Fred Hicks

Nov 152013
 

So, woo! The Fate Core Kickstarter brought in $433,365. That’s money in the bank, y’all. We’re swimming in it like Scrooge McDuck, right?

Well.

For illustration purposes only. No twenty-dollar bills were harmed in the making of this image.

No twenty-dollar bills were harmed in the making of this image.

At this point we’ve taken care of printing and shipping all of the physical reward components for the Kickstarter. There are still funded stretch goals that we’ve yet to get done, which we haven’t really spent any money on yet. Those are Do: Fate of the Flying Temple, Young Centurions, Shadow of the Century, and Dresden Files Accelerated.

So the question is, how much money do we have left to make those things happen?

  • $433k to start…
  • minus ~$22k for Kickstarter’s cut
  • minus ~$20k for Amazon’s payment processing cut
  • minus ~$20k for development & art of Core (not including printing)
  • minus ~$4k for development & art on FAE
  • minus ~$8k for development & art Fate System Toolkit
  • minus ~$20k for development & art Fate Worlds 1 & 2
  • minus ~$6k to get the art, Fate Core expansion, and index for Strange Tales of the Century (editing and writing had already been paid for outside of the kickstarter)
  • minus ~$15k for development and where necessary art on other projects (Sally Slick novel, Freeport, Day After Ragnarok, Deck of Fate, the various consultations)
  • minus ~$68k for printing Core, FAE, Worlds 1, Worlds 2, Toolkit, Strange Tales, and Sally Slick
  • minus ~$24k in preemptive royalties paid to Jim Butcher for the essentially free PDF we’ll be giving backers of Dresden Files Accelerated once it’s done
  • minus ~$120k for shipping all the physical rewards (rough estimate to include cost of sending replacements for lost and damaged stuff as well)

Assuming I’ve accounted for everything in the above — and it’s not certain that I have — and that the shipping estimate is accurate, that leaves us with about $106k to spend on the remaining four projects from the Kickstarter.

This is without accounting for the expense of supporting all that: my time, Carrie’s marketing time, Chris’s business development time, Sean’s project management time. I didn’t charge the company anything separate from my salary to do layout on FAE and Toolkit; I’ve spent at least a full month’s time solely on customer service and data-wrangling for this campaign. Carrie has been making sure we’ve got solid product message and marketing for all of that. Chris has been charting the trajectory for all this stuff and helped conceive of a bunch of it with me during the campaign. And Sean’s efforts are a big part of why we’ve been able to deliver so much in so little time. So what’s definitely not reflected in the above is a lot of additional sweat and the coin needed to turn up the heat.

Bottom line, I think there’s a chance that we’ll still retain a small profit after accounting for the as-yet-unpaid costs of those four stretch goal projects we have as yet to complete, but it’s in no way certain… and really, taxes on the income/“profit” we’re carrying into 2014 might eat that up right quick. So I’ve been looking at Fate Core as a “profit-neutral” Kickstarter.

Had we not managed to time the second wave of physical books such that they all came out and were able to be shipped at the same time, the additional shipments for those who wanted the split might have put us more firmly into the red. As it is, I’d rate this as a very approximated break-even, with our actual profit-taking to come in the sales of the product line outside of the Kickstarter campaign.

Which, at the end of the day, is pretty much as designed and intended.

Folks have joked that Kickstarter should be called “Kickfinisher” because you do best to bring a nearly-finished product to any campaign you’re Kicking; it’s not so smart to launch a campaign where you really haven’t started work yet.

But I think it’s in this kind of breakdown and analysis that the -starter suffix makes the most sense. Having crowdfunded an entire product line, with solid expectations that our costs will be all or close to covered by that funding, we’re now starting a new phase of Evil Hat with our most robust product line ever on offer. If there’s profits to be made, it’s not in the Kickstarter campaign and its fulfillment, it’s in what comes after, that the campaign made possible. We brought a near-finished product to get it going in the first place, yes, but we walk away with thousands of books in inventory and already paid for and ready for sale.

That is what we Kickstarted.

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Oct 312013
 

If you’re looking for the panels I will be on at Metatopia, that’s in this other post.

Outside of the panels, what I have scheduled is:

Friday, 2pm-4pm: Iron Edda playtest.

Saturday, 6pm-8pm: Boneyard playtest.

Sunday, 10am-1pm: Timewatch playtest.

That’s it! Together with my panels it still means I have plenty to do, but I’m going to have a lot of big gaps in my schedule too. I expect to use these to hit panels of interest (there’s a ton of them), grab meals, have conversations with folks, and do some off-book demoing (both of Evil Hat things like our upcoming Don’t Rest Your Head themed board game Don’t Turn Your Back, and other folks’ stuff).

