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My road towards Kickstarter: Lessons Learned


robert4818
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Fellow Reaper Fans, Greetings!

 

Reapers success has inspired me to take a product idea I've had floating around in my head for a while and try to make it a reality. I'll post more on that down the line, but that's not what this is about. Rest assured, its something Reaper fans can use (in fact, I'm planning on using it with my Vampire level stuff :) )

 

This thread is more just a lessons learned on my part going from Idea in head to actually being able to even post my project on Kickstarter.

 

1. Know your product :) This sounds silly, but its important. When I started this project, all I had in my head was a vague idea of something. It was sort of a "You know what would be cool..." concept. For me, the idea was something of a dungeon tile made out of molded Expanded Polystyrene. (Better known by the brand name Styrofoam). Before I could do much more than share this crazy idea with a few people for general "That'd be cool" I had to do two things. First, I had to envision the actual product. Up to this point, it was a vague notion of creating something "similar" to the styrofoam we all look at when we get a new toy and go "what would this be good for. My actual idea, as it took form, ends up being a far cry from what most of us do with it.

 

2. Do your research. I've never made a product before. So, beyond forum posts on generic feedback, I had to go and get some good solid numbers on items. For me, this meant dropping some blind emails to manufacturers of packaging foam to get an idea of what the "industry average" might be for what I wanted. I was only looking for some sort of Ballpark figure, to let me know if this idea was even feasible for me. The first thing I learned was "There is no industry average". The first guy quoted me around $20-25k to get started, the next guy quoted me $14 million. The first guy made it possible, the second put it out of the realm of possibility. Needless to say I stuck with the first guy. At this point, its still all ball park figures though. Other things I've learned during this process. My initial tile height was too tall. it started with interior rooms with a wall height of 3 inches. When I made the prototype out of foam core, I found that rooms were a little tight to fit hands into with minis. So, the design got modified to 2" walls. Still plenty big.

 

3. Don't forget the details. Initially, I was focused on getting this thing made. What would it cost me to simply get these tiles made, and be able to sell them at a cheap price. Once I had that answer, I was initially fairly confident that my pricing was solid, and I could make a good profit of X per unit. Of course, then I started thinking of the other stuff I needed. Packaging, shipping, and even storage. All of a sudden, that X started getting smaller and smaller. It was then I realized that I needed to re-think my plans. What originally was a plan for these to come in cartons with fancy graphics on it like many other things has dropped to a sticker slapped onto the bottom of the product with the barcode and the company and product names/logos on it. Shipping has been another thing. Its hard to get accurate shipping averages, but it appears its not cheap. This hasn't changed the product itself any, but it has changed the shelf presentation more than I wanted it to. However, I feel there's an upper price limit for my product, and I'm afraid that increasing costs too much will tip it past that upper figure. So, don't forget the details.

 

4. Don't forget the user. This was another thing I hadn't thought about as much. I was focused on one concept, that of covering table space. Originally the idea was 24" x 24" the same size of GW's Realm of Battle Board. Some people had mentioned transportation issues, but I had naively ignored them. It wasn't until a friend actually suggested I think on it, that I really paid it much attention. I was focused on the fact that these things were stackable for both play and storage that I wasn't thinking of its size beign ackward. Then I thought how annoying the tiles for my ROB board were to manhandle, and I decided to do an experiment. I got a 24 x 24 and an 18 x 18 piece of foam core cut at the hobby store. Once I got them to the car, it became obvious which was the better choice. 18x18 sat nice and square in my passenger seat, and back seat, which would mean the stacking would work wonders. The 24? Not so much. It could sit flush in the passenger seat, but closing the door would dent it. Not good if your talking regular styrofoam. So, This meant I needed to change the design again to meet the needs of the users. Transportation. The tiles dropped from 24x24 to 18x18.

 

5. Find out what information people really need. I'd spent the better part of the last few weeks coming up with designs. This has all been in basic Google Sketchup. So, when I asked my manufacturer what he needed to move forward with full quotes he gave me a list of things, some of which I was hoping I wouldn't have to do. (Basically drafting out each plan, and calculating actual volumes of these weird shapes I've been making.) Some plans have been scrapped for the time being, as I don't have the skill to make them actionable. (Sadly, this means no natural looking caves for the time being). Of course, I could have saved myself some time had I asked this before hand, instead of designing then asking. Lesson learned.

 

6. Don't forget the paperwork. I've managed so far, so good. Hiccups along the way. But, then I started thinking of the amount of $$ I need to raise (working on ball park figures, $66k at the moment). I decided that I wanted a bank account to keep this money separate from my own. This meant a business account. Started looking this information up, and came to find out I needed to be able to show a business liscense to get that to happen. Finding information on starting an online business in Colorado has been rough. But, I can say that as of this afternoon "O'mally Games" was officially born. I still need to get my CO sales tax liscense for anyone who purchases here in Colorado. Then I've had to set up the Amazon Payments account (on hold till I get the bank account.). I've also signed up for a business web page. Currently its blank, because I have nothing to show with it.

