NSKN Games at 5 years – part III – the price of success

This is the last article of the mini-series about the untold history of NSKN Games. It may seem juicy at times, but it’s all true. For a big business owner it may seem or even be easy to distance from each product, customer or fan, but when you run a small business, every comment, every client… every step of the way is relevant and leaves a mark. Enough pep-talk, let’s dig right in…

Dealing with success

In the first 3 short years of managing NSKN Games I had had all the opportunities to learn about struggles, failure and out of the box solutions,  backed by amazing people on our team, but also by the great community of board gamers. Yet, no one had prepared me to deal with success. You’re going to say that I am crazy, who needs to ‘deal’ with success? Succeeding is by definition a happy state, without predicament. Yet, I am talking about managing it. We had our first encounter with success in the first half of 2014 and it was darn hard.

Let me take you a few months back and walk you through the whole story. By February 2014 we had already secured 7 (seven!) co-publishing deals for Praetor covering 7 languages and a total of 7500 copies of the game, which is a lot for a relatively new publishing house. At the same time we forged a new partnership which would allow us to access Kickstarter,  the most famous crowdfunding platform in the world, and we were preparing to seek funding for yet another board game Progress: Evolution of Technology. Play-testing for both games showed great potential and, as we were getting closer to the start date of one project and mass printing of the other, our confidence grew to previously unknown heights. The world was interested in our creations and we seemed prepared to deliver.

Our first big challenge was to coordinate shipping to 9 destinations so that we could deliver Praetor at the same time to 9 partners, spread over 4 continents, as far as Japan, Korea and USA. The world of logistics and customs is a living organism of its own, with rules to abide, VAT (value added tax) to pay and tremendous amount of paperwork to prepare. Each country has its own legislation and for newbies it was a huge task to complete by a rather crazy deadline. On top of that, logistics companies have vocabulary of their own and I must admit that it felt overwhelmed. The difference between DDU and DDP, LCL and FCL… so many things to understand and act upon, but we did manage.

One key detail to be noted: at the same time we had to prepare the Kickstarter campaign for Progress, which implies making a video, calculating shipping charges for every country in the world, making prototype copies for reviewers and preparing ourselves for several possible scenarios,  from failing to fund to funding multiple times over our target amount.

Before letting all these details completely take over the main story-line, I have to tell you that shipping Praetor to partners went well. We were able to coordinate and have a worldwide release roughly at the same moment and besides our preorders being a month and a half late, things were pretty smooth. We had our first true success story and we felt at ease. But only for a few days…

A Kickstarter story

For those of you who do not know what Kickstarter is, let me introduce you to it. The world’s largest crowdfunding platform allows creators to post campaigns and seek funding, while people from every country can pledge an amount of money to help bring that project to life, in exchange for a reward. Kickstarter’s motto is fund your dream and that was exactly what we were doing.

For board game publishers such as ourselves, crowd-funding should be a pretty straightforward deal: we ask the community for funds to print the game and offer in exchange nothing less than finished, ready-to-play game boxes. The hidden truth is that making a project is a huge amount of work, with many variable to consider and lots and lots of research. I won’t walk you though the whole process of making a project, but what I will do is offer some numbers which will speak volumes:

  • 350 – number of Kickstarter projects we read from head to tail for research purposes. The research process took more than 18 months.
  • 500 – number of man-hours we put into creating our first project.
  • 1980 – final number of backers of our first project.
  • 3000 – comments, messages and project related emails. We read through all of them and more often than not we had to reply.
  • 7500 – dollar amount invested in Progress: Evolution of Technology before the project went live, not including wages.
  • 19000 – our funding goal (in US dollars).
  • 95031 – final amount (in US dollars) pledged by those 1980 amazing people.
  • 7 – the number of friends and family members who supported the project.

We delivered the rewards for our first Kickstarter project by October 2014 and we we were among the trend setters for delivering project reward on time, or even before the deadline. You probably don’t know that, but Kickstarter creators have a habit of underestimating the amount of work required to create those rewards and thus 90% of the projects deliver late and more than 50% of the successful project creators are at least 6 months late. Hence, our timely delivery was a big surprise to everyone but ourselves.

Let’s wrap it up… 

Since 2014, things went mostly upwards for NSKN Games. We have a great team which is stable for the past 2 years, we’ve published 6 more titles to a total of 10, we have successfully funded 5 Kickstarter projects raising in average $100,000 per project and our games have been published in 10 languages.

But not everything goes smoothly, there are still many things to learn and many mistakes to be made. For example, last year we tried something new, high precision laser-cut plexiglas miniatures, thinking that we’ll take the world of board games by surprise with this innovation and we’ll sell by the tens of thousands. We were wrong. Nothing much really happened, people liked the miniatures but were not mesmerized, and Simurgh is now a fairly successful game, but not a champion of the industry.

Success is hard to deal with and it always comes with a price. Once you’ve succeeded, the pressure to keep on doing it is mounting up sometime to an unbearable level. While successful, mistakes become more obvious and they’re readily punished by everyone, from fans and community, to business partners. Success sets up standards which are hard to keep up with. Being successful to a certain degree always drives the desire ever higher, to a level which is sometimes not achievable. Everyone loves a success story, especially one of an underdog, but people also love a failure story, especially one of a once successful endeavor.

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