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GamingIamA I spent the last 2 years turning my idea for a MMORPG into a board game and raised over $250,000 to make it, AMA! AMA!

Apr 24th 2017 by Monkofdoom • 24 Questions • 159 Points

Hi Everyone,

I’m Frank, world builder and game designer of The City of Kings.

I spent the last 2 years designing an open world board game with skill trees, professions, procedurally generated creatures, side quests, the holy trinity, raid like combat and much more, heavily inspired by Final Fantasy, World of Warcraft and Diablo.

You can watch the trailer on YouTube here.

A few months ago, I quit my job to work on this full time and have now raised over $250,000 on Kickstarter to fund manufacturing.

I’d love to answer your questions about designing games, building worlds, running Kickstarters or anything else you wish to know!

My proof: Twitter post here

Q:

This looks pretty awesome!

My question is how did you go about making sure the game was properly balanced (enemies not too hard, progression in skill tree vs. difficulty of enemies, skills being balanced)? Was it a kind of test, tweak, repeat or something more technical?

A:

Thank you!

It was really that, a lot of testing.

Sometimes testing specific parts of the game, sometimes full runthroughs and eventually getting hundreds of other people to play the game too.

The other day I even did a "The Internet plays The City of Kings" and had the people in the chat controlling 1 character. That was an interesting way of testing how people thought about the various decisions.

With that said, I do have a lot of spreadsheets which I used to calculate all the possibilities. I know the best and worst cases in all scenarios and made sure to keep referring to these and testing them.

What's the worst thing that can happen in this situation: Ok, let's set that up and see what happens. What's the best thing that can happen in this situation: Ok, let's set that up and see what happens. And so on.


Q:

Awesome! I made Skyrim Risk- map, new rules, everything- and balance was the part that really seemed abstract to me. Games like Diablo (though a bit different) seem to have it down to such an exact science and it's always been super intriguing for me personally. It's nice to see how it actually starts! Thank you for the response!

A:

A Skyrim Risk map sounds cool!

And no worries, I could probably summarise my answer to:

Know your best and worst case scenarios in any given moment and test they are within expected parameters.


Q:

Did you protect your concept before showing it to people or beta testing it? At what point? What are the essential steps to filing a patent or whatever for the idea (not just trademarking the name)? Is it worth hiring a lawyer? What would you recommend doing differently than you actually did?

A:

Hey WobblyGobbledygook, great question!

The short answer is no. The only protection I ever took was asking a few people to sign NDAs when I was sending over artwork that I didn't want released to the public.

I believe there are many great ideas out there all the time and it comes down to the execution, which isn't something you can easily copy.

I believe The City of Kings is a great game due to the combination of mechanics, world and the overall experience I tried to give.

Having someone steal/copy any one of these points wouldn't cause me any damage, and I don't believe another person, or team of people, would have put them together in the same way I have.


Q:

Is it science based? Does it have dragons?

A:

The game is set in a fantasy universe but we do spend a fair bit of time thinking about the science behind these things. Many of our races are inspired by animals and follow specific traits. My girlfriend is a biologist and we like to understand how things work in our world and not always put it down to magic.

We don't have dragons but we do have the Makar which are dragon like!


Q:

How have you felt dedicating the last 2 years of your life to this game in terms of quitting your full time job? Were you worried about the risk of it not taking off? How are you feeling now that you've realised you've more than succeeded? Have you started working on expansions/a sequel?

A:

It's been a very challenging couple of years, there have been a lot of 18 hour days and I've had to give up a lot to get to this point.

Quitting my job was a very difficult decision but the 18 hour/days weren't viable for much longer. Realising there would be no money after I burned through my savings if the Kickstarter didn't do well made it much more stressful, but it also allows me to dedicate myself to it full.

Right now I'm feeling great and I'm starting to put plans together for expansions. I still need to get the first game manufactured which will take a while but I'm hopeful a new game will be ready for next year!


Q:

Hi Frank, congratulations on the success of the KS campaign so far. I think you've built a very interesting world and some interesting gameplay and I'm looking forward to getting my hands on it!

1) Any chance in the future we would get to experience Vesh's rise to power or a more morally grey setting (rather than simply always saving the world)? 2) how much time did you dedicate researching and preparing for the Kickstarter? You mentioned that you didn't launch it until you were sure the game was good. 3). Did you use a lot of resources like Jamey Stegmaier's blog to prepare?