 

7. Don't forget your math. :) How did I come up with my 66k figure from earlier? I ended up using the following process.

 

Figure out Startup Costs (one time costs, like mold making), and the Cost per unit of what you are making. This includes manufacturing, packaging, shipping, This includes the flat $0.30 / transaction that Amazon takes and other incidentals tied directly to each unit. Figure out your sell price (or at least your kickstarter sale price.). Multiply that price by 0.92 to take into account Both Kickstarter and Amazon's percentile cut of your money. Then subtract that figured price from the cost per item. This gives you your profit per item. Now divide your startup costs by your profit. This tells you how many items you need to sell to meet your startup costs. Multiply Units needed by cost per item, add your startup cost and this is the amount of money you need to raise to break even. This assumes you have no other money ready for the project. Let me tell you those costs add up fast. Basically I need to raise 66k just to pay for a 25k startup cost.

 

 

Well, thats the tale of my journey. Hopefully it gives you an idea of what you may be gettng into if you want to go down this path yourself.

 

Bob

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I've got a great vision of your big picture, but I think I lost the little picture in there somewhere. What exactly is the product, a game board, or a dungeon tile set? Maybe I got thrown off when you compared it to a Realm of Battle board?

 

At first I was envisioning a set of modular dungeon tiles, like a Space Hulk tile set except dugeon three dimemsional, made of the sort of semi-hard foam that the OLD Blood Bowl pitches were made of (first edition I think). It was solid enough to move minis around on without too much damage to the board. With some latex paint you could really go wild making that kind of foam pretty.

 

Do you have a sketch you could post to clarify?

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if I might suggest one more point, Know your Target Audience.

 

We had a massive advantage there, being an established company with decades of sales data and personal interactions to draw from. We know, for example, that sometimes what people say they want and what they actually buy are not the same thing. I know that sounds crazy - but we get demands all the time for more of X, and X always sells poorly, so making more of X seems wasteful. But that doesn't stop people from thinking they'd buy it if we offered it.

 

Knowing what your customer wants is a major benefit. If you know they want Wilderness tiles in larger amounts than dungeon tiles, and Cavern tiles the least, not based on polls or guesswork, but empirical sales data, then you can better structure your rewards to offer more of Item A, and less of B, and still less of C.

 

Still, I want to say your experience sounds very similar to ours - Our $30k project had a $100k price tag, and we had the advantage of being ok with covering the rest ourselves. But along the way, most levels were break even or losses, for over half the project. Costs are way crazier than people think.

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The tiles dropped from 24x24 to 18x18.

 

This comment reminded me of something in regards to how much you need to think before releasing a product. There was a company in the UK a few years ago (whose name unfortunately eludes me) that was doing vacu-formed terrain tiles in 18x18 for wargaming boards that could be connected together at the side with clips. Once the product was made and released there was little to no interest and they had to change to 24x24 because they hadn't taken into account the average wargaming board is 6 foot by 4 foot so the 18 inch tiles didn't work for width. The average wargaming board was 6'x4' because that's the average size that wooden boards were sold at in DIY stores.

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But along the way, most levels were break even or losses, for over half the project. Costs are way crazier than people think.

 

And CSM is now learning this the hard way with their KS.

 

Robert, I'll be interested to see what your project looks like when it hits KS. Best of luck to you.

 

~v

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Be wary of kickstarter fatigue as well. With so many going off at once, a lot of money is tied up, and may not be available.

 

kickstarter has been great for me to support Reaper and Red Box, but I'm not planning on doing one for my own venture. I'd rather put down my own money and throw those dice.

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I've got a great vision of your big picture, but I think I lost the little picture in there somewhere. What exactly is the product, a game board, or a dungeon tile set? Maybe I got thrown off when you compared it to a Realm of Battle board?

 

At first I was envisioning a set of modular dungeon tiles, like a Space Hulk tile set except dugeon three dimemsional, made of the sort of semi-hard foam that the OLD Blood Bowl pitches were made of (first edition I think). It was solid enough to move minis around on without too much damage to the board. With some latex paint you could really go wild making that kind of foam pretty.

 

Do you have a sketch you could post to clarify?

 

Ask, and you shall receive.

 

 

This is the "Big Picture" shot, 9 tiles, 4.5 x 4.5 feet square.

527747_4031824426578_1763610463_n.jpg

 

This is the Gray Color Foam I'll be making the product out of, to, at a bare minimum, remove the look of cheap styrofoam.

