Update Posted by Jonathan Liu, Designer
Wow, thanks to everyone for a great launch day! Things got delayed a little last week putting all the finishing touches on the videos and the page, but we're finally up and running.
Today, I'd like to share two things with you: Meet the Artist, and my first Designer Diary entry. As we announce the other artists involved in Emperor's New Clothes, I'll give you a little info here and links so you can check out other things they've worked on. The Designer Diary is to peel back the curtain a little and show you the (admittedly weird) inner workings of my mind and what I was hoping to accomplish when designing Emperor's New Clothes.
Meet the Artist: John Kovalic
For over sixteen years, John Kovalic has been drawing Dork Tower, a comic strip about gaming and other geeky pursuits. He's also well known in the tabletop gaming world for his illustrations on Munchkin and the various expansions. He even did the artwork for another Kickstarter project that launched the same day as Emperor's New Clothes, a color edition of Kobolds Ate My Baby! A few years ago as a special treat for our GeekDad panel at PAX Prime, he even drew caricatures of all the panelists, and I was flattered to be turned into a Munchkin.
But what you may not know about John is that he's actually a muskrat. I mean, it's not like he keeps it a secret: his Twitter handle is @muskrat_john and his avatar is a drawing of Carson, the muskrat from Dork Tower. Sure it's a cartoon and not an actual photo, but it's true nonetheless. And if you think about it, that makes it all the more impressive that he's had such an acclaimed career as a cartoonist and illustrator. I mean, really, do muskrats even have opposable thumbs? Does he draw with the pencil in his mouth? It's a closely guarded secret, I'll tell you that much.
Some of you are saying, waitaminnit, I've met John Kovalic, and he's this tall, very friendly human, not a short muskrat. Well, I'm sorry to break the news to you, but that man is an actor hired by John to portray him in public, named Roy L. Nonesuch. He's been playing the role for years, long enough that he's learned to imitate John's drawing style, but if you look really closely at those signatures and sketches you've gotten from him and compare them to the real deal, you'll notice some subtle differences. I've got nothing against Roy, really! He's a very friendly guy—I met him at Maker Faire a few years ago and enjoyed playing some board games with him and talking about the real John Kovalic, who was back at the studio working on another Munchkin expansion at the time. That's part of the reason he's been able to be so prolific: with all of his public appearances delegated to Roy, John has more time to devote to his work. And Twitter.
When I was searching for an artist for Emperor's New Clothes, John was one of the first that came to mind. Certainly I was banking on name recognition to give my own project a boost, but for a game in which humor plays a central role, I knew I could count on John to inject his special brand of humor into the game.
Designer Diary: Baiting the Hook
My younger daughter joined Girl Scouts this year, and (as you may have noticed) it's cookie season now. I've been helping her sell cookies for her troop: accompanying her as she goes door-to-door in our neighborhood, hitting up friends at game night, setting up in the fellowship hall after church. One of the things that struck me is how easy it is to sell Girl Scout cookies. People will just throw money at you for a box of Samoas. One friend of ours, who lives in Senegal, was even willing to pay shipping if we'd send her a case of Thin Mints.
Of course, this got me thinking. What is it about Girl Scout cookies that makes them so desirable, that has people buying them year after year, stocking up and storing them in the freezer to last until the next cookie season? (Okay, maybe that's just me.) I mean, sure, they're tasty cookies, but at $4 a box, they really aren't cheap. And, yes, by buying cookies you know you're supporting the Girl Scouts programs, so you feel good about doing that — but I guarantee that if they were going door-to-door selling magazine subscriptions you wouldn't get the same results, benefits to the GSA notwithstanding.
Really, it's all about the emotional attachment we have to the cookies. For some, it's remembering when you were a Girl Scout, selling cookies door to door and being thrilled to see yet another generation of girls following in your footsteps. For others, it's just the memory of sitting down with a plate of those peanut butter sandwich cookies and a glass of milk. Whatever the case, most people aren't just buying a box of cookies: they're buying a complex combination of nostalgia and sentiment which happens to look like a package of treats.
So why am I telling you all this?
Well, backing a Kickstarter project is a lot like buying Girl Scout cookies. It's not a simple matter of exchanging money for goods. Ben Kuchera noted in The Penny Arcade Report: "The unfortunate truth is that many backers of game projects are buying the ability to wait 18 months to play a mediocre game." This was meant to describe video game projects, but it could also apply to tabletop game projects as well.
When I look at Kickstarter projects, I know that, despite the tangible rewards that I'll get at some point down the road, I'm not just buying that product. I'm not doing a cost-benefit analysis based on the final market value of the physical goods — I'm buying a story, an idea, a vision. How else would you explain why somebody would pay money now for a product they haven't seen in person and won't even receive for several months (or a year or more)?
The first Kickstarter project I ever backed was Inevitable, a board game set in a dystopian future, sort of a mash-up between The Game of Life and Smash TV. I found out about it because I was already a fan of some of Jonathan Leistiko's other games, and thought this was an intriguing way to get a board game published. I spent $75 to get a copy of the game (and my name in the rulebook), which now seems somewhat absurd for a game I've only played a handful of times. But despite the fact that it hardly ever hits the table these days, I'm reluctant to trade or sell it off. Why? It's my first Kickstarter reward! That emotional attachment, more than anything, is why I have it. It's not the game itself, but the story attached to it, that I value most.
For Emperor's New Clothes, I know you can look at the list of components, and you can go check out the rules and print and play, but know that those things are only part of the whole picture. The physical rewards are just the bait, the worm on the end of the hook — but my story is the hook.
I hope you'll be hooked!