Here we go again, with the existential crisis about game design…

While waiting for everything for Teratozoic to get here, I’ve been developing a card-drafting game. At first it was built around storytelling/story-building, a version of my first game, Paved With [my…] Intentions, expanded to create a complex multi-act storyline instead of a vignette… but I ran into technical and existential problems with crafting the story-space my imagined/envisioned game would take place in, so I dropped the theme—but my brain kept thinking about card-drafting games. (I’m sure, in part, because I bought several other card-drafting games to study, and have been playing them a lot.)

So over the last week, a complete game sprang forth from my mind & hands, with almost fully functional mechanics and no theme. By mid-week I picked a placeholder theme and re-skinned all the cards, and now I have a fun, fast-paced, competitive card-drafting game in need of more play-testing. The proto-theme is ‘Black Friday shopping’ and the best name I’ve thought of so far (which I haven’t yet Googled) is “Black Friday Blitz”, and it’s got an interesting double-drafting mechanic, where players are drafting from two different decks at once, passing cards in one based on where they’re sitting at the table (as in most card-drafting games) and passing cards in the other based on how fast they drafted from the first deck; it takes the fast-paced mechanic of card-drafting and adds a race element to it.

So far it’s tested pretty well, and I’ve already ironed out some kinks & shortcomings in the initial design, but the artwork is … basic. Nearly every “graphic” is actually a dingbat from one of the many dingbat fonts I have (or found, specifically for this project), which is nice on one hand (all vector graphics!) but is also … fairly weak, and somewhat incoherent (since they come from several different dingbat sets) and not really the sort of thing that, say, people would get excited about on Kickstarter. If I wanted to produce/sell it as more than a prototype, I’ll have to redesign the cards, probably from the ground up, and create 24 unique pieces of art (several of which represent abstract concepts, not easily presented by representative art styles) for the various cards in the current version of the game.

Unfortunately, right now I don’t feel like my own capabilities as an artist are well-suited to delivering on the ideas contained in “Black Friday Blitz”. This becomes a self-fulfilling situation; this is in the nature of being a creative person, that you can usually only do what you believe you can do. Additionally, the tone & style of the artwork which I envision matching that of the theme & gameplay is one which … I almost wouldn’t want to put my name behind. Which I almost certainly wouldn’t seriously consider buying, myself. I have no idea how to sell it, or who to sell it to. Which makes, say, including the cost of paying to hire an artist in a Kickstarter goal to publish the game… even more difficult.

I’ve been targeting POD for this game, trying to keep the rules simple enough to present on cards (since DriveThruCards doesn’t print rules), so I wouldn’t need any big, up-front investment to publish it. That doesn’t work without art. To hire someone else would probably end up costing $1k-$3k, which is no big deal if you’re raising $15k+ on Kickstarter to pay for mass-production, or if your last game was profitable, but my last game raised ~$6k and is projected to net me around $300 (in part because my printer died right before I needed to be able to print ~300 shipping labels, an unexpected extra expense)—I can’t afford to pay an artist to work on this game with the last one’s sales, and I can’t reasonably expect this one to outperform the last one by 3x+, when I can’t imagine who would even buy it. So then we end up back where most of my work lives, with me doing all the work—in this case, all the artwork.

Which brings me back around to my old existential crisis. What am I doing this for? How much effort do I want to put into creating a game I don’t think people will actually want to play? What’s it all for/mean?

I mean, I’ve been really excited & motivated to design the game, and even to play-test it. Like, after the last time it was played (Friday night), I made a couple of small adjustments to the game flow (and wrote out the basic rules for the first time) and I’m still itching/eager to test the new setup. Like, super excited to improve, polish, and play my new game. So on one hand, that’s great. I still love designing gameplay, and playing (at least at first) my new game designs.