307949_4031830946741_2110523145_n.jpg

 

 

And Finally, this is a look at the mockup made out of foam core. Its the thing that actually showed 3" walls area bad idea. You have to forgive the quality of the prototype, Cutting foamcore is not really fun, and it wasn't really meant as a display more than a proof of concept.

 

30778_4030542914541_829464665_n.jpg

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The tiles dropped from 24x24 to 18x18.

 

This comment reminded me of something in regards to how much you need to think before releasing a product. There was a company in the UK a few years ago (whose name unfortunately eludes me) that was doing vacu-formed terrain tiles in 18x18 for wargaming boards that could be connected together at the side with clips. Once the product was made and released there was little to no interest and they had to change to 24x24 because they hadn't taken into account the average wargaming board is 6 foot by 4 foot so the 18 inch tiles didn't work for width. The average wargaming board was 6'x4' because that's the average size that wooden boards were sold at in DIY stores.

 

This has been an argument for me as well. I would much rather have done something that can fit a Games Workshop standard board. This is why I started at 24". However, as things progressed, it became apparent that 24 was too big, and shrinking down to 12" wasn't feasible. 18" at this point in time is thebest possilbe compromise.

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Are there any plans for doors or hallways? If there were a two inch wide hallway piece (could be flat) between each tile, the doors could be anywhere on the walls and still make sense.

 

I like the gray foam, it looks like what I was thinking of. Plus, the gray already has a slightly stone look to it so people with no interest in painting their sets would still have a decent looking dungeon.

 

Also, I agree that while 3" walls might be more realistic scale-wise, they do seem too tall in practice.

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Be wary of kickstarter fatigue as well. With so many going off at once, a lot of money is tied up, and may not be available.

 

I don't know that I buy in to this. It's like saying that because every other car manufacturer releases their new model year vehicles at the end of the year, that you shouldn't as well. You aren't trying to garner funding because of a lack of other projects to compete with, but because your project is good and worthy. If it is different enough from what else is being offered out there, and a quality project, the people that really like it will find a way to back it. Those that can't afford to because they've pledged to other KS projects will be your retail target customers later on.

 

~v

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Are there any plans for doors or hallways? If there were a two inch wide hallway piece (could be flat) between each tile, the doors could be anywhere on the walls and still make sense.

 

I like the gray foam, it looks like what I was thinking of. Plus, the gray already has a slightly stone look to it so people with no interest in painting their sets would still have a decent looking dungeon.

 

Also, I agree that while 3" walls might be more realistic scale-wise, they do seem too tall in practice.

 

Exterior openings are not possilble on the manufacturing front. The best I could do would be to cut slots into the sides, similar to the openings on the interior walls. I'm reluctant to do that for a few reasons. First, I'm afraid it would compromise the strength of the tile. Second, it limits the users ability to place doors. As this is foam, the owners ability to easily modify it with a hot wire tool is a great resource.

 

For those without the tool, or without the want to use it. I am planning on getting some printable door and wall standees. These can be used to block up interior gaps, and cutting just the door allows for someone to put a door onto an exterior wall.

 

As for hallways I'm assuming things to go between tiles. Its possible, but only for those with a cutting tool. The way the molding process works, is you have your block mold, and then your inserts. The inserts are fairly cheap, and can be switched out to give a different interior design. However, the mold itself is not, and doing a single hallway type mold would be very expensive. I could make an 18" tile full of hallways that can then be cut out to fit as needed, but that requires a cutter tool.

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Be wary of kickstarter fatigue as well. With so many going off at once, a lot of money is tied up, and may not be available.

 

I don't know that I buy in to this. It's like saying that because every other car manufacturer releases their new model year vehicles at the end of the year, that you shouldn't as well. You aren't trying to garner funding because of a lack of other projects to compete with, but because your project is good and worthy. If it is different enough from what else is being offered out there, and a quality project, the people that really like it will find a way to back it. Those that can't afford to because they've pledged to other KS projects will be your retail target customers later on.

 

~v

 

I have a bit more research to do, primarily on shipping. (I'm waiting on the quotes to get back form my manufacturer, so I know which density of foam to get).

 

As of right now, using ballpark estimations, I think the pricetag on the kickstarter for these is going to be $20 per tile. That is the 15 retail I want, and an averaged $5/shipping/packaging. I'm thinking I might be able to adjust my pledge levels to better accomodate shipping realities. (I.E. 20 for set of 1, 35 for set of 2, etc. However, its all guesstimation at this point.

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I really like the grey-speckle Styrofoam. It really does make a difference, I think, to make it more visually interesting and get away from the "cheap Styrofoam" look. Also, the layouts with the curved walls look particularly appealing; I could fairly easily slap together a bunch of flat sections of foam-core or foam-board and make my own flat, rectangular dungeons, but adding such features as curves or regular indicators of supporting structures (columns, etc.) would add more visual interest that I can't easily replicate by hand.

