Meeting of Minds – Janice Turner (Wren Games)
One of my core aims with The Giant Brain is to promote designers, creators and publishers in the UK gaming scene. To this end I’ve established this series of articles where I interview various folks from across the UK tabletop gaming scene to get an insight into their games, their thoughts on current events in the industry and anything else that pops into my head. I hope you enjoy it.
Janice Turner from Wren Games was good enough to join us on Brainwaves 28 as our roving reporter. She and her husband Stu kickstarted their first game Assembly last year to great success and are just on the cusp of launching their follow up game Sensor Ghosts on Kickstarter.
With a background in Project Management, Janice certainly has the skills to run a successful campaign and I wanted to pick her brains further about her games, KS and the challenges of running a small games company.
Can you start off by telling us a little about the games you have released and your future plans?
So far we’ve released just the one game called Assembly. We put it on Kickstarter a little under a year ago not really know what to expect. To our surprise and amazement we funded by almost 300%.
Assembly is a compact cooperative puzzle game for 1-2 players. Although technically it’s an abstract game, for Stu and I theme is really important so every mechanic has a thematic reason behind it which is littered throughout the rulebook.
Assembly is set on a space station where a deadly virus has broken out due to a meteoroid impact. Everyone is dead but you and a friend. The computer has quarantined the station, is venting the oxygen and has destroyed all your escape routes. Luckily for you, this is a spaceship factory and your job is to build spaceships. If you can complete a spaceship that is already partially built on the assembly line then you can escape, however if you take too long you die!
At the same time we also released a expansion for Assembly called Glitches which is essentially the computer actively fighting back trying to prevent you from escaping.
In just a few weeks we are launching our second Kickstarter for a game that follows on the story from Assembly called Sensor Ghosts. It’s once again a low player count, short cooperative or solo puzzle. In Sensor Ghosts you are navigating your ship through the ongoing meteoroid storm back to Earth however the computer has hacked your navigational sensor and not everything is as it seems. On top of your dodgy sensors you must also collect an uncontaminated sample of the virus else Earth won’t let you land.
This campaign will also feature a second expansion for Assembly called Re-Sequence & Override. Well really it’s a second and third expansion but they’ll be packaged together. The idea is that these expansions each turn a win strategy of the base game on it’s head and both represent the computer causing additional havoc to prevent your escape.
What lessons you have taken from your first Kickstarter for Assembly that you have applied to the campaign for Sensor Ghosts?
My background is project management so I felt pretty confident in the delivery of the Kickstarter going into it but we did encounter a number of issues along the way. Most of these were in our personal life rather than to do with the delivery of the Kickstarter such as a car accident, childcare falling through and a faulty computer – these two things together put me out of action for almost 2 months.
This time we are preparing as many of the files as possible prior to the Kickstarter to minimise the time to takes to produce. We will also be aiming for a slightly longer delivery date as Christmas really messes things up. These are the sort of considerations that you need to factor in when planning a Kickstarter.
A big mistake we made for Assembly is that we were originally planning to use mini cards and as such make all the preview copies up with mini cards and a tiny hot foil stamped box. However after much consideration we realised we were making a mistake and deliberately excluding a number of gamers. Two weeks before the campaign launch we switched to bridge sized cards (you can read more about this design on our Designing to be Inclusive blog). Needless to say there was a bit of backlash for changing the card size so this time we have made things as close as possible to the final production version for our preview copies although we have used a smaller box we have made sure that every previewer knows the box will be bigger so hopefully they will mention this!
Also in our first campaign we wasted a lot of time refreshing the Kickstarter page in anticipation and excitement. In hindsight this was a total waste of time. This time, I’m going to have dedicated time for interacting with the KS page and perhaps just hourly check-ins to see how things are going and deal with any immediate fires if they arise. I think I’m better of spending my time preparing for the production of the game or playing with my kids than staring at a webpage! I guess we’ll see if I manage to do that or not!
You released an app version of Assembly that seems to have gone down very well. What made you want to release an app version and was it a big undertaking for a small studio?
When we launched our last Kickstarter I was on maternity leave and Stu, my hubby, was transitioning from being a stay-at-home dad to going back to work as a software engineer, having previously been a secondary school science teacher. Having taken a number of online courses he was really at the limits of what he could learn without starting a project, and what better to have one that you know well and are passionate about, plus it was something I could help with too, although only in the basic logic sense as I’ve never really enjoyed programming myself!
Anyway, we did it as a way for Stu to practice his new programming skills which ultimately helped him successfully change his career. As an added bonus, we were also able to offer free beta testing to all our KS backers and everyone who did got the app free on release. Stu really enjoyed the process and although Assembly isn’t perfect he’s learnt a lot and going to put that to good use in creating a Sensor Ghosts app, although with him now working full-time this does make the development more challenging!
Your series of Kickstarter advice on Cardboard Vault was very well received and I would personally recommend it to anyone who is thinking about running a campaign. Do you think Kickstarter itself should be doing more to help guide creators?
I think that there is a lot of information out there for creators but I suspect many go in blind not realising that by running a Kickstarter they are essentially starting up their own company. With that comes responsibility long after your Kickstarter campaign fulfils.
I think there is such a variety of projects that it’s hard for them to offer advice to them all. However, at least in the board game sector, there is a whole host of superb blogs that take you through pretty much everything you need to know – my favourite is James Mathe’s as it’s quantitative and I’d highly recommend to anyone considering running a campaign.
What are your main tips for someone looking to run their own Kickstarter?
- Be prepared for running a company not just making a game.
- Don’t underestimate how much work it’s going to be.
- Prepare – make sure you do your pre-launch marketing.
- Don’t pass over smaller (p)reviewers because they are small. Small (p)reviewers will give you more support than the larger ones and in a years time when you come to launch your next game, will they still be small? Also, the smaller reviewers often have higher engagement so also consider this – a large reviewer with low engagement may be no better than a smaller reviewer with high engagement. Plus we like supporting the little people as we were and still are little ourselves.
- Consider manufacturing in Europe rather than China. I’ve found both LudoFact in Germany and Granna in Poland to be helpful, competitively priced and generally a faster turnaround. It also reduces the number of miles your games have to travel making them more eco friendly – something that’s important to us.
With UK Games Expo on the horizon what are your top pieces of advice for small companies attending a con like this for the first time?
- Know what you are trying to achieve: are you going to sell, playtest, raise awareness or some combination of those things?
- Be willing to adapt.
- Drinks LOTS and don’t forget to eat too.
- Have a 10 s pitch ready to entice people in then have a longer pitch ready.
- But most importantly, don’t be passive – if people so much as glance tell them about your game or at least ask if they’d like to know more. If they so no, don’t be upset and move on to the next interested person.
What game coming out this year has you most excited?
We absolutely love Shadi Torbey’s Oniverse games with Sylvion and Nautilion being my favourites. In fact, they are actually in inspiration for both Assembly and Sensor Ghosts – small 1-2 player cooperative games.
Aeroin was release a few weeks ago and I’ve currently got it hidden as a present for Stu but I’m really looking forward to playing it. I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to keep it hidden but I’m going to try but if I fail I’m sure we’ll have a great time!