On the other hand, I can’t seem to sever things like choosing an art direction and creating the art from the ideas of marketability, audience perception/snap-judgements, and the reactions game reviewers had to Teratozoic’s art style. Which makes even thinking about what the card art should look like transform into this evil, hulking, acidic thing I don’t want anything to do with. It associates the idea of taking the game from a prototype stage to a publishable stage with a feeling of failure, with pain, with suffering, with the idea of how far off the rails my life went to try to raise ~$6k for Teratozoic and how much worse trying to raise $15k+, especially for a much-less-obviously-marketable game, would be.

Now, there are potential alternatives. Perhaps I’ll come up with an easier-to-conceive-of-marketing theme to paste on, over the top of the existing mechanics & theme. Perhaps I’ll start taking mind-altering pills every day which will help me grind through the 24 pieces of art without collapsing into a pit of despair—and can then just dump the thing on DTC and forget about it. (That’s actually my current best-case plan.) Perhaps I’ll put together a compelling package & sales pitch for the game [mechanics] and sell the thing to a publisher which will figure out a workable theme, hire an artist, and otherwise take care of the things which are bugging me, right now. Perhaps I’m just experiencing a temporary mental and emotional slump, a part of my lifelong journey of depression, and I’ll have no trouble completing the game if/when my brain stops doing … whatever it’s doing. Perhaps I’ll be okay with setting the game aside once the gameplay has reached a satisfactorily polished conclusion, without art or public availability, like most of my prototypes.

I’ve definitely set up my life & business so as to not be dependent on continuous sales or product releases. I certainly don’t create with the intention of making money or accumulating fame. That I create at all has more to do with maintenance of my own mental health than with any other factor.

I think that right now I’m just testing out the limits. I don’t want to go *too* far into doing things which upset me or otherwise compromise my mental (&physical) health, but perhaps it’s not a good idea to shy away at the first signs of discomfort. Perhaps I should try to stretch myself, being wary of going too far.

Last time I went too far.

With Teratozoic, I went too far. Much too far.

This time, perhaps I can figure out a way to publish a game without going too far.

My most successful Kickstarter yet

I suppose I ought to have made at least one post last month… At the beginning of the Kickstarter, say, to try to drive more traffic to it (as though this blog got any traffic, at this point), or perhaps during the campaign, to give more background on the project or on myself or on my plans for the future… But instead I forgot to think such thoughts until now, until well after the campaign has ended: Until after the stresses of the last several months have had a chance to dissipate.

My mind is finally beginning to clear from the clouds and stresses brought on by six months of marketing.

I have now spent more time thinking about and working on the marketing for Teratozoic than I’ve spent: Thinking about and developing the game and refining the gameplay and creating the art and doing the graphic design and writing the rules and play-testing with dozens and dozens of people.

This literally sickened me, though I won’t go into the details here; you know what various colds and flus are like, and probably know how stress weakens the immune system to allow them easy access. The last month or two have been awful. But now it’s over.

The Kickstarter was quite successful. More successful, by far, than any prior crowdfunding attempt I’ve ever made, bringing in $6511 in pledges from 323 backers. That’s an order of magnitude more funding and more backers than my next-most-successful campaign. There’ll even be a little money left over after fulfilling all the rewards, this time: Usually I barely manage to cover my expenses, or fall a bit short. All that extra time and effort and money (which wouldn’t have been possible without another round of crowdfunding I did back in April) spent on marketing seems to have paid off.

The result falls neatly between success and great success: Three or four times more than I needed to fulfill the game and cover expenses, and three or four times less than I needed to actually have the game mass-produced instead of POD-produced. (Another three times as much as that and I could have started offering proper stretch goals.) I need about 266 copies for backers, and a few more to cover shipping and manufacturing errors, so I’m making Teratozoic a signed, numbered limited edition of 300 copies. I’ll be hand-assembling every copy, anyway, so going the extra step to sign & number them seemed reasonable, and adds value.

