You Can Never Really Be Your Own Boss (And That’s a Good Thing)

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“It must be great to be your own boss!” Over the last few months, as the Pangea Marketing Agency has taken off faster than I expected, I’ve heard this sentence more than I ever expected. Don’t get me wrong – it’s incredibly flattering and I respond with polite confirmations. You know the sort: “yes, it’s pretty great, I’m very fortunate!” And, yes, indeed, I really am very fortunate.

What goes unseen is that I’m juggling a full-time day job, the marketing agency, and board game projects like Tasty Humans. I’ve had a wide variety of work experiences and I have to tell you something I’ve found out.

You can never really be your own boss.

Obviously, putting a sentence like that in bold, you know I’m not about to give you a Tony Robbins style speech. No, I’m here to shatter myths like my name’s Adam Savage. I’m here to set expectations sensibly so you can live a life of relative comfort while you strive to become your best self. It’s true, I’m a big fan of self-starting and hard work, but I’m not a fan of false prosperity gospel.

So let’s put to bed this “be your own boss” cliche that I hear all the time online and offline.

 

Even Corporate CEOs Have Bosses

Let’s say you’re a yuppie in the 1980s. You smoke in your office and wear suspenders and stripes. At the age of 27, after working 90 hours a week for years on end in a high finance firm, you earn a VP title. You’re on track to become the CEO of JP Chase Fargo.

Cut to 2007 where you’re testing the strings on your golden parachute. Yeah, you made it to the CEO position, but you never became your own boss. No, indeed, the Board of Directors tells you what to do all the time.

You consider angling for the Chairman of the Board position, but she seems miserable. She’s reporting to all the shareholders and doesn’t really have many viable strategic options either. She’s at their mercy.

You’ve kicked around the idea of buying a 51% stake in the company, but even then, you’d still be subject to the whims of the market. Everybody’s a part of the market, so this abstract thing that would rule your life and limit your actions has no face. You can’t call anyone out or bargain with it.

All this is to say that no matter how high up you get in a traditional company, you’re always reporting to somebody or something. This isn’t a bad thing, and I’ll explain this later.

 

Want to Be Your Own Boss? Don’t Become an Entrepreneur!

“Be your own boss doesn’t mean becoming the CEO of JP Chase Fargo, Brandon.” Okay, and I get that. As a member of the millennial generation that wants to become entrepreneurs because of the misdeeds of the CEOs of JP Chase Fargo, I can relate. However, I can tell you from firsthand experience that entrepreneurs are not their own bosses either.

Entrepreneurs report to their clients. If they don’t have clients, they report to their customers. If they never deal with their customers directly, they report to market demand. Their viable money-making options are limited by the iron law of product-market fit.

Even if you found a way around the inexorable law of product-market fit, you’d still have some bosses. Among my many bosses includes the Tennessee Department of Revenue, and for that matter, the Internal Revenue Service. I have to play nice by the rules of my local city as well as Hamilton County, Tennessee. Even in my own business, I report to bureaucrats at various different levels of the government. And Tennessee, true to Southern tradition, plays it pretty fast and loose on laws and regulations.

Again, this is not a bad thing. It’s simply something you must accept.

 

Even World Leaders Have a Boss

“Okay smart guy, but what if I become the government?” Sure, let’s run with this idea. Even politicians cannot act with impunity. They have to win over a coalition of voters. Donald Trump may be the President of the United States, but he also has a boss. Multiple, in fact. Their names are Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida.

Even if you’re a dictator, like Kim Jong Un, you have a boss, too. You see, being dictator comes with a lot of perks, so you have to have people protect you or else you will be overthrown. In this sense, Kim Jong Un’s bosses are any generals or other key government personnel who prevent a coup. This is not just my personal belief. This is, in fact, a studied and published fact in political science. Here’s a reputable, if insouciant, pop-sci book that does a good job of explaining it.

