Game Development Update – 12/23/13

Apologies for going off air for quite a while. With the impending holidays, it’s been really tough to take the time and write up what’s been going on. However at the same time, with time off from work and free brain space, I find myself thinking about Thumbtack Games and Overflow quite a bit. That said, I hope this very long post makes up for it.

So, where is Overflow currently at from a game design standpoint?

Design-wise, Overflow is shaping up. I haven’t made any tweaks after the last few playtests. If anything, just some minor copy tweaks but nothing gameplay-wise. I also conducted the very first blind playtest during a lunch session at work and things went fairly smoothly.

It’s quite startling how different testers read something as small as a 3 page rulebook. Being a visual learner, I can definitely empathize with just wanting to play the game already instead of reading, but the completionist in me wouldn’t allow myself to skip over any paragraph of text! One tester skimmed through the rulebook and then decided to use the Quick Start rules to set up the game rather than the fully fleshed out ones on a later page. Thankfully, other testers were more thorough and after a few initial hiccups where I had to step in, they were able to get a few rounds of play in. The only unfortunate thing was we didn’t have enough time to completely finish a game. However, it did lead to everybody saying they like the concept and would love to play again which is always a good sign.

The results are dramatically different from a blind playtest and a regular playtest. I knew the blind one would be more of a rulebook exercise but didn’t realize how valuable the feedback would end up being. One tester caught a huge mistake in the rulebook about the overflow condition. The way I had written it, it implied overflows only happen when a player ends their turn with at least 10 blocks in the stack. However, in actuality, the field overflows when ANY column has 4 blocks or more at the end of a player’s turn.

Something I’ve been considering is a playmat to help better determine the location of the deck, discard pile, and the field with a clear line indicating the maximum it can be. I’m not completely sold on the idea yet and if anything, I’ll make a crude playmat for the next playtest to get a feel for it.

Anyways, I ended up scheduling a regular playtest with the blind playtesters to give them a more fleshed out experience. They enjoyed it and it helped remind me how much I enjoy everything around making my game which was difficult to keep in mind given the snag I hit you’ll read about below.

So where’s Overflow from a production standpoint?

Could this be the future logo for Thumbtack Games?

Could this be the future logo for Thumbtack Games?

On the production side of things, I hit a huge snag.

The long-term outlook is murky and the possibilities seem endless. Do I go out and try to pitch the game to a publisher? Do I go with a POD (print-on-demand) service where there’s less risk at the sacrifice of quality, or do I lay down a big amount to get something like 1,000 high-quality copies printed upfront? What options are there for printing, cardstock, box sizes, counter dials, etc.? Don’t even get me started on a Kickstarter, because that’s a whole ‘nother beast in terms of design, pitch video, reward levels, etc.

That all became quite overwhelming quickly so while keeping all of those future decisions in mind, I felt it best to go one step at a time. Like a carpenter, whose making stairs.

The most immediate need is business collateral, especially logos for Thumbtack Games and Overflow. While I’m ok with Photoshop, Indesign and Illustrator, my skills aren’t up to snuff with what the level of design I would want. That all means I needed to find a graphic designer. I reached out to my personal network and began looking at behance profiles. After garnering a few quotes, it quickly became apparent how much it costs to get art done for something as small as a card game.

Most tabletop kickstarters have final art in place before they start their campaign. The funds are usually raised for manufacturing and shipping. From my research and blog posts I’ve been reading, kickstarters without final art usually don’t do well. Secondly, kickstarters with large goals tend to not suceed either unless they already have a healthy community. The way I interpret these two findings is a kickstarter like mine that is using the funds with the intention of getting art created, would need a small, achievable goal. At the same time, it needs to be a goal that can pay for the art fairly.

With that in mind, I had sort of an epiphany of how to design my kickstarter. My belief is kickstarter is at its best when its tapping into the larger community to help normal people complete their dream projects that normally wouldn’t be possible without said help.

My kickstarter would raise funds to finish the game and the reward levels would be bite-sized with the highest being an opportunity to be a part of the creative process. I’m still working through the reward tiers but I’m thinking for just a few dollars, backers would obtain a print and play pdf copy of the game with its current prototype art. Moving up from there a backer could contribute just a bit more to obtain a print and play pdf copy of the game with its finished art. What about the backers that don’t want to bother printing, cutting and assembling the game themselves? Well for just a few more dollars, I’ll print, cut, assemble and ship a print and play copy myself and include card sleeves for rigidity. Finally, at the highest level, I’d give backers the option to be a part of the creative review team for Overflow. These backers would exclusively be able to vote on design choices throughout the post-kickstarter process. They would be sent surveys that ask them to weigh in on decisions like choosing a designer, font, color, illustration, etc. The majority would win and even my vote would only count as one. I think this truly taps into the heart of what kickstarter is and lets backers become a crucial part of the decisions.

Exciting stuff for sure! My plan is to flesh out this kickstarter concept and send it out to some game designer friends to review.

Thanks for making it to the bottom of this post and hey, if you want to be a part of the pre-kickstarter community, feel free to send me any and all feedback.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays.