How I create my prototypes

This duo really does give me everything I need

While I don’t claim to be an artist or designer, there’s a lot of art and design work needed to create Gay Sauna the Board Game. For all of the “real artwork” and finalised designs, I’m working with two designers for, but in the meantime there’s a host of prototype versions that need to be created and in order to make this possible, I’ve had to learn how to do this myself.

Without anyone paying for my software, it’s not viable for me to be using Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign – the subscription models just don’t make sense for me. So I’ve had to find the right alternatives for me. To make everything I’m creating at the moment, I use a combination of GIMP and Graphic.

GIMP is a free, open source image editor that packs a real punch. I’ve been using GIMP for many years for basic things like creating transparent backgrounds on existing images, but now my needs have grown and it’s great that this free app has been able to cover a lot of my new found requirements. The only drawback to GIMP is the lack of native CYMK and Vector image capabilities. While there are some ways to resolve these using plugins and community contributions, I always found them cumbersome and a little lacking. So, as I started to print the things I was producing, it became necessary for me to find something to help me where GIMP couldn’t.

In walked Graphic. Native to Mac, Graphic is a vector editing program that seems to be designed for people creating publishing work – whether that’s digital or print, it’s got me covered. While it lacks the extensive functionality of both GIMP and the Adobe suite, Graphic more than makes up for it with its simplistic approach and easy to use GUI. There have only been a couple of times that Graphic has not been able to meet my needs and thankfully GIMP was fully capable of filling this gap. The biggest drawback is the lack of full layer masking capabilities – so specific edits I need to make to images I now do in GIMP and then move over the finalised edit to Graphic for layouts and finalisation. Graphic isn’t a free program, but the lifetime license only costs $30 and I feel it has been more than worth the investment at a fraction of the cost of even part of the Adobe suite.

I’d never thought I’d ever be spending so much of my time manipulating and creating images, but it truly is a rewarding activity with a tangible outcome at the end. It’s been a challenging learning process too, as it’s not just the methods I need to learn, the wider concepts of graphic design are pretty much entirely new for me. I didn’t even know what a layer mask was 12 months ago and now I’m finding out all the ways in which they can be useful within my creations as well as finding alternatives when the software is lacking.

I doubt I’ll ever work as a graphic designer professionally, but I’m sure having a lot of fun playing as one for the time being.

Going through changes

For as long as the game isn’t being printed by the manufacturer, it’s in development and I’ll continue to be changing and improving where needed. This continuous cycle of modifications is a challenging process as so many of the elements are connected together and while some things seem to be very much in flux – such as the Action cards, others, like the dice results, have been consistent for a very long time.

One thing that has been in visual design flux for a long time is the board; however it’s been some time since I made any non-cosmetic changes to the board. I have a huge array of balancing formulas and calculations that I use to determine the impact of some changes on key aspects of gameplay, and the consistency of the board has been really useful in keeping this workload manageable.

Based on recent feedback though, I’ve been through a long process to look at the impact of reducing the overall size of the board and I am overjoyed with the result of this investigation and resulting design process. I present to you, the new Gay Sauna the Board Game playing board:

The latest game board is quite a bit smaller than previous incarnations, measuring in at 72x52cm.

This latest version has some dramatic changes applied. With the removal of the Bar area, and the reduction in the size of the Dark Room, not only has the board shrunken from a massive 90x60cm to still a large 72x52cm, but also now has dedicated space for the placement of the 3 card decks in the game and their respective discard piles.

The rules have been shuffled around a little as well as the removal of the barriers to entry for each of the rooms that goes hand-in-hand with a complete rewrite of the game rules as a whole that returns gameplay on a single player round and focuses attention on improving the action and pace of the game.

All of this will be wrapped up in the launch of the 9th full version of the game that I’m hoping will be finalised in the coming week or two, when the next playtesting sessions will be planned in and I’ll get to try this all out with a real audience of players.

It’s nerve wracking making such big changes to the game, but I really hope that this all is worth it. I guess I’ll find out real soon.

Feedback

After spending many years working in IT, I kind of got used to the fact that nobody, not even my nearest and dearest cared even the slightest about the content of my job. When answering the question about what I do for a living, I’d say I work in IT, then if pressed give my job title at the time. Even those that understood the industry cared little about the ins and outs of my day.

Now, venturing into the colourful world of game design, I’ve found that everybody suddenly has opinions about everything. This has been an incredible opportunity for me as I mostly work alone, so having others to discuss the specifics about the game rules, visuals and gameplay, as well as the other business aspects like marketing and promotion is stimulating and gives me a better perspective of the bigger picture I need to complete to be successful.

However, this also has its downsides – most specifically it’s answering the same questions and getting the same feedback all the time. I used to sigh when working as a product manager and would discuss the product with a new engineer or customer and they would highlight the biggest flaws or missing features that were well known and documented. Despite this, I knew that these were indeed the things that troubled new users and contributors the most, so of course they wanted to discuss them and find out my opinions and plans.

