January 31st, 2012 § § permalink
I started this article a long time ago and it’s sat in my drafts folder for months. I’m working on the same task today and figured I would finish what I had written about the subject and get it out there, instead of waiting until I could finish everything I want to write on the subject.
I’m working on playtest kits for some card games right now. It’s not my first time doing so, but I think it’s my smartest time. Here’s some notes on how to build playtest kits more easily.
What are the goal of playtest kits? Playtesting the game, of course! You want to spend as much time as possible playing and analyzing that play, and less time building and rebuilding kits.Here’s some priorities when breaking that down:
Playtest kits should be:
- As easy to make as possible.
- Quick to modify on the fly.
- An accurate representation of the current state of the game rules and all card text.
- A factual representation of the physical game item (correct colors, rough icons, etc.)
Here’s the game-specific stuff you need to build a playtest kit:
- A spreadsheet or database that contains all the necessary information for each card.
- A list of how many of each card you need to print.
- Printable cards, 9 per page. There are a million ways to turn your spreadsheet/database into a printable page like this. As you can probably guess, I use InDesign for this. Data merge is hot!
- A copy of the rules to be printed. These rules should be in a state where a group of people who have never played the game can lean the game from them.
Here’s the stuff you’ll need from your Game Designer’s Toolkit:
A whole bunch of excess cards from dead CCGs. Go to your local game store and say “Hey, I need a 800-count box of the absolute worst, dead, totally terrible CCG cards you can get me, from a variety of terrible CCGs.” Your game store clerk will say “Are you serious?” and you say “Yup! What do you want for them?” You should be able to get this box of cards for 10 bucks or less—many game stores have boxes of these cards that haven’t sold in years. If the store offers to sell you more and you have the storage space, go for it. You want the games from a variety of CCGs to make your different playtest sets easier to tell apart if you use clear sleeves.
A smaller bunch of CCG sleeves. There are two routes to take with this: the cheap clear sleeves that Ultra Pro sells for a penny each, or the nicer colored/opaque/textured sleeves that typically run about 5 cents each, retail. Advantages to the penny sleeves: they are cheap and you can use different CCG cards in them to easily distinguish between different types of cards in your game. Advantages to the more expensive sleeves: they typically shuffle better, slide around less, and can take more wear and tear. I prefer the Ultra Pro matte sleeves, as they’re quite durable and don’t get marked very easily. You’ll need a few different colored types of sleeves to distinguish between different types of cards (or different games, or different versions of games.) If you want the nicer sleeves but are on a budget, ask your local game store to sell you all the sleeves that, for whatever reason, have not sold well to the local player community. If you’re willing to take those slow-moving sleeves off their hands, they may well cut you a bargain. They might also have a bunch of used sleeves that they’ll sell to you cheaply—many people who sell off their CCG collections leave the cards sleeved, and so stores end up with boxes of these used sleeves (if they don’t just throw them away.)
Cheap printer paper. This paper will be going inside a sleeve and against a card, so it doesn’t need to be sturdy. I think I paid $16 for 2500 sheets last time I bought paper: if each of those sheets turned into 9 playtest cards, that’s 22,500 playtest cards you can build before you need more paper.
A printer. I have a HP 2605dn color laserjet. Being able to do color is very useful in playtesting, and the cost savings over time for a laserjet printer are very clear over an inkjet.
A paper cutter or scissors. You’re going to be cutting a bunch of paper, and a proper paper cutter will make your life better. A paper shredder for all those scraps is great too, if you’re not a recycler.
A bunch of counters. Most games require counters of some sort, for life or other resources. During playtests, poker chips usually do a great job of this. If you’re getting fancy, print out graphics and glue them to both sides of a poker chip.
Sharpies in a couple different colors for annotating cards during play or between sessions. Reprint them when the annotations become more confusing than the lack of them!
Print all the cards, cut them out, fill every sleeve with a CCG card, and then add the paper cards. Double-check the proxies with your list of cards, and you’re good to go!
One final word on organizing this stuff: make sure all of your playtest files have dates on them, and keep all the physical components in a single bag/box/container, with a list of everything that should be in it and the playtest kit date/revision number. There are some large deck storage boxes designed for Magic: The Gathering that are big enough to fit 100+ cards and some other components, or you can simply use the smaller white 400-count card storage boxes.
This may seem like a lot of stuff to buy and have kicking around, but you can get it all for under $50, and most of it is reusable!
