Monday, May 23, 2016

Red Markets Kickstarter is up!



The day has come. Let's see if all this hard work has been worth it. The Red Markets Kickstarter is now up.

If you're here to see what the game is all about, you can find my developer diaries below. Thanks for the support!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

RM Update #10: Like Mad Men, but With Much Cheaper Drinks

A couple of weeks ago, that was me back there,
sending up a flare for proofreaders
Ad copy...

So. Much. Ad copy...

If you aren't aware, ad copy is all the writing for the game that has no demonstrable benefit the quality of the game. In order to sell the product, you have to describe the product. And in order to do that, you have to both include enough information that the customer actually knows what they're getting, while simultaneously condensing ideas down into the shortest of possible statements to compensate for the human attention span.

This means you end up writing the same damned thing, over-and-over, bouncing back and forth across a spectrum of drafts that can range from Russian-novel long to something that is no more than screaming the name of the game (RED MARKETS!...so how many can I put you down for?). And you never know where it needs to be cut or where it needs to be expanded...ugh.

Anyway, that's how I'd describe the last few weeks of writing: ugh. I'm very glad I don't have to do advertising every day for a living. It's awful. Combine the impossible task with my tragically Midwestern allergy to self-promotion and makes for a rough month.

But it's over!

The ad copy is done, or as done as it is going to get. I'd rather give Medusa an eye exam than look at those paragraphs again. The trailer has been scripted and recorded. I've got all the art over to Ross, who is kind enough to be making the trailer. As of now, I'm just waiting on the video and some art assets for the text (stretch goal banners, fancier heading, etc). The press list is assembled, and the whole campaign is built. If I didn't mind going up without some fancy visuals, I could launch the campaign today.

Not that I'm eager to get started or anything...
I'm so far along on my end that, aside from building a Facebook page for the game, all that's really left to do is to wait for the calendar to hit May 23rd. So this week I finally got around doing my complete rewrite of the Negotiation rules. What started out being my most dreaded revision from the beta playtest has quickly turned into welcome relief. I forgot how much more enjoyable it was to make a thing instead of describing how you plan to make that thing.

I'm not fooling myself here. I know keeping the word circulating about the Kickstarter will be no easy task, and I know I'll be trading financial anxiety for fulfillment hell if we're lucky enough to fund. But even acknowledging how long the road ahead is going to be, it's a relief to think about a time in the near future when there is nothing to focus on save getting the book done. No more constantly promoting it. No more waiting long, quiet months for more feedback to roll in. No more seeing how much money I can skim off my paycheck next month to pay for art. I might soon have a bank account dedicated to Red Markets, with the funds ready to hire out whatever work I need. All my time not spent on staying alive or on the day job can be solely dedicated to getting the game done.

God, that sounds nice.

So, to sum up, the last few weeks have been all about promotion, but I've finally hacked away enough at it that I can get back to the real task at hand. The pre-KS hasn't been all bad though. I've done a lot really fun podcast interviews lately: Misdirected Mark, Insert Quest Here, and Legends of Tabletop, to name a few. I look forward to the many more I have scheduled.

But talking on a microphone isn't words on the page, and that's the only metric that ultimately matters. I better get back to it then.

Thanks for following along with the updates. I hope to see you on Kickstarter May 23rd!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

RM Update #9: The Return of RPPR, So Many Spreadsheets, and a Kickstarter Date

Not shown: The part where the marker runs past the whiteboard
and the figures slowly morph into the yellow sign.
"Are...are you hunting a serial killer?" asks the student.

"No." I reply, taking a swig from my third energy drink with the desperation of a man lost in the desert. "Mr. Stokes is just planning his Kickstarter. I'm fine." I crush the empty can in my fist. "Everything. Is. Fine."

"OOOooookay," she says. "Want me to get some red yarn from Home Ec. so you can string it across the room until the pattern appears?"

"...Yes. Yes I do."

We're all about the spreadsheets here at Hebanon Games of late. I got the last price quote I needed; now it's time to plan the campaign. You lay out all your quotes, scale them down to minimum viable product, scale them up "beyond your wildest dreams," fill in the gaps between, and then decide where the stretch goals go. At least that's what the first couple of hits on Google told me to do.

Don't look at me like that. I'm a professional.

So while the cogs of game writing have ground to a halt, I've pulled the starting cord on the business engine. It's mathematical smoke, black with overlapping figures and furious cyphering, chokes the atmosphere out of my every waking breath. I can no longer remember what the air tastes like without its stink; I fear I will be poisoned if I leave the cloud's inky embrace.

Caleb: "Sadly, I can't yet afford the rent on a crazy conspiracy bunker.
Assistant! Add it to the list of stretch goals!"
Assistant: ... (assistant still does not exist)
Caleb: "You dissapoint me."