For Gay Sauna the Board Game, I cannot sigh when I hear these things (mostly). It’s tough, but I hope I have maintained the professional exterior when asked for the hundredth time why I’m not making a mobile app instead of a board game, or why my kickstarter goal was so high, why copyrighting my idea is the most important thing I should be thinking about, or why I don’t just get a few copies made now and see how they sell before making a big order.

All of this feedback comes from a good place and answering these same questions repeatedly also ensures that I don’t overlook some of the most important and potentially obvious opportunities in front of me. I also know from experience that these things will always come up, just like people cutting in front of you in traffic or someone chewing loudly next to you on the train. Some things are unavoidable and working out how to stay positive and open to feedback no matter how many times it has been discussed is all part and parcel of going through this journey.

I need to receive feedback and I truly welcome it! No matter how small or insignificant something might seem, or even if for the thousandth time I’m getting asked or told the same thing. It’s all useful to me and I can learn so much from hearing these things again and again. After all, while right now I have no intention to start building mobile apps, it doesn’t mean that in the future this might indeed be an opportunity that is too good to pass up. If I stop listening and answering these questions, I could just miss out on that moment.

So – if you’ve got anything you’d like to let me know about the game, the business or anything else that pops to mind, please get in touch using the contact form to the right (or below on mobile). It might just spark the next big change in my plans!

Kickstarter Lessons – Part 5

The fifth and final instalment of this learning series is about the need for visibility within the wider board gaming community.

Visibility can come in a variety of forms, from descriptions and posts about the game, about game makers to reviews and play-through information provided by others – specifically those that are established and respected.

This has been something that’s been quite difficult for me to live up to – I’ve developed a bit of a perfectionist attitude when it comes to my game and so I’ve been very reluctant to share the current prototype version at any time with specialists or experts in the industry as I always thought the next version would be the one that they’ll love…clearly that never works.

It’s not that I believe all of these things are really necessary for a Kickstarter to be successful, but there needs to be a decent amount of online presence that puts the game into the public eye in order for those outside of my network to take the campaign seriously.

This area is my weakest still and there are a lot of activities on my to-do list related to getting publications discussing the game, reviewers to write about it and putting descriptions myself in all of the relevant places. I’ve still got a lot to do, but that’s fine. As long as these are done in time for my next KS project, I expect things to go much smoother.

This series has been a great way for me to process a lot of the information around the campaign. I hope it’s been interesting to read from your perspective too! While the series is over, I’ll be following this up soon with actionable details of what my plans are and how the development of the game is progressing – so stay tuned!

Kickstarter Lessons – Part 4

Next up for this series of documenting all the things I learned suffered greatly from me not being ready (part 1), and that is missing information on the pitch page.

In the run up to the campaign launch, I spent a lot of time trying to pull together a promotion video. This wasn’t focused at all on the gameplay, but was aimed at providing something really fun and enticing that would spark interest.

Things didn’t quite work out as planned and I dropped the idea less than a week before launch. I wasn’t too worried about losing the video, after all it would have been just a nice-to-have rather than a necessity. However, the time spent there did mean that there were quite a lot of other pieces of information and media missing from the pitch page.

While everything that potential backers told me was missing that would be necessary for the pitch was known to me and sat in a list on my notebook, I had (wrongly) assumed that adding information throughout the duration of the project would be sufficient for the community. Looking back now I can’t quite imagine what made me think that first impressions weren’t the most important…

The list is quite embarrassingly long and includes pretty fundamental things like gameplay footage and details about size of the box and comparisons to other games. I knew these things were needed, but I hadn’t quite understood how essential they were for many to even consider buying the game.

I put a lot of these things into the campaign page as I pulled them together, but it was all a little too late. For my next campaign these are clear deliverables that must be prepared before I can even think about pushing that big juicy go live button!

Kickstarter Lessons – Part 3

The most surprising thing to me about what happened during my campaign is how a lot of the things I was trying to generate initial pledges wasn’t working. In particular, many within my closest network – even those that have been playtesting the game with me for the past year – weren’t backing, it was difficult to go through.

I failed to effectively Activate My Network.

While I was sending out a whole host of individual and customised Whatsapp, Facebook and LinkedIn messages, somehow the core of what I was asking for was lost in the details and while many I have since spoken to have said they would have been willing to help, they didn’t really understand what it was I was asking of them and how important it was to me and this project that I had their support.

It was far too easy for me to assume that everyone around me had been reading everything I posted, listening to all the things I said when we’re talking and had grasped what I hoped for my Kickstarter campaign. It was also too easy for me to gloss over the fact that a huge majority of my network were simply not Kickstarter Friendly and so needed a little more TLC from me to understand how they can support me in a way they felt comfortable with.

This has been a hard pill to swallow, but I hold all the blame and ownership for this failure. It was up to me to convince those closest to me and I didn’t put enough effort into the right places to achieve this. Next time will of course be different 🙂

Kickstarter Lessons – Part 2

I still stand by Part 1 of this series: I launched my Kickstarter too early. Yet one thing I have discovered during my campaign, and specifically during my offline promotional activities is: Not everyone is “Kickstarter friendly”.

