Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Tale of Two (Other) Kickstarters

This week, I'm going to talk about two projects that I didn't back.

The Pathfinder Online and Small World 2 for iPad.

Because these two epitomize some of the issues I'm having with Kickstarter in general.

Let me rewind a bit, first:  a few weeks back, Google Plus unleashed communities on the world. And I was immediately invited to a ton of communities which I had zero interest in joining.  I even started two communities as a joke.  Because I could.  Then, a short time later, I was snarking about some Kickstarter project or other, and I realized that I didn't have to be the only one snarking.  I could share the snark with like-minded individuals who could also then snark about projects in need of snarking.

And Kicksnarker was born.

I got very lucky very early, in that several extremely funny individuals joined almost immediately.  I won't say the community took off like a shot - because we didn't.  But the folks we got were high-quality funny people.

A bit later, one of them was snarking about the Pathfinder MMO project. Since I have exactly zero interest in MMOs, I didn't look too closely. Until it started appearing again and again and again in the community.  Goblinworks has done two Kickstarters for Pathfinder Online.  The first one raised $300k for a tech demo.  Backer rewards were split between the online and offline versions of Pathfinder.  It was ... odd. But it made its goal and then some.

That project didn't draw a lot of snark.

Then came Pathfinder Online: A Fantasy Sandbox MMO.  This one drew a ton of snark.  Ridiculous amounts of it.  Why?  Because the backer rewards were ... split between tabletop and online rewards.  And as the project went on, the tabletop rewards became more and more ridiculous. Paizo threw all of its weight behind the project, pushing it on its forums and getting PDFs and print versions from some of its third party partners to sweeten the pot and encourage gamers to up their pledges so it'd make its goal.

In fact, all of the pot-sweeteners were for the tabletop version of the game.  It was bad enough that I considered pledging just so I could get my own personal Pathfinder library.

It was a bit like going to the grocery store and being offered a potato that I don't want.  "If you get this potato," they would say, "We will throw in this gallon of ice cream.  And this chocolate syrup. And these candy sprinkles. And this ice cream scoop.  And if you buy a ten pound bag of potatoes, we will throw in this blender!"

Interestingly, all of this backing and pushing was apparently pointless - other than to make the project succeed.  But the MMO was going forward regardless.

Read this interview, pointed out by a Kicksnarkers member (the ever-funny Jason Paul McCartan).  The key portion of the interview?
Morrus: What happens if the Kickstarter fails to reach its $1,000,000? Will you try again, look for alternative means of funding, or cancel the whole project? 
Ryan: The game is financed and in production. The Kickstarter lets us speed up the time to develop it. We are focused on getting the Kickstarter across the funding goal and we're not making "what if" plans.
Read Ryan's answer again.  Especially that first sentence.  The Kickstarter project wasn't a make-or-break for the game.  The project was to show off that they could raise $1m. And get more programmers on the job to speed it up.

There was no need for Paizo to throw their weight around and post on all of their forums and spam their newsletter subscribers over and over and over, begging us to pledge.

It's possible that the third party support for the project may have hurt the overall Pathfinder economy for some time to come, too.  If I pledged to get the PDFs, then the PDFs that I have are both non-sales for the publishers that contributed and make it less likely that I'll be buying more PDFs for some time to come.  If, for example, the project gave out Eric's Big Book of Monsters, then as a consumer, I'm not likely to go buy Dave's Big Book of Monsters - why do I need to?  I have the other one.

And yes, I know.  Monster books are not the right example for this - but the underlying principle applies.  Paizo may have long-term hurt their numbers for a short-term gain.

Now, by way of contrast, read this.

Why did Days of Wonder cancel their Small World kickstarter?

"Making the goal of the campaign the funding of a new ipad version we had already decided to do was wrong." Compare that answer to Ryan's answer above. And then think about it.

"Having Android as a stretch goal was a mistake.  We underestimated people's reluctance to fund a platform that might not happen." That is just sensible.  If I back just to get an Android version and it doesn't hit its stretch goal, I'm going to cancel my funding. Or be very unhappy.

