The Art of Commissioning Art

Commissioning art for games is no easy task. The visual appeal is an important aspect of the overall product. How do people react when they see the art? How does it tell the story of the game? Is the artwork consistent? Generic? Evocative? Does it properly convey the game’s theme? Here are 5 tips on Commissioning artwork.

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For Polyversal, I’ve been extremely busy on the artwork side of things. I’ve commissioned over 35 pieces of science fiction artwork (and more to come) from 2 different artists- Bruno Werneck (Tron: Legacy concept artist) and James Masino (War. Co. Card Game, Student, and up-and-coming major talent). Commissioning is no easy task. When you’re creating a game that is set in the future like Polyversal, or any game for that matter, the visual appeal is an important aspect of the overall product. How do people react when they see the images you present? How does it tell the story of the game? Is the artwork consistent? Generic? Evocative? Does it properly convey the game’s theme?

In general, as a publisher or art director, you write narratives for each piece of commissioned work noting the specific size and details of the piece’s vision.

Here are a few tips and an example narrative for designers / publishers working with artists to create imagery for games. This post skips the contractual side of things, which is also important for you and the artist and assumes you have already come to terms for the particular work the artist will do. At the end of this post, you’ll read a Commissioning Narrative for 1 pieces of Polyversal artwork and see the actual final artwork from James Masino- along with his comments.

  • Tip 1: Be specific. When you write a narrative for a commissioned piece of art, the artist needs to know everything that you have in mind for the piece. If you don’t have a vision for the art, you cannot expect the artist to create their own for you- and if they do- what if it’s not what you had in mind? Be specific and write down every key aspect of the piece that’s important to you as the publisher / designer / art director. It’s helpful to brainstorm a list of points you want to convey in your narrative before you write it.
  • Tip 2: Be flexible. You’re hiring an artist for their skill in creating the image you want. Each artist will have a certain style and set of strengths that you’ve likely been drawn to when searching for an artist. Work to their strengths and let them shine through. Have some flexibility in the final image and confidence in the artist’s ability to fill in details for you if you don’t describe them. This can include things such as lighting, color, expressions of people, mood, or environmental details. In some narratives, I like to add “___ is up to you” (lighting, time of day, etc.) to specifically note a point of flexibility.
  • Tip 3: Be sure. Nothing will turn off the artists you pay- like changing something mid-course. Before you submit your narrative, read it over- three times- and submit it once. Make sure it makes sense and describes whatever vision you have in your head for the piece completely and that parts not described specifically will fall within the realm of your flexibility. If you aren’t sure you want the piece or aren’t sure on the details, or it isn’t complete, don’t send it. Most importantly, try not to add details or changes based on things not previously described once the piece is submitted for final review. For one, this can cost you money depending on the change policy of the artist, and two, it will cost you time.
  • Tip 4: Be prompt. This applies to answering the artist’s questions during the creation process, amending contracts as required if something is added or changes, reviewing anything submitted for feedback, and most importantly, paying the artist when it’s complete (within the terms and timeframe of the agreed upon contract).
  • Tip 5: Be appreciative. Support your artists. Pay them first. Share their work and your appreciation of it. If the art is for a game that is crowdfunded, share the completed pieces (or a selection of them) with backers. And always credit the artist. This helps show appreciation for the good work they’ve done to visually complete your game. It also helps keep them in business as an artist which helps you in the future and helps them now and in the future.

Each piece starts with a vision. Each vision is transcribed into a narrative. Each narrative becomes art.

Here is an example commissioning narrative sent to artist James Masino for one piece that will appear in the rules of Polyversal. This piece helps tell part of the story of the game and is not for an actual game piece. It is important to set a mood of mystery in the game, which I think James nailed here. I hope you’ll agree. Feel free to add your comments.

Narrative: ScanFab Facility, 8.5″x5″ landscape

This piece depicts a structure- the inner workings of a ScanFab facility- secretive and sterile. Mostly white with hints of UN Blue. Or even Orange highlighted stripes and features in the walls and floors similar to Tron: Legacy. It’s a fairly large facility inside with massive power requirements. It’s also fairly bright but there are no windows since it is likely underground. Think of a rather large Subway station with a utopian feel… but for a different kind of transportation…

Regular ‘selected’ citizens (i.e. strong, healthy, fairly young) are lined up and about to go through a ScanFab ‘sending unit’ which I picture as fairly large. Maybe just the entrance to the room is shown…. Again, think sterile. Perhaps all are all dressed the same in some sort of hospital gown like clothing. There are men and women in line, maybe a few are talking. But nothing is forced. They’re selected and eager to be here because of it. However, there are also armed guards similar to a checkpoint at the airport… but only a few. There is a mystery of what occurs on the other side. No one has any belongings with them. Citizens are lined up to be ‘scanned’ for evacuation. But what happens to their bodies here? We won’t reveal that in this piece. We may never reveal it…

The idea of scanfabbing in the storyline is that the UN controls all of the sending and receiving units built for the purpose of evacuation. The receivers are in distant colonies (set up by those pioneers). The scan portion is in the sending process. The person is scanned in full and ‘sent’ to the receiver- scan information transmitted at the speed of radio to the receivers (i.e. just under the speed of light). The receiver portion is the ‘fab’ portion where the scanned subject is ‘built’ or fabricated from the same raw materials found in all humans- 99% oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. About 0.85% is composed of another five elements: potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium. We may depict a receiving unit on a colony in another piece. An exact copy of the person is created on the receiving end- including the brain and all memories of the scanned subject from the sending unit. It’s like teleportation… but almost plausible?

This is Operation Polyversal- the mass evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people ‘selected’ to continue the human race off-world. They are evacuated only from UN-controlled countries and selected using some criteria that’s top secret. Not everyone can go- there isn’t time to set up enough space and life support off-world, we haven’t found a substitute for Earth yet- and there are just too many people on Earth. Plus… would the UN want them all?