Importantly, Rob Donoghue invites anyone who gets up at that hour to join him for breakfast each morning at Metatopia. So if you’re not planning on sleeping in, make sure this is on your radar.

If you are hoping to get a few minutes of my time, make sure I know it! You can either comment on this post or use the “contact” form here on the site.

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Oct 292013
 

James Dawsey asked me to distill some of my comments from this Google+ conversation into a linkable blog post, so here goes!

International shipping for a Kickstarter is a problem from a bunch of different directions. The way I see it, you’ve basically got three options:

  • You can not offer international shipping, and get complaints about it;
  • You can offer it at a high but fairly honest cost and get complaints about it;
  • You can offer it at a cost that the international backers think is fair, but which pretty much eats up all the actual revenue value of their pledge, rendering their contribution effectively moot and potentially undermining your financial goals for the campaign.

These are not good choices, but they’re the choices.

Before you pop on down to the comments to tell me how I’m wrong here, let me say this: I’m happy to see options like facilities that can offer bulk international shipping start to open up for the international market. That said, such options open up a number of additional logistic hurdles which aren’t always worth the effort, especially if you’re a) going to be selling the game after the KS through distributors (or other internationally accessible channels) anyway, and b) your game is going to be distributed to the target market in question through one of those distributors.

Bottom line on that: When I’m running a KS, I have to budget both the money I’m getting and the impact on my time. So while some of the expense can be moved from the money column to the time column, that’s not always the best of exchange rates. :)

But what’s the deep core issue here, aside from, y’know, the fact that the United States postal system is underfunded and legally constrained from increasing domestic postage rates to the point where their costs would actually be covered, so they’re doing what they can by making regular-ish, big increases in their international shipping charges?

Comes down to the algebra of reward tiers.

With Kickstarter, because shipping gets wrapped up in the pledge, you have to watch your percentages. You could have a $25 tier that ships domestically, and a $50 tier that ships internationally, and that’s great — to an extent — if the international folks are willing to pay it.

But suppose that the $25 domestic tier represents $5 shipping + $20 contribution to the goal, and the $50 international tier represents $30 shipping + $20 contribution to the goal. When an international backer pledges that $50, they’re putting the project $50 closer to its funding mark… while only ACTUALLY contributing $20. Compare this to two domestic backers pledging $25 each and actually contributing $40 towards the goal. So in this example scenario the international backer’s pledge is only “worth” half a domestic pledge in terms of actual revenue contribution after shipping. This can be super problematic if the budgeting on the project, and its ultimate funding goal, is built around the scenario of a pledge that’s 80% meat, 20% shipping.

The two strategies (aside from “don’t offer international shipping”) for dealing with this are not all that satisfying.

First is “well, why not bill for shipping as a separate thing after the KS is over?” — And the answer to that seems to be a pretty consistent “because international backers don’t realize exactly how high a charge that will be, and the sticker shock will produce a lot of anger, especially amongst those who didn’t bother to read the pledge tier text closely”. That’s a huge emotional and cognitive load for a projectrunner to parse through when the shit starts hitting the fan, and it inevitably will.

Second is what we did with the Fate Dice kickstarter: if the budget’s ratio holds that 80% of a pledge should go towards the actual goal, with a max of 20% for shipping, then you should take the expected average cost of international shipping, and solve the equation for that. This is algebra in action! If X is the reward tier, and 20% of it needs to go towards shipping, and your international shipping charge is going to be about $30, then your equation to solve is .2x = $30. This tells us that the international shipping pledge tier needs to be $150: that way $30 goes towards shipping (20%) and $120 goes towards the actual non-shipping project costs. Voilla! Except, ohhh, the complaints you’ll get for only offering a $150 tier as your entry-point for an international backer.

At the end of the day project runners take the blame for factors beyond their control. They can’t control the fact that out-of-the-US shipping costs are spiraling out of control, and are highly unpredictable 6-12 months in advance, which is often the (minimum) hang time on many KSers; they can’t get KS to adopt a more sensible mode of splitting the shipping charges off from the project tally (at least not so far); and they can’t adopt an international-friendly shipping package that would ultimately bankrupt the project if it got popular. Congratulations! The math says every option is bad.

