Tell us a bit about yourself and your last game, No Honor Among Thieves.
I’ve been making board games since I was in middle school. It was one of the things that my friends and I did when we were really bored and looking for something to do in the summer–run around with sticks, play capture-the-flag, make a board game. Something to fill the time. I ended up getting really into video games when I was in high school, which led me to getting a degree in Game Design & Development from Rochester Institute of Technology. After graduating, I couldn’t get a job in the video game industry (turns out those are super competitive), so I got a web development job and went back to making board games. I had the idea for No Honor Among Thieves right before graduating college, and I figured that the best way to be the game designer I’d always wanted to be would be to just start making games.
No Honor Among Thieves was inspired in large part by the book The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, and by my love of heist stories in general. Every player in the game is running their own gang of thieves, picking the best rogues for their crew and planning heists on different objectives on the table, with the end goal of being the richest and cleverest thief in the city. Working alone is difficult, but cooperating with other players opens you up to the possibility of betrayal–or gives you the chance to betray them, and take it all for yourself. There is a code of honor among thieves in this city, but that won’t last past the first betrayal, and once that uneasy trust is gone the game gets more dangerous as players gain access to additional underhanded abilities.
It’s a game about planning heists, negotiating with people who have every reason to betray you and very few reasons to see you succeed, and a lot of fantastic turn-by-turn scheming.
What did you do to build up a following before you launched?
Mostly in-person stuff, as well as posts on my blog and various forums like the Reddit tabletop design subreddits. In general, though, I found it kind of difficult to build a following before launching, because I’ve always believed that for really good advertising you need a solid and immediate call-to-action. If you want to get someone excited about your project, “back this on Kickstarter” works a lot better than “sign up for my newsletter and get in on the Kickstarter at some indeterminate point in the future.” So I did a lot of convention appearances and local game events, where I had something immediate to show to people. Though I also kept forgetting to get people on my email list when I went to conventions, so I’m not sure how much that actually helped.
I also spent a lot of time talking to people in the various game Kickstarter and game publisher Facebook groups that I’d found, and that seemed to help as well. I tried to follow the advice I read online about getting into conversations on Board Game Geek and other forums, but I’ve never really been super good at that sort of thing, so that was kind of sporadic.
As far as I can see you don’t have a big following on Facebook and Twitter? How did you get so many backers?
In general, I’m really, really not good about pushing the social media channels for Carpe Omnis Games. I think I have, what, a couple dozen followers between Facebook and Twitter? Something like that, anyway. When I have something to say I usually post it on my blog, which gets between thirty and sixty views per day when I haven’t posted anything, and a couple hundred on a day when I put a new post up, but even there I don’t post that often. Whenever I’m writing something, it’s usually for a new game idea or a revision of an old one, and I never remember to take a break from that to do the PR stuff that should be part of my job now as a guy who wants to run an indie publishing company.
I had two major things going for me with No Honor Among Thieves: a lot of friends who really like board games and who posted about the Kickstarter on their own social media accounts throughout the campaign, and a very strong marketing push during the campaign itself. While the campaign was live, I did all the things that I always forget to do when I don’t have a Kickstarter running–I was on Facebook, Reddit, BGG and Twitter every day talking about what was going on, posting to different groups and hashtags and threads and just being there talking to people about it. I wrote a designer diary for Board Game Geek, did an AMA on Reddit, was interviewed and got reviews and ran ads. I probably could have done even better in the campaign if I’d been better about setting things up ahead of time, but I’m happy with how it’s worked out.
What is your best marketing tip?
The best way to market anything is to find people who, if they only knew about it, would already be interested in what you’re doing. Finding the right audience to talk to is always more important than any clever trick.
This means that any service that offers to put your Kickstarter in front of tens of thousands of people is useless, unless that’s an audience of ten thousand people who are looking for a new game to play and already love your genre. Ideally, you want to be able to present the game to people like you’re suggesting it to a friend who you think might like it.
If there was one thing you wish you knew before you launched, what would it be?
This ties back into the earlier questions. I did not do enough prep for the campaign. I should have sent out more review copies, and posted more to Twitter and Facebook and on my blog to build that following.
When did you launch and why did you choose that exact moment?
I launched on August 30, 2016. That specific day was chosen because it was on a Tuesday, and I’d heard that Tuesdays were a good day to launch a campaign. That month was chosen because I’d delayed three months to get more reviews and more art for the Kickstarter page, and also because that would put my exhibition in the Tabletop Showcase at the Boston Festival of Indie Games right in the middle of my campaign (which ended up being a great boost in the mid-campaign slump).
The beginning and the end of the campaign are when most of the backers pledge. Whats your main tactic to handle the mid-campaign drop?
I had the Boston Festival of Indie Games right in the middle of that period, which provided a very nice boost. During that slump I also had a moment of panic where I added a bunch of additional art pledge levels to the campaign, so that more backers could get their faces on game components, which added a lot of new money to the pot but made getting the illustrations done afterwards take a bit longer.
Looking back on the campaign, I think the strategy proposed by Jamey Stegmaier (can’t find the specific blog he mentioned this in, but I’m pretty sure it was him) is the best one: have something new every day. Some new review going up, or a demo game at a local game store, or an interview, or a video explaining some element of the game, or a new announcement of new stuff in the campaign. You’ve got thirty days, if you’re running a standard-length campaign; you can plan something for each of them.
It’s just like everything else with making a game and running a Kickstarter campaign. You’ve got to put the work in.
You had a very good last 48 hours. What did you do?
The only thing that I personally did was change all the banner ads I was running on places like Board Game Geek to say that there were forty-eight hours left, and spend a lot of time in the comments talking to backers. Everything else was basically luck.
