Trying to define my goals for Teratozoic

I’ve been thinking about this part of the problem for a long time, now. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, probably several times if you also follow me on Facebook, Facebook, and/or Twitter. I need to know what my goals are for this project. What I’m trying to achieve. How I’ll define success. (How I’ll know when I’m done.) I still don’t have it all nailed down.

Barring selling the game to a publisher, which is an avenue down which I am not likely to travel very far, I certainly have no intentions of pursuing traditional distribution into retail. The complications, expenses, frustrations, and challenges of dealing with distributors, retailers, or even with the scale of manufacturing (above and beyond any pre-sales/KS-sales) required to satisfy a supply chain are not something I want in my life. At most, I intend to have a POD version of the game remain available at DriveThruCards (with downloadable/printable instructions, and no box; DriveThru only prints cards), and (assuming a successful Kickstarter) to offer a small inventory of copies directly through modernevil.com—something in the range of: I’ll have to order ten or fifteen percent more copies than are backed for, in case of damage/loss/etc; any which remain after all copies have been shipped will be available for direct sales.

So why do a Kickstarter, at all? Well, because I’d like to include printed rules, and I’d like to package the game in a nice box, preferably printed. If I raise (at least) $1,000 I can afford to have 50 copies (read: At least 60 copies, in case of damage/loss/etc) of the cards, custom boxes, and nice rule sheets printed, I can assemble them myself, and I can afford to package and ship them (via USPS) to 50 different backers. For any number of copies sold between 50 and about 1,000 I’d be using the same suppliers/printers, doing the game-assembly (& shipping) personally, and have roughly the same (almost zero) profit margins. Since all but the most-popular new games (the top 15% or 20%) sell fewer than 500 copies, even with a wildly-successful Kickstarter that’s the range I expect to be in; the ‘hand-assembled craft-product with little-or-no profit’ range.

Since a key point I keep trying to explain to other people when they ask about how to succeed (or why they’re failing) at Kickstarting their projects is that you must bring the crowd with you to Kickstarter (they don’t provide the crowd, just the platform for transferring money from fans to creators), and I know that I don’t have an appropriately-large ‘crowd’/audience to know with any certainty that my project will fund at even as low as 50 copies, it is actually against my own advice to attempt to Kickstart Teratozoic.

At least, not now.

Not with 43 Facebook ‘Likes’ on my professional Page. Not with a mere 33 people opening the last email I sent my (still quite small, at 156 people) mailing list. If I saw someone posting about their failing/failed Kickstarter with numbers like those, I’d tell ‘em the same thing. You have to do something to reach enough* people, and you ought to do it before the Kickstarter goes live. Based on my Kickstarter history and my current reach, I wouldn’t expect Teratozoic to find more than 10 or 20 backers; 50 is an almost-ridiculous stretch, and the 1,000+ required to have a financially-profitable venture is genuinely-ridiculous. Ludicrous.
*Enough people to have no doubt you’ll reach your goal with only the people you bring on Day 1.

Which is why I’ve been planning on sending out dozens of preview copies to board/card-game reviewers; to put my game in front of their audiences, which are orders of magnitude larger than my own, and hope some percentage of those viewers decides to back Teratozoic based on what they see in the reviews. Which is, theoretically, an excellent idea, and a good way to ‘cast a wider net’. It’s also why I’ve been planning to demo the game at Phoenix Comicon, with as many people as I can wrangle into coming over, and at game stores around town over the next few months, to build ‘buzz’ and let more people know of the game’s existence. It’s why I’ve been planning on ordering and assembling dozens of additional promo copies, to give them away to people who would be willing to teach their own friends & gaming groups how to play, further spreading the word.

Except fuck me if the cost of the preview copies doesn’t push the costs so high my new break-even point is around 250 copies, instead of 50. (Or ~$750 to $1k in patronage, in advance of the Kickstarter. Don’t ask me to explain the math, but suffice it to say that $800 from 2 or 3 people who mostly want to support me (but maybe also want a painting) is worth a lot more than $4,000 from 200 people who each want a copy of the game.) Which means those reviews had better be good, and had better reach many thousands of people, because there’s no way at all my own network (even with as much local promotion as I could stand) would ever reach those numbers.