December 22nd, 2011 § § permalink
You can download the Thousand Suns Character Sheet right here from DriveThruRPG. Of course, if you buy the PDF, you have a copy of it â€¦ and if you buy a print copy, you get add the PDF on for only $5. But you might want this file anyway.
December 20th, 2011 § § permalink
Just before the holidays, PDF, softcover, and hardcover versions of Thousand Suns Rulebook are now available. I did the cover and interior design on this project, and all the production.
It’s been interesting working on a sci-fi game that is so different from Eclipse Phase, and also working on such a setting-light game. I think we did a sweet job of showing the setting style through art, captions, and examples without being too heavy-handed.
This is the first new release for James Maliszewski’s Grognardia Games, and I’m excited to see it live!
There is a nice preview—including the first chapter and the entire Table of Contents—available via OneBookShelf, so check it out!
It is a time of wonder.
Humanity has reached the stars and created a society of glittering sophistication and diversity on hundreds of planets. Poets declaim, lovers rendezvous, and rakes duel with wits and monoblades. Colonists settle virgin worlds, merchant princes vie for emerging markets, and free traders hawk their exotic wares. The Navy rules the jumplines, putting down pirates and charting new star systems. Scientists uncover startling new truths on long-dead worlds and posit revolutionary theories dizzying in their implications. Technology advances at a rapid pace, each year improving the lot of all who accept its boons. None dare deny the bright destiny Man has seized for himself.
It is a time of upheaval.
The inhabited galaxy-the Thousand Suns-teeters on the brink of chaos. Half a millennium since the Concord, and a generation since the bloody Civil War, the dynamism that ended the Age of Warring States is sorely tested. Diplomats try new gambits, shifting their ground for an unknown future. On dozens of worlds across known space, the lights are going out again and the process of decivilization begins anew. Despots and tyrants who would rather lord it over benighted backwaters than bend their knee to even a distant authority, arise once more. At the edges of explored space, rivals-both human and alien-watch and wait.
It is a time of glory.
Victorious fleets smash enemy armadas in distant star systems. Soldiers parade through liberated planets to alien cheers. Sector governors draw up breathtaking visions of terraforming and orbital cities. New jumplines open to the heart of unex- plored space, daring the bold to venture into the unknown for profit and peril. Surveyors stumble upon lost colonies and puzzle out the mysteries of inscrutable clades. Captains with blazing eyes save worlds from barbarism-and rule them as gods. Daring thieves turn new technologies to unexpected ends or sell them to shadowy cartels on the fringes of known space.
Meanwhile, bold operatives seek out these criminal plans for reprisal. Everything is possible with enough beauty, brains, or blasters, and it’s all within reach of a single jump.
It is a time of adventure.
November 2nd, 2011 § § permalink
August 12th, 2011 § § permalink
My company, Posthuman Studios, will have a Gen Con 2011 report soon. We went, we made money, we drank, we had meetings, we played games.
I kissed a troll.
May 31st, 2011 § § permalink
I was at the InDesignSecretsLive Print and ePublishing 2011 conference last week, and did a five minute Ignite speech talking about my publishing philosophy, Posthuman Studios, and Eclipse Phase. Regular readers of my blog will be familiar with many of those principles, but I have a sexy slideshow available for download.
I wrote way too much text for a five minute speech, but I had fun and got a lot of nice reactions to it from a crowd of people largely unfamiliar with roleplaying games and their particular publishing niche.
If you were at PepCon and want to chat about the things I said or toss ideas around, there are a ton of ways to get in contact with me!
March 28th, 2011 § § permalink
I have a large number of extra BattleTech books. Books that I worked hard on, books that I’m proud of. But, they are extras, and I need some cash and space in my office more than I need them.
So here’s the deal&mdashlpick a book from the list below (all full-color hardcovers, except for the coveted FedCom Civil War):
25 Years of Art and Fiction
Fedcom Civil War
Email me — email@example.com (subject line: “BattleTech books” please), telling me which book you want from that list. I’ll reply to confirm that it’s still available. You then zap me $75USD via PayPal. I’ll send you the book and three other softcover BattleTech books. North American shipping included. You can send me a list of softcover books that you would like, and I’ll do my best to fill them, first come, first served.
Don’t want additional softcovers? Want more books? Make an offer!