There were two things that happened. The first, and the one that happens to everyone, was that email that Kickstarter sends out to everyone who clicks the “Remind Me” button. No Honor Among Thieves passed its funding goal just before that got sent out at the forty-eight hour mark, which meant that everyone opening that email and checking up on the campaign again got to see that it was actually going to be successful. There’s a weird thing with Kickstarter where if you’re already succeeding you are exponentially more likely to become more successful, and I think that’s what happened here.
The second was that the guys running the Endangered Orphans of Condyle Cove campaign decided that they really wanted to get their hands on No Honor Among Thieves, and made my campaign funding a condition for one of their stretch goals. That happened a little bit before the final 48 hours, and was what kicked the campaign over into funded territory. I’d decided ahead of time that I didn’t want to do any cross-promotion stuff with other campaigns (“mention my game to your backers and I’ll do the same for mine!” sort of thing), because it had always seemed kind of cheesy to me (no hate on you if you do that or if you like getting those emails full of other projects you might be interested in. They’re just not my thing, personally), but the Orphans guys didn’t ask me before starting to encourage their backers to go back my campaign, and frankly I’m thankful that they did it considering the result. Maybe that makes me a bit of a hypocrite on the subject of cross-promotion, I don’t know. All I know is that it was really helpful for getting funded, and I really enjoyed talking both to them and the backers who migrated to my comments page from the hilarious sprawling morass that was the Condyle comments section.
Also, once my campaign passed the $40k mark and unlocked the metal coins stretch goal, I started seeing the pace accelerate even further. People like metal coins, I guess.
How often do you send out updates and what do they include?
After the campaign I’ve promised to send out updates at least once a month, including information on everything I’ve been working on pertaining to the game. During the campaign, I tried to not update more than once per day so as to not bother people (because I hate getting emails like that), but that proved difficult when the campaign started breaking through multiple stretch goals per hour.
Don’t update if you don’t have anything to say, is my basic motto. And even then, maybe wait until you have more to say, if it’s not a major update. The fact that I personally hate getting marketing emails may have something to do with that.
Whats you tactic regarding stretch goals?
All of the stretch goals were things that I really wanted in the game but had cut from my original plan because they were too expensive. So I just went through and set all the major ones at the price points where I could afford to manufacture them.
One of my backers early on asked me if I could include more small stretch goals, giving extra cards and whatnot, and I figured why not and added some of those in as well. People seem to really like exclusive or promo content, though I personally wanted to try and make as many of the stretch goals as possible be additions to the basic box rather than exclusives. I think I managed to balance that quite well.
What is the most important element of a Kickstarter page?
The hook. Maybe it’s a good picture, maybe it’s a good name, maybe it’s that you’re well-known for making good games. Doesn’t matter what it is, you need to have something to hook someone who’s just scrolling down a page of recent tabletop Kickstarter campaigns. Nothing else matters if you aren’t able to get someone to take that first look at your page.
Do you regret something you did on your last campaign?
I regret not sending out as many review copies ahead of time. That’s the big one, really. Also, I think maybe I should have tried to go part-time at my day job during the Kickstarter, because in retrospect I did not split my attention between the job and the campaign as well as I should have.
You had some issues with another game almost having the same name. How did you handle that?
That happened twice, actually! The game that eventually became Among Thieves was the first one. I learned about it when someone sent Vasil (the designer of that game) a message on Facebook with a link to my blog, asking if he was working with me. Vasil emailed me, and we had a very polite conversation about it, and he changed the name of his game because I’d been using the name first. We’ve occasionally exchanged emails and Facebook messages talking about our projects in the time since then.
The second time was when I was approaching reviewers asking if they wanted to review No Honor Among Thieves. David Lowry of Club Fantasci told me that “Trevor” had already contacted him, and that we should split up our list of contacts better, under the assumption that me and Trevor Harron of Blue Heron Entertainment were working together. I, understandably surprised, reached out to Trevor to talk about his game called No Honor Among Thieves, and what followed was the most tense week or so during my development of the game (even the Kickstarter was less stressful, to be honest), because despite me having started work on my game with that name before Blue Heron, Blue Heron had the trademark application on the name, and if he decided to keep using it there wasn’t really anything I could do. He ended up offering to sell the trademark to me and change the name of his game, which ended up being Collectors and Capers, which was a deal I took with much relief. Honestly it probably wouldn’t have mattered much at that point if I’d changed the name (as was mentioned in an earlier question, I’m terrible at building a following before launching so I didn’t really have many people waiting on it at that point), but I also really, really liked the name, and was absolutely willing to pay that cost to keep it.
Do you have any role models in the board gaming industry?
Jamey Stegmaier’s blog is what spurred me to make my own game and run a Kickstarter for it, so I think that would be the closest to it. Despite that, I’ve never actually played any of his games. If you’re looking for people whose work I know I enjoy, I’ll play pretty much anything with a Fantasy Flight logo on it, though I imagine that’s not an uncommon sentiment.
Anything else you want to add?
Put the work in, and it pays off. Have a great theme, great name, and great art, and be enthusiastic about what you’re making. If you see an opportunity to make some good luck for yourself, take it.
Uh…I should probably do the usual promotion stuff. You can preorder No Honor Among Thieves here, and sign up for my newsletter on my website, which will alert you when I do anything else cool, assuming I remember to send out a newsletter about it. I’m currently working on another game to publish after I’m done with No Honor Among Thieves, so stay tuned for more interesting projects from Carpe Omnis Games.
Check out Adams website at www.carpeomnis.com