Which leads me, perhaps, to the idea of running a pre-Kickstarter Kickstarter (or off-KS crowdfunding campaign), to raise $800+ to pay for marketing of Teratozoic. Because if I could raise funds to cover the costs of marketing and development, then the actual Kickstarter for the game is much closer to reachable, at possibly as low as a $200 (instead of $5,000) goal without threatening the project’s viability. Hmm… Interesting thought. I could put up two or three tiers, say $50 in marketing support gets you a preview copy of the game, $100 gets you a preview copy of the game and a Plus Subscription, and $400 gets you a monster painting*, a preview copy of the game, and a Patron Plus Subscription. (Yeah, yeah, the last two are basically just the regular subscription prices.) If I run it through Gumroad on my own site I pay half as much in fees (~5%) to get the funds, and I get the funds whether or not I hit the goal, and I get them immediately, which would all be benefits over running an actual pre-Kickstarter. If successful, that would relieve a lot of the stress I’ve been under, in planning this thing.
*One of my planned tiers for the Teratozoic Kickstarter is $400 (plus Shipping) to have an original painting (up to ~24×36″) made of your favorite monster (from multiple cards, assembled) or monster part (from one card) from Teratozoic.

So. I think part of why I don’t drop the plans/hope to get reviews done & reach a wider-than-my-own audience with the Kickstarter is that I don’t just want to get the game made, and I don’t just want to get the game made with the nicest version I’m able to produce, but I want that nicest-version of the game to be bought and enjoyed by as many people as will/could enjoy it. Not just those among my 30 to 300 fans who would enjoy it, but as many as I can imagine and afford to reach. With a book, it’s cheap and easy to get it in the hands of thousands or tens of thousands of readers/listeners, by giving the digital versions away for free. And I plan to offer the digital/PnP version of Teratozoic for free, but there’s so much expense and effort in turning a PDF into a playable card game that it doesn’t reach nearly as many people. I write my books to be read and enjoyed, and I (apparently) design my games to be played and enjoyed. So I guess that’s an important part of my goals: Not to make money, or to have brick-and-mortar distribution (the reach is not worth the effort, to me; the only reason I can see to go that way is money, which I don’t directly desire), but to have a nice, complete version of my game made, and to get it into the hands of as many gamers as possible without going to too much trouble or getting too stressed. Success will be delivering those nice copies of the game to players, without having had too many anxiety attacks in the process, or going into more debt.

I think the pre-Kickstarter fundraiser may be the answer to that. I’ll start working on it, now.

Update: You can now directly acne easily financially support the marketing efforts of Teratozoic, as described; links are up at modernevil.com/teratozoic/.

Quick debt paydown update for 2014

So, as projected, our ability to pay down our debts has been significantly slowed by buying a house. Additionally (as also expected), my initial guesses at budgets weren’t all accurate and we’ve had to make a few adjustments here and there over the last year, generally by eating into the amount we’re overpaying our last credit card’s minimum payment. We’ve only just passed a year in the house, so I won’t know what our adjusted utility payments will be for another week or two; I prefer to use plans which balance out the payments for the entire year, so we don’t have crazy-high electric bills in the summer, but most utilities require a year’s usage data before they’ll sign you up. So, things may adjust around a bit more in our budget, further altering the following projections.

If you recall from my last debt pay-down update, due to buying a house and taking out a ~$100k mortgage last March our total debt went from ~$47k last January (after paying down $45k in balances between 3/2008 and 1/2013) to $142,723.88 as of closing on the house. One year later, our total debt balances stood at $138,557.51 – a reduction of $4,166.37, year over year. That was around $1230 off our last credit card, around $1166 off the student loans, and roughly $1769 of the principal on the mortgage. We also paid approximately $6740 in interest on that debt, about half of that on the mortgage.

As I said above, everything slipped a little, and I’ve got an adjustment in my spreadsheets for a predictable change in expenses coming up next year, so we’re currently projecting we’ll pay of that final credit card in early 2019, the student loans in late 2026, and the house at the end of 2034. Not exactly exciting news, but we’re still paying things down, and there is an end on the map, if not in sight. Certainly, we don’t want to be taking on any new debt in the near future. Buying a car or going back to school are not viable options in the next several years, for example, and would set back our ability to continue making headway by a significant margin. But maybe there’ll be some really nice, affordable electric cars on the market in 2019, right?

