make excellent legendary characters!  We also really liked the Ursula-esque gypsy B, but we thought that the playful, roguish satyr A added an important contrast in mood from the wizard and paladin.  The Paladin was easier for Meg and I to choose; we loved all of them, but there was just something extra epic about the over-sized stag gardbrace/ornament on Paladin C that we couldn’t stop looking aware.

The stag ornament is the  a great example of Randy’s story telling.  At Varza, we deliberately pick weird mixtures of characters Elf-paladins in heavy armor, buff mages, fortune tellers both controlling the dice and cursed by ill-omens.  Despite our strange requests, intended to show case the customizability of Legendary RPG, Randy fuses these strange elements into a coherent character.  The elf may have forsaken the daintier elf stereotypes of archers, rogues, and wizards.  However, she keeps the memory of her forest elf heritage alive in her own way: an oversized metal stag head on her heavy armor.  There’s a back story crying out to be written, thanks to Randy’s artistry.

Anyway, after we’re done oogling at Randy’s rough illustrations for far too long, we pass along our choices and some small clarifications (if any!).  Randy gets back to us in record time with the beautiful, full color illustration.  For this first set we commissioned a couple different versions of the background, to figure out how to present present the characters on a Kickstarter page.

Fantasy Characters for Kickstarter, Final Illustration

Legendary fantasy character: wizard, paladin, rogue.

What’s next, you ask?

Marie, our social media guru, is helping Alec work on character backstories and world building for the fantasy characters, which may make their way into the core book as an example story setting.

Randy has drawn up the roughs of the sci-fi characters, and Alec and Meg are drooling over them.  Trying hard to select just one version of a character.

Alec is coding up the alpha version of The Deal, the ‘lite’ version of the Legendary RPG that can be played from character creation to story completion in one evening.

Gaming Goals for the New Year

People watching fireworks

Welcome to the New Year!

As a young business, we’re constantly making, evaluating, and updating our goals, and the New Year is as good a time as any to reflect on our goals and our methods.

2015 RPG Development Accomplishments

Last year was a great year for Varza.  Legendary RPG has been in the making for 3 years, but 2015 was the year we kicked into high gear:

  • We play tested Legendary extensively with friends and strangers, in homes and at conventions, with veteran RPG players and novices
  • We went through 3 major iterations of the rules covering pretty much all the stats
  • We went through 2 iterations of a character sheet that not only helps you keep track of points spent, but provides you with all of the stat descriptions inside the app itself
  • We started Varza games and built our website
  • Talking with artists and illustrators
  • Our Facebook community started growing by hundreds per week

2015 Learning

We’ve also met several of our goals for learning and improving.

  • Connecting with other RPG designers and publishers at conventions and on social media
  • Reading The Willpower Instinct – love this book on boosting productivity!  Some take aways: the power of starting small daily goals rather than starting big, the importance of key habits like getting sufficient sleep, exercise, and meditation, and the important distinctions between anticipating rewards and actually receiving them.
  • Reading Hamlet’s Hitpoints – a fascinating, scene based analysis of what keeps an audience engaged in 3 classic tales.  Take aways: some ideas for a story planning app for game masters!
  • Organizing our goals and tasks with Trello

2016 RPG Development Goals

We’ve got ambitious goals for the next year to keep up our momentum:

  • Release an app called ‘The Deal’ based on a Legendary-lite rules system.  The Deal is designed to be played from character creation to finish in a couple of hours, and make it easy for new roleplayers and game masters to try out roleplaying
  • Updating the Legendary RPG rules, including streamlining the customization of powers
  • Prepping for a Legendary RPG Kickstarter mid-year, and for publishing the Legendary RPG core book!

Just like a Kickstarter, we’ve got a few stretch goals, including more app development:

  • Improvements to the character app that make playing easier: better hints and guides for play, a stat-aware, in-app die roller, quick total armor and attack stats
  • App for play, allow the host (and optionally players) quick access to other player’s stats and status
  • App to help game masters plan compelling stories and manage game resources

2016 Learning Goals

We’re still forming our learning goals for the year! Here are a few ideas:

  • Interviews with RPG designers, publishers, and artists we admire
  • Perusing the usual suspects in the productivity book lists. Favorites, anyone?
  • Creating an combined RSS feed of our favorite RPG bloggers (like The Angry GM)

New Intro to Legendary RPG Video, RPGs and Relationships

A still from the title sequence of a video about Legendary RPG.

In a personal/professional milestone, I have published my first video blog: an introduction to Legendary RPG. The video is designed to give new players an overview of what tabletop roleplaying games are, what makes them so fun, and how Legendary RPG is the first step in my mission to bring roleplaying games to a wider audience.

I acknowledge that this was an awkward first attempt at finding my video blogging voice, but I’m happy with the outcome. What I like about the video blog format is that reaching out through video feels like a closer relationship to my audience than writing words on a page.  Video blogging is a much more personal form of communication, including body language and tone, which makes for a closer relationship.  Filming and editing the video blog served to remind me that relationships will be a key part of developing, marketing, and playing Legendary RPG.

Relationships are hugely important in roleplaying in general.  Most people are guided into the hobby by a patient family member or friend.  Also, roleplayers tend to form long-term friendships around their games, since play involves constant conversation, and a series of games can last for years with the same players and characters.  For me, this is one of the main attractions of RPGs; the games are fun, but in addition to the creative buzz you get from playing them, they also foster interaction and relationships like few other pass times.

Of course, in some ways, the size of the RPG community has been limited by hobby’s reliance on personal relationships as the sole marketing/sales model… but that’s another blog.  Stay tuned for a post on why RPGs remain a small, niche market despite being crazy fun.