Thanks

A:

Hey there, and thank you.

1) I certainly intend to explore as many points in time as possible, there are many years of history before Vesh existed and I hope to make games across the entire timeline. I've already got some prototypes surrounding Vesh's rise to power and hope to flesh these out in the coming years.

They wont all be adventure games either, for example I have been working on a social deduction game where you play the role of the great leaders during the time Vesh is creating his armies. You're fighting over whether or not you should leave Vesh alone or whether you should join together and fight him. (I probably need to work on the elevator pitch for this one!)

2) I've been studying Kickstarter for many years, I've spent hundreds of hours researching it, reading blogs, backing projects and helping others with their own campaigns. I even ran a survey which received over 20,000 answers during my research phase.

3) I have read some of the articles on Jamey Stegmaier's blog, but mainly when looking for specific information. For instance I used his statistics articles covering % of backers per region to prepare my shipping calculations.

Typically I like to use all the different resources available a little bit, rather than a specific one a lot. There are a lot of Kickstarter advice groups on Facebook, there's Board Game Geek, Jamey's blog, James Mathes blog, the Board Game Designer forums and many great podcasts.


Q:

When making this game, did you do it all solo or did you get help? If you did, were they paid or was it more of a favor?

A:

Hey ZakTheCthulhu,

The project was always very much my girlfriend and I, she's spent countless hours working on the game, helping with ideas, making prototypes and playtesting. Not to mention offering support.

I also hired a full time artist, a part time writer and a designer to help with building an identity for our brand.

So there have been a fair few people involved!

Everyone always got paid, I'm a firm believer of paying people for their skills and believe this to be the best way to get great results.


Q:

If you can answer this, thanks. If not I understand. What does a full time artist charge and where do you find them? That's currently my hurdle.

A:

Hey,

The answer to this will really depend on a lot of things, mainly the country you live in, whether you want someone in house or whether they are working from their own place.

I wanted someone full time in the office with me, so this comes with a lot more expense. For instance I had to buy computers/desk/monitor and so on as well as pay a salary and taxes.

But if you just want someone full time and can chat over Skype, you can find cheaper people from all around the world.

You could be looking at £500 / month up to £3,000+ depending on how good they are. I'm sure others charge much more!


Q:

What does the process look like for manufacturing the the board game? Example, does one company do the pieces, one does the packaging, one does the printing/instructions, etc? Or does one factory do it all for you?

A:

Hey derolle, there are many different ways of approaching this! The main 2 are probably:

1) Some people will source different components from different companies and box it themselves. Some will do this but higher a company to box it.

2) Some will pay a primary manufacturer to sub contract individual tasks out.

I took option 2, a company called Whatz Games who are fantastic and manufacture some awesome board games. They are manufacturing about 95 % of the game and sub contracting the other 5%. They then pack everything together and assemble the boxes. The output from from is a bunch of cartons (cardboard boxes) on pallets ready to ship.

I then have a company that will ship them from China to Europe, America, Canada and Australia and then companies in each of those regions to handle local fulfilment.

For a smaller game / print run I could have avoided splitting to so many locations but I wanted to work on a larger scale and offer the cheapest prices to people possible.


Q:

What does quitting your job mean to you? For some, "quitting their job" means basically nothing because they are in stable living situations (spouse, parents, etc) that means little risk. On the other end of the spectrum, quitting a job means your serious lifestyle changes to make it work.

A:

I went from a high end salary where I was saving £1000's a month to buy a house, to using those savings to make the game. I've invested around 40,000 - 60,000 so far and I'm about to run out of cash.

Luckily the Kickstarter has gone very well and will help with this, but it wont fix it entirely.

If the Kickstarter had failed, I would have very quickly had to find a job or my girlfriend and I wouldn't have been able to pay the rent.

My lifestyle will seriously change, I'll be living off about 1/5 of the money I had before and have no idea when more money will come in. It will be entirely dependant on when I can sell more games.

So I think I risked pretty much everything other than my health on this.


Q:

What did you study in college/what did you major in?

A:

I studied computer science at university, I've been in the web industry for my whole life until recently.


Q:

What do your parents think of you quitting your job and focusing all your time and energy on this venture?

A:

My mother was worried, she knew I had finally gotten to a good place with my career and was risking a lot but she was also supportive. When I told her I had to either quit my job and do this full time or give it up, she was on the side of give it everything you have. She's pretty cool.