 

You Can Never Escape Accountability…But That’s Actually a Good Thing

The key takeaway here is that you can never escape accountability. All human begins are connected. We are in the world together for better or for worse. For that reason, it’s really important to build connections and try to help people.

Look, I know working for someone is hard. Sometimes you don’t know what they want. Sometimes they are unreasonable. Other times, they are outright mean. Bad bosses outnumber good bosses by a ratio of like 10:1. Indeed, it’s my hope that I’m not among the 10 for my interns and contractors.

In most situations, though, you can find a way to finesse it. You can find a way to live and work well. A few exceptions, of course, are when communication breaks down to an irreparable level and gross indecency of the type that I’d prefer not to spell out.

 

You Don’t Want to Be Your Own Boss…You Actually Want Purpose, Self-Expression, and the Ability to Control Your Work

It’s no secret that most people hate their jobs. Again, this is not a Brandonism – about a third of people would call themselves “engaged at work” according to Gallup. So what actually makes a difference? According to Harvard Business Review, it comes down to three basic qualities: purpose, self-expression, and experimentation.

When people want to “be their own boss,” it’s a cry that they feel out of control. They don’t feel like their work matters, our their voice matters, or that they have any say. Seriously, if you have a desire to be your own boss, keep asking “why” until you get to the root of the desire. It will probably be some variation of these three things.

People need to feel like their life has a purpose. To constantly repress your true desires is to suffer. The ability to experiment at work, to my ears, sounds like freedom from micromanagement and the ability to choose your own path.

Not every job will offer you the ability to pursue these three things. Not everyone will have the privilege to chase one that does either. If you’re stuck in a job you hate, I’m here to say that running away may or may not actually fix your problems. You have to do the hard work of introspection!

And let me say just one more thing. There is dignity in any work you do, including the act of looking for work. You don’t have to be your own boss to live well. You don’t have to have a flashy job to make a difference.

 

Final Thoughts

We are all connected. Everyone’s actions affect other people. We live in a world where no one can truly be their own boss. This is a good thing – it means we have to play nice with one another!

When you say to yourself “I want to be my own boss,” I want you to challenge that statement. Ask “why?” Keep asking until you get to the emotional root of your desires. It when you reach the roots that you can see what you really want. This gives you the freedom to chase what you truly desire 🙂

How to Make a Tabletop Simulator Demo of Your Board Game

Posted on 6 CommentsPosted in Dev Diary

Many of you know that I’m in love with Tabletop Simulator as a testing tool. It’s a simple app on the Steam store, it costs $19.99, and it’s been an extraordinary resource for me during the development of War Co.Highways & Byways, and Tasty Humans.

 

 

 

The 4 Benefits of Using Tabletop Simulator

I’d like to explain to you exactly how to create a demo of your board game on Tabletop Simulator, but first let’s discuss what I perceive as its four main benefits:

 

1. It saves you a ton of money and time on prototyping.

Even using simple paper and ink from your printer can add up pretty quickly when you’re making different versions of your game. This can easily add up into the hundreds of dollars, as it did with War Co. for me before I discovered LackeyCCG and eventually Tabletop Sim.

 

2. It takes less time to create a prototype.

Instead of physically creating a new game or swapping out parts every time you make a substantial change, you can simply update the image files on your Tabletop Sim demo. It’s pretty straightforward.

 

3. You can play-test online.

This means you can find play-testers all over the world, which allows you to see how well your game communicates with people from different cultures or who don’t speak your language as well. Not to mention, it’s easier for many people to find others online than in person.

 

4. It’s great for publicity.

Because you can play online, you get the tremendous opportunity to livestream your game with people who have a good size audience on Twitch or YouTube. This is one of the most underrated marketing opportunities around for board game dev. I could easily make two or three articles on livestreaming board games.

 

How to Make a Tabletop Simulator Demo of Your Board Game

 

Step One: Create Images of Your Board, Cards, and Components

For the purposes of this guide, let’s assume your game involves a board, some cards, and some two-dimensional pieces. If it involves 3D models or other complex pieces, see the knowledge base that the development studio put together.