And of course- there is mild protest to this whole process 😉

Here’s the final piece, which was accepted without any changes:

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(UN ScanFab facility for Polyversal. Art by James Masino)

James had these comments about the piece:

This one was the most challenging. It’s the first time I’ve tried to depict a crowd of people before! Nonetheless, creating this one was an interesting debate. There were a lot of elements to work with in the description, and for the story’s sake, I emphasized some elements more than others. On one hand, we have people who have been selected to transport- and they’re excited in a more hospital atmosphere built to deceive the ScanFab’s true purpose. On the other hand, this is the mass evacuation of the planet in a militarized society, and there is reasonable mystery behind what the ScanFab facility really is. I wanted the atmosphere to echo that sort of mystery that exists in works like Tron or Star Trek, where the viewer, and both the characters within the painting are questioning the world they’re in. The mystery of what is on the other side is truly the pinnacle of the end result. 

Whenever working with mystery in artwork, it always reminds me of the Ted Talk JJ Abrams did about this box of magic tricks his grandfather gave him when he was a kid- and still hasn’t opened since the mystery is more exciting than what’s actually within. Always something to strive for!

Hopefully you’ll find these tips useful- or at least see a bit of the process I go through when working with external artists for my games. Feel free to comment / share.

 

First Contact – Part One – A Polyversal Short Story

In the story of Polyversal, Battlegroup Prowler is at the forefront, engaging UN forces in a future Colorado. Part One sets the tone for a snowy conflict among beastly walkers and Recon Team Blue.

First Contact – Part One

by Maurice Fitzgerald @moefantasci

San Isabel National Forest
December 16, 2130
Sector 29 – Coalition Area of Operations, Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado
Battlegroup Prowler
1941 (GMT)

“Blue Three, contact north, engaging!” came the call over the battlegroup frequency, shattering the previous silence. The group’s recon team, “Blue”, had found the UN force and was engaging the enemy. Operation Infinite Nighthawk had begun.

Battlegroup commander Major Torvald Magnusson brought up his CAIRO (Computer Aided Imaging Ranging and Optics) feed from Blue’s vehicle vids to get a better feel for the situation. Bouncing off of provisional satellites placed in low orbit above their area of operations, the data was transmitted with a 1.2 second delay. Not much, but enough to be slightly behind the curve and Magnusson hated being a second behind the action.

Muddy images initially flashed on his helmet visor in the commander’s HUD before the media filter washed them through multiple algorithms allowing them to auto-correct. Magnusson tweaked the white balance slightly to gain some brightness and what he saw got his pulse racing with the familiar feel of pre-combat adrenaline. A pair of UN Ares Heavy Walkers were unloading with their single rail guns, each firing as quickly as they could cycle in an attempt to eliminate the more maneuverable but lighter armored three Scarab APCs of the Blue recon team. Geysers of frozen soil, rock and vapor from superheated ice jetted into the air from errant bolt impacts forced by the Scarab’s well-practiced contact drills. The Ares pilots were persistent and aggressive, maintaining contact with the Scarabs whose return fire was sporadic and ineffective.

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Ares Battle Walkers (Hawk Wargames), Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado

Battlegroup Prowler’s recon team was earning its due today, just hopefully not with its own blood, Magnusson thought to himself. Continuing to watch the video feed, Magnusson switched over to the battlegroup frequency on the secure data link; he had to send a situation report up the chain. Keying the comm he heard a whisper like chirp in his ears signaling the link was open, “Gold Six this is Prowler Six sitrep over.” A faint trace of Swedish accent could be heard in his voice as he spoke.

He didn’t have to wait more than a couple of seconds before hearing the response, “send it.”

“Blue element in contact to the North with a pair, repeat, two Ares walkers. Appears to be a small security patrol, will continue to advise, over.”

“Roger that, good hunting, out.”

The firefight continued to unfold before Magnusson’s eyes, visible in a miniature window of the HUD projected on the visor of his helmet. While the CAIRO in the cupola of his Command Growler Infantry Fighting Vehicle gave him a complete picture of the battlespace, the helmet visor allowed him to receive key data and video feeds from any external source, allowing him to focus on individual units in the battlegroup.

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Scarab APCs (Microworld Games) are engaged by patrolling Ares walkers (Hawk Wargames)

He saw that the Ares Walkers were continuing to engage the Scarabs rather than laying back and calling for assistance. This indicated to him that their intel was likely correct, this was a soft spot and a perfect insertion point for their reconnaissance squad. But the initiative was now lost as a Quick Reaction Force was surely alerted by now. If it wasn’t for this chance encounter with the Ares, they could have gotten a better look at the inner security perimeter of their main target, Cheyenne Mountain.

Cheyenne Mountain, what was once NORAD was now home to one of the UN’s main ScanFab Research and Recycle facilities. Compounds like these that “don’t’ exist” are where the governing body takes the genetic remnants of people who’ve been ‘fabbed, or scanned and transmitted off-world, and repurposes them as cannon fodder, to whittle away at opposition forces across the globe. With their minds wiped, these “blanks” only know war. A ghastly way to wage it, but that was the way of the New Order.

Infinite Nighthawk was launched to breach the facility and gather hard proof of the misuse of repurposed ‘fabs by the UN, which to this point had only been rumor. If proof of these atrocities could be brought to The Hague, maybe there was still a chance to stop the madness that has enveloped the world and find another way. A better way.

With only two Rail Guns against three speedier targets, there wasn’t much hope of the walkers cashing in and scoring damage while Blue Three actively jammed the Ares’ targeting with its electronic warfare suite. Luckily, Magnusson thought, they hadn’t massed their fire on that critical vehicle, but it was only a matter of time until their luck ran out. There was troublesome terrain ahead for the Scarab’s that would allow the walkers a chance to close the range and increase their hit probability. They needed to buy some space and time, fast!

As if reading their commanders mind, the three APC’s skidded to a stop and trained their guns on the pair of oncoming UN walkers. Raising their Immolator Plasma Guns, Blue fired a linked double-volley on the lead Ares. Fire belched from the guns as paired triplets of directed energy streaked across the expanse and converged on their lone target, the lead walker.

As soon as the shots were sent down range, the Scarabs were back in the throttle and on their evasive pattern before the walkers had the sense to react. Half of the shots impacted upon the front armor of the lead 25 ton Ares near the cockpit, rattling the pilot hard against his harness. The onslaught caused the giant machine to falter for several seconds while the walker’s computer and pilot worked feverishly to avoid going to the ground.

