Sometimes – well, okay, a lot of the times – I think about what would have changed if I had launched the Gloomhaven Kickstarter another time. Because the basic fact of the matter was that I launched it before I was really ready.
I don’t know, maybe “ready” isn’t the right word. Basically, there was just a lot of stuff that still needed to be done when I hit that “launch” button.
Look, no one is saying that a game needs to be 100% before it gets put up on Kickstarter. The best thing about Kickstarter is collaborating with your backers and incorporating their ideas into your project. If a project is already a fully-formed, unmalleable thing, then that collaboration can’t happen and the whole process becomes a lot less exciting for everyone.
I think there’s a sweet spot for projects, though – not too raw but not too baked – where ingredients can still be added without ruining the dough. Sorry for the weird bread metaphor. I’ve been watching a lot of The Great British Baking Show on Netflix…
I feel like Forge War hit that sweet spot, but Gloomhaven might have still been a little raw. I say this because I feel like everything was happening at the last minute. Back in July we were scrambling to get a demo ready for GenCon, then in August we were scrambling to get the review copies out, then scrambling to get the Kickstarter set up. Now I’m scrambling to get the game put together and out to backers in a reasonable amount of time.
I hardly got any feedback on the Kickstarter page itself before I launched because it only looked decent enough to show to people a couple days before we were going to go live. It felt like I was running around propping up scenery as the curtains were opening on the production.
Of course, everything turned out fine. It went great, obviously, but still, I think it could have looked more professional. I think the rule book could have been less riddled with errors. We could have had more graphics and stuff ready to go. I could have had more conversations with my manufacturer about all the stretch goal possibilities.
So why did Gloomhaven launch when it did? I guess it was all about timing – finding that sweet spot on the calendar when all the negative external forces are at a minimum.
First of all, there was Essen at the beginning of October. Since I have a large European audience, I didn’t really want to straddle Essen or launch right afterward. Everyone’s wallets would be a little lighter from all their convention purchases and I wanted to avoid that, so I really, really wanted to give my project a full 4 weeks without interfering with Essen at all.
Sometimes I still think that launching around now would have been better, even with Essen still fresh in people’s memories. I certainly would have been prepared more. But just look at all the big projects running on Kickstarter right now: Scythe, 7th Continent, Swords & Sorcery, Folklore, Cthulu Wars with Arcadia Quest dropping soon, too. The Kickstarter lineup is an absolute beast right now and the competition would have been fierce. Launching in September, the only massive project on the scene was The Others, which was different enough in tone and game play that I didn’t really have to worry much. That was nice.
So what about launching in November or December? I certainly would have been even more prepared, but these are known in the Kickstarter community as the “bloodbath” months. Money is tight because of all those Christmas presents people have to buy, plus a lot of people may have filled up their game purchasing quota for the year. And since backing a game so that your loved one can get it in 6-8 months isn’t a very good Christmas gift, ’tis the season for dead Kickstarters.
Which leaves us with the new year – January or February. I thought quite a long time about this, but I think this goes past the sweet spot into fully baked and unmalleable. If I wanted the game to release sometime around GenCon next year, everything would very much need to be done around January or February, which means no backer collaboration and no added ingredients. All in all, just not very exciting.
Plus, to be honest, I had sort of run out of available funds with which to continue developing Gloomhaven. I certainly couldn’t have paid artists and designers and sculptors for another 4 months without some Kickstarter influx. An unfortunate reality
So, in the end, it was a crazy ride. It certainly felt out of control at some points, like I was flying by the seat of my pants. And I’m not very happy with how long it’s going to take to get the game into backers’ hands. But I don’t think I should have done it any other way.
It was a wildly successful project, and now I can sit back and finish developing the game with thousands of people cheering me on, knowing that the hard part is already done.