And so, that has me pursuing the least expensive, still disappointing, first option from that list up top. “Please order from an FLGS supplied by one of the following distributors” is fast becoming my go-to strategy for international stuff. Pair that with a cheap all-digital buy-in, and I don’t feel like I’m forcing the international folks to miss out on much. The only thing they’re potentially missing out on is a little bit of a speed-win for the delivery of the product, and that is something I’m comfortable asking them to take and like. If someone’s truly interested in being a supporter of what a Kickstarter campaign is about, and not just in it for the what-are-you-gonna-do-for-me of it, they can wait, and optionally, buy in for a buck to stay abreast of backer-only updates and developments. That’s lowest risk for everyone and doesn’t come with an implicit demand that the projectrunner choose insolvency in order to serve a few additional customers.

One possibly unnecessary footnote: There’s no judgment here. If you’re an international potential-backer, I’m not saying you have no value to me. I’m saying present circumstances are making it very hard to serve you and at some point I have to focus on the things I can do, cheaply, in bulk, and set aside anything that requires a lot more time, slow and close attention to detail, and so on. Business realities are what have put the squeeze on your role in a Kickstarter. Yes, these things could be worked around, at least marginally, but I think the best, strongest workarounds come through selling the results of a Kickstarter to you outside of the Kickstarter itself. As part of my acknowledgement of that, I avoid designing Kickstarters that have exclusive content — or if they do have it, they’re designed such that you can get at them digitally. I don’t get to choose my ideal results here, and I’m sad about it. But I also have to be smart about what I do and don’t do, for the health of my company.

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Oct 282013
 

I’ll be at Metatopia this weekend! Here are the panels where you can catch me running my damn mouth.

D025: “Planning Your Crowdfunding Campaign” presented by Fred Hicks & Joshua A.C. Newman. Everything from soup to nuts you need to know before even considering crowdfunding your game. Our panel of experts will make sure you’re ready to face the world and ask for cash. Friday, 5:00PM – 6:00PM; Serious, All Ages.

D038: “Book Design 101: First Principles” presented by Fred Hicks, Hal Mangold & Brennan Taylor. The panelists look at the book as an object of design. Whether it’s conveying rules or setting, the look and feel of the book itself is crucial to the experience of play. Our experts will draw on their own experiences to explain why books look the way they do. Saturday, 10:00AM – 11:00AM; Serious, All Ages.

D040: “Legalese: How To Create And Negotiate Contracts” presented by Fred Hicks, Justin Jacobson & John Stavropoulos. Join our panelists for an in-depth look at the art and science of contracts, from freelancers to manufacturers and from both sides of the table. Saturday, 11:00AM – 12:00PM; Serious, All Ages.

D058: “Using Social Media To Market Your Game” presented by Fred Hicks, Josh Harrison & Angela Craft. Whether its Facebook, G+, Twitter or any other format, social media are crucial for marketing and publicizing your game. Saturday, 8:00PM – 9:00PM; Serious, All Ages.

D064: “Open Licenses: Why, Why Not, and How” presented by Fred Hicks, Cam Banks, Rob Donoghue & Justin Jacobson. What are the various options available for licensing your game to others (or from others), and what are the creative reasons and financial imperatives for choosing between them? Saturday, 10:00PM – 11:00PM; Serious, All Ages.

D079: “Graphic Tips for Non-Designers” presented by Fred Hicks, Hal Mangold & Christian N. St. Pierre. Color, space, type – the secrets of good graphic design sometimes seem impenetrable to the non-initiated. Never fear, our panel is here to help! Sunday, 1:00PM – 2:00PM; Serious, All Ages.

D081: “Criticism And Community: How To Handle Your Public” presented by Fred Hicks, Daren Watts & John Stavropoulos. Once your game(s) have found an audience, the next step is keeping it. How do you build a community of fans? And how do you deal with the inevitable public scrutiny and criticism that comes with that exposure? Sunday, 2:00PM – 3:00PM; Serious, All Ages.

I can see from how these got scheduled that my request to the schedule-fairies to keep my evenings open was somewhat ignored as far as Saturday goes, but given the huge number of panels on offer at Metatopia, I’m not sure how feasible my request was in the first place!

Given the drive back to DC afterwards, I expect to leave not too long after that last panel wraps up on Sunday.

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Oct 232013
 

As I discussed earlier, the Twenty Palaces/Voidcallers setting is likely to feature a pretty lethal magic environment. It’s dangerous out there, people. While Peers might have a better chance to withstand a showdown with a Predator or rogue practitioner, it’s not a given by far. Investigators are smart to stay away from conflict hotspots; they do their recon and then get away because shit’s so dangerous. And Wooden Men… man, Wooden Men. They’re recruited and designed to be expendable. Walking targets.

