Tell us a bit about yourself and Atheris games.
I am a 22-year-old game designer, entrepreneur and writer. I am also a senior marketing major at the University of Florida and graduate next month (December 2017). I started what would later become Atheris Games in my senior year of high school though I didn’t actually start selling games until more recently when we launched Cul-De-Sac Conquest on Kickstarter at the end of 2015. The University of Florida and the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center at UF specifically have helped tremendously with starting the company. We now have two games: Cul-De-Sac Conquest and Mutant Crops and have several in development that will likely be on Kickstarter shortly! I also recently started writing articles for Casual Game Insider my first one will be in the January 2018 issue.
Your first game was Cul-de-sac. How did that Kickstarter go?
Cul-De-Sac Conquest’s Kickstarter did better than we could have ever dreamed. We were really excited about the game and definitely rushed the Kickstater quite a bit. Now that I have more familiarity with Kickstarter I sometimes wonder how we were fortunate enough to fund over 200% of our goal. We definitely made a lot of mistakes and I am constantly working to keep working on developing better experiences for our backers, retailers and other stakeholders.
Not having all of the artwork complete before the campaign finalized delayed the project and left us delivering rewards way later than expected. We learned from that and expect our second game, Mutant Crops, to deliver on-time.
What did you do to build up a following before Cul de sac?
We played the game at a lot of conventions and generated an email list of supporters. Since Atheris is my first real business I also had a lot of family and friends support me to help me see my dreams become a reality. Having the early backing of family and friends helped propel the game on Kickstarter’s homepage and we were able to get a lot of organic reach from that. Additionally, I posted regularly in a lot of the industry Facebook groups so when I was posting about my campaign I feel it came off less spammy than a creator that just joins the group and immediately talks about their project.
We did some Facebook Ads as well and tinkered with a few other advertising platforms, but ultimately our budget was too small to do any serious marketing. We unfortunately were not even able to afford a banner ad on BGG.
What was the biggest thing you learned from your first campaign?
How not to do things… I am joking… sort of. Honestly, I think I learned more in our first campaign than I have in my first two years at the University of Florida. I learned a lot about communication breakdowns with partners and our manufacturer in specific, I also learned about the time it takes to develop art assets and the true costs of running a business (and how these costs are multiplied as projects and thereby cash flows are delayed), I learned how to keep my backers updated and informed about our progress even when it was hard for me to write updates about our shortcomings and I ultimately learned how to market, sell and deliver a game to customers.
You did not have any third party reviewers on your first game´s Kickstarter. Why did you do that?
The decision not to get reviewers was mainly a financial one. Cul-De-Sac Conquest was not our first game. The first game was put on hold because we could no longer afford the artwork and development expenses. When we pivoted to Cul-De-Sac I believed in the project and once the gameplay was complete I hired an artist, Allan Ohr, and took out a loan to pay him and our graphic designer, Sebastian Koziner. Though all the art was paid for it took a while to develop it and since my loan payments were coming due I wanted to launch the campaign as soon as possible. Though, now I see where all of that was wrong and that we should have had all art assets complete before the Kickstarter. Furthermore, we should have had actual reviews on the page. However, at the time my thought process was more along the lines of, “Hey I should try this, whether it works or not it is likely better to find out sooner rather than later.”
Again, I would advise any aspiring creators to do as I say, not as I did.
What did you do to build up a following before you launched your second game, Mutant crops?
Mutant Crops already had some following because the game had a successful release in Argentina by the creators at Ok Ediciones (who we licensed the game from) so that was a huge positive for us. We also had built up an email list with Cul-De-Sac Conquest so all of our backers who really enjoyed Cul-De-Sac seemed pleased to support Mutant Crops as well. Part of this might be that we maintained really excellent communication throughout Cul-De-Sac’s campaign so even with our delays our backers seemed relatively happy with how the campaign was run and fortunately were excited to support us again.
I also started posting about the campaign well in advance and we actually had reviews from Mutant Crops, the designer, Sebastian Koziner, and I also went on several podcasts throughout the campaign. We did Facebook ads again and those seemed to be effective. Though, we didn’t do much else in terms of paid marketing, as our budget continues to be small as we tend to spend our marketing money more so on attending conventions and meeting fans.
How did the Mutant crops campaign go?
Mutant Crops did phenomenal in our eyes. Though we raised less money we did so with more backers. We had a few large donations for Cul-De-Sac from family members who wanted to help out and we didn’t have that with Mutant Crops, but we had a lot of returning backers from Cul-De-Sac. I think Mutant Crops does a better job of showcasing Atheris’ fans and supporters as compared to my personal fans and supporters (read as family and friends).
According to the kicktraq graph of Mutant crops, you got a big boost on day 7. What happened?
During the campaign we had one extremely generous backer who pledged $1,000 and later increased his pledge to $2,500. For a while we were nervous about this because it was not someone anyone on the team knew and we felt that the pledge might be canceled or that the money might not go through. A lot of those in the industry told us horror stories about their campaigns being ruined by a large backer shooting up the campaign funds then dropping the pledge later on. Fortunately, that was not the case. We found a unicorn. He simply is a wealthy individual who likes bringing people’s dreams to life. He stumbled upon Mutant Crops and appreciated our story enough that he backed us for such an extremely generous sum of money.