"Making the designer edition of the centerpiece of the campaign's rewards left people wondering 'whether we were trying to fund the software or the Designer Edition?'"  In other words, "Giving free ice cream with purchase of potatoes doesn't make sense. If we're selling potatoes, we should give away butter and chives and bacon bits. Not ice cream."

Thank you, Days of Wonder, for continuing to be a class act. Even if it did cost you a small amount of money in the short term.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

D&D Classics

At GenCon last year, Wizards of the Coast announced that they'd be doing digital versions of old books, again.  In addition to the print versions of some of their core books.

There was a lot of rumor and speculation, especially given their purge of a few years ago.

I should explain the purge for those of you who don't know about it.

Wizards of the Coast had been selling their PDFs via DriveThruRPG/RPGNow.  Then they decided to stop doing so.  That's not a big deal - there are dozens of publishers who stop making their products available.  But WotC went that extra mile, and had all of their products purged from DriveThru's servers.

Normally, if I lose a license or stop selling a product, it stays on DriveThru's servers. People who have already purchased it can still download it, but no-one can buy it anymore.  Wizards went that extra step.  If you hadn't saved a local copy, you lost access to your stuff.

It angered a lot of people and (arguably) caused a significant surge in interest for the Old School Renaissance.

So at GenCon, when they announced their digital initiative, people were curious what format it'd take.  We all hoped it'd be through DTRPG again, because DriveThru has a good thing going.  But I don't know that anyone believed it would be.  Because PDFs are too easy to share and sharing is piracy.

I received an e-mail last night from DriveThru. is now open for business.  Not only that, but if you lost product in the Purge, it's back.  You don't need to re-buy it. Had they not done this, I would not have mentioned that it was for sale.  In fact, I would not have spent any money on Wizards of the Coast product.  Other than to suggest that you steer clear.

I'll be honest: There is nothing to prevent another Purge. Other than the customer outcry. But I think that it'd be a very bad move.

Price-wise ... you can find many of these books at lower prices in decent shape on eBay or Half-Price Books. But if you're low on shelf space or have a garage full of games waiting to be unpacked and brought inside ...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Where's My Stuff?

I've decided that I'm going to update my Kickstarter status quarterly, here.  My next update will likely be in mid-April (unless something happens).

Since June of 2010, I have backed 48 projects on Kickstarter and my wife has backed 43.  You can see the full list of what we have backed on this spreadsheet.

There are a few categories into which I have mentally placed these projects, and this is what fits into those categories:

Needs A Little Love
These are projects that I want to see succeed, but which haven't funded and are maybe running a bit close to the wire.  There is only one item in this category at this time, and that is Formula E

Bruno Faidutti has designed some of my favorite games.  When he says a game is fun and throws his personal support behind a project, I will listen.  When he takes that extra step and talks to Asmodee to get permission to use a given name, that tells me he's excited about the project.  Right now, this project is on track to miss its goal.  I invite you to check it out.  The rulebook is online, so it's not a blind backing, either - you can see what the game is like before you decide.

These guys are clearly clued-in and ready to go.  I don't anticipate huge delays between this funding (if it funds) and their going into full production.

Not Yet Funded
We just haven't hit the deadline, yet, and these projects are sure to fund. They're listed in the order in which I backed them, not the order in which they closed and/or funded.

FATE Core - a core rulebook for the FATE system.  This has blown its targets away, and they are working on their stretch goals at this point.  And there are some pretty sweet stretches in there.  Just announced: A post-apocalyptic setting by Kenneth Hite.  We backed at the $85 level.

Sorcerer - Ron Edwards is doing an upgraded version of the game which kicked off the Indie revolution.  This closes on the 18th, so hurry if you want in!  $25 gets you the core book and the supplements in print and PDF.  Well, $31. Because shipping isn't cheap.   I'm of the opinion that there is a good game in there - it's just hidden behind his discussion of the rules.  And I'm very curious about his annotations.  We backed at the $25 level before he closed it.

Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls - A classic reborn!  I have the 7.5 edition of the game, and this is a case of a rising tide lifting all boats. The OSR is starting to attract non-D&D games which are clearly Old School. This is a good thing, even if it can (and will) lead to market confusion eventually. Backed it at the $35 level.