Plus, it hammers a nail in the game’s coffin for other people, making it easier to communicate that the game is dead. Once I’ve delivered every pledged-for copy, any remainder will be available for direct sales, but they’ll merely be dead copies sitting up on my shelf—and once they’re gone, that’s it for the game. 300 copies of the First Edition, no more. I’m not sure I’ll even be playing it much, once all is said and done; I’ve now played (or watched played) more games of Teratozoic than any other game in my life. Including Scrabble. (Even if we pretend my 18+ Scrabble variants are the same game.) ((Which is nuts. I’ve played no small amount of Scrabble.))

Getting everything from the manufacturers I’m working with will take a couple of months, then assembling & shipping everything will take a week or two, and then there’s days, weeks, maybe months waiting for everything to get delivered to backers.

In the meantime, I’m working on other projects. I have a few other games in early development; one or more of them may be great enough to pursue beyond prototype stage. My mind has recently begun prompting me to start writing again—spitting out short SciFi stories and horror texts and doing deep world-building without really intending to. …so I might get back to writing again, soon, too. I’m not sure I can stand getting back to marketing again, though. Not at anywhere near the scale I just did to get this moderate level of success. Certainly not soon, possibly not ever.

Continue reading My most successful Kickstarter yet

Trying to define my goals for Teratozoic

I’ve been thinking about this part of the problem for a long time, now. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, probably several times if you also follow me on Facebook, Facebook, and/or Twitter. I need to know what my goals are for this project. What I’m trying to achieve. How I’ll define success. (How I’ll know when I’m done.) I still don’t have it all nailed down.

Barring selling the game to a publisher, which is an avenue down which I am not likely to travel very far, I certainly have no intentions of pursuing traditional distribution into retail. The complications, expenses, frustrations, and challenges of dealing with distributors, retailers, or even with the scale of manufacturing (above and beyond any pre-sales/KS-sales) required to satisfy a supply chain are not something I want in my life. At most, I intend to have a POD version of the game remain available at DriveThruCards (with downloadable/printable instructions, and no box; DriveThru only prints cards), and (assuming a successful Kickstarter) to offer a small inventory of copies directly through—something in the range of: I’ll have to order ten or fifteen percent more copies than are backed for, in case of damage/loss/etc; any which remain after all copies have been shipped will be available for direct sales.

So why do a Kickstarter, at all? Well, because I’d like to include printed rules, and I’d like to package the game in a nice box, preferably printed. If I raise (at least) $1,000 I can afford to have 50 copies (read: At least 60 copies, in case of damage/loss/etc) of the cards, custom boxes, and nice rule sheets printed, I can assemble them myself, and I can afford to package and ship them (via USPS) to 50 different backers. For any number of copies sold between 50 and about 1,000 I’d be using the same suppliers/printers, doing the game-assembly (& shipping) personally, and have roughly the same (almost zero) profit margins. Since all but the most-popular new games (the top 15% or 20%) sell fewer than 500 copies, even with a wildly-successful Kickstarter that’s the range I expect to be in; the ‘hand-assembled craft-product with little-or-no profit’ range.

Since a key point I keep trying to explain to other people when they ask about how to succeed (or why they’re failing) at Kickstarting their projects is that you must bring the crowd with you to Kickstarter (they don’t provide the crowd, just the platform for transferring money from fans to creators), and I know that I don’t have an appropriately-large ‘crowd’/audience to know with any certainty that my project will fund at even as low as 50 copies, it is actually against my own advice to attempt to Kickstart Teratozoic.

At least, not now.

Not with 43 Facebook ‘Likes’ on my professional Page. Not with a mere 33 people opening the last email I sent my (still quite small, at 156 people) mailing list. If I saw someone posting about their failing/failed Kickstarter with numbers like those, I’d tell ’em the same thing. You have to do something to reach enough* people, and you ought to do it before the Kickstarter goes live. Based on my Kickstarter history and my current reach, I wouldn’t expect Teratozoic to find more than 10 or 20 backers; 50 is an almost-ridiculous stretch, and the 1,000+ required to have a financially-profitable venture is genuinely-ridiculous. Ludicrous.
*Enough people to have no doubt you’ll reach your goal with only the people you bring on Day 1.

