Friday, March 8, 2013

Gunship First Strike!

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am pleased to be joined by Steve Wood creator of Gunship: First Strike!   Thank you for joining us today Steve!

No problem - thanks for allowing me to add my thoughts!

First off congratulations!  You made it through the entire Kickstarter process from designing and creating your game, to the actual campaign, and now at long last: delivery.  How does it feel to be done?  

lol - I’ll let you know when I get there!  I still have one last batch of shipments to go, but they’re all packed and ready to label.  I hope to have all orders out by the middle of next week.  But it does feel good to be almost done.  It was a lot more work and planning than I thought it would be.

I think it’s pretty fair to say this has not been a smooth road has it?  From the years of hard work getting the game designed in the first place and all of the revisions and play tests.  To the hugely successful Kickstarter campaign.  Then to the hang-ups and overruns of production, shipping, and customs there has been trial after trial with this game.  In the end though was it worth it?  Are you happy with what you’ve accomplished?

Absolutely.  Nothing worth accomplishing is ever easy.  And I believe that when mistakes are made, and you take the time to actually LEARN from them, you gain valuable Experience.  It’s one thing to have someone tell you what to expect and how to prepare.  But it’s in the trenches where you learn how to build a business, and I have been through some really interesting adventures during this whole thing!  My only regret is that my Backers had to wait longer than they should have.  Hopefully in the end, they will enjoy Gunship and the long wait will just seem like a distant memory...

If you could go back and change something along the way what would it be?  

There are several things that I would change, and WILL change on the next one.  But if I had to choose just one, I would have charged more for International shipping.  I jumped into this whole Kickstarter thing and saw other projects charging 50 dollars for International shipping.  I thought that was really unfair and wanted to open Gunship up to this great overseas market.  So I pinned a lot of hopes on the actual shipping weight and charged 20 dollars, hoping the actual cost would be 30 and that I could subsidize the same 10 bucks that I was giving my U.S. Backers.  In the end, the games weighed a lot more than I thought and the actual shipping cost overseas went to 50-55 dollars each.  I lost THOUSANDS of dollars on that.  Not to mention further delaying these guys while I juggled funds.  It’s embarrassing and expensive when you fail to plan things like that.
But the good news is that the International community FINALLY got a good deal on shipping, lol!

What is the biggest thing you learned from this entire process?  

How to be a businessman/shipper.  Designing a game is great - but there is so much MORE.  You need to know how to coordinate all of it.  How much to charge, how to get the games to America.  How to store them, what shipping materials you’ll need to get them safely to the customer.  How to tell 1106 people that their games are going to be late.  How to deal with that guy who rates your lifetime achievement a 1 out of 10 and doesn’t even tell you why.  And how to use that guy to motivate you to try even harder to accomplish your mission.

But the most IMPORTANT thing I learned, in the big scheme of things, is how truly awesome the brotherhood of gamers really is.  I had a complaint rate of smaller than 1%, even when things went wrong.  Everyone has been really patient, positive and encouraging.  I have made so many friends in different countries that I talk to on Skype.  I’ve met people in the USA that I plan to visit soon.  Volunteers are everywhere - from the guys who post pictures for me when I don’t have time, to the players who post Player Aids to help the next guy learn.  When I announced that the post office had raised the rates in the middle of my shipping, and that I was running low on funds, guys sent me money via PayPal.  They didn’t have to do that.  I’m just a new publisher that no one ever heard of.  But they believed in me enough to befriend me and reach out a helping hand.  And that is what it is all about.

A few weeks ago I had a chance to talk to Dan Yarrington from Game Salute about the state of the Kickstarter universe.  Since your project was marked by the “Springboard Seal of Quality” it of course came up in the course of our discussions.  Would it be fair to say that your project became a “victim of your own success” as it were?  With all the stretch goals and extras tossed in it couldn’t have made your life easier when it came to fulfillment.  

Let me start this by saying that Dan at GS is a great and helpful guy and I think that Game Salute offers a lot to game publishers just getting started.  In the end, I decided not to use them as my distributor because I am stubborn and wanted to take things in a direction that they do not offer.  I still have not found that perfect path of distribution and I’m “going rogue” for now and doing this on my own.  More about that later, perhaps.

Did the Stretch Goals and Extras make me miserable?  of course! :)  Since Gunship has been in different stages of playtest for many years, I was lucky enough to have plenty of things to throw in there that were already combat-proven.  And a few things like the Punchboard Tokens and Engraved Dice came from desperately trying to come up with ONE MORE thing to throw in - these items became some of my favorite new Gunship components that I now could never imagine the game being without.  But yes, when fulfilling my orders (I packed every single box personally) it required an elaborate code system that I could entrust myself to follow.  And I still forgot to add extra dice to several orders, and a few other assorted items to others.  If the whole thing had been streamlined better, I could have had an assembly line of volunteers to knock it out much faster.  It was so crazy at some points that I don’t even think a dedicated fulfillment company would have touched it.

Speaking of stretch goals do you think they’re a good thing?  You’ve already explained to the backers (which I am one) how certain stretch goals had to be dropped or retooled due to issues along the way.  Do you think they’re an integral part of Kickstarter or are they  “bullshit” as Andy Schatz calls them? That the features being put up as stretch goals “ should decide if the game is incomplete without those features. If the game is missing a finger, add a finger, if the game is not missing a finger, don’t add one.”  