And here’s a list of the softcovers I have:
Masters and Minions: the Starcorps Dossiers
Starterbook: Sword and Dragon
Starterbook: Wolf and Blake
Jihad Hot Spots 3072
Jihad Hot Spots 3076
Record Sheets: 3039
Record Sheets: 3067
Record Sheets: MechWarrior Dark Age
Aerotech 2 Record Sheets
Aerotech 2 Revised
Handbook: Major Periphery States
Handbook: House Marik
Field Manual: Periphery
Field Manual: Updates
Field Manual: Mercenaries
Mercenaries Supplemental II
A Guide to Covert Ops
War of 3039
Classic BattleTech Companion
Map Set 7
February 16th, 2011 § § permalink
We at Posthuman Studios have published our Year End Review 2010. It’s lengthy, contains sales figures for Eclipse Phase, discusses our successes and failures in 2010, and speculates on 2011 a little bit. Enjoy!
January 3rd, 2011 § § permalink
A disclaimer: I wrote most of this post before Adamant Entertainment announced they were re-pricing all of their PDFs at $1, or what Gareth dubbed the “app-pricing” model. I think the approach is interesting, but this post is not a “response” to his decision … although I am incredibly curious as to how it turns out, of course!
If you are publishing a niche RPG—material not compatible with Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder—you should maximize your profits by not underpricing your exclusive electronic releases. An “exclusive electronic release” is material not available in print (not including true Print on Demand, but including short run printing) or that don’t have costs subsidized in a substantial way.
So, by way of example:
A PDF or other electronic title sold on OneBookShelf (DriveThruRPG/RPGNow) gives the publisher 70% of sale price (65% if the publisher is not an exclusive vendor). This means a five dollar title leaves the publisher with $3.50; a two dollar title $1.40.
I think that Eclipse Phase has proved that low price points on electronic core rulebooks can lead to a raise in the number of sales—enough to make up for the difference in per-unit profit. Customers are interested in saving 10 bucks (typical RPG electronic core rulebooks are 20-25 or even more, while Eclipse Phase is 15) and much more willing to try a new game if it’s inexpensive—but supplements are most often sold to existing customers, people who already like your game. They already perceive themselves as invested* (time, money, emotion) in your game, and so a difference of a few dollars is less likely to make a negative impact in your sales. However, it can make a big difference in how much money you have to invest in the projects … And the amount of profit you end up making.
An Eclipse Phase PDF project like Continuity has a total budget of $800. It breaks down like this:
Writing: 200 (5000 words at four cents a word)
Editing: 200 (this covers a copy-edit and dev-edit pass from Rob Boyle. He deserves a raise on this.)
Layout: 100 (I do all the layout and maps in-house.)
Art: 300 (2 to 3 pieces, playing the same as we pay for artwork destined for print.)
There is no budget for “other stuff” yet … so for example, in Continuity, the audio files we included came out of the art budget.
This means that we need to sell 229 copies of a $5 exclusive electronic release to break even. Priced at $2, we would have to sell 572 copies just to break even. What if we sold 572 copies at 5 bucks? Profit of $2002—enough to fund two and a half more releases. Now, our exclusive electronic releases aren’t making huge profits yet, but we are breaking even relatively quickly—and we have a formula for, at the least, supplying the fanbase with a steady flow of material!
* I try not to use the words “invest” or “invested” when talking about my hobbies. I feel that it’s too loaded. But that’s a personal thing.
December 3rd, 2010 § § permalink
PlainText is a great little tool for the iPad; a simple text editor that syncs everything to a Dropbox folder. I’ve been using it to scribble notes and start blog posts while away from the computer lately, and very much enjoying the experience. The iOS 4.2 update has really cranked up the iPad in my eyes, making it more of a tool and less of a gadget. I’ve stopped using my Sony Reader entirely; iBooks and the iPad is more convenient.
Our next hardcover book, Gatecrashing, is at the printers now. The introductory fiction from it, An Infinite Horizon, by Steve Mohan, is available for sale in two different ways: PDF/ePub/Mobi bundle from DriveThruRPG and directly from the Amazon Kindle store. It should be $0.99 no matter where you buy it, but the Kindle store jacks up prices if you’re outside of the USA, so I suggest overseas customers get the PDF/ePub/Mobi version.
More Gatecrashing previews will hit the Eclipse Phase site soon.
We also released Continuity, a funky adventure where … oh, no, I’m not going to spoil it for you. Here’s the tagline:
The characters, researchers on a remote outpost, check in for a backup—and awaken in new bodies to discover two weeks of their lives are missing. They have limited time to find out what happened to their previous selves—and deal with a looming threat.
It’s a $5 PDF, in both landscape and portrait formats, with original artwork (Including a great piece from new-to-EP artist Anna Christenson, maps, and audio snippets by J.C. Hutchins (read what he has to say about it.) and Mur Lafferty.