Which is why I’ve been planning on sending out dozens of preview copies to board/card-game reviewers; to put my game in front of their audiences, which are orders of magnitude larger than my own, and hope some percentage of those viewers decides to back Teratozoic based on what they see in the reviews. Which is, theoretically, an excellent idea, and a good way to ‘cast a wider net’. It’s also why I’ve been planning to demo the game at Phoenix Comicon, with as many people as I can wrangle into coming over, and at game stores around town over the next few months, to build ‘buzz’ and let more people know of the game’s existence. It’s why I’ve been planning on ordering and assembling dozens of additional promo copies, to give them away to people who would be willing to teach their own friends & gaming groups how to play, further spreading the word.

Except fuck me if the cost of the preview copies doesn’t push the costs so high my new break-even point is around 250 copies, instead of 50. (Or ~$750 to $1k in patronage, in advance of the Kickstarter. Don’t ask me to explain the math, but suffice it to say that $800 from 2 or 3 people who mostly want to support me (but maybe also want a painting) is worth a lot more than $4,000 from 200 people who each want a copy of the game.) Which means those reviews had better be good, and had better reach many thousands of people, because there’s no way at all my own network (even with as much local promotion as I could stand) would ever reach those numbers.

Which leads me, perhaps, to the idea of running a pre-Kickstarter Kickstarter (or off-KS crowdfunding campaign), to raise $800+ to pay for marketing of Teratozoic. Because if I could raise funds to cover the costs of marketing and development, then the actual Kickstarter for the game is much closer to reachable, at possibly as low as a $200 (instead of $5,000) goal without threatening the project’s viability. Hmm… Interesting thought. I could put up two or three tiers, say $50 in marketing support gets you a preview copy of the game, $100 gets you a preview copy of the game and a Plus Subscription, and $400 gets you a monster painting*, a preview copy of the game, and a Patron Plus Subscription. (Yeah, yeah, the last two are basically just the regular subscription prices.) If I run it through Gumroad on my own site I pay half as much in fees (~5%) to get the funds, and I get the funds whether or not I hit the goal, and I get them immediately, which would all be benefits over running an actual pre-Kickstarter. If successful, that would relieve a lot of the stress I’ve been under, in planning this thing.
*One of my planned tiers for the Teratozoic Kickstarter is $400 (plus Shipping) to have an original painting (up to ~24×36″) made of your favorite monster (from multiple cards, assembled) or monster part (from one card) from Teratozoic.

So. I think part of why I don’t drop the plans/hope to get reviews done & reach a wider-than-my-own audience with the Kickstarter is that I don’t just want to get the game made, and I don’t just want to get the game made with the nicest version I’m able to produce, but I want that nicest-version of the game to be bought and enjoyed by as many people as will/could enjoy it. Not just those among my 30 to 300 fans who would enjoy it, but as many as I can imagine and afford to reach. With a book, it’s cheap and easy to get it in the hands of thousands or tens of thousands of readers/listeners, by giving the digital versions away for free. And I plan to offer the digital/PnP version of Teratozoic for free, but there’s so much expense and effort in turning a PDF into a playable card game that it doesn’t reach nearly as many people. I write my books to be read and enjoyed, and I (apparently) design my games to be played and enjoyed. So I guess that’s an important part of my goals: Not to make money, or to have brick-and-mortar distribution (the reach is not worth the effort, to me; the only reason I can see to go that way is money, which I don’t directly desire), but to have a nice, complete version of my game made, and to get it into the hands of as many gamers as possible without going to too much trouble or getting too stressed. Success will be delivering those nice copies of the game to players, without having had too many anxiety attacks in the process, or going into more debt.

I think the pre-Kickstarter fundraiser may be the answer to that. I’ll start working on it, now.