The Kickstarter Cometh

With all this preparation being done, I'm ready to gamble on a Kickstarter announcement: the Red Markets Kickstarter will launch no later the Monday, May 23rd. I'll have been off school a week then, giving me time for last minute troubleshooting. It's theoretically possible we might launch sooner than that: the auspices of Kickstarter statistics suggest that the closer you can get to the beginning of May, the better your chance of success. If we do go a little earlier, it won't be more than a week, and I will be shouting it on every piece of social media I possess.

But going early presumes everyone finishes preparations early, and everything goes perfectly with the timing. This, I doubt.

Any later than the third week in May and we risk closing too soon to GenCon. It's possible to run a successful KS at GenCon, but the probabilities are not on the side of a new IP. So if we delay past that date, we'll have to push the campaign to next school year. But I don't think it will come to that. There's still plenty of wiggle room in the schedule, and I'm about as committed to the May 23rd date as one can be.

RPPR Re-animates

We'll be talking more about the KS planning on RPPR's Game Designer's Workshop. Our most recent episode, dealing with project management for publishers, just dropped yesterday.

If you've been following the site, you may know that RPPR has experienced technical difficulties in the extreme of late. You can listen to an update about the Sisyphean nightmare that is web-hosting here, but suffice it to say the snafu is finally figured out. Now that the site's back up, the RM Kickstarter has it's main promotional platform back and we can move forward. Plus, everyone that's yet to hear the good word can catch up on their APs of The Brutalists campaign.

And So It Begins...

That's where we are at. And now I've got to get back to work. There's no cutting corners or "letting the Market work it out" on this one. The next few weeks will determine whether the last four years of my life were tragedy or comedy, so I'm off to triple check the math and agonize over ad copy. Wish me luck, and thanks for your continued support of Red Markets. Here's hoping to see you on the 23rd!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

RM Update #8

Truly, there can be no finer an image to encapsulate
 the concept of economic horror
So...this happened.

In addition to all the work I did last week preparing for playtests that didn't happen (both got cancelled and rescheduled, but time spent in preparation wasn't spent on content creation), this happened at the beginning of the week. Stopped at the light, then quickly found myself being thrown towards it.

I'm fine. It was about as amicable as fender-benders get. Still, it was not what I was looking for in my life right now.

I've spent the last 16 hours dealing with various garages, car rental services, and insurance companies just so I can get back to work and continue one of the busiest work weeks of my life. And my troubles are nothing compared to Ross and RPPR's. The hosting service decided to downgrade and throttle the bandwidth without warning, and now they're trying to hold the site hostage for a higher price. It's not something I have any capability to help with, but Ross is my friend...a friend who happens to run the primary promotional tool for the game I've invested four years of my life in. So...you know...it's stressful, and I feel like a jerk for being stressed about it at all because my anxiety has to be NOTHING compared to the pain this must be in Ross's ass.

(By the way, for the few people that criticize Red Markets for being unfair to big business and unrealistically assuming corporations would not have the best interests of people at heart during a zombie apocalypse...might I direct you to the company currently trying to bilk a one-man small business for more nonexistent money? I mean, I know Ross is quite the fat cat, what with all that RPG podcaster cheddar. Perhaps they couldn't resist their own rational self-interest in the zero-sum game of high-yield podcast brokerage.)

"First we take over RPG Actual Play podcasting, then the model
train miniature sign production industry, and then...THE WORLD"

This is a roundabout way of saying I've gotten nothing done this week. Nada. Fuck all. And it's extremely depressing.

If you freelance write for any amount of time, something happens to your brain. It doesn't happen when you're writing as a hobby or as a side business; I felt stressed when parts of No Security were late, but I still felt like a worthwhile human being. But, the second you start linking your creativity to your very survival, the change is something you can't shake. Even after heading back to the day job, a pillar of your identity remains chained to your productivity.

You measure your worth in words per day, in pages drafted or revisions made. Zero progress means zero worth. It's not rational, especially when so few have invested in the product, but that connection can be haunting. I can work a sixty-hour week, clean my entire house, take care of my family, and answer a library's worth of email...and I still end up feeling like some useless sloth that's been sitting in front of the TV for a month, naked and covered in Cheeto dust.

I hate wasted weeks like this one. They drive me nuts. It would be enough to make you quit, if another wasted week weren't going to drive you that much more crazy.

Anyway, that's the update...for whatever it's worth. They can't all be winners. Here's hoping next week goes better.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 14, 2016

RM #7

Hello!

I apologize for the longer than usual absence. If that looked like the inevitable death of the blog, I understand. I've certainly invited that conclusion in the past.

But I'm still here! Still working! I just had the flu!

But, you know, I REALLY had the flu. To say that production dipped as I fever-dreamed the RPPR group trying to break into my home and kill me would be an understatement. Couple that with the end of the quarter (grades are due) and the 2-3 chapter a week revision cycle seems doomed from the start, in retrospect.

But progress has been made. The only section from the beta release that still needs revision is Negotiation. After that, the entire player section will be ready for the Kickstarter.

