Today I posted the following update to our Kickstarter backers about changes to Magic Meeple Games. I will paste it here in a series of posts:
Hi, everybody. Nemo here. I'm the designer of Overworld, and I created the rulebook for Incoming Transmission. I know you're used to hearing from Ian. He's ensuring his sick father is being cared for adequately, so I'm filling in. I had a quick phone call with Ian last night, to summarize what he has told the company in our video conferences, and to
confirm I'm getting this Backer Update accurate in the broad strokes.
As I have watched the comments on our Kickstarters every day, it has pained me that I have had access to no information which I could share with you. My involvement ended at the end of the creative stage, when I delivered final files to the manufacturer, but the manufacturing and shipping and financial side of the business was entirely Ian and Trish. That has improved recently. The team has had a lot of phone calls and
meetings to discuss the state and future of Magic Meeple Games, and how to move forward. What you need to know, as backers, is not excuses for the delay of Incoming Transmission. You need to know that we understand what caused the delay, and you need to know how it will not happen going forward.
Back in the day, Ian and Trish founded Magic Meeple after talking to a lot of industry insiders at GAMA. They assured Ian and Trish that if they founded Magic Meeple, they could get distributors to pick
up their games for distribution. They also promised them help and advocacy through business networking.
It turns out that was optimistic, and probably a marketing spiel. I mean, I get it. Maybe that's what an industry trade show is for. Sometimes the industry needs to believe their own hype. (I'm speculating, and don't pretend to know from personal experience; I wasn't there.)
That's all my opinion, not facts, so now here are the facts: Despite Ian and Trish aggressively pursuing distribution
deals, no deals have gone through. Industry professionals who promised business networking to Ian and Trish to help to strike those deals have gone radio silent.
Magic Meeple is now stuck with a large amount of unsold inventory. If we had manufactured enough with our Kickstarters for backers only, we would not be in this financial position. This reduced the financial buffer, on which the company based its predictions of how much money to raise.
Then the China tariffs happened, and tremendously
raised the costs of producing Incoming Transmission. It was a double whammy.
One of the consequences for me and Michael was the indefinite hiatus on further Kickstarters of our board game designs. The estimated plan was, by now we would have Incoming Transmission in your hands, and we would have started the Kickstarter for my next game, GaiaVora. Instead, at this point Magic Meeple would not be offended if their contract on GaiaVora was canceled, and I accepted a contract on it from another
publisher. I hope it doesn't come to that, because I work really well with them.
The problem here is trying to sell games outside of Kickstarter. All the publishers, designers, and friendly local game stores that I know, will tell you that attempting to sell board games retail, is like expecting to roll a 100 on a 100-sided die. Nobody knows how to sell games and make it financially viable, unless you have the Asmodee marketing juggernaut, or you have a license like Star Wars, or something of
and cardboard die-cuts. I design the rulebook. I create all deliverable files. I make the website. Everything. When I first started looking for a publisher, I thought I only needed a publisher for one main thing: marketing and distribution.
But when I got involved with Magic Meeple, that all changed. I have learned that I am not an island. All of those skills are amplified and accentuated by a talented and hard-working team. I would be nowhere so far along, if it were not for them. Ian, Trish,
Michael, and Katie are communicative, emotionally mature, productive, constantly learning and teaching. When I experiment with the cost-effectiveness of using the plastic injection molders at my hacker space, and other out of the box ideas, they really listen and consider it. Even though we live in far flung time zones, they have become dear friends. It's more than I hoped for or expected, when I first started looking for publishers all those years ago. And it's certainly more than I got from my
previous publishers, who just wanted me to sell them the finished rules and they shut me off from the rest of the process.
Going back to the point that selling board games retail is something almost no-one is good at. Do you know what Magic Meeple is great at? Selling board games through Kickstarter. We have you. What got us into trouble, was over-producing in the hopes of selling more copies later through retail distribution. I hope it will give you confidence that we see that and we
understand what didn't work.
We are done with that. I proposed a strategy to the company, that in our future products, we will make the whole product a Kickstarter exclusive, with barely any additional inventory. On future Kickstarters, we would make enough to fulfill all pledges, and if there is more demand for a second printing of a game, just do another Kickstarter in the future for the second printing.
My proposed strategy also includes the idea that I can create free web-playable versions
of our games, and use that to drive sales. I'm a full stack web developer for my day job. That has been a long-term life goal of mine. A free web-playable game is, frankly, a great marketing vehicle-- if you enjoy it and you want to play it with your friends in person, you buy the physical copy. So. Look for that to start happening. It will mean Kickstarters happen less often, because it's a lot of work.
Now to talk about marketing. We will stop holding out for distribution deals, and we will
just turn this inventory into money. I imagine that will severely cut into my royalties; well, too bad, because I love what we've got going on, and I want to put Magic Meeple on a firmer footing for the future.
I live with somebody who is pretty good at advertising on Facebook with videos that he creates himself. He wants to teach me how.
This guy is one of the residents of the house in Detroit that I live in. It's for creatives and technologists to live, and helped make my game Overworld
possible. It's called The Creators Commons. It's kind of like the nonprofit hacker space that I help to run, i3Detroit, where I laser cut my games (except nobody lives in my hacker space). We just got done moving all of us into a huge new house near Detroit's midtown, Creators Commons 2.0. It's big enough to build my giant parade puppets, my podcast, large-format printing of game boards, and M&M candies with the Linux penguin stamped on them, and all the other weird stuff we do. I lovingly call
it the Haunted Mansion because our new home was not fit for human habitation a month ago. You have no idea how big a construction project this was for me over the spring and summer (especially in the middle of changing jobs). I finished the deliverables for Incoming Transmission and I dove right in to moving all of us to this house, for months. It still has cracked plaster and exposed lath and peeling paint all over the interior, but that just gives it "artist colony cred", LOL. The problems
with the house are mostly cosmetic. And frankly kind of charming, if you like The Addams Family.
Anyway, enough about my personal life. What was I saying. We're mounting the soundproofing back up to recreate the podcasting studio in The Creators Commons 2.0. Part of that is setting it up as a video studio too. So, my roommate and I are going to make lots of short videos of Magic Meeple board games, full of quick-cuts for short attention spans, using a lot of saturated color, and a lot of close-
ups of gameplay and facial reactions. That's what captures attention as people are scrolling by on Facebook. I'm going to try A/B testing to see which videos work best, and which keywords to target.
You probably want to know if that means we are no longer focusing on you. No, we just need to do that long enough to clear out inventory where we're paying a lot for ads, then go back to focus on Kickstarter campaigns. And then we will have a better idea of how much money to raise. So I don't think
Facebook ads are going to be the core of our business. I think it's just going to solve a short term problem of cash flow. The core of our business, in my opinion, is you, our Kickstarter backers. As important as Ian, Trish, Michael, and Katie are to me, you are important to me. Without your belief in us, there would not be a future for the organization, but you have shown me that there definitely is. We will just take a slightly different form. Just like the artists and technologists I live
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