Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Hegemonic Interview

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  This time I am joined by James Mathe of Minion Games who has brought us a new board game for Kickstarter called Hegemonic.  Thank you for joining us today James!

Thanks for reaching out to us for this interview. We appreciate your support.

Well lets dive right in and point out that this is your sixth Kickstarter all of which have been delivered and can even be found on regular store shelves is that correct?

Though we’re still waiting on final delivery of the Manhattan Project expansion, that is more or less correct. The games are on store shelves and in distribution and at online stores. We have made games before this but with the use of kickstarter our risks have greatly been reduced. We no longer make any games that lose money as we have the preorders and marketing from Kickstarter. So look for our 7th and 8th to come this year at the least!.

What’s it like being a Kickstarter veteran?  I’m not sure how many others out there can admit to having as many successful and fully completed and fulfilled Kickstarters as you guys.

It’s not like being famous :)  It does feel good though as we now know we can get some great products to the market that we might not have had the chance to do in the past. I do get asked a lot of questions from people and I gladly reply but there are many online resources for people to learn most all I know today. I may have some more specifics as far as card/board games go.

Kickstarter isn’t the first time you’ve been at the head of the pack on this whole online thing is it?  I didn’t realize how many of your sites and services I’ve used until I read your little bio (RPGnow comes straight to mind).  You really have been at the forefront of gaming and the internet haven’t you?

I guess you can say that. I’m someone who enjoys creating things new and original, whether that’s a business or a game- I enjoy the challenge and pride of doing things not done before.

So enough about you lets get down to the good bits, the game!  You bill Hegemonic as a “4x Space Board Game” which means a lot to a Master of Orion fan like myself.  Can you give us a brief rundown of the game?

The game is a unique take and feel on the category. Twilight Imperium and Eclipse being some of the most popular ones to date. With Hegemonic we aimed to make a game where all three power types (Industrial, Political, and Military) all had a viable path to victory. We wanted a game that wasn’t about just the building of a war engine to conquer the universe. In Hegemonic your goal is area control. You want to be in control of the universe and that universe isn’t just stomped under you military boot. You can call on Alien Factions to help you in a political conflict to take over a system. Or you can spread quickly with your corporate greed to buy out systems you desire. In the end (of each round) it’s all about what progress you’ve made in exploring and controlling new areas of the universe.
How do you avoid “analysis paralysis” in a game this complex?

We use some mechanics like simultaneous action reveal which limits your choices of what you can do each round and thus limits the number of actions of others you must worry about. In the end it’s all about control of an area so when you find yourself pondering too many paths - you can back yourself out of that hole by just concentrating on what actions will keep or give you more area control. The rest doesn’t matter.

So how does your game differ from Eclipse which seems to be the one I hear you compared with the most?  

In Eclipse you are mainly concentrating on technologies and ship building to help your random dice beat up the poor Alien races and maybe another player. Hegemonic doesn’t even have dice and you can only ever have 3 fleets or 3 agents. So there is no massive build up. There are no wildly random outcomes of battles. This is probably the most Euro style game of the three.  Really the only similarity of this game and Eclipse is the player boards and the way resources are managed, which were actually developed before Eclipse ever came out.

Now the last big space based board game I bought and loved was Twilight Imperium.  My biggest issue was how long it took to play which caused it to be played rarely.  How does Hegemonic compared in time and complexity to TI? Does the simultaneous action selection process speed things up?

In TI3 you are mainly focused on building a war engine to obtain systems to give you more political power to help change the outcome of the game. Alternate goals are draw from a deck which can randomly change your goals. In Hegemonic you have a fixed goal from start to finish. Low amount of randomness allows for you to plan your moves. The role selection helps limit the amount of actions each round to keep turn times down. So a typical game of 4 or 5 players of Hegemonic is about 3-4 hours. That’s long, yes. But it’s much better than the 6+ hours of TI.

I understand this game has been in development for a long time, how long does it normally take to design, test, and then bring a game up to pre-production Kickstarter time frame?  

A typical game that comes to us has been in development for about 1-3 years. At the time we get the game we take another year of development to get it to a print ready state. Some people are talented enough to make something as pretty as this game by the time they bring it to us, and in this case Oliver had taking it mostly there when we got our hands on it. So we’ve spent the last 6 months streamlining the game. It then takes about 1-2 months to deal with Kickstarter and 90-120 days to get the game printed and shipped back to the states.

The plastic pieces seen in the prototype are offered as an $80,000 stretch goal, so what material are you planning to use for the pieces normally?  Wood? Plastic?  

The shapes were kept simple so that they could be made of wood that is painted. That’s what we’ll do if we don’t reach this stretch goal. It costs about $5000 for moulds for the plastic bits and that’s the big cost that doesn’t make sense unless we sell enough copies of the game.

I think that many folks have no real clue just how expensive a board game is to physically make, especially when they’re coming from the video game side of Kickstarter.  Your interview with the Penny Arcade Report talks about how you’ve slowly raised the goals of your Kickstarters to accurately reflect the true cost of publishing a full run of these games.   Do you have to shake your head or just hope for the best on some of these other first time projects who end up with cost overruns or delays because they’re not as experienced in the realities of getting a board game published?  Do you reach out to some of these other guys and say, “Hey you’ve got a great idea here and I wish you the best but you might want to double that goal to cover the true cost?”  

I try to offer help where I can and I post in a lot of places on the net to help people who are willing to help themselves. If someone has no clue about the true costs of making their game when they setup their kickstarter, I’m not sure that anyone is going to be able to help them at that point. A game is going to cost anywhere from $15000-30000 to create 1500-2000 copies. If they are way under or way over that, I would definitely question their ability to understand what they are doing.

The only people I roll my eyes at are those people who still think a roll and move game that has the look of monopoly or candy land has any chance in hell of being supported. You’d be surprised how many of these show up on KS.

So your shipping section mentions this is going to be a heavy game. A seven pound game, with just tokens and board pieces, but still costs $75 retail? There aren’t even any cool looking and fancy miniatures. I know I have a hard time justifying these prices and such to the uninitiated, how do you as a salesperson do it?  

I own several game stores and I see the price of a typical game’s game is around $50 but they have been edging up to 55 and 60 lately. TI and Eclipse are both $100 games. Much of this has to do with the fact that at the end of the day we, as publishers, only get about 36% of the MSRP in our pocket to pay for the production and printing costs and hopefully a profit. Usually we need to sell 800-1000 copies of a game just to break even, yet the average new game sells only about 500 in distribution. So that’s again why Kickstarter is so important to us, we make about 3 times as much money on each copy sold so we can discount it a bit and include shipping -- but then retailers get mad at us for doing so. It’s a fine line to walk.

Anyway, as for the figures/bits, if we get enough support we would consider actual miniatures or at least more detailed 3d models to be used... but it’s up to the support we get as they add costs and our game is NOT a $100 price point.

How different is your production process from other Kickstarted games like Kingdom of Death: Monster which is full of miniature add-ons, or Gunship: First Strike which I’m still currently waiting on my copy because they went the China route?  From the uninformed point of view it seems you’re offering less but asking more.  

I dunno the details of those products or the deals or printers they are working with. We however have been burned before by working with low price china factories direct so we won’t do that. We’ll offer a high quality game, but we need to work with high quality printers in the process. I do not look at the current bits as a negative - they work with the euro mechanic concepts we have and are meant to be this way. Again, we might consider an upgrade to actual modeled miniatures if we break the 100k mark where we would be able to make up for the costs of doing such in the volume sales.  I’ve done this many times and I know what we need to make money. Many kickstarters in the past have over promised with many high end stretch goals and made very little or even no money on their kickstarter projects. I’m being realistic with all of our goals.

One of the keys of a successful Kickstarter project is backer participation.  How do you engage your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?

We have contests on Facebook and we do interviews like these. We reach out to media sites and send out demo copies to a few key reviewers. We will be posting those review videos in mid January. We are planning a BGG contest the week of the 11th. We constantly tweet and post about our project whenever and wherever we can. We also have a large mailing list. Oliver will also be posting a designer blog to BGG. Social Networking (and having one in place beforehand) is key to the success of your Kickstarter project.

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?

All of the above and all things we can think of and more... :)  It’s all about exposure anywhere and everywhere when it comes to promoting your live kickstarter project. Get people review copies before you start your campaign so they have time to make a review video. So far the fact that we have promoted that this is our 6th kickstarter (something only a few other companies can state) is what has gotten us some reach outside our industry this time around. Kicktraq is automatically tracking us and we try to mention it and I think it’s helping but it’s hard to tell directly and we’re not paying for ads on their site directly so I don’t know if that’s viable or not. But it is a great service to watch your campaign grow.

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

Sure, make sure you do your research before you start. Make sure you product you wish to sell is mostly done already and you show some sort of demo of it. Make sure you have a social network in place before you campaign is live. Build excitement and followers by posting about your project before it starts. If possible try to reach some media outlet inside or outside your normal market - this is one of the best ways to get a boost to your campaign. Make sure you plan for over success and cost out all your stretch goals.

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

How about I send a shout out to a few links to places to learn more about Kickstarter campaigns?

Kickstarter Best Practices group on Facebook

Crowdfunding Google+ Group

BoardGameGeek Kickstarter Forums:

Quroa kickstarter category

Funding the Dream podcast:

KickstarterHQ and the affiliated pod cast:

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

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