First, you’ll want to create JPG images of your board and each unique component. If you have duplicates of components, just create a single JPG – you can copy and paste the piece multiple times once you’ve loaded into Tabletop Simulator. This is pretty straightforward – all you need are some files that show what they actually look like. The Tabletop Simulator software will automatically size the board and pieces around your images.

Cards are more complicated. You’ll need to use this template or one similar to it. You’ll need to place the front of each card on one of these numbered slots, starting with 1 and working your way up from there. If you have 50 cards, you’ll fill up the first 50 slots and no others. If you have more than 69 cards, you’ll need to make multiple decks. Once you have all cards placed, save the whole grid as a JPG.

If your cards are a different dimension than the template linked above, you’ll need to create a template that is 10 times the width of a card and 7 times its height. Then you’ll place several gridlines so you get a similar template with different dimensions.

As for the card back, you’ll just need to save that as a JPG. If you have multiple card backs per deck, you’ll need to make another grid based on the template. Card back 1 needs to correspond to card front 1, card back 2 needs to correspond to card front 2, and so on.

 

 

Step Two: Upload Your Images to the Internet

Once you have your board, cards, and other pieces ready as JPG files, you need to upload them to the internet. When you’re creating a Tabletop Simulator demo, you’ll need to reference the URL of each image. I suggest you upload files to your own web server, if you have a website. If you don’t have your own web servers, Imgur will do the job.

 

Step Three: Create a Workshop Item on Tabletop Simulator
  • Start Tabletop Simulator.
  • In this order, click CreateSingleClassic, then Custom.
  • Delete everything from the table by right-clicking each object and clicking Delete. (You can use the default stuff, but I want to show you how to do this the long way.)
  • In the top middle of the screen, click Objects.
  • Click Table on the menu.
  • You should now see a screen similar to the one below where it shows a list of tabletops. Pick one you like.

 

 

Now that you have a table, let’s get a board on it.

  • Click Objects in the top middle of the screen.
  • On the menu that shows up on the right, click Components.
  • Click Boards and then Custom.
  • You should see a screen similar to the one below. Copy and paste the URL of your board’s image.
  • Click Import.

 

 

Next, let’s add some cards.

  • In this order, click ObjectsComponents, Cards, then Custom Deck.
  • You should see a prompt like below. Fill it in as follows:
    • Face – enter the URL of your card fronts template
    • Unique Backs – check only if each card has a different back
    • Back – enter the URL of your single card back OR the unique card backs  template
    • Width – 10
    • Height – 7
    • Number – number of cards in the deck
    • Sideways – check only if your cards are meant to be used sideways
    • Back is Hidden – check
  • Click Import.

 

 

To add a custom component, follow these instructions.

  • In this order, click Objects, Components, then Custom.
  • Click Tile for flat pieces or Figurine for stand-up pieces.
  • You should see a prompt like below. Fill it in as follows:
    • Type – Box for square, Hex for hexagon, Circle for circle, Rounded for rounded square
    • Top Image – enter URL
    • Bottom Image – enter URL
    • Thickness – 0.20
    • Stackable – (your choice)
    • Stretch to Aspect Ratio – (checked)
  • Click Import.

 

 

At this point, you can hover over any individual piece and press the plus or minus key to increase or decrease its size. You can also highlight any pieces you wish to copy and use CTRL+C and CTRL+V to make copies.

 

Well, let’s not go overboard with copy-paste…

 

Step Four: Release the Workshop Item

Once you’re done, click Upload > Workshop Upload. Fill out all the information, and click Upload. It will upload it to Steam and then give you a Workshop ID. Any time you want to update your workshop item, pull up this same window and click the Update Workshop tab. Then type in the Workshop ID, fill out the information, and click Update.