Inwardly Magnusson cheered, ‘take that ya blue bonnet bastard’, referencing the UN’s traditional headgear. The second Ares raced past its dazed partner, in unrelenting pursuit of its fleeing quarry.

Magnusson keyed up the Battlegroup’s air team to see if they had a better perspective from their vantage point. “Red One, this is Gray Six. Do you have a visual on Blue over?”

Captain Shane McNulty, the Red Flight team leader had been monitoring both the traffic and his tac-map updates while he hovered on-station several kilometers to the rear of the formation. His pair of Dragonfly VTOL’s were ready to pounce the minute the call for support came from Blue.

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Dragonfly VTOLs (Microworld Games) await a support call as needed

“Gray Six, Red One. Negative visual on Blue at this time, over.”

“Copy that Red. Be ready when the call comes, pedal fast and hit hard on your run, out.”

At the tacops console of Magnusson’s Growler, Lt. William Daniels kept scanning through the CAIRO’s frequencies. “There are other indistinguishable signatures out there sir, they’re at very long range and extremely weak, likely the QRF. Trying to work up positive idents now.”

“Understood, get everyone’s weapons spun up and hot, we’re moving out.” Magnusson ordered the crew.

“Yes sir, Weapons are hot and good to go, all systems appear in their nominal ranges” responded Collins, the vehicles gunner. Daniels continued to monitor the computers, trying to build a better overall tactical picture for his commander that suddenly seemed more fluid than expected.

“Find me those other bogies, I know they’re out there. Switching over to the battlegroup freq now.” Magnusson left Daniels to his job, having full confidence in his young lieutenant as he prepared to order the main body to move.

Magnusson addressed his team first. “Five, go active ECM, everyone else make sure you stay in that cover. We have contact ahead and we don’t need any other surprises. – break – all Prowler elements this is Gray Six, Blue is in contact to the north and we are moving to Checkpoint Omega. Go weapons hot, watch your intervals, keep comms clear except for essential traffic, good hunting.”

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Checkpoint Omega (models by Microworld Games, Dark Realm Miniatures)

Like a well-trained machine, the primary armor group joined in an arrow formation to stay within the protective confines of Gray Five’s electronic counter-measures.

“Gray Six this is White One, moving to overwatch, out.” Lt. Ivanna Gregorovich announced as her Warthog fire support group headed on the way to their designated position for Omega, the fallback point for the recon group.

The Warthog’s of Gregorovich’s team housed paired Quad Bolt Guns which should help dissuade any attempts by the enemy to close with the main body. Things were about to get very hot in the cold Colorado forest.

Read Part Two Here!

Polyversal on Kickstarter

Kickstarter Video Length and Content

When I first started using Kickstarter in 2012 to raise production funding for my games, I made a misstep on the all-important project video. Read some insights from experience on Project Video Length that applies to any #Crowdfunding project.

When I first started using Kickstarter in 2012 to raise production funding for my games, I made a misstep on the all-important project video. The initial video for Frontline General: Spearpoint 1943 Map Expansion was way too long. It was so long I can’t even remember how long exactly. Kickstarter’s insights showed that only a handful of people played it through (roughly 8-10% IIRC). I updated the video after launch and cut it down quite a bit, but, it really was still too long. What if the pitch or some really important point was ONLY provided at the end of that video? What if the main project page did not contain or reiterate that information? The result- missed backers or as a minimum, poor communication and lack of interest.

As my projects progressed, the videos became shorter and shorter, which is hard to do because you’re excited to finally present your project to the masses. My videos always had a story element or series of stock videos put to music to give a sense of setting. I’m now convinced that even that is too much. You just don’t have time. The first launch of Polyversal included a roughly 5-minute project video. Half of it was story information and the other half background from the designer with a fly-through of the game in our cityscape setting (Polyversal is a miniatures game). I received some good feedback after the project from Grant (@hyperboleGrant):

“the video is too long and you never pitched the game.” -Grant

He was right. Tip: Always ask for and trust blunt and honest feedback. That is what helps you the most as a designer / publisher / creator. Grant is good at providing that.

This is also discussed in the Stonemaier Games blog with a recommendation to “limit videos to about 2 minutes total.” Save detailed information like gameplay or product use, campaign details, etc., for supplemental videos embedded in the project page. That’s great advice and something I’ll be doing with the Polyversal re-launch. We had some embedded videos already, and those were well received, but, the project video was just too long for those still in ‘browsing mode’. Shorter videos appeal to our shorter attention spans as modern-day humans. And, it needs to pitch and pitch quickly by presenting the purpose of the project, why anyone should support you, what makes it unique, and when to pledge (now). It should also point them where to learn more, which should be written out in the project page.

You can watch the original Polyversal project video here on the cancelled project for reference (Don’t worry, I’m not pitching anything- the video lacks a pitch, really!, and the project is done).

Here are some changes I’m making to the Polyversal project video for re-launch:

  1. The story portion will be removed and remain in its own video.
  2. The pitch (what Polyversal is and why people should back it) will be given UP FRONT by Ken and I. This will present what the game is, why it’s unique, and why people should support it now.
  3. The designer’s commentary by Ken is still good and brief enough to be used. This also shows the game in action as Ken speaks and has interesting visuals.
  4. Everything else will be cut out. The buildings are now going to be their own project, so the end part with The Phalanx Consortium will not be necessary for this video.
  5. I will refer to other embedded videos for more detail on story, gameplay, and unit design.

I think with these changes, the new video will:

  1. Have a greater chance of full plays.
  2. Be brief and clear enough to grab people’s attention if they are the target audience.
  3. Force us to focus on the pitch and most important points to make about the project up front.
  4. Help us come across as more organized and focused on our message.
  5. Require less editing time. Editing 1 minute of video takes me approximately 2 hours in Premier Pro. If I only have to edit 2 minutes of final video, I should be able to wrap up that work in much less time.