Update: You can now directly and easily financially support the marketing efforts of Teratozoic, as described; links are up at

Update x2: The fundraiser has now concluded. I was able to raise $550 of my $850 goal.

Developing games, and then bringing them to market

I’ve been spending most of my working/creative time for the last year on thinking about and developing tabletop games. (I actually started working on it fairly seriously over 18 months ago, but I definitely spent several months of the first half of 2013 working on Virtual Danger.) I’ve developed at least three fun, playable games in the last six months or so. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster.

Getting the ideas, developing the themes, working out the gameplay, designing the cards, crafting the prototypes, and then playing, improving, and refining the games is generally quite satisfying, fulfilling, and rewarding. It’s intrinsically good, for me. Throughout those parts of the process, I frequently get so caught up in the joy of the work that I lose hours, days, even weeks just totally consumed by the work. It’s actually really interesting to be almost-consciously-able to trigger something like a manic episode just by setting myself to work on a project I care about.

Then there’s the other side of these projects: Everything about bringing them to market. It’s a bit like poison.

On the first big project I put together last year, everything seemed to go smoothly until I got past a few good play-tests and began seriously considering what would be needed to take it to market—namely, coming up with art for all the cards. For my private-use prototype, I’d been using a bunch of images grabbed from around the web. A lot of fun and funny pop culture references and visual puns, but not a one which could lawfully be used in a commercial release or even a free distribution. The whole subject of modern Copyright law and how it applies to protect giant corporations from individuals is an injustice which upsets me greatly, and one which has shaped my entire life in ways I frequently despise. Correspondingly, attempting to approach the task of drawing (for the first time in many years, and after having never really put much time into illustration) several dozen pieces of card art for no other reason than that it was painfully expensive for me to pay for the photographs which better-suited the tone of the game (even just using stock photography would have been easier & better than the sort of art I’ve been able to imagine for the project, but would have cost many thousands of dollars in licensing fees—and forget about paying for custom photography!) made the whole process feel terrible. So terrible, in fact, that it made me question whether I were even an artist at all, as I wrote about.

But it turns out it wasn’t the art that was the problem, necessarily, but the reason for having to create the art. It was feeling forced by the laws, by the corporations, by the requirements of the market to create the art which poisoned the process for me. I wasn’t making the art for the cards because I wanted to, but because I felt I had to. That game will never see the light of day, now. The handful of people who got to play it are unique in the universe for their experience of it. I disassembled it and recycled it and moved on. It wasn’t worth doing things I didn’t want to do –several hundred hours of things– to try to take the game from a fun experience I shared with my close friends to a fun experience I shared with “the world”.

Ah, “the world”. What a thing. What an idea. The concept that by simply making something available on the open market (or even for free on the Internet), it’s been shared with “the world”. I’ve been publishing books for over a decade, now, I’ve got 19 discrete books out (not counting multiple editions, or eBook-only short stories), and I can tell you with certainty that sometimes “the world” can be counted on your fingers and toes. I can tell you that if there’s a cost for a thing (even just the cost of having to put in an email address), most of “the world” won’t share in what you have to offer. That game I was working on and quit would have retailed for $60 or more, and probably cost almost as much to print, as a print-and-play version—there were a lot of cards. It took me over a year to sell out of 50 copies of the Never Let the Right One Go hardcover, and it was a mere $35 (and relatively easy to market); to think I could sell my strange card game for almost twice as much is silly. The world can’t be bothered to show up. You have to take your idea to their door, not just open yours.

I’m barely comfortable opening my door for close friends; I’m certainly not one for going out into the world, trying to extoll strangers of the virtues of my creations. Did I mention I’m not going to be exhibiting at Phoenix Comicon, this year?