The Road to [somewhere] is…

So, I’m still hard at work on Teratozoic. I did a little play-testing and a moderate amount of calculation/maths this weekend & ended up revising the entire Era cards setup to better-balance the game against 1) going to 3 colors from the originally-designed 2, and 2) simultaneously adding support for up to 6 players from 4. (Actually originally 2, but that was many, many major revisions ago, now.) Ended up adding a 7th Era card, a new Era name (really re-named 5 Eras, but it’s mostly re-arranging names), and having to try to reconcile this with the fact that I ordered (effectively) 5 copies of the updated game from 3 printers last Wednesday. One printer let me change the cards, but put me at the back of their queue, another couldn’t change the existing order (but it was the one I was ordering 3 copies from) so I made a new order for just the 7 new cards (21 total cards in the new order, and shipping double the cost of printing). The third printer hasn’t gotten back to me, yet. Maybe I’ll call them tomorrow. So… things are advancing, I have more play-testing scheduled for next weekend, and [redacted] which was probably premature and has been stressing me out—I guess I’ll have my answer one way or another by Friday?

Paved With [my...] Intentions, a card game by Teel McClanahan III, from Modern Evil PressIn other news, which I broadcast on all my Facebook pages, I actually published my first game on March 6th. It’s called Paved With [my...] Intentions and it’s … a bit of an odd duck. It’s the third or fourth game I’ve designed with narrative being one of the central pillars of its design, in this case quite obviously and literally. Mechanically it begins as a quick card-drafting game—each player starts with a stack of cards, picks one, and passes the stack to the next player, receiving a new stack from the other direction and repeating until they have a full set. In this case a full set is one card in each color of the rainbow, plus white. (No, not indigo.) Then players take the cards they selected and arrange them into a straight line where each card covers half of the card below it—because each card (except the white ones, which are on top) is divided into two halves and each half has a distinct chunk of story (and a numerical value) on it, and players have to choose one half of each card to be part of their story. Finally, each player reads the story they built, out loud, to the group, and compares stories and scores.

If they’ve put their cards in the correct color-order, every possible combination of cards forms a grammatically and structurally-valid story (though many, many combinations are quite-intentionally surreal and/or disturbing), each one carefully crafted as a possibility by me when I was writing them. It occurred to me recently that with this game I jump from having a few dozen published stories to having almost eighteen million published stories: There are 17,915,904 valid story formations possible from the 42 story cards in the deck. (Some assembly required.) Realistically, there are only a little over a million stories which make sense for someone to play if they care about their score, because of the way I devised the scoring of each story chunk, but almost everyone who’s played it so far has agreed that the scoring is clearly secondary to the story-building. (They also seem to think it’s a blast to play. Almost everyone has quite enjoyed the stories I wrote for this game.) So I’m clearly going to go ahead and start describing myself as the author of over 17 million stories.

(And I’m currently in early development on another narrative card game which, based on my current concepts, would result in upping that number to “over 128 trillion stories”, though I expect that total to fluctuate wildly as I hammer out the details of the gameplay and write the narrative chunks.)

Here are some photos of the cards I took, for the product page:

Sample hand from Paved With [my...] Intentions, a card game by Teel McClanahan III, from Modern Evil Press

A sample hand

Card detail, drawn from the sample hand, from Paved With [my...] Intentions, a card game by Teel McClanahan III, from Modern Evil Press

Card detail, drawn from the sample hand

The first half of the instructions, with an example rainbow-layout in the background, from Paved With [my...] Intentions, a card game by Teel McClanahan III, from Modern Evil Press

The first part of the instructions, with an example rainbow-layout in the background.

Second part of the Instructions, with a sample lineup of cards in the background, from Paved With [my...] Intentions, a card game by Teel McClanahan III, from Modern Evil Press

The second part of the Instructions, with a sample lineup of cards in the background.

Did I forget to mention that the game is for adult/mature players only? “Contains elements of comedy, horror, working in an office, sexuality, religion, dreams, and nightmares.” Oh, and as you can see in the 2nd rules card, there’s one other mechanic which makes things more interesting: many of the story chunks have occurrences of “[my...]” which, during the reading of the story, will be replaced by the red phrase on the player’s chosen white card. This creates much more apparently-coherent storytelling from an otherwise random combination of sentences and sentence fragments.