In Summary:

  1. Cut project videos down to 2 minutes maximum. In those 2 minutes, be sure the project is actually pitched. If it’s longer than 2 minutes, you may think you need that extra time, but, you don’t. It’s not effective, so why include it? Make your main points and be done.
  2. Ask people to back the project NOW for one or two specific reasons.
  3. Don’t drag out the project video with information on rewards, stretch goals, shipping, gameplay, product use, or other details not related to a pitch or general overview. In other words, don’t present everything about the product in this single video.
  4. Point potential backers to supplemental videos embedded in the project page for additional information (Gameplay, Function, Reviews, and Storyline as appropriate).
  5. Remember, a very low percentage of people who actually click on the video will finish it if it’s more than a couple minutes. The longer it is, the lower the percentage of full plays. Pique backer’s interest in the first 15 seconds or you risk losing them.

Once the Polyversal re-launch is previewed, I’ll link to it here so you can see the updated video and how it differs from the original. Let me know if you agree with these points and as always, please comment with any feedback, and like, share, and follow the blog.

The Story of Polyversal

#Polyversal is an open-source tabletop miniatures game with its own backstory that players can help fill in. Learn more about that backstory in this blog post.

Polyversal does not lock you into a particular story or setting. You may generate your own background story, or simply play the game. We do have a story that sets the tone for the conflict we envisioned within Polyversal. It is set between a future, powerful United Nations (UN) that controls the technology required for mass evacuation from a dying Earth, and groups of Opposition Forces (OPFOR) who fight for those who may be left behind.

It is the end of the 21st century and the UN is the omnipotent power, running an all-powerful one world government to which many countries joined freely while others have been coerced and capitulated, forsaking their sovereignty under the guise of harmony and security. But a perilous one world government is not our only problem, for mankind faces an even greater threat.

Once peaceful weather control technologies were developed by the UN to tame Earth’s increasingly violent weather patterns, but, use of the technology leads to an erosion of Earth’s magnetosphere, allowing in massive amounts of extinction-level radiation.

The Earth’s atmosphere is failing after centuries of abuse and with it man’s supremacy, forcing the world’s leaders to look elsewhere for sanctuary and safe harbor for the human race. Time is of the essence and lacking the proper heavy lift capabilities to transport billions of people off planet before the atmosphere completely fails, a harsh plan is put into play by the government.

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UN and OPFOR units standoff on a bridge – licensed stock art

 

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UN Weather Control Station – Original artwork by Byron Collins with Stock Art Background

The UN moves forward with plans to execute the controversial operation known as Polyversal, using scanfabbing as the solution for mass evacuation. Unfortunately, it is used primarily for the powerful and well connected, creating mass chaos among those who will remain to perish.

In the name of “Peacekeeping”, the UN fights to protect and maintain control.

Many former States band together, taking up arms against the UN’s plan, knowing it is their only hope for survival. Opposition Forces (OPFOR) units form as former national enemies unite, mercenary groups seek fortune at the hand of the UN while ragtag militias stand against the heavy-handed military forces of an all-powerful government.

The OPFOR fights against UN oppression, cessation of sovereignty by previously “free” countries, and those who will be left behind in the wake of the impending death of the planet. Survival of citizens who are not chosen is one of the primary OPFOR objectives. Both the UN and OPFOR have access to a wide range of weaponry as well as dedicated soldiers fighting for their respective causes.

Battles are waged on the land, across the sea and in the air, as free people band together and fight to survive and flee a dying planet, and with it, oppression. It is a time of total war, a time of chaos.

As the creators of Polyversal, we’ve always wanted to create a story framework that you can pull from and use in your games as you see fit. We also want to see (and will ask) players help us flesh out the story using a wiki-type site that encourages your creativity. The possibilities are endless. Below, we share a small piece of our story, an address to the Peoples of the United Nations as given by Secretary General Kagiso Tendaji on April 21, 2094.

Polyversal Story Teaser – UN Address

“We travel together, passengers on a little space ship, dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil, all committed, for our safety, to its security and peace. Preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work and the love we give our fragile craft.” Adlai Stevenson, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Address to ECOSOC, Geneva, Switzerland July 9, 1965

As the 21st century draws to a close, we survey our wrecked spaceship earth, and look to its nearest neighbors for salvation. The hope and optimism of the 2070s and 80s are over. The technologies that were to liberate us from nature itself have failed. The seas have sought their revenge. The atmosphere, once thought to be under our control, has thinned to a useless whisper, no longer protecting those who survive here from the sun’s brutal radiation. It is time to leave.

Although our reach in the solar system has expanded beyond the asteroid belt to the moons of Saturn and Jupiter, there remain over 10 billion people here on Earth. Even with the full-time efforts of our military fleets and every corporate and private vessel capable of flight, we will be unable evacuate everyone before the complete failure of our atmosphere. It is for this reason that, effective today, the United Nations ban on the transmission and fabrication of human matrices has been lifted by votes winning broad support in both the General and Parliamentary Assemblies. It will remain forbidden to fabricate a human matrix on Earth. However, matrices may be transmitted by Tayanur, for fabrication off-world.

The controversy surrounding the fabrication of human matrices has not ended. Nor will today’s historic vote affect the deeply held convictions of those who oppose scanfabbing human beings. We cannot know the depths of the human soul, if, as many believe, such a thing truly exists. The brightest minds of our generation have debated these matters at great length. Their debate will no-doubt continue, as it has since the dawn of debate itself.

However, in the face of the sudden destruction of our planet’s surface, the question of what is right must take a back seat to what will work.

Before today, transporting people beyond Earth’s orbit required an enormous ship, expensive fuel, and precious time. Tayanur transmission occurs faster than the speed of light, using our existing communications networks set up by our pioneers. Use of this technology is the only way to maximize our chance of survival as a species.

Because of this, I have been authorized by the Security Council to reveal Operation Polyversal: the United Nations Humanevac Operation for the Peoples of Earth.

In anticipation of today’s historic decision, scanfab centers have been constructed in undisclosed locations in and around the key population centers of Earth. Our goal is to use the system to transmit as many people off of the planet as possible, within the limitations of the infrastructure set up to accept them off-world.

Polyversal has been designed to ensure fairness and to optimize efficiency in the selection, scanning, and transmission of those fortunate enough to be selected for the operation. I say, “selected,” because, those who will participate have been selected by computer. We will be unable to scan everyone before it is too late. Accordingly, a sophisticated computer algorithm has chosen the ideal participants, factoring for traits necessary for the survival of the species. Naturally, the algorithm has selected people from across the globe, with abilities in every field of human endeavor. The algorithm was impartially programmed by top UN scientists, and has access to the entire UN ID database, which includes the genetic information of every UN-registered citizen on the planet.