 

 

Step Five: Get Noticed

If you plan on using Tabletop Simulator for anything other than rapid prototyping, it’s not enough to simply create a Tabletop Simulator demo. After you create the demo, you’ll need to go looking for people who will want to play your game. This can be tricky because not everybody has Tabletop Simulator and oftentimes people are not willing to spend the $19.99 to get it. Think about how you spread your message. Consider reaching out to people who like Tabletop Simulator and play-testing new games on Twitter or in Facebook groups.

 

Final Thoughts

There you have it! This is a quick and dirty guide on getting started in Tabletop Simulator. Once you understand the basics, you can learn more of the nuanced aspects of creating a demo. I’m just here to help you get started 🙂

Tasty Humans: How Our Board Game Raised $20,536 on Kickstarter

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After a year of development, Tasty Humans raised $20,536 on Kickstarter. It’s a puzzle-solving, tile placement board game for 1-4 players where you play as a fantasy monster who’s hungry for villagers. We could not be happier with how the campaign turned out, and the game is available for pre-order now!

This stands in stark contrast to the last Kickstarter campaign I ran, which was Highways & Byways in March 2018. After canceling that campaign at around 30% of the goal, I wrote a long in-depth post about what exactly went wrong. Indeed, with Tasty Humans, both the game development and the marketing processes were radically different than they used to be, and this ultimately paid off.

This was a small, tight, humble, simple project. Having seen ups and downs, I was determined to see just how far we could go with $2,500. I never intended to take this game project on, but ultimately, it worked out really well. Now I would like to share what I’ve learned with you 🙂

 

Tasty Humans Had Good Product-Market Fit

Everybody values different things in life. No two people are the same, and neither are their interests. For that reason, when you’re creating products, you have to do so with your audience in mind. This is true no matter what industry you work in. When your product feels tailor-made for audience, we call that product-market fit.

 

The Early Design

Tasty Humans had strong product-market fit potential from the get-go. An extremely talented new designer, Ryan Langewisch, won a 48-hour board game design contest. The GameSmiths judged all these anonymous submissions. His submission – then called Fantasy Feast – stood out head and shoulders above the competition, scoring fully two points higher on a ten-point scale than any of the other nineteen participants.

My friend, Tyson Mertlich, member of the GameSmiths told me, “you have to try this game.” Sure enough, I did, and it was really, really uncommonly good. It was then that I agreed to produce the game provided we spent only $2,500 to produce it and we split the costs 50/50.

 

Mid-Development

It’s not enough to simply make a good game, though. To sell in this awfully noisy, competitive board gaming environment, you have to have mechanics and art that people really enjoy. On the note of mechanics, we were really lucky. The mechanics that were chosen for the initial game – tile placement, variable player powers, and so on – all screened well with an audience. Additionally, the material costs to create this game were surprisingly low, so we didn’t have to make any major cuts. The cuts that we did make (two-sided monster boards, 330 gsm cards, etc.) ended up being added back as stretch goals when they became financially viable.

Tyson found a wonderful Russian artist named Petr Semenikhin. He made the caricature art that really refined the look of Tasty Humans. As soon as we received his art, we started running Facebook “page like” ads to see how well the art would be received. We very quickly had empirical data that suggested that a certain subset of board gamers loved the art. (Relevance Score of 8, 9, 10 and really low cost per action.)

 

Late Development

After the game was fully completed, everything we did, from the price point to the page set up was based on successful campaigns. I’ve been running a marketing agency for the last several months that has actually, through a bizarre twist of fate, superseded Pangea Games in revenue. As part of running that company, I’ve become very good at market research.

I looked at probably 30 or 40 different successful campaigns of a similar price point with a similar “feel.” Once I collated all the data, we reverse-engineered a high-quality Kickstarter page with the right prices. We even hired this fantastic voice actor from Fiverr for the video!

When all was said and done, the conversion rate was a staggering 5.5% per unique user on the campaign page. That means that for every 1,000 computers that accessed our campaign page, 55 became backers and did not cancel their pledges. According to CrowdCrux, the typical Kickstarter conversion rate is 1.5 – 5%.