So it’s quite an odd game. Very light, very quick, almost-surprisingly functional. I did roughly zero testing, designing it and ordering my copy within (I think) 48 hours. There’s no art, only graphic design. (The font selection and the colors used are very specifically chosen for this project—I custom mixed (with math) CMYK colors for the rainbow of cards to suit my intentions for the tone of the game.) I have no idea how to sell it, no expectations that there’s even an audience for it, but it turns out that’s one of the core concepts of my publishing company: Publishing the creations I wanted to create, not the ones I think the market wants to buy. So I put it up for sale via POD, ordered myself a copy (and a copy for each of my Plus Subscribers), and that was that. No attempts to raise funds for a print run to give myself stock I wouldn’t know how to sell, just put it out there, put up some links, and hope for the best. Depending on how I decide to account for Plus Subscriptions, exactly, it’s already profitable.

((Note: If you buy a Plus or Patron Plus Subscription before the end of March, a physical copy of Paved With [my...] Intentions is included in your subscription.))

I am definitely doing my best to resist the urge to do the same thing with the production and distribution of Teratozoic. Teratozoic, I think, is broadly marketable. Potentially difficult to learn the scoring of monsters for, but appealing to people of all ages and capabilities (re: gaming). I’m going to keep working on Teratozoic. Dumping it straight to POD-only is the last resort. (But certainly still counts as publishing it, of course!)

Developing games, and then bringing them to market

I’ve been spending most of my working/creative time for the last year on thinking about and developing tabletop games. (I actually started working on it fairly seriously over 18 months ago, but I definitely spent several months of the first half of 2013 working on Virtual Danger.) I’ve developed at least three fun, playable games in the last six months or so. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster.

Getting the ideas, developing the themes, working out the gameplay, designing the cards, crafting the prototypes, and then playing, improving, and refining the games is generally quite satisfying, fulfilling, and rewarding. It’s intrinsically good, for me. Throughout those parts of the process, I frequently get so caught up in the joy of the work that I lose hours, days, even weeks just totally consumed by the work. It’s actually really interesting to be almost-consciously-able to trigger something like a manic episode just by setting myself to work on a project I care about.

Then there’s the other side of these projects: Everything about bringing them to market. It’s a bit like poison.

On the first big project I put together last year, everything seemed to go smoothly until I got past a few good play-tests and began seriously considering what would be needed to take it to market—namely, coming up with art for all the cards. For my private-use prototype, I’d been using a bunch of images grabbed from around the web. A lot of fun and funny pop culture references and visual puns, but not a one which could lawfully be used in a commercial release or even a free distribution. The whole subject of modern Copyright law and how it applies to protect giant corporations from individuals is an injustice which upsets me greatly, and one which has shaped my entire life in ways I frequently despise. Correspondingly, attempting to approach the task of drawing (for the first time in many years, and after having never really put much time into illustration) several dozen pieces of card art for no other reason than that it was painfully expensive for me to pay for the photographs which better-suited the tone of the game (even just using stock photography would have been easier & better than the sort of art I’ve been able to imagine for the project, but would have cost many thousands of dollars in licensing fees—and forget about paying for custom photography!) made the whole process feel terrible. So terrible, in fact, that it made me question whether I were even an artist at all, as I wrote about.

But it turns out it wasn’t the art that was the problem, necessarily, but the reason for having to create the art. It was feeling forced by the laws, by the corporations, by the requirements of the market to create the art which poisoned the process for me. I wasn’t making the art for the cards because I wanted to, but because I felt I had to. That game will never see the light of day, now. The handful of people who got to play it are unique in the universe for their experience of it. I disassembled it and recycled it and moved on. It wasn’t worth doing things I didn’t want to do –several hundred hours of things– to try to take the game from a fun experience I shared with my close friends to a fun experience I shared with “the world”.

Ah, “the world”. What a thing. What an idea. The concept that by simply making something available on the open market (or even for free on the Internet), it’s been shared with “the world”. I’ve been publishing books for over a decade, now, I’ve got 19 discrete books out (not counting multiple editions, or eBook-only short stories), and I can tell you with certainty that sometimes “the world” can be counted on your fingers and toes. I can tell you that if there’s a cost for a thing (even just the cost of having to put in an email address), most of “the world” won’t share in what you have to offer. That game I was working on and quit would have retailed for $60 or more, and probably cost almost as much to print, as a print-and-play version—there were a lot of cards. It took me over a year to sell out of 50 copies of the Never Let the Right One Go hardcover, and it was a mere $35 (and relatively easy to market); to think I could sell my strange card game for almost twice as much is silly. The world can’t be bothered to show up. You have to take your idea to their door, not just open yours.

