Another exciting milestone was passed recently. Archon Arena's page has been approved on Boardgamegeek.com. Honestly, it's not that big of a deal. They approve most submissions. But it's another step toward AA getting in the hands of other people, and it makes the game feel more "real".
Preparing for a Kickstarter involves tons of things that most people would never think of in advance. One question that has arisen recently is to what extent to reveal a game for free.
Some games are completely proprietary- they show components and game play, but the exact rules, cards, and pieces are not given until a person buys it. My instinct is to follow this model. However, there is another way.
Other games provide a free PDF download of the rules, and some even give a Print and Play (PNP) version. At first blush it seems like this is giving away the keys to the kingdom. Why would someone buy a game they can play for free? And what's to stop someone from taking all your hard work and coopting it as their own?
Aside from these reservations, there are clear advantages to the free and open model. When considering whether to back a game, people are more likely to do so if they have more information. If I have little way of knowing whether I'll like a game, it's less likely I'll be willing to put money down on it.
With these considerations in mind, I think I've found a middle road for Archon Arena. The game consists of 42 combat cards divided into 3 decks at play time. In addition, there are 5 posture cards and 6 leaders. My idea is to provide a PNP version with enough cards to play one battle. So rather than all the cards, I'd have a version with just 14 combat cards, the postures, and 2 of the leaders. This would be enough to give people a taste of the rules and game play without giving everything away. I'd also include just the info on the cards, not the artwork, so there is added incentive for people to buy the full game.
While it seems that free and open and proprietary are mutually exclusive alternatives, I'm hoping that this middle approach can give the best of both worlds. Maybe it will work for you too.
Thanks to Artrimis on TGC for inspiring this post.
Despite the title, I don't have any cut and dried rules for good communication when commissioning artwork. There are some things I've done wrong though that might help out others to avoid the same mistakes.
1. Know your dimensions
When I first calculated the size of the box for Archon Arena, it was smaller than the box size I ultimately settled on. This meant I had written 1500x1200 in the contract when I really needed 1800x1125. That difference in aspect ratio made a big difference in the artwork. For awhile we went back and forth with me trying to get things moved farther apart before I realized he was working off of different dimensions.
2. Communicate the details
So far, for me it's been great when I'm able to ask for something very specific. For example, I wanted the warrior's hands to be farther apart so he looked more ready. I asked and quickly received. In other cases where I've been able to communicate the details, I've gotten what I was looking for. When I've had only a vague notion or been unspecific in my requests, things have taken longer or not come out as I wished.
3. Let the artist be the artist
I've previously discussed how having too specific of a vision in mind can make it difficult to get what you want. In most cases remember that the person you've hired has a lot more experience and training in art and design than you do. Give them some free reign and you're likely to be pleasantly surprised.
4. Be upfront about money
I felt like I was being overly burdensome on my artist. I didn't want him to be upset or feel ripped off by the amount of work I was asking for with revisions. I stated upfront that I understood this and would give him extra if he thought it was appropriate. (He kindly rejected my offer.) Hopefully this way we will both end up satisfied by the transaction.
For me commissioning art has been a learn-as-you-go experience. The lessons I'm getting in the school of life will surely serve me well going forward as I require more art. Hopefully they can help you too.
Last time I posted about making artwork sketches myself because I was frustrated with the artists I was trying to deal with. It turns out that one of them has come through and in a big way.
The rough sketch you see above fulfills the intent of my vision but adds a new level of excitement to it. The artist has been extremely receptive to suggestions, and he responds quickly. He comes frighteningly close to that mythical center of "good, fast, and inexpensive". I'm excited again.
After the excitement of making progress toward the finished game wore off, I began to admit to myself that the artwork being commissioned isn't going to fit my vision. There are things I like about it, but overall the style is not realistic enough, and the colors are too dark.
As they say, if you want something done right, do it yourself. I can draw things that I'm looking at, just not things from my imagination. So, I decided to take my photo mockup, find a better warrior image, and draw a new sketch myself. The result you see above.
The good thing is it looks how I envision it. The bad thing is I can't really do any more. I've never really done a full color Photoshop. In fact, I don't even have a copy of Photoshop to use. My thought is now I can ask an artist to ink, color, cleanup, and correct this image rather than make a new one from scratch.
