The internet is throwing money at me. It is balling up great fistfuls of pounds, in the way you might clutch a handful of M&Ms under the instruction that you were only allowed a single handful but were determined to get your fill, and it is hurling those pounds at me, and I am wondering why. This is wonderful.
THE IMPOSTOR SYNDROME
I have – indeed, almost all creatives have – struggled with Impostor Syndrome at multiple points in my life. (For those who aren’t aware, Impostor Syndrome is where you believe you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing because you’re convinced you suck at it and you’ve somehow managed to fool everyone but yourself.) I’ve dealt with it mainly by keeping my work at arm’s reach, emotionally – I maintain an ironic distance from everything I create, everything I enjoy. I make “daft” games, I make “quick and dirty” games, I make “stupid games for stupid drunk people,” my professional persona is one spent perpetually confused that anyone would care about anything, I run LARPs where I wear a mask for the duration and never speak to players after the game… there is a pride, a pleasure, an ease in trying to appear cool through indifference.
(Which is strange, obviously, because passion is great, passion is enticing and engaging and entertaining and, dare I say it, hot? There is an emotional honesty in passion that I dig, and perhaps that’s why I’m so careful with my own. Anyway, back to the Kickstarter)
None of this helps you when it is time to shill your game over the internet.
I had to write positively and enthusiastically about my own work, which is anathema to me. I bigged myself up as much as I could without lying, or saying anything I disagreed with. I wrote and re-wrote the intro, the stretch goals, the history… everything. I was not comfortable with this. I have been told, over and over, that to vocally and, crucially, publicly believe in the validity of your own work is at best irritating and at worst completely wrong. If your work is good, others will say it for you. There is no need to blow your own trumpet.
(Which is bullshit, obviously, because what you then have to do is try to subtly appeal to the trumpet-owners and operators, and you end up with homogeneous tripe and the constant drone of the same trumpet notes blaring out anything interesting. (This analogy is getting away from me, a little.))
Still; Kickstarter is my own shop front, my business, and I needed to at least convince others that my work was worth their hard-earned cash. I wrote a thing. I set up a series of stretch goals, all the way up to £5,ooo – more than twice the funding needed to get this project off the ground. I sat down at my computer and said to my wife that “if it didn’t take off, if it didn’t get most of its funding in a week, I’d just cancel it.” No sense in dragging it out and looking like a chump for doing so.
It funded in five hours. Two thousand pounds. Five hours.
I didn’t go to sleep until it funded; I figured it would take a week, at least, to get there. (I thought, perhaps, that it wouldn’t fund at all.) In two days, I’d broken past the £5,000 mark, and thus my final stretch goal – in retrospect, I should have spaced ’em out a bit. I was powering through several a day. The Cthulhu rules-hack was deliberately placed at the top end of the scale to push people into buying, because if there’s one thing gaming-types like, it’s Cthulhu. They love a bit of him.Now I’ve got Sean Bean Quest at the £15,000 mark, and I might make that? Who knows.
Anyway, here are a few unexpected things I have noticed.
ONE. I have been paid fifteen grand (in Australian Dollars, which is what I use now) to make my game happen, and that number is slowly increasing every day.
Obviously, because this is a Kickstarter, that’s not all going in my pocket; I’m not seeing a great deal of it, actually, at the end of the day. But this is not a business you get into to make money. I’ve made the physical copies bloody cheap, because I want to get them out there, and if people want to give me more money, there’s the option of hard-back or special editions. And that’s good, I think, I’ve made the barrier to entry pretty low.
I have said to the world “do you like my ideas? Show me how much you like my ideas, with MONEY” and they have said “THIS MUCH” and I have said “Gosh thank you that really is more than I was expecting.” So that’s nice, you know? That’s a real boost to wake up in the morning and see that people value my work. To know that the fact that I’m unpublished, that I’m a scrubby little indie dev turning out high-energy one-shot games, doesn’t actually matter – that I’m still a games designer.
TWO. People are much more excited about something that doesn’t exist compared to something that does. When I launched Havoc Brigade – a fully-illustrated game, ready to go, entirely free – I might have well have gone out into the bush and yelled the announcement at a rock. No-one cared. The Reddit thread generated actual tumbleweed. It’s been played a total of two times, to my knowledge. Which is a shame, and I don’t say this lightly, because Havoc Brigade is fucking great. Compare that to the promise of Goblin Quest, and I’m – well, I said, I’m dodging pound coins.
I suppose the idea of Goblin Quest is always going to be better than any book I could write; and it’s a scrappy underdog move, the Kickstarter, it’s a “come on I can do this if you can help me” rather than “hey take this awesome thing and give me some money if you want,” and one of those sparks emotion, and the other clearly doesn’t. I’m not selling snake oil – this is a good product, for sure, we’ve got excellent artists on hand and I can write a good set of rules when I need to. (Often when I don’t, as anyone who’s been on holiday with me will attest.)
I read a lot of guides to Kickstarter before this all kicked off, and Avery McDaldno’s one had the most useful advice – what are you going to do if this is wildly successful? It’s not wildly successful (yet), but it’s getting there, and that’s kind of exciting. There’s a market for this, clearly, and perhaps I can carry on acting in my current role as a games designer and general wrangler; to bring together rules, and artists, and designers, and get everything printed, and pay everyone fairly, and generally do awesome things, and make the games I want to see in the world.
I am currently using my Serious Game Designer Connections to secure additional writing from some RPG designers that I respect. Wait, no, that’s not the world – idolise. Hold as heroes. It’s looking like it might even work, too.
So could One Last Job see a proper edition, released to the world with loads of art, and different ways to play? Could Havoc Brigade build up to a load of maps, and a load of characters, and full-colour art, and proper character creation, and a campaign where you charge your merry band of greenskins across the world stomping on faces? Could Warrior-Poet have even more examples of how heartbreakingly beautiful the Shenshi-Shijin are, and could I pare down the rules so it’s possible to play a full game in less than five bloody hours?
Maybe. It’s exciting stuff, though, and it gives me hope that there’s something here – if not a permanent business model, then a way to share my stuff with the world, and make a bit of money while I do it. And that’s awesome.
Why not back Goblin Quest: a tabletop RPG of fatal inadequacy on Kickstarter? All the cool kids are doing it.