I’m barely comfortable opening my door for close friends; I’m certainly not one for going out into the world, trying to extoll strangers of the virtues of my creations. Did I mention I’m not going to be exhibiting at Phoenix Comicon, this year?

Anyway, I began steering my creative thought more in the direction of smaller games which would be more affordable to produce, cheaper to price, and more reasonable for people to simply download and print for themselves, and away from projects so large they would be infeasible to produce in smaller quantities. A lot of board game manufacturing relies on economies of scale, with minimum orders in the thousands. A few components (cards especially) can be produced on demand (just like all my physical books) in smaller quantities (usually as low as one, or sometimes as few as 18 cards, so they don’t waste the sheet), but for any truly unique components or, say, if you wanted your box to have one of those nice custom plastic inserts for keeping everything in order, one needs a good chunk of capital to even get off the ground. Around ten or fifteen thousand dollars for a board game without too many custom components is the typical floor. I don’t have that kind of money. I have no faith in my ability to drum up that sort of response to a Kickstarter; when I went so far as to ask for $1000 for Never Let the Right One Go, I managed to get $361 in pledges from 14 backers. Finding enough customers, ever, for a thousand copies of a game is beyond the scope of my capabilities. Coping with the realities of dealing with a distributor, even if I were making enough money thereby to pay their fees, currently feels like it would be beyond the scope of my capabilities, but that might just be my anxiety and insecurity talking. The bottom line here being: If I want my games to be played by anyone at all outside my own home/presence, I need to be able to manufacture them affordably in extremely low quantities.

So I focused more on smaller, card-based games. The next game idea I went anywhere with has gone much farther than the one before it, in part because the art direction was something I was excited by from the first day I was working on the idea. I already had notes on what the cards would look like, what the art would depict, for every single card (triple or more than what I ended up with in the current prototype) in the entire game—again, from day one. The art, the theme, the gameplay, it was all developed as one from the start. I think I posted about that, too. About how rewarding and amazing it’s been to work on the art for this new game. I’ve already been working on it for three and a half months, and I’ve only recently been reaching the parts of the project which are poisoning me.

The parts about bringing it to market. The parts which make me want to give up on the thing and throw it all away, or at best just toss it up as a POD/PnP offering without much more thought and move on. Even if I only wanted to sell the game to a publisher and let them take care of the rest (potentially gutting the game, since normally publishers handle all the artwork), I’d still have to do almost everything I’m currently faced with, because it would have to be marketed to the publishers and they want the how-to-market-to-the-market part as part of the pitch, of course. Of course! Why not? *sigh*

It’s stupid stuff, too. Stuff which shouldn’t kill me, but does. Stuff like trying to guess how to categorize the game. I hate categories. I just had an argument with my wife over genre categories for fiction, because it’s such a complicated and ridiculous subject, for which it is very difficult for any two people to agree upon the definitions of words. In my recent weeks of research, I’ve learned several different “main ways games are categorized”, few of which I’d ever heard before and almost none of which particularly fit the game I’ve developed. Which may mean it’s simply unmarketable. …Or stuff like writing the descriptions and blurbs of the game. You probably know I have the same problem trying to write blurbs for my books, or even to explain what they’re about. I don’t know. I don’t think about them that way. I certainly don’t want to feel forced to go into the design process with a specific categorization and blurb in mind. Yech. To try to design a game based on how easily it could be described on the back of a tuck-box is a painful and ridiculous (to me) idea. But thinking about what the tuck-box should look like has been giving me stomach-aches.

So I’ll go a couple of weeks working on the game, working on the art, the card designs, working with manufacturers and examining samples, trying to get the game to be just right, and it’s great. It’s a high. I’m having a good time.