I think that they are a good thing IF you are adding things that you have already playtested, quoted and weighed.  But when you are in the middle of Kickstarter Craziness, getting higher and higher pledges that you never dreamed of, and the people are requesting the NEXT Stretch Goal (HIGHER! HIGHER!  HIGHER!)  you can get excited and start promising the world, because your dreams are suddenly coming true and every cool idea that you ever had for your game is now possible.  But not all of those dreams are fully ready for the public.  Not all of them are going to keep your box under the 4-pound International Priority Mail limit.  And not all of them are going to be profitable.

I do agree that the game needs to be complete without adding all of these new things.  Stretch goals should be all about upgrading the components to better quality or adding really cool things that do not require a lot of new playtesting.  For example, adding plastic minis instead of punchboard tokens.  But you better know how much those plastic minis will cost and weigh BEFORE Kickstarter because the chaos of battle is NOT the time to learn! :)

How insane was your shipping?  Do you think you would have been better off with a fulfillment agency like Game Salute than going on your own?  Since you did do it yourself will it be easier in the future since customs has already “shaken you down” as it were?  

I’d say moderately insane.  Like I said before, I’m not even sure that a fulfillment agency could have handled it.  Not to take anything away from them, but I was just very intimate with everything and I think it needed my personal handling.  I did save a ton of money doing it myself, and the fact that I am a multitasker/organizer by nature was a big plus.  I think it will be MUCH easier the next time around.  Now I know what materials to have on hand and how much it costs to send a game to just about anywhere.  As far as customs goes, I’m not sure that I will ever go down that path again.  I’m looking for US suppliers and may only use China to supplement what I can’t find here (and just pay extra for air mail).  Dealing with Customs left an extremely sour taste in my mouth, and if the east coast ports had gone on strike (which they came within hours of doing while my games were at port) it probably would have bankrupted me.  Not sure I want to take that chance again.

I will admit I was surprised at just how big the Gunship boards are.  Are you happy with the build quality of the game?  

Well I’ve been playing with actual-size prototypes for years, so I knew what to expect in that regard.  The cards could have been thicker and I have heard rumors of warping wings, etc.  But I was very happy with the colors, the dice, the rulebooks, tokens etc.  The box has a nice heaviness to it when you pick it up from the store shelf.  Next time, or next game, I’ll make sure the cards are better and I plan to address the warping thing once I am done shipping and have time to experiment.  I don’t believe it;s a huge deal and a lot of guys sleeve the cards anyway.  For a first-timer like me, I’m happy enough with the quality but I do see room for improvement, and I will.

How hard was it working with an overseas manufacturer?  Do you think you’d work with them again in the future?  Are there no US options?  

I addressed some of this above, but I’d say that WinGo was pretty good to deal with.  There was obviously a language barrier from time to time but nothing that could not be navigated.  I’m already getting quotes from them for a few components for the upcoming expansion, and it’s going easier (see “Experience”, above!)  If I chose to stay domestic next time, it would be more because of the hassle of International shipping and not because I did not get along with my manufacturer.  The price is definitely a plus though!

What’s next for Escape Pod Games?  I noticed an ad for a carrier expansion on the box I received.  

A TON!  I’m launching an expansion on Kickstarter in April.  That will be followed this summer by new accessories and game Modes.  Then, in October, we’ll be launching Gunship: Second Wave! which will include the gigantic Heavy Battle Cruiser.  A few more Modes and accessories by the end of the year, culminating in the third part of the trilogy next year.  Then I plan to launch a totally new game in a new genre in 2014 but there will always be more Gunship to come!

How did you discover Kickstarter?

I think I stumbled upon it in a BGG thread.  I was intrigued by this as I had a game idea but no money or any way of getting that kind of money.  Did my research and figured this was the way to go.  Met Luca Oleastri and found WinGo right in that same time period and the rest is history!

What kind of media attention did you receie with your project?  How did you spread the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Did you use Kicktraq to track your progress?  

Did not use KickTraq as Kickstarter has its own integral user tools for such things.  Although I’ll give it a try next time around.  I mostly spread the word by contacting game sites and asking to do interviews and podcasts, then started buying banner ad space and ran a BGG Contest.  I have a pretty cool website and I highly recommend having one - makes it much easier to direct traffic to a home base where potential Backers can find answers to their questions.  I’d definitely say that you should start marketing in a “Coming Soon” kind of way, then graduate to “Now on Kickstarter” - you need to start telling people about your game way beforehand.

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

So many that I could write a book (and I just might!)  I think that the bulk of it can be learned by reading this interview, though.  At some point things are going to slow down and I will write up something and post it to help others.  One of the goals of Escape Pod Games is to climb up the ladder and reach down to help the next guy who’s struggling to get on.  As a fellow gamer, it is my duty to do so.

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

Sure.  As you can see, I love to type my every thought and idea.  Always nice to have a place to do so, and I’m sure that my wife appreciates the outlet!  As a final thought I would like to throw in a shameless plug for my game, which can be found at:

Gunship will be launched to the rest of the general public in early March but you can join our Mailing List or email us to preorder.  Every copy I sell helps me to grow the company and get to where I’d like to be, so please stop by!  Thanks again!

Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from you in the future!

You will!  -Steve

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