It's hard though she doesn't really understand video games (let alone board games) but she's been great. During the Kickstarter campaign she has been commenting on the campaign page and everything!


Q:

How often do you browse Reddit and what are your favorite subreddits?

A:

I'm a huge fan of Reddit, I regularly check it every day and it's certainly my most visited website.

/r/boardgames is probably the main place but I also read /r/all regularly every day.

I love going through AMA's, Game design and whatever my current interests are. I used to be big on StarCraft so spent a lot of time on /r/starcraft and probably lost a few months of my life to /r/wow back in the day!


Q:

Do you plan to go to gaming and toy expos and trade fairs?

A:

I do! This is one of the great things about having raised some funds on Kickstarter. I've been to gaming expos before but now I can exhibit and know there will be people all around the world wanting to try out the game.

I'll be at the UK Games Expo this year along with Essen and hopefully a few others!


Q:

How can Redditors help get You the game in production and on shelves and into stores?

A:

The best thing people can do is support the Kickstarter as it's still running for a few more days.

I believe we've done a great job of spreading the word to board game players but we're still trying to get in front of more video gamers.

This game was designed for people who love World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy, Skyrim, Diablo and more and I just wish I'd found a better way of letting them know about the game!


Q:

What is your favorite candy bar?

A:

I love Dime (Daim) Bars. I'm not sure if they are a global thing though?


Q:

How do you plan to market and Advertise your game?

A:

I want to build a community, interact with people and let things spread organically. Whilst I will do the odd paid advert I'd much rather have a one to on conversation with people.

I maintain a regular presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and like to live stream.

So just interacting with people seems to be working well!


Q:

Hey, this looks great! How much does it cost though. Sometimes I'll go to board game stores and they cost over $60, which feels like a lot. Why do you think board games are so expensive?

A:

Thanks deathstryk!

There are many things that go into the cost of a game and sometimes they are expensive, because they can be - For example a well known designer. Other times it's because the people creating it haven't used the right processes and other times they are expensive because they just have a lot of stuff in them.

Some games are huge and have a lot of stuff in them, I actually discounted The City of Kings to about 70% of what it should be because I know I'm a first timer and don't have the rep to sell off of.

The City of Kings is a big game, it weighs about 6 kilos (around 13 lbs) and is filled with different ways of being played. Typically I expect people to need to play the game over 50 times to experience everything, and even then you could grab the game and find new things.

But this level of replayability comes with a high price due to the amount of stuff you get in the box. You can see all the prices here but the core game on Kickstarter is £59 ($74) and the MSRP is £75 ($96).


Q:

Ah, interesting. Do you think it helped in developing the game in any way? :)

A:

The user experience side of it did for sure, perhaps not so much the development.

One of the toughest things about making a good game is learning that you can't do it alone. You need to playtest the game and listen to others, evaluate their feedback and decide when to act on it. They aren't always right but they also aren't always wrong.

Working in UX certainly prepared me for putting my ideas in front of people!


Q:

How will Brexit affect your distribution of the game? Have your shipper/distributors mentioned anything about that to you?

edit: spelling

A:

Honestly, Brexit is a big unknown which could help or it could make things worse.

Based on the current exchange rates I could have made the game for about £9,000 less if I had paid for it a year ago. That's a huge amount of difference for a small guy like me.

I've worked on a plan with some contingency in place but really it's impossible to know how the markets will shift.

With all that said, the only impact of Brexit (so far) is the currency exchange rates so it's not making things difficult, it's just adding some risk.


Q:

Not OP, but I'll comment.

Most MMORPGs are in a bit of a rut ATM. MOBAs and survival games aren't killing them - I'd generally expect them to have different audiences - but they are exploding into popularity thanks to being relatively new multiplayer experiences.

The biggest problem with most MMOs these days is that they feel kind of stale and old, and struggle to find their place in the market.

WoW has been going on for years, and it slowly loses its playerbase as Blizzard is forced to choose between several different subgroups that enjoy the game for different reasons with each expansion, alienating one while supporting another. They also need to release such content expansions in order to keep some of these sub sections, so slowly but surely the game that millions loved and had the potential to go anywhere, is forced to alienate parts of its community constantly, reducing its size as it tries to provide a game still enjoyable for most players.

