Stephanie Kwok, Liam Smith and Gordon Oscar love boardgames—so they decided to make their own.
Steph and Gord are VFX matte painters. Liam is a software developer. Together they formed First Fish Games and created a board game called Get Off My Land!. Their Kickstarter campaign for the game exceeded the $28,000 goal in less than 24 hours. This is their first board game, and they had fans waiting for them to launch the crowdfunding campaign so they could back it.
The First Fish Games team joined us at Creative Pulse to share lessons learned working on an intense side project and launching a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign.
A Panel Discussion About Crowdfunding, Game Design, And Side Hustles—With First Fish Games
We didn’t get a chance to record the full talk but here are some of the questions that were asked at the event:
Q: Where did the style of the characters come from? (Inspiration, evolution, iterations, testing)
A: Gord took inspiration from artist Ty Carter (Concept art for the movies Ice Age and Epic). He liked the cartoony style with realistic renderings. We wanted a fun art style for this game, since it’s supposed to be lighthearted and not so serious.
Q: How was the design delegated when multiple designers are on the team?
A: Gord has more concept art experience so it was only logical for him to take on the overall art of the game. He works tirelessly to make it better and better so that the game will look it’s best when we deliver. Steph has more of a graphic design background so she took on the role of designing the money and laying out the rulebook. Gord and Steph work together to make sure all the different card types have easy to read layouts. Liam takes advantage of his day job skills as a software developer to put our website together. He is planning an overhaul of the website now that we know a little more of what’s important to show as a game publishing company.
Q: In design thinking, it’s important to have your design problem clearly articulated—each iteration should then move us closer to a better solution. Did you start with a design problem in that sense? If yes, what was it?
A: Other than the hand drawn cards we made for the early stages of prototyping, I think we had a pretty clear idea of what we wanted the design layout to be on all the different types of cards.
Q: What were the first prototypes of the game like? What materials did you use for the early prototypes?
A: We originally had the fence pieces drawn on cards and not actual wood pieces. We were too worried about production cost too early in the process and ended up deciding it just wasn’t working without actually using wood pieces for fences. Luckily we made that decision really early and moved forward to the harder design obstacles. The cards were all hand drawn on pieces of paper, then upgraded to hand drawn on cardstock, then eventually properly printed with temporary art so that we had better looking components to show off at conventions.
Q: Did you know which elements you did & did not want as part of the game, or did those choices evolve? E.g. Dice rolls, card draws, random events, resource management. etc.
A: The mechanics were solidified pretty early in the design process. We knew what we wanted for certain parts of the game and the mechanics we chose just worked perfectly for that. Of course there is always tweaking and modifying to make those mechanics work even better as we did more playtesting, but nothing really changed dramatically that would cause us to rethink the entire design.
Q: Resource management is a big part of Get Off My Land!—how did you balance the in-game economy so that playing one specific way wouldn’t always win?
A: Lots of playtesting. We adjusted numbers on cards constantly if we found one wasn’t getting used enough or was too strong.
Q: Are there any common approaches to balancing a game’s resource distribution?
A: It all comes down to testing. There is no set way to do it. We just thought about the different types of cards and how they compare to each other. For example, “Crop” market cards generally have higher numbers and give bonuses to other cards but they will get removed from the game in “Winter” which is midway through the game.
“It was incredible to see how much effort people were putting in helping us promote and share our campaign….No joke, we had a backer only 2 seconds after clicking the launch button.”
Q: What are some of the barriers you’ve run up against on the production side of things? Is there anything…yet?
A: I wouldn’t say they are barriers. There is the options of MOQ (minimum order quantity) from different manufacturers. Because we are a first time company, we wouldn’t really expect to order more than 1500 copies of the game. Some companies MOQ is 1500, but luckily there are some with 500 or 1000 MOQs. Other than that, we haven’t gone into actual production yet, so we we’ll see!
Q: The prototypes that you’ve brought with you—what went into making them? Printed locally vs. overseas at scale? Cost barriers?
A: Luckily, Steph grew up in a printing family so she knows the ins and outs of printing. It also helps that both her parents work in different printing companies who we used to get the components printed. This saved us a lot of money that would be coming out of our own pockets.
Q: The board game community has been one of the team’s most invaluable resources—answering questions, people saving you from repeating their mistakes, etc. What do you think makes that community so supportive? / What are the elements that lead to a supportive community?
A: Inherently, it’s a very social community since board games are a social activity. People just want to meet up and have a good time playing games and that transfers to the world of publishers as well. Everyone just wants to have fun and helping others to succeed seems to just be a part of it all. There are people like Jamey Stegmaier (Stonemaier Games) and James Mathe (Minion Games) who are willing to share their experiences in game design, Kickstarters, and publishing. Their blogs are invaluable to anyone who is looking to start a project of their own.
Q: First Kickstarter attempt had some hiccups. You seemed fine with that and already had a solution in mind when we chatted. Was is always like that or was there some initial panic?
A: We had a feeling a few days after our initial Kickstarter launch that we made a mistake that we couldn’t change. We noticed it when people started to say they love everything about the game except the price. We had many people in Facebook groups that were trying to help us come up with solutions. We came up with a temporary solution but we had already lost the “launch day” momentum.
Q: How did the first unsuccessful campaign affect the way you brought the second campaign to life?
A: To be honest, it’s our backers that we have to thank for a successful second campaign. We had no idea how invested people were with our game. It was incredible to see how much effort people were putting in helping us promote and share our campaign. We had people asking us to launch our second campaign earlier than our planned launch time. We also had people waiting for us to click the launch button. No joke, we had a backer only 2 seconds after clicking the launch button.
Q: Kickstarter stretch goals – why, how, purpose, limitations? Novelty
A: The board game section on Kickstarter currently thrives on stretch goals. As in, if you don’t have enticing stretch goals, potential backers might not be convinced to back your project. Somehow this became a norm and now every campaign has it. We initially had our stretch goals partially hidden, we wanted to keep it a mystery. But after numerous people asking to see more, we decided to reveal everything we had planned. Most of our stretch goals are to upgrade the quality of the components or the look.
Q: If stranded on a desert island, what are the 3 games you’d have to have with you?
Steph: Lords of Xidit
Liam: Sheriff of Nottingham
Q: Who on the First Fish team is the most competitive?
For more insights from the First Fish Panel discussion, check out the speaker deck:
Thank you to Faculty Brewing Co for providing beer.
Thank you to /Archive for providing venue and pizza.