Obviously I fell into the trap cautioned against in the Commissioning Illustrations document linked to earlier. My expectations of a certain image have made me disappointed in what I'm receiving. We'll see how the new plan goes. Hopefully I can get the artwork done without wasting a whole lot of money or more artists' time.
Preliminary cover art
Two milestones for Archon Arena were passed today. First, the other day an artist stumbled into the chatroom on TGC looking for work. He was willing to work very cheaply, so I decided it was worthwhile to give him a shot. After being stiffed by two other artists (they offered services and then ignored me when I tried to commission them), I was a little leery, but it has been a good experience so far. The big milestone today is he sent me a preliminary version of the cover art. It's a bit different than my original vision, but I knew it would be. He still has some more to finish, and he's willing to take suggestions, so I'm very optimistic.
The second accomplishment with Archon Arena is that I uploaded the first tutorial video. This one is exactly 3 minutes long and goes through the initial game setup. I shot it quickly using my iPad's camera. I didn't expect much, but the quality turned out to be acceptable, so I went ahead and edited it and put it out. I put it on Vimeo because YouTube really annoyed me. I won't go into that now. Maybe another blog post to rant. :)
Standing next to a group of people, instructing them how to play your game is one thing. Sending out just the game and rules and having the players fend for themselves is a very different animal. The latter is what's called blind play testing.
Archon Arena has been through quite a lot of in person play testing, but up until now no blind play tests have occurred. That is about to change!
The folks who frequent the chat area of The Game Crafter recently set up a playtest circle. Basically, designers post the games they have available. Others sign up to test them. The game is mailed to the first person, who plays it and gives feedback. Then they mail it to the next person on the list. It's a bit like a gaming a chain letter with no money involved.
This morning I put Archon Arena up on the list and almost immediately had two replies for players. It's very exciting to get the game out to a broader audience and hopefully get some constructive feedback.
So off I go to mail out the game. Then, I just have to sit back and wait for the (hopefully) good responses.
Image credit: Gastev - http://flic.kr/p/5vBCdn
A recent article on Dork Tower gives advise on getting games published. It explicitly does not cover self-publication or Kickstarter, but the advise is still sound. The main takeaway, as you'll see by even skimming the article, is that playtesting is important and you can never do too much of it.
Via Board Game Geek's forums I just found this excellent guide to commissioning art. The author of the document, Randy Gallegos, kindly released it with a Creative Commons license, so I'm able to post it here for your enjoyment.
If you don't have time to read the whole thing, or want to get a taste of the contents, here is a summary of the important points.
The Project Triangle: There are three variables for most any type of project: fast, cheap, and good. You can (at most) choose two of the three. Don't expect to find a great artist who is inexpensive and able to work fast.
Realistic Expectations: Remember that artists want to create. Try to see their work for you just as you looked at their other work, with few up front expectations. "Once you wed your mind to an image beforehand, you’re more likely to be disappointed."
Dollars and Sense: Going along with realistic expectations, keep in mind the salary an artist has to make to survive. Factor in how long your piece will take to create, and you can calculate a fair price.
Know Your Rights: This section explains the aspects of intellectual property licensing. A key takeaway is that you can potentially save money by less restrictively limiting the timeframe, geography, and/or types of media in which your commissioned art can be sold to others.
Vintage- Not Second-Hand: With all the art that has already been created, consider licensing existing art instead of having new pieces commissioned. This can save you a lot of money.
Actually Commissioning Art: This section summarizes much of the information about and adds bits of added advise.
A Finished Project: The author suggests similarly hiring a Graphic Designer to ensure that the great artwork you've acquired is set in equally great design.
If this summary has whet your appetite for more details, go ahead and download the file linked above. It's a good read and extremely helpful for the new indy publisher. As it says toward the end, "Congratulations! You officially know more now than every small-press client I’ve worked with, coming into their project." So check it out, and you will be educated too.
Dusty (CrassPip) has been playing geek games for 30 years(!) and making his own for nearly as long. Recently, he's actually gotten games beyond the imagination stage.