> otherwise care to know what you’re working on. Otherwise,
> you’re in “obscurity mode.”
Randy Hoyt found that great tweet and quoted it in the comment wall last August on Kelsey’s “One Tip” Kickstarter post-mortem, advocating outside feedback. Randy added his advice on showing your KS preview early:
Obscurity Mode and Squirmy Beast
This topic really resonated with me. Thank you Randy for that truth! Ok, so I admit my tiny company is in obscurity mode. How did I get here?
Well, first I traded being an obscure designer for being an obscure self-publisher. I launched a 2013 Kickstarter that was successful. What the Food?! We managed to nearly double our goal, and made dream come true for me. I think to some degree this was against odds for an unknown card game with no network. I only started speaking about What the Food?! on Facebook 3 months prior to launch. (If I knew then what I know now, I might not have launched). I worked my butt off every day for months prior to launch and I believe I have done that every day since. (Pro tip: game making is forever!).
At the end of the campaign, I started what is now my second small indie game company, Squirmy Beast. The name, by the way, comes from my son (now 5), who yelled these words on a boat one early morning at a passing canoeist. Random, I know. Too many pirate books/shows.
Anyway, if we look at the time of the article cited, my company was a year old, and the social media surrounding What the Food?! had faded. The KS comment wall was long done, the twitter account (for WTF) was on a low simmer and I was now working feverishly as a unknown publisher to attend conventions, demo the game, design or look for new games, run this blog and interact with the community. (which I have realized, is the most important part).
But nobody knew who Squirmy Beast was. Including, I believe, myself.
Causes for Obscurity Mode
Randy added a comment a week later, nudging me. Where’s your KS preview site for your next game, Letter Tycoon? Are you still in obscurity mode? Yes, I had to admit I was.
But I had great excuses! I was doing all the art for Letter Tycoon see, and I didn’t want to post until I had a cover image. And I was calling manufacturers every week, and the price wasn’t working, so I didn’t even know when we could launch. And so on.
This has led me to ponder some of what causes Obscurity Mode. Here are some top contenders:
- Too many tasks for one person. Improper delegation.
- Fear that nobody cares
- Fear that someone will steal your idea
- Fear that people will reject/criticize
- You don’t actually know what to do
There may be other factors, but I’m here to tell you that whatever it is, you need to fight it. It’s not really a level 10 dragon, it’s more like a level 2 duck of doom, or your own phantom demons.
It’s the same thing that makes ppl hesitant to share an idea without an NDA or not post their game’s rules before print. Make a print and play, and get it out there. You can and should share your projects early and often. It’s critical to make sure that both your small kindling of community grows AND bonus – it makes you the best game with the best rules for your market.
Goodbye Obscurity Mode
So, what are some tangible ways you can actively get out of Obscurity mode? Inquiring blog authors and game developers want to know. Let’s all help each other out of it.
“Tell people,” might seem obvious, but I assure you it’s not. I’m not naming names, but literally fellow leaguers have launched projects on Kickstarter and I did not know it was happening. Seriously. How did that happen? Well, you might assume that everyone knows what you’re up to. But keep in mind – tweets go by in the blink of an eye. Facebook posts go to something like 4% of your audience. I’ll do the math for you. That’s 4 ppl of your 100 total. (your friend Joe, your Aunt, and 2 ppl who don’t even really like you). How many will back you? Your aunt… maybe.
Telling people also has a super powerful side effect. It keeps you on task. Case in point, I told Randy about my game, and he called me on it. Now I’ve spent months driven to push it out there. Finally, with this post, I can relax! (ok, not really).
Other ways to share: If you’re Kickstarting, share that project page months ahead. A BGG page is needed, as soon as you have a firm game description and rules. (if you’re not on there, your game doesn’t exist). Get in local testing groups, attend local cons. Play other games and give back first.
Try as you might, you can not do it all. Trust me. Oh, no – I’m a company of one! What do I do? You also delegate. Get others involved. I learned this the hard way. On game #1, I was designer, artist, programmer, project manager, etc. I was doing everything in Jeff’s post on system engineering roles. That nearly killed me, and took 2 years. How many people knew it existed though? Not very many.
On game 2, I managed to actually delegate a few things. My good friend Sebastien Duclos brought my characters to life with great art, my wife posted all our FB updates daily. Sebastien’s wife organized our external events. During the KS, I found a friend to tweet for us daily. Etc.
Now, for Letter Tycoon, I’ve brought in the big guns. I’m not the artist (we found an amazing illustrator – Mackenzie Schubert), AND I’m not the designer (it’s a great game by Brad Brooks) AND I’m even sharing the publishing tasks.
I’ve partnered with Shari Spiro of Ad Magic and her new division, Breaking Games. Trusting Shari’s long standing knowledge in the print business, and business savvy to do what it takes to bring indie games to new markets, has put Letter Tycoon in great shape.
Are you ready for an art break? Me too! Here’s some of our components for Letter Tycoon, by the way:
Progress forward. I think tangentially this ties back to some posts on design. As Stephen Debaun said in Choosing Your Design Landmark and Norv Brooks reiterated in Flexible, Not Indecisive – you need to make some strong, but flexible goals for yourself. Not just your games, for you. Wander plenty, but plant your flag in the ground, and take (loud?) steps toward your goal.
It can take 12 months to plan for a Kickstarter. Don’t be that person that says, “I’m launching next month, and I haven’t told anyone yet”. But do be the person who who plots out when your blind testing is happening, for how long, when reviewers will get copies, how you’ll grow your social networks, etc. It’s fine to make a plan and adjust as reality happens, but you’ll need a guide.
To Be Continued
Ok, enough of a starting post on this topic. You’ll hear more about all the games in the Squirmy Beast 2015 Tour, I promise. Kudos to my friend Blaise Sewell of Feels Right Design for this cool map idea:
We debuted Letter Tycoon last weekend at PAX South. Next stop: the New York Toy Fair!
A Call to Action
If you have enjoyed this post, I’d like to ask you to do 2 simple things!
1) Share your own game goal for this year in the comments, or share a KS preview that you’re working on. We as a community will help keep you on task, and help your game and your company grow.
2) I can use your help spreading the word on my games. I’d like to add anyone interested to the Squirmy Beast newsletter, which I also in turn, promise to begin writing. 🙂 Thank you! http://www.squirmybeast.com/sign-up/
Thanks for reading!