And then I’ll get back to having to figure out the marketing side. How to sell it. How many copies I need to figure out how to sell to hit various manufacturing thresholds, so I can offer various stretch goals on a Kickstarter, for example, without costing myself meaningful amounts of money. And it’s torture again. Working out a spreadsheet with the numbers is actually pretty fun. Contextualizing those numbers and thinking about what it would cost me, both financially as well as emotionally, to reach 150 or 500 or 1,000 people twists me up inside. Even just going through the following calculation is fairly upsetting:

In order to potentially reach even a couple hundred backers, I’ll probably have to reach out to at least a dozen or more of the major game reviewers (I don’t currently know them or follow them, and even if I start now it still feels slimy/gross to contact them directly, to ask them to look at my games, it’s Marketing, and it makes me sick, sending unsolicited messages to strangers about me and my work) and send them prototypes of the game, which will cost me at least a couple hundred dollars, which increases my costs-needed-to-cover by an order of magnitude, which means my plans to start with a totally-feasible goal (such as 5 copies sold, or about $75—I’d be glad to go to the trouble to assemble and ship out copies of the game if at least 5 people were interested, even though I wouldn’t even make enough to cover what I’ve already spent developing the game) go out the window and I’d need to start with a $1000 goal just to cover the costs of the prototypes for the reviewers, and I already know from history that I can only raise $300-$500 for my projects, so betting hundreds of dollars ahead of time that I’ll easily double or triple that sure feels like throwing good money after bad, while making myself feel bad by doing it.

Sure, I can project that if I can get this many backers I can afford this manufacturing discount, and if I can get that many backers I can afford to offer that stretch goal, and fiddle around in a spreadsheet to find the tipping points which account for shipping both ways and Kickstarter/Amazon/Wire-transfer fees and mailing supplies and a percentage of loss due to damage and so on and so forth. But it’s one thing to say “if I get at least 1,000 backers buying the base game, I can give them all the expansion for free”, and another entirely to find 1,000 people who would be interested in my game and convince them to part with $15+ on the promise that they’ll get it in a few months. (And a further thing to consider the scenario where I get 1,000 backers exactly and end up with another 1,100+ copies of the game (and its expansion) taking up space at my house (or costing me money to take up space at a warehouse).) Did you know that in the neighborhood of 85% of all new tabletop games sell through fewer than 500 copies? That’s certainly in line with book publishing where 8 or 9 out of every 10 books published never earn out their advance. With odds like that, what are the chances I’ll reach stretch goals requiring 1,000 sales? With a history like mine, with social anxiety and anti-Marketing sentiments like mine, what are the chances I’ll make the ~70 sales necessary to reach a $1,000 goal, even with positive reviews? (And who says the reviews would be positive? In my experience they’ll be middling, if they come at all. Did you see that The First Untrue Trilogy got its first Amazon review, recently? Two stars. Seven years after I first published it, thousands have read it, and it has one two-star review on the world’s biggest book store. Yay.)

Someone just messaged me on Facebook with a link to a Card & Board Game Designers group, and my first reaction was that punch-in-the-gut feeling I get when I think about heading into a crowd, or a cocktail party. They mean well, I know they do, and I may even attempt to join the group, possibly even to participate in some small way, but probably I’ll be 99% a lurker, or just never click through. Because social anxiety. Because inferiority complex, impostor syndrome, whatever. Because I don’t play well with others. My brother basically doesn’t talk to me any more, and I got kicked out of my own home, because I don’t play well with others—in this case quite literally referring to the playing of tabletop games. I’ve been trying to play-test my game with as many people as possible (which has been emotionally exhausting), but I’ve been trying my best to avoid actually joining in on most of the games, because I know that playing with me just isn’t much fun—and then I joke about it, that clearly the designer of the game has an advatage, so it wouldn’t be fair. I’d rather the game could just go out into the world on its own and report back to me about what needs to be corrected.

In fact, I’ve been working on that (creating a PnP download for remote play-testers), but a key part of that is in writing clear, concise rules. Certainly, I can teach someone the game in person. If I’m there to explain scoring during each hand, that certainly helps smooth things out. But normally people don’t have the game designer on hand to teach them the game, or to score it for them. They have the rules. I tried. It was another of those difficult parts, the parts I don’t get any joy from but instead get a lot of pain. And I kept at it until I felt I had a good, clear set of rules. And then I tested it with some people who had never played before, and the gameplay didn’t survive the translation to the written word and back again.

So not only is it painful for me to write the rules, but I’m not actually much good at it, either. Reminds me of blurb-writing, or most any other form of writing-for-Marketing; it hurts to do, and doesn’t actually give the desired results. But I certainly can’t bring the game to market without a clear set of rules. I certainly won’t succeed on Kickstarter if I can’t explain the game clearly in the project description and video. If I can’t describe the game. If I can’t do the marketing. If I don’t reach out to reviewers. Et cetera.

