Tell us a bit about yourself and your company Sculpin Games.
My name is Scotty Hardwick. I founded Sculpin Games a little over 2 and a half years ago. The first game I released was called The Horrible Truth. It is an adult party game where people ask questions about themselves and people try to guess what their opinion or if they have done something. People get rewarded for knowing more about you. My second and third games are Clustered. I am currently working on a new game that will be on Kickstarter in the next 6 months or so. It is a hidden role heist game. I am really excited to get to share it with the world.
So a little more about me. I currently work full time as a mechanical engineer. I started working on my first game the horrible truth right after graduating when I was looking for my first engineering job. I now juggle both running Sculpin Games and working full time. I am also married and have a small child. It has been really great getting to start my own business from scratch and building it up to now have 2 games on store shelves, 1 on Kickstarter, and another coming soon. I have had some success getting The Horrible Truth in Spencer’s Gifts. This alone is over 700 stores. With Clustered I am now partnering with Vegard Farstad from Simplicatus Games. He is going to act as a European distributor and is helping to open up other avenues for Clustered such as teachers. Getting a multi-lingual edition of Clustered is one of the driving forces behind the second edition and as a result this second Kickstarter for Clustered.
Your current game on Kickstarter is Clustered. What is the game about?
Clustered is an abstract strategy game that challenges you to out think and out plan your opponent. It uses pattern matching to place cards from your hand. To play a card you have to match 2 of the 3 feature symbols to the ones you are playing off of. Everyone has an identical 29 card deck that is denoted by the decks color. You play outward from a start card in the middle of the table. You score points by making card clusters that are either lines or a square. You get points for lines that are longer than 3 and for your largest rectangle that is larger than 2X2. The rules are easy to learn but the game has a ton of depth to the strategy that keeps each game fresh and competitive.
The second edition of Clustered is currently on Kickstarter. The second edition is a stand alone game or an expansion to the first. With both editions combined it would take the game to 1-8 players. Or play either edition on its own for a 1-4 player game. Each game takes about 15 minutes per player. The game is even great with kids, we recommend age 7+. It is rare to get a game that doesn’t lose aspects of it when being played with fewer players. But Clustered is a game that is great to play with just two players.
This is actually the second edition of Clustered on Kickstarter. How did the first campaign go?
The first Clustered Kickstarter went really well. It was able to fund with 198 bakers and $4,536. In addition to this, we were able to give over 60 games away to local children’s charities! I was happy with getting this many backers. This was the second Kickstarter I had done and was happy to be able to get that many people to back.
What did you do to create a following for Clustered 1 edition before you launched?
To help get the word out on my first Clustered Kickstarter campaign I did the usual stuff like post on social media and did a little bit of advertising. I feel like marketing is one area I can use a lot of work on. I come from a design background so that part of the process comes much more naturally to me. Also there is a bit of an uphill battle from be beginning with an abstract strategy game. It is really hard to draw people in without a story or without the visual appeal of the art of some other games. But I wanted to keep Clustered all about the strategy and not distract away from that by making the cards more cluttered with a theme. I wanted the game to be all about sitting there and thinking and having to outplay your opponents. This has made getting the word out more difficult but I would not trade it for anything.
What was the biggest thing you learned from the first campaign?
Through the process of my first Clustered campaign I learned a great deal about how to get the game in front of people. This was my second Kickstarter but the first one where I had a clue what I was doing. The first campaign for The Horrible Truth was a bit of a last minute idea. I was new to the game business as well as Kickstarter so I had so many things to learn before diving into it. So with my first Clustered campaign I was able to focus more on getting the game in front of people and didn’t have to spend so much time figuring out Kickstarter itself. I learned more about the need for putting out updates and having stretch goals. Really just the importance of engaging your audience and keeping things interesting and bringing in new content to keep them interested.
On the current campaign you gave away a free copy of the game to the first 500 backers. How is that possible to do without you going bankrupt?