Needless to say he will continue getting Atheris Games well after we fulfill Mutant Crops.
What is your best marketing tip during a campaign?
Prior to the campaign going live people should already have an idea that the campaign is going to be live on X date. They also should have a general idea of the game. If a creator builds that hype before the campaign, than during the campaign the marketing should be focused on reaching out to people who the company has already had impressions on as sometimes a potential customer doesn’t back a project until they’ve seen it a few times. This is another reason why we’re so grateful for the podcasts and reviewers that posted about the game during the campaign as their followers got to see the game and even if they didn’t buy directly those impressions might have resulted in sales later on.
What is your main tip to handle the mid-campaign drop of new backers?
The mid-campaign slump is hard. Pretty much all project creators face it and loathe it. The best thing to do is to relax and just do the best you can do. During the slow parts of the campaign I like to increase my marketing and in-store presence/demos to try to garner more sales during that time.
How do you structure your days during the campaign?
My entire time working on Atheris I have had other commitments be it work and/or school. During Cul-De-Sac’s Kickstarter I was going to school and working. My time was incredibly sparse and I was working really odd hours on the campaign.
I am not quite sure I have been able to follow an exact structure, but I regularly posted updates and engaged with backers during the campaign. A lot of time was spent on engaging with the community. I really appreciate all those that decide to support our endeavors and think that is the least I can do. Though, obviously some of my other time had to be spent promoting the campaign in various forms.
What’s the best kickstarter advice you ever received?
When I was first starting people kept telling me that shipping is a nightmare. They understated how horrible shipping is. Shipping is incredibly costly and logistically is quite the headache.
We also were faced with what was considered the largest shipping disaster in 100 years when Hanjin went bankrupt and all of Cul-De-Sac Conquest’s inventory (other than the inventory sent to backers) was stuck on their vessels. For a while there was speculation that anyone who had goods on their ships would never receive them or would be forced to pay outrageous fees. We thought it was going to put us out of business. Luckily it didn’t and when we let our backers of Cul-De-Sac know everyone was super supportive and helpful. We even had one backer offer to loan us some of the capital we needed to stay afloat. Though we ultimately didn’t take his money this is the sort of community that we’re in. The board game industry is incredible.
What´s your thoughts regarding stretch goals?
I have conflicting opinions on stretch goals. I understand why they’re there. However, I have seen stretch goals added that actually make a product less profitable. Creators have to be careful about adding stretch goals without mapping out costs effectively. Additionally, it is important for backers to understand the costs of providing some of the things they ask for. Adding miniatures to every game is definitely not viable.
With that being said Mutant Crops we were able to add some cool things to the game via stretch goals. For smaller companies if we wanted supreme components without stretch goals our initial goal would have to be much higher. Having these implemented as stretch goals makes the likelihood of funding much better, while also allowing the possibility of having the fancy upgrades that all us creators ultimately wish for our products.
What is your comment in the debate about paid vs unpayed reviews?
I am a writer and did photography for a while. I have been given more “exposure” than any one person needs. I believe in paying people for their time and efforts. If reviewers are paid than they can purchase better equipment and produce better content. I know how expensive photography equipment is so this is especially useful for video reviewers. How these reviewers receive this compensation is debatable and I definitely am not sure how much bias would be added if the review was paid for. Though, I am also not sure if other options are much better.
Though, as a small publisher I couldn’t quite afford to do many paid reviews so I hope there are always a few who find other ways to monetize their content so smaller publishers don’t have any more difficulties competing with larger companies on Kickstarter.
What do you think is the most important element of a Kickstarter page?
The graphics. I write all the text and I think that might be one of the least important parts. My graphic designer, Sebastian Koziner, does all the heavy lifting. His graphics paired with a great Kickstarter video does more for selling the game than any text I could come up with. We’re very fortunate to work with Sebastian. He is amazingly talented and a super cool dude.
What is your favourite board game at the moment and why?
I think my favorite game at the moment is a game we’ll be publishing later in 2018 by Don Riddle. It is a medium weight strategy game, but is suprisingly simple for how much variety of actions and decisions there are. We were calling it Ruins of Mars, but we’re currently looking at changing the name.
Do you have any role models in the board gaming industry?
I have quite a few. I definitely look up to James Hudson from Druid City Games. He is the most dapper man in board games for sure. He gives off a great aura and I always enjoy speaking with and playing games with him at cons! I also have been fortunate enough to have been given great advice from Ryan Bruns and Seth Hiatt from Mayday Games. Seth’s story of starting Mayday is definitely quite inspiring. I have also seen Renegade Games grow and thrive over the past few years and think Scott Gaeta is doing a fabulous job, though I haven’t personally met him yet.
Anything else you want to add?
If anyone ever needs any help I am more than happy to help in any way I can. Also, I encourage people to subscribe to Casual Game Insider so they can read my articles. 😀
Where can people reach you?