Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Narrative Analysis of Way of the Samurai 3

In this video, game researcher Arthur Protasio describes how "narrative reincarnation" in Way of the Samurai 3 represents a series of branching narrative paths.

For an in depth analysis of the game’s narrative structure, click here.

Arthur Protasio is a writer, narrative designer, and game researcher. He runs the Rio de Janeiro IGDA chapter and believes in the equal importance of studying, criticizing, and developing games as means to understanding them as a medium of expression. His essays and games have been internationally praised and you can find him online at LudoBardo, his web series focused on game narratives.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Top Ten Tabletop Kickstarters: How They Do It

In this article, novelist and game designer Matt Forbeck weighs in on why tabletop gaming Kickstarters are outperforming video game crowdfunding campaigns.

Over at ICv2, they’ve posted a list of the top ten tabletop gaming Kickstarters of all time (um, four years now, in Kickstarter terms). They don’t offer up much in the way of analysis there, though, other than to say “tabletop game projects are among Kickstarter’s most successful categories, with five projects at over $1 million, and three over $2 million.”

All true, but why is that? Why are tabletop games outdoing even video games, which are far more popular in general?
It has to do with the economies of scale of plastic miniatures.

(If that sentence put you to sleep, move on. Now. I’m going deep here.)

Every one of those games on ICv2′s list is a game or product that features lots and lots of plastic figures or terrain. Most of them started out with a decent amount of plastic in their boxes, but as each Kickstarter grew, the producers tossed in more and more plastic bits until the drives went from “cool stuff” to “awesome bargain on cool stuff!”

The Reaper drive for their Bones figures line is a perfect example of this — and was also the top-grossing drive, raking in more than $3.4 million. Their most popular reward came if you backed them at their $100 Vampire level. At the start of the drive, that got you a total of 67 figures. By the end, you racked up 240 figures, plus a number of other neat things, like a copy of my Hard Times in Dragon City novel, which unlocked at the $3 million mark.

So how did Reaper manage to nearly quadruple the number of figures they offered while keeping the price the same? The secret’s in the plastic.

Casting metal miniatures is a labor-intensive process that involves pouring molten metal into a spin-casting machine that distributes the metal into hollow cavities cut into a vulcanized rubber mold. The molds wear out after a while, and you have to make new ones. The metal’s a little pricey, but the rubber’s cheap, so it’s a great way to make miniatures if you’re making a few thousand or less.

However, if you can sell more than that many miniatures, you should make your figures in plastic instead, as the molds for these last virtually forever and the figures only cost pennies apiece. The trouble is that the injection molds for plastic figures are cut from steel, a process that costs thousands of dollars per figure rather than dozens. A small company can’t afford to make hundreds of these molds at once, at least not without a huge cash influx.

And that’s where Kickstarter comes in. If you can get your backers to pledge enough money to cover your steel molds, then you can give them lots of figures for their money. Better yet, if you bust through your initial funding goals, you can set stretch goals for new figures and toss them into the mix for either little cost (as low-cost add-on options) or bundle them in for free.

When the Reaper drive started, the per-figure price of their Vampire level was $1.49 each, shipped to your door. That’s a phenomenal bargain when you consider that most metal fantasy gaming figures cost around $5 each — or much more if you’re into a game like Warhammer. By the time the drive was over, the per-figure price fell to under 42¢ each.

Every time Reaper’s backers broke another stretch goal, the bargain got better and better for them. That gave them lots of incentive to tell their friends about the deal and rope them into joining the drive, and the effect snowballed with each stretch goal knocked down. By the time the drive ended, it was such a fantastic deal for anyone who’d ever pushed figures around a table that it became nearly irresistible.

All of the other miniatures-based triumphs follow this same kind of model. The recent Dwarven Forge Game Tiles drive, for instance, (on which I did a little consulting) followed this to the letter, and it brought in over $1.9 million.

Most other types of Kickstarter ventures cannot pull this sort of thing off. If you’re Kickstarting a novel, for instance, it’s hard to offer lots more novels in a time frame that makes sense for most readers. Evil Hat managed something close to this by bringing in lots of authors for its Spirit of the Century novel line Kickstarter, and the strategy made that the #5 fiction drive ever. (By my count, it’s actually the #1 straight novel drive, but that’s a separate post.)

The nature of minis, though, means you want to have as many of them to play with as once as you can manage, and with enough money a producer can manage this in a reasonable amount of time. It makes it a natural niche for a top Kickstarter — if it’s run well. It’s not something just any company can pull off though. There’s a lot of hard-won knowledge, skill, and expertise that goes into running and producing a successful line of plastic figures, and Kickstarter makes for the perfect way for the people who have that particular combination of things to capitalize on it.

[This article originally appeared on Matt Forbeck's blog,] 

Matt Forbeck has been a full-time creator of award-winning games and fiction since 1989. He has twenty-six novels published to date, including the award-nominated Guild Wars: Ghosts of Ascalon and the critically acclaimed Amortals and Vegas Knights. His latest work includes the Magic: The Gathering comic book, the MMOs Marvel Heroes and Ghost Recon Online, his novel The Con Job, based on the TV show Leverage, and the Dangerous Games trilogy of thriller novels set at Gen Con. For more about him and his work, visit

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

In Russia, Game Play YOU!