Cortex+ Hacker's Guide - I am a huge fan of the Cortex Plus system. I like how it's heavily customized for each setting. And I've seen some good hacks out there - there is a Smallville hack for running a Star Wars game which doesn't have the Jedi Balance Problem, for example.  We backed this at the $25 level.

Crokinole Game & Accessory - I've wanted a Crokinole game for a good long while.  While I'd love to have one of the Hilinski Brothers' amazing boards, I just can't make the money work all at once.  $250 is a lot of money.  The Mayday Games boards have received mixed reviews overall, but the reviews have steadily improved. And Mayday has done a good job of responding to customers who had problems with their boards.  Eventually, I will own a Hilinski board. But, as a casual player, the Mayday board will fill my needs.  We backed at the $130 level.

Funded Too Recently To Worry About
I'm not worried about anything funded since October 1, 2012.  So I'm not going to bother detailing them - you can check the spreadsheet (linked above) if you really want a list.

Shipping Soon
Gunship: First Strike is starting shipping this week.  Dungeon World will be shipping soon, too - they are just waiting for the last few backer rewards.  It's well overdue, but Kings of Air and Steam says they'll be shipping soon. The Battle of Red Cliffs should be shipped by the end of this month.

Still On Target
Tenra Bansho Zero is an excellent example of a project done well.  It funded, and he has been keeping us in the loop with regards to the project's current status.  Mobile Frame Zero is similarly good at keeping backers informed.  In fact, I'm not concerned about these.

Some News Would Be Great
In that three months and more back, there are a few projects where I'm a bit concerned due to a lack of information and/or updates.

The +5 Food of Eating Cookbook - No updates since late November, when the author was having some software-related issues.  I'd love to know how it's going - there have been a few sample recipes dropped here and there, but I'm in the "update me every two weeks, even if the update is 'Nothing new to report'" school of thought. Depending on the project.

Psi-Punk - This one barely made its goal.  The writing is finished (as of December 10th), and they were commissioning art.  No word, yet, on how that's going. Have artists been chosen? Have sketches been approved?

Oh My God! There's An Axe In My Head! - After going through two publishers who took too long, you'd think these guys would finally have their act together, right?  The last update was December 11th, and said that it would "probably ship" the first part of March. 

I really wish I could see the backer-only updates on my wife's account.  Because I want to know what's up with Top This! and Guide to the Village By The Sea. And Witch Girls Book of Shadows.

Polish Needed
There are a couple of products where I need part of my pledge, but I have most of it.

They Became Flesh is a bit infamous on several forums, because most everyone is still waiting for most everything. I'm only missing one set of dice, but my requests for updates have gone unanswered.

Dreadball got most of Season One to me with no problems.  I'm still waiting for my acrylic board and a few star players before my collection is complete, however.

Thanks For The Update, Can I Have My Stuff, Now?
Powerchords has become, for me, the poster child for potential problems with the Kickstarter system.  It funded, then there was a three-month silence.  Then a four-month gap while he worked on a freelance project to pay the bills.  And then he started with the weekly updates.  For two years.  And the game isn't going to be a freestanding systemless book, anymore.  It's going to be a full game.  No, a game line. So these six hundred thousand words written so far?  They're going to be in other books, most of them.

Far West is also frustrating to a lot of folks. I'm ... I'm $75 into it, so it's not a small amount of money - at the same time, it's not a huge amount, either.  And I've received a few items (the Tales of the Far West anthology was really good, for example). I just want the core book.  I want to play the game!  

... and that's about where things stand so far.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013


Imagine a world, if you will, where anything is possible. A world where magic dominates, where alchemy has been resurrected, and high technology is an ancient secret. A world where physical combat elevates to heights undreamed of. Where immortality can be gained, and moreover, where there is power to be had. Such a world is Synnibarr
Sounds pretty cool, doesn't it? Up until that very last word, I'll bet you were getting excited and/or interested. Because it sounds like a kickass setting.

I have a history with the game, its publisher, and its writer (the infamous Raven c.s. McCracken). It's not a particularly deep history, but it's a bit long.  A bit too long to share over on Google+, I think. So here it is.

