A week or so ago I wrote a highly depressing article about tips for folks who want to be a publisher, largely fueled by anecdotes of my failures. A few months before that, I wrote an analysis of 2016, which gets more into the nuts and bolts of the failure. Today, we're going to discuss a slightly cautious, but optimistic future. The next steps for things, based on discussions Josh and I have been having privately for a very long time. The reality is, we're red blooded Americans who want to be entrepreneurs. Neither of us have ambitions of revenue, in particular, but we like owning the process from start to finish and making things that other, more established publishers probably won't make.
We like this stuff, and if there's going to be a 2.0, we need to figure out how to make that more viable. Soon, Hyperbole will be closed. That means no more taxes, no more concerns about revenues. It means I'm once again a private citizen and I can enter a long, slow R&D phase. This phase will be free, aside from my time. This means I can prepare, learn, and improve. Here are some of the things we're thinking about.
Kickstarter and Direct Sales: Previously, we tried to invest in retail long term. As we've said, we only plinked at the surface. We lacked the expertise, the relationships, and the time to develop them fully. Furthermore, we didn't have the runway, especially with capital investment mistakes like not using KS for Farmageddon and building a new website, to remain longer to get there.
It's key to recognize where you can succeed, and we believe that is on Kickstarter with direct sales. This means a few operational changes.
One, is to really prepare for Kickstarters to succeed with a bang. I think we did a good job with Hocus in terms of press relationships, ads, and long term build up. Two, is focusing on products with more tactile and visual appeal. Moving away from card-only experiences. The key is to make games that are visually exciting, with great gameplay, at a great price. Remember: value is key! Thirdly, as we won't pursue retail, a focus on limited accessibility is key. We will print the minimum copies required to provide customer support and have a few copies for local cons. Customers will soon learn that if they want one of our games, they need to decide now. Otherwise, they may not be able to buy them in stores, from our site, and there may not be a reprint.
Speaking of reprints, they'll need to be paired with a Kickstarter and new content. This means expansions and such. With Hocus, we assumed wrongly demand would be sustained after the first printing sold out relatively quickly. This was wrong, and we were left with 1600 copies. In the future, if folks really like Game A, then a reprint of Game A will be crowdfunded, as well as an expansion to Game A. We will only work in certainty so that we can invest in great art and graphics with our limited capital.
We'll need to consider Stretch Goals. I really don't like them. I suspect we will not alter our stance on Stretch Goals. But, I would love to have a reputation for adding surprise, delight, and value throughout the course of the campaign for loyal customers. We've done that so far with Hocus and Solstice. We'd like to keep doing that.
More Catalog Volume: Quite simply, we need to make more games more often. We were too slow and cautious. Why? Well, we wanted to maintain a certain quality, good art takes time, but also, we were the only ones making things. We aren't willing to sacrifice quality, so this means we need to allow more buffer. We launched Hyperbole as soon as we had A GAME (Hocus), but we found that customers forget you quickly, and if they need to wait a year to try your new experience, they may have forgotten how much they enjoyed your last time.
There are other benefits to grouping releases. You can share containers when moving from China, sell multiple games in a single Kickstarter (Ex: We sold 70 copies of Hocus during the Solstice campaign), and other economies of scale.
Our idea is to launch the company with four games "in the can" ready to go. Not necessarily with art, but more or less design and testing complete. This means the Hibernation phase will truly be about R&D. Without a need to pay taxes and generate revenue, we have all the time in the world. And, between us, we have about six games we think are viable, or could become viable, with additional effort.
Beyond ourselves, the other method is to contact trusted designers (friends) who know us, trust us, and would be willing to work with us within our style. Designers who are okay selling 1500-3000 games and that's it. We would have to figure out a suitable method of payment, as long term royalties wouldn't work. I have two people in particular in mind here. Folks with great games, great ideas, that I also think would really enjoy this model.
What games are we thinking about? All of this could change, but some of the games we had in mind are York, a crazy dungeon crawl Josh has (his opus), Sol Rising, a revised take on Druids (traditionally published, not wood), a roll and write, and these two different war game ideas we've been batting around for years now. Plus, whatever else we find along the way.
Learn the Graphics: With the explosion of growth in the industry, it's a real pinch point to find good graphic designers who are available. Many of the ones I know are always booked, or are now exclusive with publishers who also recognize the problem and have the capital to convert them to staffers. While I doubt we'll be able to fully replicate the quality of someone like Adam McIver, we want to take classes and begin learning more about the aesthetics of graphic design.
With margins so tight, and really, the struggle to hire graphics designers being so difficult, having this expertise in house could be a massive boon to the success of the business. Or, it may pan out that we simply don't have the chops. It's worth trying, and that's why you hibernate.
Talking to Distributors: We're not anti-distribution! We just recognize that we aren't really built to succeed there. But, we'd like to use this time to chat with experts and personnel and learn more. We're off the clock, we aren't pitching anything, we just want to learn. If there comes a point where we can sell product successfully in stores, we want to do so with a AAA distributor, and ideally, have greater access to international markets. Again, this is unlikely to pan out. Even if it does, we'll need a hit (lightning!) and/or multiple years of success to get there. It's worth the conversations.
Keep Building the Brand: Even if we are gone for 3 years, or whatever, we can still build our personal brands. I will do so with continued Cry Havoc customer support, <redacted>, and small projects like Solstice and Druids. Josh has The Fox in the Forest coming out from Foxtrot Games and Renegade. That's huge! I intend to write more with the blog (as suitable topics emerge) and maintaining my newsletter. We can continue to build people's trust and respect for our capabilities in this space, even if it's in tiny methods. This is valuable time to continue building relationships with customers.
More Business Study: I want to research things like accounting and taxation more fully. This stuff is intensely boring. Painfully so. But, we need to be better about it and more on top of things. This needs to be simpler, not such a headache and a burden. We also will need to consider alternative fulfillment methods. I can't put 2500 copies of York in my garage. Hell, I can't store 500 in my garage! This means we'll need to finally dip into various fulfillment services. Some of this study needs to wait though. The pace of the market is such that fulfillment now won't resemble fulfillment in 3 years.
Some of these things don't seem that crazy, that farfetched, or that different. But, some of them are, and it'll change where and how money is spent, how we plan, and which customers we target. And, surely we'll learn more as we observe other players in the space and even attend to our own shifting interests. At the end of the day, we want to make interesting, quirky games. We knew Hocus wasn't going to blow up and become Gloomhaven. But, we tried to turn it into a thing stores would carry. Next time, we'll make a game like Hocus, but be fine with it selling 2500 directly, then moving on. It's key to align your strategies with your interest and goals, and the next few years will be spent to learn and refine that.