In this article, game designer and producer Chris Keeling takes a detailed look at the Russian video game market.

The Russian-speaking audience of today is very similar to the Western market of the 1990’s. Since most people reading this are already familiar with the current Western market, I will focus on the nuances of the former-USSR (mostly Russia, being the largest and best example) rather than the Western player base.


The penetration of technology in general, and the internet in particular, especially for games, is much lower in Eastern Europe than in the West, although it is growing rapidly. While broadband connections are available to nearly 100% of Americans and over 80% of us use them, only 43% of Russians are online at home, up to about 50% when you include mobile devices. The rarity of games and consoles affects their price as well, and they cost about double here what they cost in the US. PC ownership is still fairly high, although Russians typically keep their computers longer and lag behind the West in early adoption of technology. This tends to focus games in Russia away from consoles and toward PC and online games, particularly games that can be downloaded and that don’t have high system requirements.

Disposable Income

The average income in Russia is around $790 per month (over twice what it is in Belarus!), which is less than a third of the US average. Although food costs tend to be fairly low, finished goods are expensive, including clothes, cars, and other goods considered necessities in the West. Even with the low prices for food, the proportion of income spent on subsistence remains quite high – around 35% of total income (vs. about 6% in the US). The combination of high prices and low income leads to a lower standard of living in general, and widespread dissatisfaction with work and life. For the game industry, this leads to increased popularity among free to play (F2P) games and extremely high levels of piracy for retail box games.

Gamer Profile

Unlike the West, where we are finally seeing more and more female gamers, the Russian gamer is still 95% likely to be male. They typically play for socialization, to experience consumption, and as an escape from their hard lives. Russians visit social media sites like Facebook and vKontakte far more often than any other cultural group in the world. For many, their connection to the outside world through the internet is their lifeline. Because of this, games that include a social aspect are popular, especially those that include competition and cooperation as primary features. Russian players are natural clan-builders. Also, unlike the West (where sports games are cool, shooters are mainstream, and everything else is shunned as nerdy), Russians see historical and strategy games as more acceptable, while Americans see these genres as even geekier, on practically the same level as fantasy MMORPGs.

Gamer Culture

The crux of the matter lies here, where player expectations are vastly different. The combination of high cost, low availability, and piracy mean that Russian gamers are more tech-savvy, used to playing games made for other markets that have been hacked and are run from an ISO on a virtual drive. Even after they manage to get the game, they have to figure out how to play it, with no manual and no way to contact support. They’re true hackers – and once they find a game they like, they stick to it, play it with their friends, and pass it around. They take their gaming seriously. The hardcore gamer drives the Siberian Express over here, and prospective publishers should keep that in mind. On the other hand, the growth of F2P and online games means that games are becoming more accessible to (and less pirated by) more players in this region, reducing barriers to entry.

So there you have it. The Russian audience has limited access to current technology, internet penetration is relatively low, money is tight, prices are high, life is hard, and they are willing to crawl across broken glass to play good games, as long as they’re cheap. As I said at the beginning, this is very much like the Western market of the 1990’s. But at least we know exactly where this market is headed, and it won’t take them 15 years to catch up!

[This article was adapted from Chris Keeling's blog, A Connecticut Yankee.] 

Chris Keeling is the Director of Product Vision for Wargaming.Net in charge of the the design and production in the Americas, and occasionally lends his design sensibilities to Wargaming.Net's awesome free-to-play online games made in other countries. For more excitement, see his woefully outdated portfolio at

Thursday, July 4, 2013

July 2013: Social Impact Games

Last month, I attended the 10th anniversary of the Games For Change Festival in New York City. It's hard to believe 10 years have already passed since idealistic game developers came together with the idea that games could promote social change. There was so much variety at G4C13, so many different topics, and lastly, so much excitement from funders!  The National Endowment for the Arts is currently seeking worthy game projects to support, as it did for the Half the Sky Movement Facebook game.

In my book co-authored with David Michael, Serious Games: Games That Educate, Train, and Inform, we discussed social impact games briefly under the category of Political or Art Games.  On GDAM, we have touched upon this topic while discussing Mature Games and Game-Based Learning.  Asi Burak, Co-President of Games for Change, even contributed to GDAM with this article on the topic of No More War Games?.

So I find it surprising that GDAM has never had a topic about social impact games.  Call them games for good, games for change, "earnest" games, serious games etc. -- these are all about games that strive to better the world and bring about social change.

As noted at G4C13, there are myriad issues of concern:  measuring impact, reaching out and finding unheard stories (much like Half the Sky Movement did), funding, accessibility, as well as design concerns.

Do you have a story to tell about social impact games?

I invite readers to submit an article on this topic.  Please read the submission guidelines first.  Thanks!