I first started gaming in the mid-Eighties.  The first game I played was, like many of us, Dungeons and Dragons. It was still first edition (and may have been the Advanced version - I honestly don't recall).  It was fun, but some of that fun was probably the allure of the Forbidden.  As it is, it wasn't long before I had played a few other games, such as Star Frontiers and Marvel Super Heroes.  Games which have (mostly) stood the test of time.

As the years went on, I played more and more games.  In the late nineties, I discovered the internet.  I became very active on the forums. And there I learned about Synnibarr, at the time being touted as "the worst game ever published." So I tracked down a copy at a place called "Wonderworld Books" in Burien, WA.  Wonderworld has since closed its physical storefront, but, at the time, it was really good.  It had everything.  Including both (!) editions of Synnibarr and the Ultimate Adventurer's Guide which was published for second edition.

I picked the books up for a fraction of their cover price, and moved on.

Years later, I look back and I see that the books were published by "Wonderworld Books," and I am pretty sure that the game store co-published it or provided some other form of significant assistance.

The game was bad.  The setting showed a great deal of potential, but the system was completely incomprehensible. And the second edition was not a significant improvement.

I say the setting had potential - it reminded me of RIFTS with the restrictions removed. It takes place on a "Worldship" - it was a planet with engines hurtling through space. It is revealed in the book that it was not just any planet, it's the planet Mars, which has been hollowed out and fitted with engines.

The setting has mages and cyborgs and undead and ninjas and werewolves and ... and ...  Yeah.  It's that kitchen-sinkish.

The monster section includes several monsters which have become infamous like the flying Grizzly bears with eyebeams.

It's astounding.  And it's thick.  There is a lot in the books. Really a lot. As in "more than I can get through in a week."  Even at my most voracious, I had trouble getting through it.

Then, in 2003, I went to Westercon. While perusing panels, I stumbled across a board game design panel where one of the panelists was "Raven c.s. McCracken."  I had to know.  His bio from the books has become somewhat legendary, too. I knew I had to go to that panel. Because I had to know.

In person, Raven doesn't come across as a self-absorbed nut.  He, in fact, had some really good ideas about board game design. Some very solid ideas that would apply to RPG design as well. It was a fun (and useful panel).

I have no idea why he seems terminally unable to integrate his own ideas.  Because he can't.  His games are inevitably a mess.

Why is this coming up now?  He's kickstarting a new edition of Synnibarr. I've backed this at the $80 level, because I want copies of this. Because, despite everything, I do love this game. And I really wish I knew why.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013


A lot of people keep trying to get me into MMOs.  "You could join our Guild," I hear.  "We Raid on Mondays!"  But I've held off.

See, I used to be on Dark Age of Camelot, back in the day when it was new.  And I enjoyed the hell out of it. A bit too much.  As I told my friends when I quit, "I like being employed and having a girlfriend."  Neither of which would have continued had I not dropped Dark Age.

That was more than ten years ago, and I haven't played any MMO for more than about ten minutes since - always on a friend's account.  Oddly, I have found them less and less addictive as time has gone by, despite the improvements in graphics and user interface.

A good friend of mine was very into the "I Love Bees" viral Augmented Reality Game that was done a few years ago.  It seemed interesting, but not to the point where I wanted to spend a lot of time on it.  But I've kept my eye out for ARGs ever since.

Because I can play an ARG without giving up my day job or my wife or ... really, anything else around me.

In Mid-November, I started seeing teaser information about a game called "Ingress."  I did some homework and joined the waiting list. On November 27th, I was given my invite code. I excitedly signed in and downloaded the app.  I ran through the tutorial and ... it was okay. It sounded like it had potential, though.

Having completed the tutorial, I was then given very little information on the two factions in the game and was asked to choose one. So I did.

So here is how the game is played:  You wander around with your phone's GPS active, looking at a map that looks like it was drawn for Tron.  Does anyone else remember the Turtle for the Apple IIc?  It was a little arrowhead that you would tell where to go so it would draw a line on screen for you.  The symbol for you on your minimap is a turtle with a circle around it.

There are glowing spots of "Exotic Matter (XM)" that, when they are in your circle, you will absorb them.  Until you hit your limit.