Point being, however we choose to implement the lethality of the setting, it’s gonna be lethal and that means that the risk—and actuality—of character death has gotta be on the table. Yes, PCs are probably going to have a certain small amount of plot immunity at the least, but if the PCs aren’t at actual risk of death[1] as often as not, it’s just not going to feel right, and the setting will not be served.

This, then, is a concern that’s actually separate from the lethality of the setting: expendability. When you know there’s a real chance that the player characters will get dead[2], your design goals should probably address that.

Earlier versions of Dungeons and Dragons addressed this with fairly simple character designs, easily put together, with the activity of creating a new character being a kind of solo fun of its own and thus something a recently killed player could go and do off on the side while the survivors continue the fight.[3]

In Fate Core, fights should—hopefully—run a fair bit shorter than that, and character creation shines best when it’s done in the context of and by interacting with the playgroup, so sending Bob off to do some solo character creation when his prior PC starts pushing daisies doesn’t necessarily provide the same fun.

To solve this, we might do well to look to the upcoming Atomic Robo RPG[4]. In that game there’s a kind of expendability at work, too, but it’s not because the game is particularly lethal. It’s because the game may well jump to other time periods or scenarios where your prior character doesn’t yet exist, or is too old to go adventuring, or what-have-you. As a result, it’s important for the game to make it very fast to create new characters when the situation demands it.[5]

As a result, in the Atomic Robo RPG, character creation is done in a matter of a couple minutes[6], with pretty much everything else being something you can decide as you’re playing. About to do something where a specific skill or stunt would be useful? Buy it right then, revealing the capability on your character sheet with the same timing as it would be revealed in a story or movie or what-have-you. Establish something new about your character’s backstory? Now’s the time to write down an aspect about that on your sheet — not before.

This kind of “stat your character as you need to” approach works wonders for keeping the set-up time of a game short, and so long as your options and rules for adding more detail to a character sheet are simple and clearly understood, making in-the-moment edits and additions to your character is hardly any more of a speed bump than taking a turn in a round of combat.

With Twenty Palaces, spells are contraband. They are not many in number. So, for example, adding a new tattoo[7][8] to your character will involve choosing an option from a fairly short list of what’s out there and known to you (and/or your Peer, if you’re working for one as a Wooden Man or other operative would).

Adding a new aspect is as always super easy, especially when it’s sourced from what’s already been established in play. Taking a quick stunt to represent how you’re specialized in a particular skill, also nice and fast, so long as there’s clear and strong templating available and a relevant task in front of you that needs doing. And if we keep the skill list fairly compact, there won’t be too many options to trip over there, either.[9]

So, strategically, our best move here is to address expendability not with plot immunity, but with an ease of character creation that makes it possible to get back in the game quickly, behind a new face. Knowing this should make our goals in designing the character creation process a lot more clear and, importantly, a lot more specific.

But that’s for another post.


  1. This will present some big challenges and is most certainly a blogpost of its own. At the very least, high actual lethality in a game carries some risk of deprotagonization for the players, which may be the largest actual hurdle here, especially in Fate Core, a game system that’s designed to feature highly proactive, effective protagonists.  ↩
  2. or at least permanently removed from play!  ↩
  3. And with fights running as long as they do in D&D, the ways in which creating a new character isn’t quick aren’t much of a concern: the same fight that killed you might still be going by the time you’re done.  ↩
  4. Among others, of course. There are other games out there that support or focus on character creation on the fly — it’s been a secondary character creation option for a number of Fate games in the past, and it’s not exclusive to Fate either. For our purposes, tho, and with the game coming on the nearish horizon next year, we’ll focus on Robo.  ↩
  5. a.k.a., “Okay, we’re going to do a flashback session set in the 1970s. Brian, you’re Robo as usual. The rest of you are too young to play your modern-day action scientists. Who wants to play Carl Sagan?”  ↩
  6. e.g., pick a high concept and three things you’re good at from a short list, then rank those three good things from best to least best. Congratulations, you’re ready to play.  ↩
  7. A tattoo that, thanks to the principle of dramatic revelation, was there all along, it just wasn’t seen by the audience nor relevant to the story right up until you happened to need it to be there.  ↩
  8. A lot of the “street-ready” magic in the Twenty Palaces setting takes the form of glyphs inscribed on a surface. You don’t want it to be something that washes away easy, and on a body, that surface is skin. So there’s a lot of fixed-effect power that gets carried around by operatives and Peers by way of tats.  ↩
  9. Super-true particularly if we use a skill modes implementation as was invented for the Atomic Robo RPG and introduced in the Fate System Toolkit.  ↩
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