On May 1, all participants will be notified. If you receive the official notification, you will be given specific instructions on how to participate, and when and where you must report. Follow them closely. If selected, you must keep the knowledge of your participation a secret, for your own safety. The Security Council expects, and is prepared for, mass public protest, lawlessness, and general unrest. We urge all citizens to cooperate with uniformed UN peacekeepers, and to remain peaceful and orderly at this time. Fighting your neighbors will not save anyone, and may jeopardize the very goal of Operation Polyversal.

Mankind has survived on this planet for millions of years. We have expanded our habitat from a few caves and patches of fertile ground to every corner of the world. We have lived in the deserts, underground, underwater, on the polar ice, in the clouds, in the vacuum of space, and on a dozen other inhospitable rocks in our solar system. The time has come to say goodbye to the place of our birth. In a decade or two, perhaps, we may be able to return, perhaps able to repair the damage we have done. Perhaps that return will have to await our children, or our children’s children. It is too soon to tell.

All we know for now is that we must go.

Over one hundred years ago, philosopher Marshall McLuhan observed “There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew.” As her crew, we have done our best to save our precious spaceship earth. There is no more that we can offer her. It is time to abandon ship. The functions of government will continue off-world, and here on Earth for as long as conditions will allow. It is an honor to lead the Peoples of the United Nations, and I will continue to do so for as long as I am able.

May peace be with us as we take our last steps on Spaceship Earth.

Secretary General Kagiso Tendaji

Address to the Peoples of the United Nations

April 21, 2094

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Have you seen our Story Teaser video? Check it out here.

Kickstarter Reward Shipping

It is challenging to figure out how to ship your creation to your backers and a frequent source of mistakes and lost money and time. Read some insights and critical thinking regarding 3 different shipping strategies for crowdfunding project creators.

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One of the biggest challenges facing any Kickstarter project creator is accurately estimating shipping costs before launching the project- especially for a physical product that’s not yet produced. I’ve always built shipping costs into pledge levels or had different levels depending on location (domestic vs. International). Kickstarter has made listing shipping out for different zones or countries easier, but, it’s still a flat rate based on that country or zone, which isn’t necessarily accurate. Historically I have been close on shipping cost estimates but almost always either above or below the exact shipping paid. Let’s look at the consequences of that, why it’s a problem, and talk about options for shipping with pros and cons of each. Ultimately, it’s up to you as a creator to choose a method to use. Hopefully this critical thinking about shipping will help you decide- or at least think about it hard before launching a project.

First, a few consequences from the creator estimating shipping incorrectly on the high end (i.e. your shipping estimate is wrong and it is too high):

  1. You may miss backers who otherwise want to support your project but are turned off by the high cost they must pay to receive it. Remember if international, they may also be charged by customs for importing whatever you’re sending. Sometimes this is cost prohibitive and they simply won’t back your project.
  2. You’re overcharging backers. This is obviously bad for backers, but, in addition, if you’re in the USA, you are considered “profiting” on the shipping. If you profit on shipping, and are paying sales tax for any backers within your state, you may be liable to base the sales tax on the full amount paid by the backer. If you don’t profit on shipping, generally, you don’t charge sales tax on the shipping. This is subtle, but important. Remember that state sales tax laws vary.
  3. You’re giving more money to Kickstarter (and Amazon) who both charge percentages based on the amount of the transaction (KS=5%, Amazon=3-5%). This isn’t so subtle and can be a lot of money.

Next, a few consequences from the creator estimating shipping incorrectly on the low end (i.e. your shipping estimate is wrong and it is too low):

  1. You must still ship the reward and as a creator, absorb the additional cost to you. More on this in 3, below.
  2. You may attract more international backers which could skew the amount of funding raised by shipping (that is not going toward creating your project) vs. the amount going toward creating your project. Example: A reward is $20 USD and costs you $5 to make it. To ship it overseas actually costs $45. $65 goes toward your goal by an overseas backer. You actually receive $58.50 after KS / Amazon fees. But you’re going to spend $45 when you ship it and remember it cost you $5 to make it. You have a margin of $8.50. Not terrible, but, what international backer will pay $45 extra plus import duties to receive your $20 reward? Maybe a few, but, it drives up your funding raised when it’s actually just barely covering you.
  3. You may lose money. Take the same example pledge. Now, what if you estimate the shipping overseas incorrectly as $25 and charge backers for that amount? The total pledge is $45 for an international backer ($20+$25). When you run these numbers, you’ve lost money on that backer pledging for your project ($45 *.90 = $40.5 after KS / Amazon worst case fees -$5 cost to make -$45 actual cost to ship = -$9.50. You just paid $9.50 for that backer to have your reward. You paid them! Again, you paid them! Multiply that by every international backer at that pledge level. Let’s say there was just 100 international backers at that level… you’ve lost $950.00!

Finally, here are a few consequences, of estimating shipping exactly right:

  1. Actual shipping costs may turn away some backers, especially internationally. Note: There are some strategies to mitigate this as will be discussed in Further Reading.
  2. Shipping rates change. Unless you fulfill the rewards soon after the project was started (not finished, because you can’t change rates once you start), you may find yourself short of funds required to actually fulfill your rewards because of rate increases later beyond your control. You estimated shipping at the time- exactly right- so there is not float.
  3. You’ve lost 8-10% of whatever you charged for the reward’s shipping portion to Kickstarter / Amazon fees.

Strategies for shipping

Let’s look at three ways (not all) you could approach shipping that are fair to you and to your backers and the pros and cons of each. For all strategies, you must accurately predict the weight of your reward and the size. Accuracy is based on this so spend some time on it. Remember to account for any stretch rewards you may add to this base reward if they’ll increase size or weight of what you have to ship.

  1. Limit fulfillment to certain zones or countries. Shipping in the USA is easy and fairly predictable. International shipping (as I define it, “from” the USA) is when things get tricky. You could choose to limit where you’ll fulfill your rewards (or certain rewards) to certain countries (or zones like the EU, through consolidation), see Further Reading. To do so, you can specify locations for each reward on Kickstarter and specify the flat rate to that location. It’s applied to a backer’s pledge when they checkout.Pros: Restricting shipping to limited zones or countries means you have to estimate costs for fewer areas. Compare this to shipping to any country- and it’s harder to predict. You’ll probably be pretty accurate with fewer flat rates. It’s also easy to do this through kickstarter’s existing reward creation tools.

