Monday, January 14, 2013

Wargame Tables, Table-tops, and Dice Trays

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am happy to introduce to our readers the hard working, tool wielding creator behind the Wargame Tables, Table-tops, and Dice Trays kickstarter, Callen Johnson.  Thank you for joining us today Callen!

Thank you, James.  I am pleased to be here.

I’d like to start off by congratulating you by hitting your goal exactly of $2000 as I write this.  Well done!  Do you have any special plans now that your project is going above and beyond your initial goal?

Thanks.  I am a little surprised at how fast the goal was met, to be honest.  Nothing too special in the works for the extra funds.  I may pick up an extra tool for the shop to help turn out a higher quality product, depending on the funding amount at the end date.  The main priority will be to get the rewards to our awesome backers.



I understand your project is about making playing surfaces for gamers?  Can you explain your project in a bit more depth?

We want to make gaming surfaces in multiple forms: tables, dice trays, etc...  In my experience playing games like D&D, Warhammer, and classics like Monopoly and Stratego (I don’t do Battleship anymore, my wife always wins...), I have found that there is always some little irritation with dining tables, coffee tables, and carpets (I despise playing on carpet).  It can be that dice are hard to roll, or fly off the edge (especially upsetting when they fly under some piece of furniture that has cobwebs and who-knows-what else).  It can also be that the surface is too little.  The worst is playing on a floor for extended periods of time, as comfort is a big issue for me.

What we want to do is eliminate as many of these issues as possible by supplying a gaming surface made for the games customers play.  Give them a surface where dice will actually roll and if they toss it too hard the lip of the surface will catch it.   If the have the table they want, but need a better dice rolling surface, we can supply a tray made just for their dice.

Mostly, we want to be able to supply a place just for gaming.  If you have ever been to a game shop that has both folding tables (the workhorses of in-shop gaming) and an actual gaming table, you’ll notice immediately the difference in the gamers playing at the gaming table.  There is just a better feeling about playing your games on a surface made explicitly for your games.  It is kind of like the difference between off-roading in a Honda Civic or in a Land Rover.

Many people already know of another gaming furniture maker online, Geekchic, which makes incredible looking stuff.  I looked at buying something from them before deciding to make a table of my own.  But, you pay for what you get.  The cheapest thing that could work for me and my gaming parties had a starting price of $1600.  Probably decently priced for the piece no doubt, but for my income, that is out of the question.  After asking around and even looking at some forums, I found the same sentiments from many gamers.  One of my favorites was a forum where a person was showing off pictures of a table he just bought and it looked great.  There was a whole string of people commenting on how awesome it would be to have a table to play games on but, there is no way they can afford it.  This is where we come in.

We will offer gaming furniture that will be strong, durable, and easy on the eyes.  Most importantly, it will be more affordable for gamers who would rather spend more money on the game pieces of their respective games.

These are awfully large objects to be shipping.  I notice you're basically limiting your delivery area to within 400 miles of your home in Tulsa Oklahoma, is that because you’re going to drive them to buyers in person?

Yes, I will be delivering the larger products in person.  This is actually for a couple of reasons, first of which, I currently have no better solution as far as shipping costs are concerned.  I received quotes from two shipping companies (the third told me they simply cannot ship the tables) and even if in the tables are not assembled the cost would be more than I believe the tables are worth.  I want to keep the costs down for customers.  This is the principle on which we stand for with our products.

Second, with the size of the tables it is easier on the customer to have a table not yet assembled delivered by the person who will assemble it for them.  This way they can get some help with moving the product into place, and see how it is put together in case they want to take it apart and move it later.  It also gives me and them the added benefit of a face-to-face meeting so it isn’t just a straight business deal.  I still firmly believe that gaming is an incredible social enabler and this is another chance to socialize with more gamers, get to know the people who wanted to buy our stuff, make some new friends maybe, and also let them know that we care about our products and their satisfaction.

If we can find a solution to ship anywhere in the states and even internationally we certainly will take that route, but I am more than pleased to be able to deliver tables.

What makes your playing surfaces superior to the kitchen table?  To a card table?  

The kitchen table is a great place to game, but a game can take a while and family members who don’t game a lot may end up wanting to use it.  The biggest reason is that some games (Axis and Allies, Hordes, Warhammer, etc...) have regulation surface sizes and for a serious gamer, having a surface of this size is ideal.  Kitchen tables, and even card tables might not suffice.

Also, a kitchen table usually does not have an actual surface that is good for dice rolling.  A lot of times I have found that my dice slide more than roll.  When they do actually roll it is because of the momentum from the throw, which is also the reason why they fly off the table.  A card table surface can be good for both cards and dice, but many have card suit designs on them and most people playing Warhammer 40,000 don’t usually want their marines crushing enemies with hearts and diamonds underfoot.

It is good to have a place to play. A place that is just for your games, nothing else.  A lot of it is cosmetics, but (here is where I get nerdy) the feeling of just having a place that is for you, your friends, and your games is an awesome feeling.  This translates to the gameplay, making the gaming experience better for everyone.  Maybe an analogous question would be to ask a painter what makes an easel superior to the kitchen table?  Though there are more physical benefits of the easel, it is still a place for the artist to do what they are in to.  This is the same for a gamer.

