Monday, December 31, 2012

Fate Core Interview

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am joined by Fred Hicks of Evil Hat Productions creator of the Fate role playing system.  Today he is here to talk about his third Kickstarter Fate Core, thank you for joining us Fred.

It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me!

This is your third successful Kickstarter campaign, what do you think is the secret to your success?  

There’s no secret to Evil Hat’s success with Kickstarter. Shock! But it’s true.

We show up to each campaign with an existing audience that we’ve done everything we can to make sure trusts us and is at least interested in trying out whatever our next crazy idea is. It took us the better part of the past decade to build that audience.

Once we have that audience paying attention to us, we put ideas out there that we’re excited about and where we can communicate that excitement effectively. We build our Kickstarters like they’re tiny little short-term businesses with business plans and everything (however vaguely articulated) -- we know our entry points, our market, our plan for talking to that market, and our exit strategies (you’ve got to plan for at least three exit scenarios: project didn’t fund, project did but just barely, project did and by a big margin -- and know what you’re going to do in each case with your result). Spreadsheets were made. Trajectories planned.

As a general rule, I don’t think “we did the work and built the audience in advance” is much of a secret, so... there you have it. If there’s a “trick” in how we build our Kickstarters, tho, it’s about what I call value compression. Typically we have some kind of tier, fairly entry level, that’s inherited by the higher level tiers as well, where the more stretch goals the project hits, the more folks will get for the same amount of money. While we do pair this with upgrade options that encourage existing backers to increase their pledges (which is a good practice too), the whole value compression thing tends to encourage more people to pile on the more successful the campaign gets, which is a kind of snowballing thing and very good for creating excitement. Excitement is an essential fuel for any kickstarter campaign. You want folks to be jazzed enough that they’ll talk about it, a lot, on their own, in public.

The dollar side of a kickstarter campaign is great, and it’s absolutely what you’re angling for in order to make your vision a reality, but for us the real end product is the creation and support of an ever-growing audience for our games. Because once you have an audience, you’ve got future success wrangled as well as present success. And that’s how you create something sustainable. Something kickstarted.

You sound like you’ve almost made a science out of this! Does it get easier the more campaigns you run?

Each kickstarter campaign is different enough that I think it’s hard yet, at only three campaigns, to feel like I’ve got a big enough data set to say with confidence that it gets easier. I think some of the project-runner psychology does get easier, though. You learn what not to spend so much time worrying about. A few techniques emerge as repeatable patterns, but it’s hard to experiment with those repeatable patterns without running an actual next campaign, and you only really get your one chance to test out your ideas for a specific campaign by running it.

So can you tell us a bit about the FATE system and why it needed an update?  

Fate (not FATE, not any more -- it stopped being an acronym back around 2006) is a roleplaying game that originally derived from FUDGE way back when, but has drifted considerably in the ten or so years since it first started to take form. It’s the sort of RPG that focuses on modeling fiction, not physics, featuring stories of larger-than-life types who get out there into whatever hairy situation befalls them and, despite their weaknesses (and in fact sometimes because of them), save the day, whatever the cost. The system revolves strongly around the idea of aspects -- double-edged truths about characters that describe both strengths and complications in one neat package.

As to why Fate needed an update... well, we’re not a company that stops learning, I think. I hope! So each time we’ve published a Fate game, we’ve been watching to see what it does out in the world and how it might be made better. So when we sat down to do Fate Core, we knew we wanted to write the thing from the ground up, to re-explain all the concepts not only to our readers but to ourselves, and to seek the freshest take and brightest clarity when talking about those concepts. It’s made for a game that’s sleeker and clearer than ever before. I’m excited about Fate all over again, and after dancing with the thing for a decade that’s no mean feat. :)

Fate is often overshadowed by older and more established games like Dungeons and Dragons, GURPS, and the World of Darkness systems...

Is it? I mean, other than D&D, I just can’t tell any more. You work real close to the surface of the moon all the time, it looks a hell of a lot larger than that dinky blue and green planet that keeps swinging through the sky trying to get your attention.

[laughs]… yet you have already have almost 5,000 backers and raised almost $180,000!  What is it about the Fate system that draws in such a loyal playerbase?  

On the social and online side of things, we treat our fans like peers, and we’ve always encouraged a strong, vibrant community of experts who go beyond the “Official Voice Of The Hat” formula.

