I started the creation of the first gamified version of Project ALPACA (then Paradox) on 2/22/2014. This date may not mean a lot to you, but for some it means quite a bit. This is for two reasons:
- The Kickstarter funding campaign ended 4 years to the day from the day I began putting the game into motion (2/22/2018).
- That day was Ragnarok. As in Viking end of the world story Ragnarok.
Everybody lost their minds over the LHC in 2008 and the Mayan Long Count in 2012, but no one really sounded the alarms for Ragnarok. I created a Pandora station dedicated to the occasion called “BOATS WILL BURN” featuring hits from Manowar and the like. I coded furiously that night as tales of Sleipnir echoed loudly through my head. It was a good day. I was ready for it.
I bring up the significance of this date because in these fabled endgame tales what we sometimes fail to realize is the beginning of the next thing. The end of the Long Count starts the 5th or 6th age, Ragnarok sees humanity reborn, the Apocalypse brings the creation of a new world. In fact, the end of the world often results in something shiny and new. I’m partly reassuring myself this because as the ALPACA funding campaign came to a close, there was a strange sadness in my heart. I was elated, then deflated; the looming “Is that it? It it all over?” hanging thick like a metaphorical fog. Of course, I know it’s far from over. But sometimes it’s hard to see that.
Thus, the end of the Kickstarter campaign for Project ALPACA is truly the beginning of the next phase. Something to be reborn and better for wear. I would like to recount what I have learned thus far from what honestly feels like the end of an era. I want to do this in hopes that future creators can follow my footsteps and learn from my mistakes. The more we know about this strangely reflexive process of game making (“Just make one”), the better games we are going to see. On to the lessons from this first ending:
The reflexiveness narrative of game creation culture is CORRECT. You can find several game making resources that will talk about how there is no right way to make a game. That the biggest hurdle is to simply “make a game.” This can be condescending, daunting, and disheartening, especially if read by someone putting themselves out there for the first time in a field in which they are utterly lost. But the people suggesting you do this? They are right. There is no secret formula. There is no special sauce. You might even feel like a phony if people compare your idea to another game. Let me let you in on a secret: all games are like that.
Cards Against Humanity is just Apples to Apples but the way people already played it. Dixit is Apples to Apples but with pictures. Mysterium is Dixit, but with a compelling theme. Mysterium is also Clue, but with a compelling theme. Freecell is Solitaire on steroids. Hearthstone is Magic the Gathering for people with, paradoxically, no money AND too much money. The truth of the matter is that your game is the only representation of that particular game idea as filtered through your perception and experience, which is UTTERLY unique to you. Only you know what that looks like. This means you have to be willing to put you and your energy out there, make a crappy little index card prototype, and play it with your friends. Have you done that? Congratulations, you are a game designer. The threshold for entry is truly that low. Because (PREPARE YOURSELF FOR SOME PARADOXICAL WISDOM) if you don’t make a game, you won’t make a game. One of the hardest parts of making Project ALPACA was making the core pieces and printing an actual prototype. I was unsure of myself and thought it was terrible and didn’t want to show anybody. But I did and it made me feel good. You can do it. You just have to take that leap. It’s the right thing to do.
Get your ducks in a row as you go, not after. Your project has started as soon as you began working on it. There is no official start button. Real life is happening the entire time. Don’t convince yourself you will do it later because you are unsure of your success. Treat it like it’s real. If you choose to go the crowdfunding route, set up your business as if you are going to succeed. I am VERY glad I already had most of my paperwork filed and processed before I took the plunge. That meant even if I didn’t reach my goal, I would have the foundation to try again or to try something new. If you do not want to run your own game business and just want to make games, save every version of the things you are doing in a portfolio. Everything you do is a valid addition to your game designer vision and collection. Save your drafts, pay your taxes, write your bio, whatever, but treat yourself as officially as you can during the process while it’s happening, not after the fact. It’s better than trying to figure out if you missed something or losing a critical piece of art or a document as you are reaching your destination. Months ago my artist and I lost an entire set of card art. It was…an ordeal. HOWEVER. We managed to find a backup of a draft and we didn’t lose all the work because we had made backups. Recently, I applied for a local business license and already had my forms filled out and license numbers acquired. I was in and out of the office in 10 minutes. The more time you take to prepare, the more seriously you will be able to take your role as a game designer. Build a solid infrastructure as you go, preparation pays off.
Figure out your crowd. This is something I know I need to improve. I have a crowd of amazing people who support me and help me out and think that what I am doing is spectacular. However, if we look at the numbers, Project ALPACA had 74 backers. These numbers thrill me, but games with a solid social presence have THOUSANDS of folks. Recognizing whom your game is for is very important. Find your niche, fill it, and sell to your strengths. Project ALPACA is a small filler card game for people who like a little mystery in their gaming experiences. That is not a game for everybody. Even today my hair stylist told me she hoped to see it on the shelves of Target one day. That’s not going to happen, because that’s not the point of the game or even the people who would be interested in it. Find your people. Talk with them, gather them together, and cherish them. While I do not have a very large following, I plan on growing Ludology Lab’s presence and fandom in the future. Do you research, find your crowd, then grow your crowd. They will be VERY important for the next step.
Ask for help. This is the hardest part for me. Just ask folks. Call in favors. Tap relationships. See what others are willing to do. Chances are they are happy to help because they know you would do the same for them. My Kickstarter campaign would be dead in the water if not for the advice I received from the live chats at The Game Crafter and Jamey Stegmaier’s blog (he made Scythe and Charterstone, please check him out, he rules), and those are folks I don’t know personally! Without the help of others, I wouldn’t have: a game theme, card designs, legible rules, a Kickstarter video, the drive to finish a project, the confidence to finish a project, or the monetary resources to create a first print run. We all need help. Every time I reached out to someone, they were more than willing to assist in any way they could. Now, this could just be because my people are amazing and wonderful and I’m just lucky to know them, or it could be that at our core we want to see people we like succeed and feel proud of ourselves for helping them. So just ask! The worst thing that can happen is they say no. And then you move on. And if that happens, find the people that DO want to help! So many people want to help you out that it would be rude of you to not oblige them. You need people. Give them the opportunity to help you.
These are just a few of the things that have been racing through my mind as Project ALPACA transitions into whatever it is next. A giant serpent, perhaps, dripping mind searing venom on the forehead of some sort of trickster god. But I digress. So maybe you are in a similar boat, or thinking of boarding a boat that looks a lot like this one. There is a lot to take in when you are creating something. You will give a lot of yourself in invisible ways that you won’t realize. You might notice pieces of yourself have gone missing to give life to your idea. When you’re done, it will feel like the end of the world. Rest assured that you will be tempered by your struggle and you will be brought back to life the next day to do it again. When the time comes, you will fight your hardest, it will all end, and then something wonderful comes next.
Keep moving forward!
It’s not the end of the world.