    Cons: You’re excluding backers who aren’t in these limited countries or zones which could ultimately hurt your project regarding funding. You’re also still paying KS and Amazon fees on shipping costs. Some of the other consequences mentioned above also still apply.

  2. You could offer “Free” shipping and build the average cost into the reward. As Jamey Stegmaier mentions, no shipping is “free”, but, there are ways you can greatly reduce costs to yourself and backers, especially to key zones or countries where consolidators may work with you. This technique has worked well for Jamey and it’s linked in Further Reading.Pros: “Free” shipping could encourage more backers (even though the cost is built in).

    Cons: “Free” really means it’s built in to the reward. No shipping is free, so be careful with this one. If you build in the cost to the reward based on some average you calculate, you may be ‘making’ more money off of some backers who are close by. This isn’t really fair to those backers IMHO. It’s also harder to predict your bottom line. Plus, you still give more money to Kickstarter and Amazon- remember whatever you raise is subject to their fees.

  3. You could charge shipping outside of the Kickstarter campaign, after the campaign is complete. The way this would work is you’d still estimate the costs backers will pay based on their location and your reward size and weight, packaging, etc. and communicate that in the reward write-up and project page. Be very clear that each backer will be charged actual shipping based on their location once the rewards are ready to ship. In other words, you will either collect this as part of a pledgemanager / backerkit / crowdox survey, or, invoice each backer individually through PayPal or Square (PayPal for international because of fewer exchange issues, Square for domestic because it’s cheaper).Pros: This one is a list because there are many:
  • You bypass Kickstarter making 5% off of everything you charge for shipping (You still pay some amount for any invoicing/processing). This can be significant.
  • You invoice at the time of shipping (I’d say within 1 month) in order to charge based on the current shipping rates). This means you don’t need to worry about changing rates (other than potentially explaining it if shipping rates change significantly since you passed on your estimates to backers).
  • You can lower your Kickstarter project goal. Since shipping doesn’t count toward the goal, you don’t have to build in and account for those costs based on your best estimate (and you really have no idea).
  • Pledges are all pledges toward your project (not shipping it) and they cannot drive up funding in a false manner (i.e. the problem of having a lot of international backers at 65 per pledge, but, only 20 goes toward your project’s production is now not a problem).
  • You don’t have to be exactly correct with your estimate (But be close). Since you clearly state that “exact shipping will be charged upon survey”, you’re being fair to both yourself and backers. People understand that it’s not cheap to ship things, especially internationally, and I think generally, expect to not be over or undercharged shipping.
  • The tax implications of “profiting on shipping” are no longer a problem.
  • If for some reason you cannot deliver what you’ve stated you could deliver, the backer has not also lost money by paying to have a “phantom item” shipped to them (as long as you haven’t yet invoiced them). Note: Always deliver. Just always do whatever you can to deliver or you’re done with crowd-funding.Cons: Another list, because there are several:
  • You have to invoice everyone later (which takes time) or depend on a 3rd party pledge manager to collect shipping fees (which costs money, but probably less than the money you may lose if all of your estimates are wrong and they’re already collected through KS).
  • If your estimates are wrong on shipping costs to backers, this could put people off. I’d recommend doing your best and stating clearly that the estimate is not exact and may be higher or lower depending on their location.
  • If a backer doesn’t pay the shipping invoice, you must either bug them, refund their pledge (my recommendation, but you may lose 10% to fees and they lose some % because of receiving money via PayPal), or choose to ship anyway and take the loss (not recommended).
  • Paying a shipping invoice may be inconvenient for a backer at a later time. For example, they may have disposable income at the time of your project end, but, what if they don’t have it when you send them a shipping invoice?
  • It’s a bit different than how many kickstarter projects have been run so far- so you have to communicate well, try and ensure everyone understands what you’re doing so they’re not surprised later to receive an invoice, why you’re doing it, when they must pay shipping, and how much to expect to pay.

For my next project, a re-launch of Polyversal, I’ll be trying strategy 3. Chris Bennett of The Phalanx Consortium recently used this method when fulfilling a recent Kickstarter project and had good success with it. Personally I think the pros outweigh the cons because it takes some of the shipping unpredictability out of running a campaign. As long as you do your due diligence on estimating costs for backers up front, communicate what will happen (invoice later), and have a plan in case someone doesn’t pay the invoice, I think it’s the most fair and accurate method of shipping items to backers. Couple this with EU-Friendly, Canada-Friendly, AU/NZ-Friendly strategies and working with consolidators overseas (more on that in further reading), you can really save money for yourself as a creator and your backers.

When planning a Kickstarter project, you need to spend a lot of time planning how to cover shipping and how exactly you’ll fulfill any rewards you produce. Otherwise, you’re doing a disservice to yourself and your backers. So, spend time to think these things out for every physical product you’ll produce and ship.

As a backer, what do you prefer? As a creator, what other ideas do you use? Have I missed anything?

Further reading:

Check out the Stonemaier Games blog regarding shipping and fulfillment. Start from the first post and read through them all- because his strategy changes over time. Pay particular attention to the tips on EU / Canada / AU/NZ / USA friendly.

Check out this blog post related to Option 3 above.

The Concept of Polyversal

#Polyversal is our latest game. This blog post takes you through what Polyversal is, how I discovered it from the designer, and the very different approach we have taken regarding the included miniatures.

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Polyversal Box Art. Credit: Bruno Werneck.

I’ve been a guest on several podcasts to talk about Polyversal (official site link) and how I first discovered and decided to publish it- it was a big decision for me since I was for the first time branching out to publish an external design. It was also quite different and new. A science-fiction based tabletop miniatures game. Up until PolyV (for short), my 5 published games were all historical WWII-based card wargames such as Spearpoint 1943 and the ensuing series. So branching into the world of tabletop miniatures was a bit overwhelming. There are so many great products out there. How would Polyversal be different? How would we compete? What would we bring to the tabletop?