I don’t believe this is an existing term, but I’ve deemed it very real that many people are just unwilling to participate on this platform due to a variety of reasons, not all of which are easily surmountable.

Firstly, most folks have never heard of Kickstarter and don’t really understand what it does, what running a Kickstarter campaign means or what even crowdfunding is. Common misconceptions include it being a charity request, a way to steal money, borrowing from friends or free cash for entrepreneurs. While I have tried to fix some of these (I even wrote about it), it’s very difficult to educate about the huge concept of crowdfunding whilst maintaining the request for backing my own project.

Secondly, if there is a long time to market, as with my campaign for Gay Sauna the Board Game, then trying to convince people to buy something now and then wait for 9 months to get it is a pretty tough sell. In fact, it’s proven almost impossible. While I have managed to achieve a few backers and pledges through in-person promotions and sales, the high value of being stood in front of them driving their enthusiasm is then very diluted by requiring them to support a project online that then may not produce a game they can play until Spring 2020.

In the run up to my campaign launch, I had set aside a considerable amount of time for in-person appearances and events that ultimately had very little return to them. Combined with a targeted online campaign that really was focused on the more general gay market meant while my product and brand reach was considerable, this wasn’t converting into pledges.

What’s clear to me now is that trying specifically to find those that might be familiar with crowdfunding and Kickstarter is a much better way to get new pledges. And while in person promotion is great for the brand, game sales in this format will be much easier to realise when I’ve got the games in stock to be able to fulfil orders quickly and not exposing customers to the lengthy crowdfunding wait times.

Kickstarter Lessons – part 1

There are a lot of factors that contributed towards me not reaching my Kickstarter goal, but for sure there is one of them that tops all the rest and was by far the single most important thing that prevented bigger success – I wasn’t ready!

Not being ready means to me that I just didn’t have so many things in place at the moment that I pushed the Go Live button that meant every thing I did from that moment on was just way more difficult and much less effective than it should have been.

It wasn’t just that I had not done some things, but I also failed to apply a lot of the things I had learned and was continuously learning as I went. I set the date when I would go live quite some weeks before and rather than continuously evaluate whether it was still viable to continue, I got caught up in so many of the details. I made a lot of concessions in order to reach this date that lowered the overall quality and quantity of the deliverables that when I look back should have been big warning signs to me that things were not at all going to plan.

Many of my discussions with those close to me at the time were focused around the benefits of the timing of the launch (which took place just prior to Gay Pride in Amsterdam) and I completely forgot about all of the checklists and preparation I had done to ensure I would know when I was ready.

My experience especially during the first few days of the campaign clearly showed me that the readiness of a project creator is by far more important than the specific timing of when a project is launched, and while things like time and day of the week play a part, if there are things missing from a campaign, you lose potential backers. They won’t come back later even if you manage to get the message to them that you’ve covered the gaps that were there before – you get one chance to make a first impression. When it’s a Kickstarter campaign, you can’t underestimate how important that first impression is.

Post Kickstarter without the funds…what now?

Unsurprisingly I was so hoping that I wouldn’t ever be writing this post, but here I am four days after the end of my Kickstarter campaign and no funds are coming my way.

While I’ve been pretty sure of this outcome for the past three weeks, I avoided a lot of the recommendations I read online about pulling my project early. Favouring instead to let it run to the end to see what would happen, I’ve endured the full 35 days of my campaign with the small but real hope every morning as I checked the page that somehow overnight a thousand people had suddenly decided to pledge out of nowhere and I’d already reached my goal. It never happened, of course it didn’t. It didn’t stop me hoping though.

Pretty much everyone close to me knew already that should this not work then it wouldn’t be the end of the journey, although I have had to face that question a few times. The bigger question for me is: What next?

The first thing I’m focusing on right now is a full retrospective of the campaign, which I’m planning to do as a series of blog posts here. Not only will publishing these keep you guys informed about what happened and what I’ve learned, but formatting this way is also going to be really helpful for me to process the huge amount of information and data I have and sort this into an actionable set of items that I will be able to work on between now and the next planned Kickstarter campaign (in around 4-6 months).

In the meantime, I’m also pursuing alternative financing options and opening up a whole series of conversations that were put on hold whilst the campaign was live – including a really interesting collaboration with some good friends of mine.

There’s so much still to do and I’m surprising myself each day that I feel even more energised to get this done and don’t feel the pangs of defeat at all. I just hope this keeps up and I see all the good things to have come from putting the Kickstarter live and running through these 5 weeks. After all, there’s nothing like throwing yourself in the deep end if you want to learn how to swim. I’m not quite swimming yet, but I do feel like I can tread water right here as I get my bearing before making the next big strokes.

Stay tuned as my journey continues!

Kickstarter Campaign is live!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/rerollworks/gay-sauna-the-board-game

After many months of hard work, it’s finally time to put my project out into the public domain and see what the world thinks of hit.

Launched today, the Gay Sauna the Board Game Kickstarter Campaign will run for 35 days to reach a goal of €19,500.

Please, if you’re interested in seeing Gay Sauna the Board Game come to life, please back the project and share it as far as your Social Networks will allow.

Lots of love

Adrian x