And the development process is an up and down. A rollercoaster. Some parts of it, most of it, in fact, is awesome, and the awesome parts can bring me 99% of the way there. Right now I have a fun game with great art I can play with my friends and anyone else I’m there to teach it to. But I’m also just about beyond the point where there’ll be any more of the ‘good parts’. From here on out, the only good that comes from the remaining effort and expense is the joy I get from seeing/knowing that people are enjoying what I’ve created. Watching people play. Hearing back from people who enjoyed playing. Knowing that my creation is out there, “in the world”. I’ve just got to hope that the joy is worth the torture.

Right now I’m on the verge of giving up on this one, too. Setting it aside—though at least as part of my own game collection, rather than as a mere memory. Possibly not even bothering to make the POD or PnP versions available, or *only* going that far, and foregoing the rest of the effort. No tuck box design. No suffering over the description. No videos. No reviews. No Kickstarter. No shopping it to publishers. No dealing with overseas manufacturers, or with distributors, or with pallets of unsold games. No more trying to find people to play-test it, no more trying to cope with having to deal with social situations every week (or twice a week) with all those people coming over. No more pressure to be “part of the community” in any of several board-game-related communities, for the sake of marketing my games.

Right now I’m on the verge of giving up on sharing, on “the world”, altogether. I’m on the edge of just keeping all my creations to myself.

Nevermind, I’m an artist. Maybe not a good one, but an artist nonetheless.

I apparently haven’t posted here since November. Oops.

I’ve been putting plenty of long (-for-Facebook) posts on my Facebook account, and I’ve been writing the occasional private journal entry (in the Day One app), and I suppose this online journal has ended up a little dry. I’d been decidedly infrequent in my posting since early 2005, but rarely fewer than one or two posts a month until now. Oh, well. Things change.

Additionally, about a year ago I started a tumblr account. I had the intention of working more on art in 2013 than I did. I had a lot of intentions. I won’t detail here my failures in that department. I will say that my intention for the tumblr is to post my creative output, my drawings & stories, preferably immediately—drafts, roughs, et cetera, theoretically in addition to polished/finished stuff as I complete things. Not a lot of stuff there, yet. But I’ve been working on card art for the games I’ve been developing, so that’s there.

You may recall a few months ago I made a long post questioning my interest in and capabilities related to creating art. “Maybe I’m not an artist, after all.” I had prototyped a deck-building game, the gameplay was reasonably fun, it was narratively meaningful, it taught behavioral changes through its mechanics; it could have used more polish, sure, but I was satisfied with having created it, and I considered it a successful effort. I want, eventually, to be able to bring my game designs to market in one way or another, and had thought I could take that game forward, so was working on developing the artwork for all the cards. If I recall correctly, I needed something in the neighborhood of 60 or 65 unique pieces of art for the different cards… and it was torture. You can read the whole post for the details. Basically, I was having so much difficulty even getting myself to sit down for twenty minutes to sketch stick figures that I was questioning my entire existence.

Anyway, I ended up shelving that game. I disassembled the prototype and recycled it. I started working on other ideas. NaNoWriMo came along and I tried working on a writing project; it stressed me out too much and I immediately remembered why I’m on hiatus from writing & publishing right now. Luckily my brain had been working on some new game ideas, and a couple of weeks into November I was saved from my anxiety and stress over writing by suddenly developing the core of a small deck-building game in one night of insomniac mania. Over the next few days I worked on the math and developed the theme, printed out a prototype, played a few solo rounds, made changes, played a couple rounds with my wife, made more changes, and got a pretty solid little game… with no art.

The fact that the game works and is fun when it’s just numbers and math (with a very thin suggestion of theme) is a very good thing. (For a while I was very happy about that. (I’m still happy about it, just somewhat less so, for reasons I’ll explain.))

I kept working on it, played with a few more people, got some good feedback, made more adjustments, played some more, and then began working on the card art. I began working on the card art with some trepidation, stemming from the trouble I’d had earlier in the year, with the other game I’d taken that far into development. I started carrying a paper sketchbook with me when I knew I’d have time & space to work (such as to NaNoWriMo write-ins). I got a pressure-sensitive stylus (the Jot Touch 4) so I could try drawing on my iPad. I drafted up some templates to sketch into, and I tried different drawing apps, and I spent a few weeks thinking about and sketching out basic ideas for what I wanted from the card art.