 

We Had a Fantastic Team Dynamic

I cannot emphasize how important liking your team is. We were very communicative and always willing to help one another out. Ryan and Tyson were very organized and timely, handling their respective work with ease and excellence. Even Petr, who I know spoke with directly, was creating art at a breakneck pace. In fact, he turned around brand new stretch goal art before our funds even had a chance to clear, giving us a little buffer room if something goes sideways with manufacturing or freight shipping.

 

Good Supply Chain Management Reduced Costs

Over the last few months, I’ve provided a lot of consulting work for Fulfillrite, who met me through this blog. For that reason, I’ve become extremely familiar with order fulfillment, which is their specialty, but also related industries like freight shipping and customs. On top of that, I’ve been working back and forth with printers to create specs for a long time.

This is all to say that we optimized for product cost in the long run. The problem with making a game for $2,500 is that you don’t benefit from the economies of scale like the bigger companies do. That means you have to make games for the lowest possible cost or else your price will, by necessity, be too high for anybody to buy.

 

We Didn’t Spend Much on Marketing, But Our ROI was High

We added another $2,500 in marketing costs, bringing the total to about $5,000. At the very beginning, we did not intend to do this, but with the marketing agency doing so well and with Tasty Humans showing such potential, it would have been foolish to squander the opportunity by being cheap.

We ordered a few more review copies than we needed, which added a few hundred. We had Rahdo do a video, which was the best $500 I’ve ever spent! Then after that, we waited until two days before the game launched and then ran a bunch of Facebook ads.

Why wait until two days before? The two day time period gave us adequate time for Facebook to approve the ads and for us to test them. It also meant we wouldn’t spend much money before the game was, you know, buyable. Once we knew the ad worked, we really juiced it up with a few hundred for the first two days of the campaign. We then ultimately spent a total of about $1,600 on Facebook ads over the life of the campaign.

One of my regrets with this campaign is that we never turned on conversion tracking for Facebook ads. We’ll never know for sure how much the ads brought in. I stopped and started the ads for a couple of days. From that, I imputed that we earned $6-7 per every ad dollar, which I feel pretty good about.

Another one of my regrets with this campaign is that we were so risk-averse. We had such a high conversion rate on the page, so few review copies, and relatively little money spent on ads. If we had invested more early on, it’s very possible that we could have made $50,000 or more on this campaign.

 

Tasty Humans Was the Least Stressful Campaign I’ve Ever Run

I don’t have too many regrets, though. In fact, this is the least stressful Kickstarter campaign I’ve ever run. Having seen dramatic highs and dramatic lows in the board game business, this was a relative breeze.

Our team is fantastic, which made launch day less stressful. With relatively little money on the line and the agency being a viable way to generate revenue, the specter of failure no longer had the same ability to frighten.

 

Do We Have Any Regrets?

I can’t speak for the other guys, but I have to say I don’t really have regrets that matter on this project. I’ve tried to nitpick and autopsy this game like War Co. or Highways & Byways, but the simple truth is that this accomplished every objective we wanted it to and more.

What objectives were those? Well, I wanted redemption after a failed campaign and I wanted to launch a low-risk project. Ryan wanted to see his design come to life. Tyson wanted to establish himself as a capable board game developer. On all fronts, we succeded.

My one regret is that we didn’t spend more on the marketing campaign. We would have bought a couple more review copies, spent some more on ads, and maybe attended another convention or two.

 

Now What?

With Tasty Humans funded, all that’s left is manufacturing and fulfillment. As logistically tricky as these can be, both are familiar territory for Pangea Games.

At this point, we’re considering new game ideas. For me personally, I’m still working on building the marketing agency. The agency will need to settle into more of a routine before I become actively involved in new games. That said, we’re kicking around the idea of doing another 48-hour design contest in late September. You never know… 🙂