(Chuckles) I agree nothing like eating Space Marines on a giant red heart.  The sense of place is a very nice idea indeed! This is your second attempt at Kickstarting this project, what got you started?  Why bring the project to Kickstarter?

I got started on this project when I decided I wanted to build a gaming table in our garage.  I looked around online and saw what some other people had done to make their own and I took what I liked and made a few changes here and there and when I was confident in a build I asked my wife for the green light.

I started building the table on my own (my two-year-old son was there for support), then enlisted the help of my wife and a couple of friends for when I needed another set of hands.  The whole time I was doing this I kept thinking to myself of way I could improve on this if I did this again.  In the end, I was satisfied with the table and so were my gaming buddies, but I had this overwhelming feeling that I knew how to do it better.

A day goes by and I start taking account of the entire process of how I built this table.  I have no power tools other than gardening stuff and a drill, so I had to have my local home improvement center make the wood cuts for me.  They were helpful and awesome, but the bottom line is that they make fast, sloppy cuts.  I worked with these tools in my grandfather’s shop and was making better cuts when I was 13.  If I had the tools I could make the cuts needed for quality stuff.  In fact, if I had the proper tools I could do all the woodworking and assembly better.

Then it hit me: I could do it well enough that maybe other gamers would see it and think, “I’d buy that.”  There is already a great place to buy gaming furniture online, but the fact is that their amazing, beautiful furniture is really expensive.  I thought I could make nice gaming furniture.  It won’t be as aesthetically amazing as their stuff, but it would be nice, durable, and gamer worthy.

So, the problem then is tools and materials.  A fellow graduate student and friend of mine told me about Kickstarter.  I looked it up and did some research about other sites like it and ended up feeling like Kickstarter was more legitimate.  I was especially drawn to the idea of their “all or nothing” approach.  With other sites you get what is pledged, but if it isn’t what is needed, how could we, physically, make the rewards for those who backed us?  With Kickstarter this is not an issue.  The first time we put this on Kickstarter we were backed for $777.  That would cover most the tools needed to make the products promised to those that backed us, but wouldn’t cover the materials or the shipping.  That was not a situation I wanted to be in.

I notice you’re only selling fully constructed playing surfaces, have you considered just selling plans?  For those who are outside your area and handy enough to do it themselves this could be quite the option!  

At this time I really don’t want to sell the plans I have, mostly because they are not neatly done.  They are just sketches with my childish handwritten annotations.  But maybe after a while, when we get everything in order I can make appropriate plans with easy-to-read instructions.  This will also take some research on our part because we want to make affordable gaming furniture for game players and come up with a reasonable cost to charge for the products, but we are not really sure what kind of price to put on plans.

What kind of options and upgrades do you have planned for these tables and playing surfaces?  

We would like to keep the designs as bare-bones as possible to keep the costs down, but we do have ideas for some modular upgrades.  We do want to get a good foundation before we add the bells and whistles.  The same theory would still apply to these add-ons: we would make them affordable!

Long term do you hope to continue making this line of products and maybe even expand it?  Start your own shop and go into a larger scale of production?  

Yes! I am in the middle of earning my masters in physics and have career goals as a scientist, but this is certainly something that I would want to continue doing for a long time.  Being that our products appeal to a niche market, we don’t really foresee us leasing a shop and pushing a large scale of production.  This would be fun though!  Let’s say that I am wrong and this actually is a viable option, we would certainly work towards expanding the entire operation.  We are still gamers at heart and want to help other gamers have more fun with gaming!

A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer.   How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?

The most important thing for me in engaging our backers is openness and relatively quick responses to questions (no matter how many).  We also have a Facebook page that we post updates on, but not many have been posted.  This will change after funding has been received and the shop is up and running.  You were the first person to get an interview from me about the project, lucky you!  I will also be doing another interview for the University of Tulsa Relations Department, which is with the school I attend.  In all seriousness, I never thought I would be giving interviews about this, but I am happy to do them and I hope that in some way they can help spread the word a little.

The biggest thing is the emailing and messaging through Kickstarter.  Speaking to someone about their specific questions is more important to me than reading FAQ’s.  Plus, I feel that it is even more so important having one-on-one communication with potential backers because we really are working from the ground up.  We have one table built as a demo product and the tables customers will be getting will be even better than that one.  We don’t want to request home improvement stores (or other places) to make the cuts for our products because we want our future demo’s to look better and be more indicative of what a customer will receive.  We didn’t expect to be funded so fast and we never expected to get a lot of backers for this reason.  A backer is taking us for our word having not yet seen what they are getting.  Like most people, I am not quick to give up my money without seeing where it is going.  This also means that all of the incredible people that have (and hopefully will) backed us mean a lot to us with their support.  These folks have given us more than just their money, they have given us their trust and this is not something I take lightly.

What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to help things along?

We haven’t really received much media attention other than your interview here and the college news.  Even with Facebook there isn’t a whole lot of action.  I actually never heard of Kicktraq before you brought it up.  I will be looking into this a lot more though.  It looks like an awesome tool!

Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?

The only advice I would give is to have a little fun with it!  Look at all the other projects people have put up.  There are some great ideas floating around and a lot of them you can adapt to your own project.

Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

It was my pleasure, thank you for having me!  Support gaming!

Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!