It was slow-going and a little difficult at first, partially because I felt like I needed to be creating print-ready quality in my first drafts. One or two pain-staking drawings (over a couple of weeks) in, I dropped that pretense for a while, and a couple dozen new sketches (extremely rough) poured out in a couple of days. It was going okay.

Then I had the opportunity to play with another new person, and discuss the game and its mechanics with some new perspectives, and in the context of producing and seeing and thinking about the art, I had a new idea for the game. A relatively major alteration to the game, actually, and to the way I needed to think about the art of at least 1/3 of the cards. And here’s the worst part, the explanation I promised earlier:

I won’t know how the changes affect the gameplay until I have a prototype with art.

The game could be unplayable, or just un-fun. It could be unbearably slow, where the last prototype was very fast-paced. It could be awesome, an excellent marriage of theme and mechanics with art that really sells the concept and hooks players, without slowing down the pace too much. It could have crossed the line and become too complicated. It might have been unbalanced by the creation of the starter decks. Anything. I won’t know until I have a prototype with art (and updated card text, and rules) and can play the updated game. So that’s a bit of a worry, and why I’m less than very happy with how well the art-free prototype worked, since the game has moved forward since then but hasn’t been tested yet.

So for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been working on the art in a new way, based on the requirements of the new round of changes to the game. I’ve been doing it all on paper, and in my art studio. I’ve actually been doing it “actual size”, which would be “totally wrong” if I intended these drawings to be the actual source of the final card art—you’re supposed to do everything orders of magnitude too large; yes, yes, I’ll do the digital files in high resolution, and will entirely re-draw (and color) all the art with one or more of my pressure-sensitive styluses. Anyway, I’ve been working on the art, and here’s where I suppose we get to the point of this entire post:

I’ve been having a really good time working on the art for this project.

Not every day, and not by any means early most days, I’m still depressed, but I’ve been getting up in the morning and sitting down to work on art all day. Putting in four or six or eight hours of good, solid work on drawing monsters’ body parts for these cards, day after day. (Well, I was too messed up (emotionally) a couple days last week, but I accomplished other things with my time, instead, knowing art wasn’t going to work.) Last Friday I had finished a major milestone in the art creation process, and over the weekend I figured out that at the rate I was going I should easily be able to finish these rough (but totally usable) drawings for all the card art (66 different pieces of art are needed for the 66 cards) before the end of the month, only working weekdays. (I generally spend my weekends with my wife.) Over the last three days (Monday was a holiday), I’ve gotten up in the morning, gotten dressed (relatively nice, wearing my button-down shirts rather than t-shirts; how you dress affects your mental state, you know), and gotten to work—and somewhere in there I noticed that I’m really enjoying it. I’m enjoying the work, I’m enjoying the project, I’m enjoying the process, I’m happy with the results… It’s all going quite well.

That I’m still working on the same project two months later says a lot, in itself. I’ve got more than a couple books on my shelves which I conceived, wrote, edited, designed, and published in less time than I’ve been working on this game. That I’m still working on it and not hating it, or giving up on it, but am actually enjoying working on it and happy with the results coming out of that work – it speaks volumes. Plus, there’s the art. I’m creating art again. Some of it –a lot of it– is art I’m really quite happy with, both visually and conceptually. Certainly there’s a portion of it which needs more work, but most of the groundwork is solid and some of the pieces are (to me) brilliant. Beautiful. Elegant. Communicating clearly. Evocative.

I’m learning and progressing as I go, but a lot of what I’m capable of doing this week is because of the sketching and thinking I’ve been doing for the last eight. And right now I’m at a point where, assuming I can get this finished and posted soon and get to sleep and then get up at a reasonable hour of the morning, if I get as much work done tomorrow as I got done today, I’ll have a drawing for all but one card (Conceptually, I just don’t know what to draw for that card. Yet.) by the end of the day tomorrow. I’ll be able to spend all of next week working on the digital side of creating an updated prototype, and still get it done by the end of the month. (I’m having a small game night on the 1st, and wanted to see how a new group of players take to the game—if I can have the updated prototype ready by then.) This is almost twice as fast as I’d been hoping to be able to get the art created, and that could only be possible because of how much joy the whole thing has brought me.

So, yes. I’m an artist. And I still get joy from creating art. And I still have ideas, I have things I want to express, both visually and through other means (words, gameplay, et cetera). You may not think the art I’m creating is any good. You may not think the ideas I have to share are of any value. Still, I’m an artist. A creator. And that’s a good thing.