I've also been doing some pricing. Between print costs, editing, layout, art, and the variables that effect all those numbers (softcover vs. hardcover, B&W vs. color vs. glossy), there are a ton of estimates to collect and collate. I've just about got all the information I'm going to be able to gather in one place, at which point I'll start planning out the campaign's reward tiers and stretch goals.

Then there's promotion, of course. Ross and I recorded another Game Designer's Workshop about art direction and project management. The APs for The Brutalists -- our flagship playtest campaign -- keep on getting a healthy response. I'll also be running two important playtests for other podcasts this week. As always, time spent running the game means time not writing the game, but I've got to make sure the jobs I put forth show off all the best parts of the game; for these potential new fans, I won't get another chance to pitch Red Markets.

With all these other responsibilities, I'm starting to realize I might not be able to get the game entirely revised before the KS launches. I'm confident I can finish up within the first week of the campaign and still get some setting writing done inbetween answering FAQ's, but I'm going to have to switch into sell mode soon. Writing ad copy takes infinitely longer than games rules despite being a fraction of the length, and that's to say nothing of the research that needs to be put into a promotional plan. It'll be a photo finish as is, and I can't imagine how hopeless the whole thing would seem if I hadn't long ago given up the idea of having the game completely sewn up before launch.

All you can do is keep chiseling away at it. Thanks for following along, dear reader. More updates soon!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

RM Update #6

Hello all! It's time for my weekly accountability confession.

I finished revising Character Creation this weekend. I always knew it was going to be the chapter that required the most drastic revisions, but, boy howdy, was it a monster. It's easy to forget how central any character creation system is to the mechanics of the game, but revising, adding, deleting, and proofing 20K words of it was certainly a reminder.

It's understandable. Players need information to make the character they want to play, and that information includes everywhere the character sheet touches the mechanics (spoiler: every mechanic is touched upon...that's why it's the character sheet). You've got to provide a quick reference to all those different rules without burying the text that actually get the process done. Meanwhile, you've to to recognize that the majority of potential players go for the character generation chapter before any other part of the book, so you've got to refer to all these mechanics without sacrificing so much setting information that the rules lose context and make the game seem too crunchy to a random customer.

It's an impossible task, and I will most assuredly fail it in the eyes of many readers (it's almost as if RPG players are opinionated or something). But I've slaved over it for two weeks now, using the playtest feedbacks from hundreds of people. If it doesn't work for someone at this point, it's certainly not for a lack of trying.

The above picture is actually out of date. I burned through the revisions in the Upkeep chapter yesterday inbetween taking a picture of my whiteboard and writing this post. The short section on accounting options was always going to be easiest to revise, but I didn't anticipate it would go that smoothly.

I'm working Casualties and Vectors now. As it involves adding a whole bunch of rules (Abberants weren't ready for the beta playtest, but they need to be there for round 2) in addition to revising, this chapter will probably take about as long as Character Creation did to finish. What's after that? There's not much to change about Humanity, so that will go quickly. But then Negotiation is another monster rewrite.

Thus far, I'm happy I've been alternating super-difficult revision with easy tasks that amount to little more than copy editing. Doing the easy stuff first would make rewrites like the Character Creation seems impossible. Conversely, doing all the crappy work first begs for burnout. It's all a matter of tricking your brain into doing the actual work, and I'm very grateful I had a few book-length projects under my belt before starting this thing.

Ideally, I can get the revisions done before the end of Spring Break. If I can manage that, It'll give me two months to plan the Kickstarter and write the worst part of all: ad copy. That's going to be agony, but schedule and snow days willing, I'll be able to get it done early enough that I can cleanse my palette by writing setting material for a few weeks before my every waking second gets hijacked by begging for retweets and answering backer questions.

Okay! That's all the new fit for print. The first playtest campaign -- The Brutalists -- is still being posted up at RPPR. For more "thrilling," hit me up on Twitter @HebanonGCal.

Monday, February 15, 2016

RM #5

This week's lack of progress is brought to you by Death and Taxes: specifically, because I feel like the former (flu) and had to do the latter.

Taxes are a bit of a nightmare for me. I make wages that could best be described as "rock-bottom middle class." When my freelancing work provides extra income, it typically has to go out the door the instant arrives; as an example of what I'm talking about, go read the entire book I wrote to pay for a single trip to the ER. You can't really setup auto-deduct for 1099-MISC freelancing checks, so you end up having to pay dearly for all that RPG work at the end of the year. This makes taxes really expensive and annoying, as you're scrambling through boxes of receipts so you can deduct your home office and anything else you use to run your "business" of one employee.

Still, I got some writing, podcasting, and art direction done...just not to really warrant an announcement. In the meantime, you should go read Laura B's blog. Laura's the editor of Red Markets ("God knows he needs one" says everyone who read the beta). She's also working on really great projects of her own, novelizing some of RPPR's more popular games. She introduced herself at GenCon by handing me a beautiful self-published edition of Wages of Sin, and now she's into her third draft of a novel based on The Dangers of Fraternization. Go give the lady some traffic. Her work deserves it.