Other MMOs run into a bunch of issues, but I'll list a few here:

-WoW syndrome. WoW was and is immensely popular. It is the Titan people aim to topple. How to do so? Why, create another WoW clone with a different setting of course! This usually fails as WoW has already captured that market, and many people who aren't tied into WoW are just tired of the general formula present there. Without innovation, the games just stand no chance.

-Being too niche. Being niche is a good thing, the only surviving MMOs have their own niches, but picking the wrong niche, or being too niche, is a surefire way for an MMO to die. Picking a niche guarantees you some level of audience, provided your game is actually well made, and the innovation outside of WoWs formula means you can bring in people who aren't tied to WoW, or who get tired of it. The problem arises when this audience isn't enough to sustain your game though. MMOs are ungodly expensive to create and run. If you only have a small number of people playing it, you need to be making a fortune off them in order to keep afloat. One way to do this is with subscriptions, but with thousands of free games and tens or hundreds of free MMOs around, good luck getting an audience with that. The alternative is free to play, which turns into pay to win when you have a small audience, further alienating new players. This leads to a decline in the population the pay to winners get their enjoyment from, and thus leads to a decline of enjoyment of P2W players, and the eventual loss of them and death of the game. Even assuming you do manage to find a good niche, you're not likely to be seen as a wild success story. EvE Online has been going for decades and is slowly growing, but because it isn't huge like WoW, many simply haven't heard of it, and many others simply don't care.

-Not an MMO syndrome. Games decide to try and cut away from the problem of low playerbases by designing content for single player, rather than group activities. Put simply, this entirely misses the point of why people play MMOs rather than single player games, and usually leads to a bunch of people jumping on the likely F2P model for a short time, playing through the content once, then leaving. Such games don't have a lot of staying power.

-Bandwidth death. Do you want a massive multiplayer online shooter? Planetside 2 managed it but in general good fucking luck. The amount of information that needs to be constantly exchanged between the server and literally every single other player in the game is insane, and means that many such ideas run into incredible simplicity, or massive lag, because they simply can't keep up with the amount of Info Battlefield sometimes struggles to send between 64 players, but instead between 200+ players. Even Planetside cheats a bit with actually culling how much info is sent to you in massive combat situations, with only the closest x players appearing, and everyone else just being ignored in order to save bandwidth. Its a major problem in the innovation department for MMOs

Any successful MMO has to avoid these pitfalls. Add this high chance of failure and relatively limited design space to a $1-200 million dollar budget, and very few companies are game to actually take on the challenge of making a great MMO. Compare to MOBAs and Survival games that can easily be pushed out for under a million, and you've found yourself the problem. MMOs aren't dead, but presently it isn't worth trying to take on WoW. Its insanely expensive, is nowhere near guaranteed success, and you have limited options in how you can do so. Its much easier to make other games, and so that's what companies do. The day an Indie dev can make an MMO is the day the genre resurfaces into the public consciousness. That, or until WoW dies, and we have 5-10 years for people to miss the promise of the game, and want something old but new to replace it.

A:

I started playing MMORPGs a long time ago, I was there when WoW was launched and I've seen many other games come and go.

I believe for many people their first MMORPG will always hold a special place because it introduces them to this amazing new concept.

I believe for many people WoW will be the last MMORPG they enjoy because it brought so much and created something special.

New MMORPG's struggle because they have to innovate in an incredibly expensive market place and they can only succeed if they gain enough momentum from a player base. You could even ask, what's the point in trying when it would be easier to take on a different type of game?

Perhaps the next MMORPG will need to be fully based on virtual reality to be unique enough? But I hate to think how long it will take to achieve that.

I do think another big MMORPG will come out and take over one day, I'm just not sure how long it's going to be.


Q:

And if not why not?

A:

I'm afraid there are no cones :(

yet...


Q:

Where do you see yourself in five years time?

A:

I actually did a Big Picture video a few days ago where I talked about the next 10 years a bit.

I want to keep building the world, making more games within it and growing the brand. Similar to how Blizzard grow Warcraft.

I hope to keep releasing expansions, comics, and other games that tell stories within the same world.

In 5 years time? I'd love to have a few games, several people full time in the team and be looking at organising our own first 'blizcon' or well, The City of Kings con. I might need to think of a catchier name for that...!


Q:

Frank, what are your twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat pages?

A:

You can find us on the following:

Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Instagram