Game Designer Mitsuo Yamamoto Launched 20 Games in Four Years. Here's His Advice for Up-and-Coming Creators.
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We asked the Japanese creator how he built an international community on Kickstarter and what advice he has for first-time creators.
It was the biggest event of the year for Japan's board game creators: Tokyo Game Market. In the midst of the buzz was Mitsuo Yamamoto, a veteran game creator with 20 projects—and lots of trial-and-error experience—under his belt.
The greater Tokyo-based designer launched his first project in 2015, and has since developed a solid community around his slew of abstract games, which he handcrafts in wood and ceramics. With dedicated backings from gamers around the world, he's also drawn on his abundant knowledge and experience to lead Kickstarter workshops for new creators in Tokyo.
“Not only has Kickstarter let me connect with fans outside Japan, it's also given me a brand new awareness of my expertise as a creator,” Mitsuo said as he sat down with us at Game Market. He shared with us the best practices he's learned from his campaigns, as well as some advice for Japanese creators trying to reach audiences around the world.
What steps do you take when launching a new project?
To start with, I can't keep a campaign going for a whole month, which is the average campaign period. Creators who can pull off a month-long campaign have to be really talented at planning or running events. I know this is extreme, but I think the first three-day dash out of the blocks and the last two-day climax are enough–except that then you have people who don't see it because they're on vacation or whatever, so that's probably too short.
BoardGameGeek updates news on public crowdfunding projects every Sunday, even for tiny projects on Kickstarter or Indiegogo, so I make sure to use that to my advantage. I usually launch 12-day campaigns on Thursdays—that way the news is on BoardGameGeek three days later. I spend the next week answering backer questions and requests. Then before the final two days of the campaign, the news is up on BoardGameGeek again. That serves as a push leading into the final two days, and then it's over.
I make everything by myself, without any outsourcing, so I can take care of backer requests in real time and get it all done in a week. But for first-time creators, or creators who don't make everything themselves, you'll need to calculate the time you need for this carefully.
How do you get the word out and create a community around each project?
I make full use of Kickstarter's project update tool. Once launched, a project can last forever, so when you post an update on each project, it reaches everyone in the community. I've created 20 projects. Even if each project has only 100 fans, after 20 times that's a community of 2,000 people.
Nowadays, in the pre-launch draft stage, I make the preview page public to the community and get their feedback. I do receive helpful advice on the content, but there's a PR benefit to announcing the launch date in advance as well. My funding goal is usually around 100,000 JPY (approximately $900 USD). With advance notice, I can often hit that goal in one day. So for me personally, the race begins about a week before launch date.
My suggestion to first-time creators is to start preparing a little earlier, about a month out. For me, spending more time on a project wasn't necessarily more beneficial, so I decided to cut back and do several smaller projects instead. Now I do about four projects a year.
What's your advice for creators in Japan communicating with backers around the world?
Speed is important. If you're slow to answer your backers, they'll lose interest in your project. If someone interested in backing you asks "Does X mean Y?", even just a yes or no answer can be enough for them to go ahead and back it. It's okay if your English isn't perfect, or if you have to say "Wait a minute" while you check Google Translate. They understand you might not be great at English. As long as you're genuinely trying, it won't be a problem.
Backers have told me before, "We're not judging projects based on your English level." So there’s really no need to worry, folks!
Just one thing—do your best to do a self-intro video in English. Adding English subtitles is a good touch, too. Even if it's not great quality, your feelings as a creator will come through.
Anything important to keep in mind when shipping overseas?
My number one recommendation for shipping is to use Japan Post's International ePacket. It's cheap, you can register online, they'll print delivery slips for you, and it comes with an invoice. It's registered mail, so tracking's available, and if you include the backer's email address they'll get automatic tracking updates. The maximum weight is 2 kilograms.
For over 2 kilograms there's EMS, but that gets expensive. The invoices are also a pain. So I try to keep the weight as light as possible and use ePacket. If you want to reduce shipping fees even more, there's also SAL. It's about one-third the cost of ePacket, but there's no tracking and it takes longer. However, backers have said to me, "I'm not in that much of a hurry. Your games already arrive faster than other projects." So this year I'm using SAL and including the other shipping method as an upgrade option.
Packaging is also important. I do my best to ensure that the contents and the box alike arrive in perfect condition.
Any other tips to share with first-time creators?
I've seen creators dreaming of big money force themselves beyond their limits and vanish from the scene. Making 50 or 100 games is very different from making 1,000 or 10,000. You can store 50 games in your home. For 1,000 games, you need storage space and shipping staff. Have you accounted for that in your costs? For first-time creators, that kind of thing is hard to envision.
Here's an example: A creator from England was launching his first project. The prototype was incredibly high quality, but I was worried because the rewards and the shipping fees seemed low. The project was a success and around 100 people backed it. But sure enough, the shipping was late, and the shipped product didn't have the same quality as the prototype. Making one perfect prototype and making over 100 products at the same level of quality are two different things. His page hasn't been updated since then, and I'm afraid he might have given up.
So I recommend starting small and building up experience. You'll get a feel for workload, scheduling, and costs that way. Don't start with your dream project. I recommend starting with a test idea–then, once you've established a relationship with your backers, do the dream project. Backers will also feel safer knowing it's your second or third project and you've gained experience and trustworthiness.
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