I viewed the 500 free game giveaway as a marketing plan. I viewed this as a way to spread the word, word of mouth in the gaming tabletop industry seems to be very important. In addition to just getting people engaged, it also looks really good to Kickstarter to have a large number of backers on the first day. I know that there was some risk with the game giveaway but so is every other form of advertising. I just really liked the idea of not giving more money to a large company like Facebook when I could put that same expense into producing games and getting them out to people. I am hoping over time these people will play with their family and friends and come to love Clustered and help become advocates for it. I feel like it was huge success and I will do it again for sure.
The backers that gets the free game do have to pay shipping. Doesn´t that make most of the funds you collect shipping money?
Yes the 500 free games would just be shipping cost. The hope being that from these 500 backers there will be more backers that will be paid backers that will come organically and will not just be money to fulfill shipping. This has proven to be the case and so far has set records for number of backers and amount collected for us at Sculpin Games.
What is your opinion on early birds?
I personally have no problem with them. I have heard that many people are turned off by them from feeling like they are missing out on something when you do not get the early bird specials. I have used them in the past and I would have again if I would not have done the free game giveaways. With doing the free game giveaways i wanted to make it feel like people were not fully missing out. That is the reason the free versions did not come with the box. I did not want to make everyone after the 500 to feel like they missed out and should not have to pay for what they are getting. It was a bit of a balancing act to figure out what should and should not be included. I think there is a place for early birds but they have to be done in such a way that they don’t anger the backers who did not get the early bird specials.
If there was one thing you wish you knew before you launched Clustered 2ed, what would it be?
I think the main thing I would have liked to know is what would and what would not be a good use of time and money. I know this is not possible to know beforehand but knowing how the free game giveaway would go as well as what ads would convert well. It would also be nice to know what to focus your time on posting to on social media what posts will get people to engage and what will not. One think I actually could have figured out before hand is the referral tags within Kickstarter. There is a way to make custom tags you can track traffic. Through using unique referral tags you can see what posts and advertising is actually getting people to engage and click through to your campaign.
What’s the best kickstarter advice you ever received?
I learned that front loading your backers as early as possible is really helpful to get people pushed to your campaign from Kickstarter themselves. Over half of my sales came from the Kickstarter platform on my first and second Kickstarter campaigns. So getting kickstarter to recognize that your campaign is doing a high number of conversions per day is important for them to keep driving traffic to it. This was a lesson that I learned during my second Kickstarter and it would have been nice to learn even sooner.
If you could change one thing with Kickstarter. What would it be
I would for sure change the campaign body editor. There are many times that when you post to it the images just won’t link or put them somewhere else in the body. Also you can not reorder anything in the editor. You have to delete and readd any image or link that you post. This makes it much more difficult and time consuming to do any edits to the main campaign.
What do you think is the most important element of a Kickstarter page?
I think the most important element would be making it visually appealing. From the main image, to the video, to the campaign body. It is important to make it all look good and feel like it is high quality. I think people will associate how nice it looks with how nice the game will look. So a good attention to detail on the campaign will help convey how nice the game will look and feel.
Do you have any role models in the board gaming industry?
I would say that Ryan Laukat is a pretty good board game role model. I really like Above and Below. I like the balance of strategy and storytelling. It lets me, someone who likes the strategy, play with someone like my wife, who is more into the story play together. It is also a really great two player game with let me and my wife play and have fun when are friends are not around. Also the art is really amazing. I like every aspect of the art in Above and Below. I think that I can look up to him as someone who has created something great.
Anything else you want to add?
I just want to thank you for taking the time to interview me and help get the out about Clustered and SculpinGames. Thanks!
Where can people reach you?
People can reach me via email at email@example.com
Or via facebook: facebook.com/sculpingames
Or via twitter: twitter.com/sculpingames
Also my webpage has all the links as well: http://www.sculpingames.com