Anyway, I began steering my creative thought more in the direction of smaller games which would be more affordable to produce, cheaper to price, and more reasonable for people to simply download and print for themselves, and away from projects so large they would be infeasible to produce in smaller quantities. A lot of board game manufacturing relies on economies of scale, with minimum orders in the thousands. A few components (cards especially) can be produced on demand (just like all my physical books) in smaller quantities (usually as low as one, or sometimes as few as 18 cards, so they don’t waste the sheet), but for any truly unique components or, say, if you wanted your box to have one of those nice custom plastic inserts for keeping everything in order, one needs a good chunk of capital to even get off the ground. Around ten or fifteen thousand dollars for a board game without too many custom components is the typical floor. I don’t have that kind of money. I have no faith in my ability to drum up that sort of response to a Kickstarter; when I went so far as to ask for $1000 for Never Let the Right One Go, I managed to get $361 in pledges from 14 backers. Finding enough customers, ever, for a thousand copies of a game is beyond the scope of my capabilities. Coping with the realities of dealing with a distributor, even if I were making enough money thereby to pay their fees, currently feels like it would be beyond the scope of my capabilities, but that might just be my anxiety and insecurity talking. The bottom line here being: If I want my games to be played by anyone at all outside my own home/presence, I need to be able to manufacture them affordably in extremely low quantities.

So I focused more on smaller, card-based games. The next game idea I went anywhere with has gone much farther than the one before it, in part because the art direction was something I was excited by from the first day I was working on the idea. I already had notes on what the cards would look like, what the art would depict, for every single card (triple or more than what I ended up with in the current prototype) in the entire game—again, from day one. The art, the theme, the gameplay, it was all developed as one from the start. I think I posted about that, too. About how rewarding and amazing it’s been to work on the art for this new game. I’ve already been working on it for three and a half months, and I’ve only recently been reaching the parts of the project which are poisoning me.

The parts about bringing it to market. The parts which make me want to give up on the thing and throw it all away, or at best just toss it up as a POD/PnP offering without much more thought and move on. Even if I only wanted to sell the game to a publisher and let them take care of the rest (potentially gutting the game, since normally publishers handle all the artwork), I’d still have to do almost everything I’m currently faced with, because it would have to be marketed to the publishers and they want the how-to-market-to-the-market part as part of the pitch, of course. Of course! Why not? *sigh*

It’s stupid stuff, too. Stuff which shouldn’t kill me, but does. Stuff like trying to guess how to categorize the game. I hate categories. I just had an argument with my wife over genre categories for fiction, because it’s such a complicated and ridiculous subject, for which it is very difficult for any two people to agree upon the definitions of words. In my recent weeks of research, I’ve learned several different “main ways games are categorized”, few of which I’d ever heard before and almost none of which particularly fit the game I’ve developed. Which may mean it’s simply unmarketable. …Or stuff like writing the descriptions and blurbs of the game. You probably know I have the same problem trying to write blurbs for my books, or even to explain what they’re about. I don’t know. I don’t think about them that way. I certainly don’t want to feel forced to go into the design process with a specific categorization and blurb in mind. Yech. To try to design a game based on how easily it could be described on the back of a tuck-box is a painful and ridiculous (to me) idea. But thinking about what the tuck-box should look like has been giving me stomach-aches.

So I’ll go a couple of weeks working on the game, working on the art, the card designs, working with manufacturers and examining samples, trying to get the game to be just right, and it’s great. It’s a high. I’m having a good time.

And then I’ll get back to having to figure out the marketing side. How to sell it. How many copies I need to figure out how to sell to hit various manufacturing thresholds, so I can offer various stretch goals on a Kickstarter, for example, without costing myself meaningful amounts of money. And it’s torture again. Working out a spreadsheet with the numbers is actually pretty fun. Contextualizing those numbers and thinking about what it would cost me, both financially as well as emotionally, to reach 150 or 500 or 1,000 people twists me up inside. Even just going through the following calculation is fairly upsetting:

In order to potentially reach even a couple hundred backers, I’ll probably have to reach out to at least a dozen or more of the major game reviewers (I don’t currently know them or follow them, and even if I start now it still feels slimy/gross to contact them directly, to ask them to look at my games, it’s Marketing, and it makes me sick, sending unsolicited messages to strangers about me and my work) and send them prototypes of the game, which will cost me at least a couple hundred dollars, which increases my costs-needed-to-cover by an order of magnitude, which means my plans to start with a totally-feasible goal (such as 5 copies sold, or about $75—I’d be glad to go to the trouble to assemble and ship out copies of the game if at least 5 people were interested, even though I wouldn’t even make enough to cover what I’ve already spent developing the game) go out the window and I’d need to start with a $1000 goal just to cover the costs of the prototypes for the reviewers, and I already know from history that I can only raise $300-$500 for my projects, so betting hundreds of dollars ahead of time that I’ll easily double or triple that sure feels like throwing good money after bad, while making myself feel bad by doing it.

Sure, I can project that if I can get this many backers I can afford this manufacturing discount, and if I can get that many backers I can afford to offer that stretch goal, and fiddle around in a spreadsheet to find the tipping points which account for shipping both ways and Kickstarter/Amazon/Wire-transfer fees and mailing supplies and a percentage of loss due to damage and so on and so forth. But it’s one thing to say “if I get at least 1,000 backers buying the base game, I can give them all the expansion for free”, and another entirely to find 1,000 people who would be interested in my game and convince them to part with $15+ on the promise that they’ll get it in a few months. (And a further thing to consider the scenario where I get 1,000 backers exactly and end up with another 1,100+ copies of the game (and its expansion) taking up space at my house (or costing me money to take up space at a warehouse).) Did you know that in the neighborhood of 85% of all new tabletop games sell through fewer than 500 copies? That’s certainly in line with book publishing where 8 or 9 out of every 10 books published never earn out their advance. With odds like that, what are the chances I’ll reach stretch goals requiring 1,000 sales? With a history like mine, with social anxiety and anti-Marketing sentiments like mine, what are the chances I’ll make the ~70 sales necessary to reach a $1,000 goal, even with positive reviews? (And who says the reviews would be positive? In my experience they’ll be middling, if they come at all. Did you see that The First Untrue Trilogy got its first Amazon review, recently? Two stars. Seven years after I first published it, thousands have read it, and it has one two-star review on the world’s biggest book store. Yay.)

Someone just messaged me on Facebook with a link to a Card & Board Game Designers group, and my first reaction was that punch-in-the-gut feeling I get when I think about heading into a crowd, or a cocktail party. They mean well, I know they do, and I may even attempt to join the group, possibly even to participate in some small way, but probably I’ll be 99% a lurker, or just never click through. Because social anxiety. Because inferiority complex, impostor syndrome, whatever. Because I don’t play well with others. My brother basically doesn’t talk to me any more, and I got kicked out of my own home, because I don’t play well with others—in this case quite literally referring to the playing of tabletop games. I’ve been trying to play-test my game with as many people as possible (which has been emotionally exhausting), but I’ve been trying my best to avoid actually joining in on most of the games, because I know that playing with me just isn’t much fun—and then I joke about it, that clearly the designer of the game has an advatage, so it wouldn’t be fair. I’d rather the game could just go out into the world on its own and report back to me about what needs to be corrected.

In fact, I’ve been working on that (creating a PnP download for remote play-testers), but a key part of that is in writing clear, concise rules. Certainly, I can teach someone the game in person. If I’m there to explain scoring during each hand, that certainly helps smooth things out. But normally people don’t have the game designer on hand to teach them the game, or to score it for them. They have the rules. I tried. It was another of those difficult parts, the parts I don’t get any joy from but instead get a lot of pain. And I kept at it until I felt I had a good, clear set of rules. And then I tested it with some people who had never played before, and the gameplay didn’t survive the translation to the written word and back again.

So not only is it painful for me to write the rules, but I’m not actually much good at it, either. Reminds me of blurb-writing, or most any other form of writing-for-Marketing; it hurts to do, and doesn’t actually give the desired results. But I certainly can’t bring the game to market without a clear set of rules. I certainly won’t succeed on Kickstarter if I can’t explain the game clearly in the project description and video. If I can’t describe the game. If I can’t do the marketing. If I don’t reach out to reviewers. Et cetera.