What attracted me to Polyversal, as noted when I guest blogged here on Mark H. Walker’s Over da Edge blog, was honestly Mr. Teleporter. This is much like any product- the visual was striking- if not a bit odd- and it got my attention. This was part of a convention game that the designer, Ken Whitehurst, decided to run at a local game convention, Williamsburg Muster. The guys at WM were just starting up and needed events- they reached out to Ken and he agreed to run his ‘homebrew’ set he called “Multiversal” at the time.

I was there exhibiting my games but walked around and spotted Mr. Teleporter. This caught my eye, as it did for all who saw it. It was a kit-bashed Mr. Coffee maker that Ken used in the game. He replaced the decanter with a ‘glowing science orb’ which drew me in like a moth to light, scratched through “Coffee” and renamed it “Teleporter”, keeping the “Mr.” of the well-known brand. I wanted to know more about this craziness. I watched as several gamers enjoyed themselves and picked the intuitive mechanics right up. Ken, as the Game Master, was guiding them along, but in general he got to sit back and watch them play, stepping in as required. Yet, this was a homebrew set of rules. The players picked it up as if they’d known and played it for years. So, beyond Mr. Teleporter, that caught my eye as well as a publisher, designer, and gamer.

I met up with Ken later after sending him a brief message to see if he’d be interested in having his game published. He was interested. So, Ken and I set a time to play the game at a local store, Atlantis Comics and Games in Norfolk, VA in 2011. After playing the game for myself, seeing the amount of work that went into it, understanding the concept and flexibility that’s different than most other games (it’s a universal rules set that can be used with any miniatures)… I was sold. We entered into a publishing agreement. My first one ever.

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Here’s a photo from that playtest game in 2011 (that’s me measuring)

Step into Mr. Teleporter. Over the next 5 years (yes, it’s taken a while), Ken and I worked together to not only develop the game, but, establish a strategy for what we’d do with such a system, all while I designed, developed, and published 3 additional games in the Spearpoint 1943 line. Now, most miniatures games companies are out there to sell you their miniatures– but- I didn’t want to make miniatures. There’s too many competitors and too many good products already out there. Plus, I had heard that sculpting and casting is another passion project– it’s expensive- and requires a lot of money, time, and dedication (kind of like Publishing, but, pick your poison)!

The basic concept with Polyversal is to adapt to whatever people already have. There’s a design system built in that lets the gamer take an existing model, determine for themselves how well that model performs (which affects its points cost and a variety of other things). Ken talks briefly about that in this short video:

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Short video on how to “stat out” a miniature

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The end result. An “Encegon” Main Battle Tank. Miniature by Plasmablast Games. Artwork credit: Bruno Werneck. Tile Graphic Design: Byron Collins

So yes, we had a game at this point. One that worked quite well. But, it relied on players to bring their own models in to play and design stats for them to make useful game pieces. Not everyone (who may otherwise play) is going to do that design step- it appeals to a certain audience. The game was fully-customizable, but, ultimately at this point- just a cool set of universal rules. We could have stopped there. We could have settled to release the game as a PDF product. The problem with that is it only appeals to people who are already miniatures gamers- a niche audience looking for a different set of rules- a group of people who have maybe moved on to other games but kept all their old 6mm scale stuff. These are what I call the “alpha” 6mm gamers. We decided to take a different approach to attract a wider audience. We asked ourselves a few things:

What if people aren’t already miniatures gamers? What if people see these massive companies and established rules and have no idea how to “get in” even if they are attracted to it? What “starter set” is really available in 6mm today? What if people don’t have miniatures and don’t know what’s out there?

These questions burned us up. But, with a lot of critical thinking and brainstorming, we figured it out.

I asked Ken, “Who makes 6mm miniatures now?” He gave me a long list of manufacturers already sculpting and casting sci-fi miniatures- great companies with great products spread all over the world. I began talking to them. I reached out with a few e-mails that were generally met with “huh?” And then, as the e-mail trails grew, things began to click for the manufacturers. Over the course of quite a long time- when gamers who followed our progress wondered if we had just stopped working- I built business relationships with these manufacturers. That takes time. And then, I hired the concept artist from Tron: Legacy, Bruno Werneck. His talent is incredible and fit exactly what we were looking for regarding the box art. The box was commissioned and real money was spent for the first time.

Brigade Models, Plasmablast Games, Microworld Games, Steel Crown Productions (now unfortunately out of business), Dark Realm Miniatures, Hawk Wargames, and the Phalanx Consortium are all of our current partners:

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The basic idea is this: We make a boxed set of Polyversal with two factions for players to get into the game and rules, counters, tokens, dice, etc. We include miniatures from multiple manufacturers in the same box, which exposes the gamer to 5 different lines of models. They’re all the same scale (except the walkers from Hawk) and they all look good together. We develop artwork based on the likeness of each miniature for our Combatant Tiles (stat tiles) that we include. Then, we let the manufacturer use the artwork if they want (it’s based on their models). We get a nice discount for a bulk order and special casting run for each model we select- and we encourage the gamers who buy Polyversal to go buy the rest of those lines from these companies- expanding the game on their own using the design system mentioned above.

What’s in it for the manufacturers?

  • We are promoting their miniatures and exposing their products to a wide audience through a ‘starter set’ that includes them. Never heard of Plasmablast Games? Now you have!
  • We commission professional artwork by Bruno Werneck (the concept artist from Tron: Legacy, Thor, and Star Trek: Into Darkness) and share it with the manufacturers. Portfolio here.
  • We provide them with several free copies and discounts if they’d like to promote and sell the games on their own (at conventions, online, etc.).
  • We don’t compete with them by adding yet another miniatures line to 6mm. We partner and work with them.
  • We place a very large order for the miniatures to support game production.

What’s in it for us (the publisher)?

  • We don’t have to sculpt, commission, cast, 3D print, or otherwise make miniatures for our game.
  • It helps us have a boxed product for sale. This is very important for the conventions I attend. Had we wanted to just sell rules, we could have stopped there and put them up on a webstore. The problem with that: Obscurity. The only people who will buy that are existing miniatures gamers.
  • We get a nice discount that we can pass on to supporters of the game. This adds value for our product.
  • We benefit from blog posts, news items, and other promotions of Polyversal by the manufacturers we work with- instead of competing with us- they work with us.