 

I'd like to see more of that in a design, really. Bulk out a few of those thin, plain walls with wider portions to suggest column supports -- or if they're too thick already, go the other direction and make the walls NARROWER, but thickened out at intervals, so that it's something other than just a straight, boring cut. (I suppose I should fire up Photoshop at some point and draw a sketch as an example.) The occasional level variation in the floor could add visual interest as well -- a raised rectangle that could be a table or a bed or a statue pedestal here or there; a SLIGHTLY depressed circle that might indicate a pool or fire pit or magic circle ... or it could just be turned into a decorative "compass rose" or other such element when the end-user chooses to paint it. (Or maybe it's just a slight drop in the floor height that has no real significance save but to break up the layout a little.) The occasional room or passage that's at a slightly different elevation than the neighboring area.

 

One thing I wonder about, though, particularly in light of that prototype with the 3"-high walls: Is this meant for wargames, or for RPGs?

 

With wargames, it's perfectly fine to have high walls and recessed places to put your miniatures, because there are probably all of two players at the table, and each one has his own tape measure or laser pointer, and is free to walk around the table to see if there's a miniature hiding behind that rock over there.

 

With RPGs (or with board games with more than two players), it starts to get more complicated. You don't have as much freedom to meander about the table to get a better look at something. With RPGs in particular, I find that the players are going to sit in their chairs with their books and their snacks, and aren't about to be bothered to get up and peer over a foam or Hydrostone wall to see where the monster mini is hiding on the other side; more likely, a player will just complain about fairness if he didn't see something clearly, and argue for a redo. ;)

 

(Edited: typographical homonym corrected!)

 

A friend of mine has built up a large Hirst Arts Castlemolds setup for Super Dungeon Explore (and I've helped him to paint and furnish the thing), and it looks great in the photos, but in actual game play it is a royal pain. I couldn't even get clear photos of parts of the board because of the high walls and inability to squeeze all the way around the table for a better look. There would be cardboard markers on the tiles, or even short miniatures that would be impossible to see from many angles. I'd prefer to just gush about how wonderful the setup was, considering how much work went into it, but honestly the thing would've worked far better if the walls had only been a half inch tall, tops (rather than 1.5"-2" tall).

 

Looking at your sample, I worry that you might end up with a similar dynamic. It's cool and all that you've got a complete simulation of a dungeon area with complete walls -- everything but the ceiling, pretty much -- but it can be a hassle to reach the minis, to position them so their action-posed limbs aren't bumping into walls, and to SEE some of the figures (especially any short critters close to the floor) from various angles.

 

If I were going to get a pre-fab dungeon layout, I'd really want it to focus mostly on the floors, and then with the walls either "implied" (i.e., floor sections = floor; bare table = solid wall or unexplored area), or else short representations (no more than 1/2" high with 25mm scale minis, and preferably even shorter than that, perhaps with a "jaggy" cut-away). In such a layout, you could actually get around the problem of positioning doors in that a full-height self-standing "door" piece could be a separate marker that *straddles* a partial wall section (being as short as it is) with a representation of either an open doorway (with a raised threshold to clear the short-wall divider), or a closed door (in which case the height of the covered wall hardly matters).

 

This has been something I've been struggling with as I've been pondering making some "limited" 3D tiles for Zombicide and Sedition Wars, because I think there is some value in a little bit of 3D to make it clear where the walls and features are, but at the same time I want maximum access to miniatures and visibility. (Hence, I'm likely to go with VERY short indicators of walls -- just enough of a ridge to make it clear where the wall is, with taller indicators for doors and important vertical features, but otherwise far shorter than my friend would likely approve of. What works for pretty diorama backgrounds for photographing minis and for actually moving hero minis in an RPG through a dungeon layout are, in my estimate, not quite the same thing.)

 

High walls might add to the aesthetic if you detail them and hang "furnishings" on them, for mini-diorama purposes, but there might be some value in shorter-wall versions as well. (For one thing, it would mean less material, less weight, and less space taken up by each floor in storage.)

 

I appreciate that it sounds like you've done some prototyping and explored the real-world considerations of transportation in regards to size. I think that another useful thing would be to do a trial-run of the boards in actual play situations. Let some GM use the board for a short one-shot game, and some minis, and sit in on it and see what happens. What are the rough spots? Based on my experiences using some of my friend's Hirst Arts corridors, I anticipate the possibility of trouble with some miniatures (depending on the designs, width of bases, scale of minis, etc.) in fitting in the area, accessing miniatures that fall over when someone bumps the table, reaching in to place flat markers (or remove them), and line-of-sight issues.

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