Occasionally, you will find a Portal.  Inevitably, it will already be claimed by someone of a much higher level than you are.  If it's claimed by the same team, then it won't attack you when you hack it and you won't gain any experience points (AP) for hacking it.  But you might get a key or some resonators or some XMP Bursters or, perhaps, a portal shield or some media (a scanned drawing of some sort).

Sadly, the only things the tutorial told you about are the keys and the resonators. And my phone screen is too small to read the media - which is odd, because I have a big phone. And it's worth mentioning that the resonators and bursters all have levels associated with them. As a Level 1 player, I can only use Level 1 items.

If you hack an enemy portal, you will get 100 AP, and you might also get some of the stuff.  And it'll attack you with a lightning bolt that will drain some of your XM.

Other players don't show up on your map at all.  Ever.  There is zero direct player interaction in the game.  It's all about trying to claim portals for your team.

So what do the other items do?  Well, if you're next to a friendly portal, you can upgrade it by placing resonators (unless it already has eight of them) or portal shields (unless it already has four of them).  If you are able to place a higher level than is already there, it will allow you to do so.

If you are next to an enemy portal, you can set off your XMP Bursters, which do damage to enemy resonators.  If you are level one, you will want close to 200 Bursters before making an attempt on any of the portals you'll find, though.  Because you do less damage to higher level portals.

You can also link portals, if you have keys.  The links can't pass through existing links, however, so by creating a link, you are potentially blocking your allies form forming better links.  And, if you link enough portals, you can create a control field, which gains points for your team.  Oh - and resonators (which are how you control portals) decay over time.  Roughly 10% per day.

So what are the flaws in the game, and how can they be fixed?

1)  Not Enough Portals Exist - They are already asking users to submit possible portal locations which will fix this issue.

2) Level One Players Will Never Get Anywhere - It takes 10,000 AP to go up to Level 2.  Seriously.  You get 100 AP for successfully hacking an enemy portal, and some AP for successfully linking portals.  Unfortunately, most of the portals are already linked.

Having a portal key means you can send XM to that portal as its resonators degrade - but you don't get any AP for basic maintenance.  If Ingress gave AP for recharging portals, then lower-level players would have a reason to help out.  Low-level players should also gain AP just for doing damage to resonators, not just taking them out. Because right now, there's no point to my setting off bursters.

3) Items Are Not Explained Well - I set off an XMP Burster in a parking lot, once, just to see what it did. It took me a week to figure out how to add a Portal Shield to one of our portals.

4) All Portals Are Equal - If I'm a Level Eight player and I happen to wander through Podunk, Idaho, I can take out the enemy resonators and install Level Eight resonators of my own with no problem.  And it'll take months for them to hit Level Two just hacking me repeatedly - and years for them to take the portal down if I keep it updated.  I have effectively claimed Podunk, Idaho for my faction until someone higher level from their faction wanders through and does the same thing in reverse (which keeps the locals from gaining any AP).

If some portals were "locked" at lower levels, then this wouldn't be possible.  When I hit Level Two, there is no reason for me to carry Level One Resonators anymore.  By limiting some portals to lower levels, suddenly the lower-level players have portals they can fight over.  Since portals reportedly stop dropping lower level resonators as I level up, it's not a portal I can claim - yes, I can use my Level Eight XMP Burster to known their stuff down, but I'll need someone from our side at a lower level to reclaim the portal.

Google has been recording our movements in the game, too.  And they know how many keys for each portal exist in the world.  Maybe if the very high-traffic portals were locked at a lower level, it'd help out the lower-level players, too.  Maybe limit the remote portals to being at about the same level as the player or players nearby, too.

5) Player Interaction - I realize that this is a privacy concern. But I'd like to see other players on my map. Maybe players would only show when they have the app active - it means some sort of popup clickthrough when loading the app, but I'd be okay with that.  But I'd like to be able to give my stuff away.  I'd like to be able to see who in a crowd is playing and who isn't.  Even if it only showed me friendlies, that'd be something.  As it is, the only interaction I'm getting is via the forums that the Seattle Resistance has set up.  I'm lucky - I live in an area with a lot of portals and some very active (and creative) players.

So would I recommend Ingress to new players?  No.  If you get an invite, don't squander it - but don't expect to enjoy the game, yet, either.

I have a hunch it'll get better over time, but it's just not there, yet.