What’s in it for you (the gamer)?

  • We expose you to miniatures lines from small businesses worldwide in a single box- those miniatures are yours to now explore- and if you like what you see- you can add more without waiting on us for expansions.
  • Boxed sets include Combatant Tiles with pro artwork (die-cut, pro printed, etc.) designed by us to be balanced and out-of-the-box playable for two factions. This helps get you into playing the game without spending a lot of time up front designing Combatant Tiles.
  • You get to support 6-7 small companies (7 because you may or may not choose to buy terrain) in a single product.
  • If you’ve never tried 6mm, or never tried a miniatures game, it fills the void of this niche area with a boxed ‘starter set’.
  • It’s a great game. Really. It’s been in development for nearly a decade and it works well because of Ken’s endless pursuit of ‘elegant’ and my demand for it.

What about a backstory?

Ken has had a backstory brewing for years. When I get him talking about it, various colored laser beams shoot out of his eyes and he becomes this mad-scientist-author-lawyer. In other words, he gets excited, which is inspiring for me. For the KS project video (which, in hindsight, should not have been part of the project video- it should have been its own broken out video), I put together a brief “story intro” video you can watch here if you’d like:

In addition, we hinted at more of the story in a Kickstarter update.

One important note is Polyversal has its own backstory that you can explore and use in your games- or- if it doesn’t suit you- come up with your own. Regarding the PolyV story, if you’re an amateur or professional author, you’ll be able to contribute to it by filling in gaps on a wiki-type site. We’re looking forward to community-driven campaigns, stories, scenarios, and more, and we’ll facilitate all of that.

We’re not quite there yet!

Step back into Mr. Teleporter and go to January 2016. We finally launched a Kickstarter project for PolyV (no longer active, but you can check it out). Unfortunately, we had to cancel it and regroup due to a number of things that needed to be honed or changed. We took in a LOT of feedback from our hundreds of backers and we’re applying most of it. I’ll be blogging about that in another post. There was much to learn, even though it was my 5th Kickstarter. It was best to cancel it, regroup, and re-launch, which we’re in the process of preparing for now…

 

 

 

New Blog – Thanks Jamey Stegmaier

Introduction to my new Game Design and Publishing Blog.

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Introduction

Welcome! This blog begins with a shout to Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games. His resources regarding kickstarter, brand building, and more are amazing and very helpful for anyone interested in designing and publishing tabletop games. I’ve been doing this for a while, but this post of his encouraged me to start blogging about my adventures as a designer / publisher once again. Hopefully it’ll be a fun ride and I’ll be able to keep up, add some new content, pass on what I’ve learned along the way, and help others. If you find anything helpful – or not – please add your comments and let’s get some discussion going.

I’m Byron. I own a 1-man company called Collins Epic Wargames, LLC that’s been in business since 2006 as a sole-proprietorship and 2010 as an LLC. I released my first game in 2008- at Gen Con- not really knowing what I was doing. I’ve published 5 games so far- you can learn more about them here– all my own designs- and I’ve got at least 4 other projects in the works as I write this, most recently, Polyversal, which was designed by Ken Whitehurst and developed by me. I’m no expert by any means on any of this and don’t pretend to be – but I’ve learned a lot over the years. I’ve run several kickstarter campaigns for my games, fumbled with some mistakes that I’ll pass on, had a few hard times, lost and gained some money through it all, but somehow maintained the drive to continue doing what I love to do- being creative through game design, art, and publishing in the Hobby Games Market- and helping others do the same. It’s really quite rewarding in many ways.

Am I a full time Publisher?

It feels like it because of the amount of work involved- but- this venture is in addition to a full time Mechanical Engineering job. That pays the bills. I do not do publishing full time nor do I recommend the risk involved with such a venture in this industry without at least getting a few games out there as a part-time undertaking and really understanding what you’re getting into. In other words, don’t quit your day job, but don’t count out that you could do that eventually.

Quite frankly, there’s a lot of risk involved- financially and otherwise- and the time commitment is immense. But, if you’re ready to jump in (or think you are) and you’re a game designer thinking about publishing a game, I recommend starting by reading this pinned post I wrote many years ago on Boardgamegeek called Game Design and Self-Publishing – A Resource for Game Designers. Then, move on to the many excellent blog posts by Jamey Stegmaier regarding crowdfunding games (which could be applied to anything really) if you want to learn many more aspects and good practices regarding Kickstarter.

I’m honored to be invited to speak each year at the GAMA Trade Show. This annual trade show in March is another great resource for Game Designers considering getting involved with the publishing aspect- or wanting to learn more about the industry. The “manufacturer track” of seminars at the show is helpful to gain perspective on how the industry works, what to do, what not to do, and hear from some big guys (Mayfair Games) and some little guys like me. My seminar is from a small business perspective and is all about starting up as a publisher. I only get an hour to give it which just scratches the surface of many topics- but the goal is to get attendees to start thinking about and exploring the many aspects of actually getting started with publishing games.

I’ve been interviewed on several podcasts for various topics, mostly game specific, but some in general or that also touch on crowd-funding challenges and mistakes that can be made. I’ll link to a few of these as appropriate. One that gives a bit of background on how I got started doing all of this is Meeples and Miniatures Episode 183, which is a UK-based podcast by Mike, Neil, and Mike, that covers a lot of cool games and related topics. They’re good guys, or, ‘chaps’, so, give them a listen.

That’s a bit of my background as a designer / publisher and a hint at the content that will be posted here. It’ll all be behind-the-scenes stuff and really not intended to be promotional of my products- more- how they were made, why, and how to apply any lessons I’ve learned to whatever you’re doing as a potential publisher.

Previous Blogging

I had been blogging on Boardgamegeek here, but, I began shying away from posting there since any examples I’ll draw from are my own experiences talking about publishing my own games- which Boardgamegeek tends to see as ‘self-promotional’. I had also briefly run a blog on another site, last post 2010, but, that fizzled out because I was treating it as promotional. That just doesn’t work…

So, I already feel a breath of fresh air as I start to write again. I’ve got a lot to share, so, let’s get started. Join me. Go ahead, subscribe!