As for the system itself, I think Fate is sitting in a niche that hasn’t been filled as much over time, positioned somewhere between some truly experimental story-gamer stuff on the “indie” small press side of things, and the more traditional roleplaying hobby we’ve seen for decades. It’s a continuum, but folks tend to see that as a dividing line as far as system and style goes, “indie” vs “trad”, because that continuum tends to bulge a bit at each end and stretch a bit thin in the middle. That division’s never been us, though; we’re omnivores as far as RPGs go. So Fate grew up right in the middle of that continuum, borrowing concepts from both ends of it, and as such I think we ended up finding out that there was a lot of unfilled demand sitting in that space. Fate’s been fattening that middle stretch ever since.

Why don’t more folks use Fate versus the big three?  

I think plenty of folks do, honestly. We’ve sold over 16,000 copies digital and print combined of the Dresden Files RPG, nearly 9,000 of Spirit of the Century. There’s probably some space where those two don’t overlap. Then there’s the dozen or more third party Fate games out there. In gaming that doesn’t indicate a small population, not in this day and age.

The Fate system evolved from the FUDGE system so much so that it even uses the same dice system.  Do you think the open nature of the system has helped it’s popularity and longevity?  

Absolutely. Ownership is a powerful drug. You tell folks they get to own what they make with your thing, and they may get hooked.

If I wanted to produce a game using the Fate system based off my work what would I have to do?  Just use the Fate logo and then rake in the money?  

That’s a little too broad of a question for me to answer usefully, but here goes. You’d have to use one of our licensing schemes, put the appropriate copyrights and credits in the front of your book, all that stuff. You’d have to have a genuinely good idea that got people excited. You’d need to read and understand the system deeply enough to create derivations and extensions that actually improve the experience of play and uphold that exciting genuinely good idea you’ve got. You’d need to playtest it, because any change to a system can have unexpected consequences. Once you’ve done all that, maybe you’ve made it to the door, and can open it, put it in front of the existing Fate audience, and see what they think. If they do, you can start to rake in the work. The work always comes first. The money, small as it is, comes later, if it comes. Publishing and game design is work, folks! There are no easy shortcuts, tho Fate might help you speed up that design part a bit.

The campaign mentions that after the book is released people will be able to “pay what they want” for the game.  So why should we back the Kickstarter and not just wait for release?

A few things.

First, back it today and you’ll get access to the draft of the game right away, months before the general public will.

Second, we’re listening to our backers at every turn and factoring their feedback into our revisions of the game. Backing makes certain your voice will be heard. (We listen to all our fans. But the backers are the ones we’re going to be listening to first, prior to publication.)

Third, and this is the big one, we’ve been doing that value compression thing across a crazy number of already-funded stretch goals. Back at $10 and you’ll be due something like a thousand pages or more of Fate driven content, spread across over a dozen PDFs once everything’s written, edited, laid out, and otherwise produced. It’s a they-must-have-lost-their-damn-minds kind of a deal. Take advantage of it! The individual PDFs will be sold afterwards, but if you buy them individually it’ll likely easily break a $30-40 tally if not much more.

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?

I spend a lot of time on Twitter and G+; we have a facebook page. All that. We’re not doing advertising on this one beyond that. The best and most authentic recommendation for Fate is one that’s going to come from one of our fans, by word of mouth -- so that’s what we’re focused on. Giving them a good experience, so they’ll give us good buzz. With a motivated and positive-minded community like we’ve managed to build with Fate, that buzz comes easy. Not without hard work, mind you. But far easier than it would come without those well-treated fans.

How good has the feedback from the early versions of the system been from the backers?  Are people playtesting the system as we speak?  

Phenomenal and kind of firehose-like in its rate and volume. Folks aren’t just playtesting it, they’re making blog posts, sharing youtube videos of their tests via Google Hangouts, all that stuff. It’s crazy.

Have you seen if supports the Fate system?  I know they allow FUDGE dice rolls but I haven’t heard of any Fate games being played over there.  

I have not looked into that, no. Stuff’s going great via Google Hangouts, as I noted, so I figure everything else will take care of itself, on that kind of thing.

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

Plenty. What I haven’t already given in this interview, I may have given over on my blog at Deadly Fredly. Here are a few posts:

Then there’s the two-hour Kickstarter panel I helped run at Metatopia:

And the Pinterest board where I collect useful Kickstarter things:

Read up! Research and planning is critical.

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

I love answering questions. If you’ve got ’em, ask ’em, either on the Kickstarter page itself, or at the Deadly Fredly or Evil Hat websites.

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

Me too! Thanks!

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