And the development process is an up and down. A rollercoaster. Some parts of it, most of it, in fact, is awesome, and the awesome parts can bring me 99% of the way there. Right now I have a fun game with great art I can play with my friends and anyone else I’m there to teach it to. But I’m also just about beyond the point where there’ll be any more of the ‘good parts’. From here on out, the only good that comes from the remaining effort and expense is the joy I get from seeing/knowing that people are enjoying what I’ve created. Watching people play. Hearing back from people who enjoyed playing. Knowing that my creation is out there, “in the world”. I’ve just got to hope that the joy is worth the torture.

Right now I’m on the verge of giving up on this one, too. Setting it aside—though at least as part of my own game collection, rather than as a mere memory. Possibly not even bothering to make the POD or PnP versions available, or *only* going that far, and foregoing the rest of the effort. No tuck box design. No suffering over the description. No videos. No reviews. No Kickstarter. No shopping it to publishers. No dealing with overseas manufacturers, or with distributors, or with pallets of unsold games. No more trying to find people to play-test it, no more trying to cope with having to deal with social situations every week (or twice a week) with all those people coming over. No more pressure to be “part of the community” in any of several board-game-related communities, for the sake of marketing my games.

Right now I’m on the verge of giving up on sharing, on “the world”, altogether. I’m on the edge of just keeping all my creations to myself.

Basic doubts; have I written this here before?

I know I’ve written all this down before, in one form or another. I believe the most recent time was in a draft of the book I was going to put together of my experiences with writing and publishing books, the one which never got off the ground. Maybe I’ll write that one next, now that I’ve a full decade of experience publishing books, and make it my 20th published book. Maybe not.

(Right now, I warn you, I’m at a point of my depression where the strongest urge is to give up everything. To give up on everything. To quit. To quit writing, painting, creating. To quit trying. To quit living. So perhaps that’s a lens with which to view the following, possibly quite dismal, long (warning: over 5k words long), rambling post inspired by doubts about my writing.)

That’s a good enough place to start, I suppose: A decade writing novels. Two decades seriously creating and sharing my stories with those around me. Over a dozen novels. Roughly twenty complete books to my name; more than that if you count all the different versions, editions, and compilations I’ve put out over the years.

All self-published. From the days of my youth, when I would pass around floppy disks or pages printed on our dot-matrix printers to get the stories into my friends’ hands (I remember I even faxed a story, one time), I have always been the primary distributor of my own words. For the first five years I had my novels available, they were only really available through my own website. When I finally “got serious” and bought ISBNs and signed up with a major printer and distributor in 2007, they still weren’t actually in book stores; people found out about them because of direct contact with me. Most people ordered them directly from me.

I never tried to be “traditionally published.” Literally never tried. I’ve never submitted my written work to a publisher, or agent, and until last year I’d never submitted anything to any contests, either. (Technically, a high school teacher once submitted a short essay I wrote (along with every other classmate’s essays) to a contest, and mine got an “honorable mention” and published; I tend to dismiss this since it was not my choice to submit it.) I did not choose to publish my own works because I had tried-and-failed the traditional route; I never set foot on the traditional route. There was a period, around 2004-2005, where I considered heading that way, studied what needed to be done, the correct order of things, and then my life broke… and when I was reassembled-enough to move forward, I was not strong enough to face those challenges.

There is a certain popular wisdom, risen up from the modern wave of “independent publishing”, which holds that for self-published authors (somehow more so than for traditionally-published authors), their market success will be the true measure of their books. If their work is good, they say, it will find its audience—without regard for who published it. The corollary, that if the work is no good it will simply not sell, is assumed. Assumed, and applied in reverse, especially in my doubts: That if a book does not sell well, it must be shit. Continue reading Basic doubts; have I written this here before?