I Backed a Backer: The Emperor’s New Clothes

8 March 2013 | 15 Comments

emp 1Today I have a special interview with one of the editors of Wired’s Geek Dad blog, Jonathan Liu. I “met” Jonathan back during the Viticulture campaign in one of those personalize thank-you notes I’ve been writing about in the Kickstarter Lessons. At first I embarrassingly confused his blog with the Father Geek blog, but Jonathan was understanding about the mistake.

Jonathan has written about numerous Kickstarter campaigns, and he finally launched one of his own earlier this week. You can read all about it in the interview below. I’d also recommend checking out Update #3 on his Kickstarter project page, which explains the type of “game” this is.

1. Can you describe your game in a few sentences?

My game is based on the classic tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and in the game you’ll get to take on the roles of characters from the story: the Emperor, the swindlers, the child, and various townsfolk and nobility in between. I’m really striving to make a game in which the mechanics and the theme really match each other.

emp 2 2. What is your favorite mechanic in the game?

Some of this may change based on whether we hit certain stretch goals, because there are some things that I’d love to include but it depends on if we can afford to have a larger game. But the core of the game, the part that’s in the base game, is a combination of press-your-luck and role selection. I love hidden roles and trying to figure out what other people are up to, and I love press-your-luck and rolling dice, so those are two elements that I definitely wanted to include.

3. What are three games that, if people really like those games, they’ll love your game?

That’s tricky, since my game is a mixture of some traditional mechanics but it also requires the players to use their imaginations, and deception is a key part of it as well. Maybe Balderdash, The Resistance, and Mao.

4. Whenever I design a game and playtest it, the reality is always very different than how it played out in my mind. What was the biggest disconnect between your vision and the reality of playtesting, and how did you solve it?

I know what you mean—I’ve got a couple other incomplete game designs where I’ve really felt that tension between what I want to happen in the game and what actually happens when you finally play it. With Emperor’s New Clothes, surprisingly, it really seemed like things fell into place, and for the most part the playtesting has been really fulfilling. However, I do think it’s one of those games that works well with certain gaming groups and just falls flat with others. While I’d love to make a game that’s universally beloved, I think for this one I’d rather make it incredibly fun for the particular audience that gets it.

emp 45. What are a few key elements and principles you incorporated into your project that you think future Kickstarter creators could benefit from knowing?

Oh, there’s so much I could put here, and we’ll find out how well I’ve actually internalized the lessons. Having followed and backed over 150 projects so far, I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of the sorts of things that can go wrong, even when a campaign is successful, and I’m trying to avoid those things. For my first project, a lot of that is going to be relying on the expertise of Game Salute, which has run many successful campaigns and already has contacts for printing board games and distribution channels so I don’t have to figure that all out myself.

6. Because of your experience with Geek Dad, you know Kickstarter projects–games in particular–better than most. Now that you’re running your own campaign, what is the piece of your own advice that you found the most difficult to follow?

Well, I thought I’d given myself plenty of time to prepare, but at the last minute I was still sending out emails, frantically trying to get my ducks in a row. My timing is partly influenced by the fact that I’ve got a baby on the way; either I would run my campaign before her birthday, or I’d probably need to postpone for a long time. I ended up with a shorter window than I probably would recommend for project creators. If it doesn’t succeed, well, I guess I’ll have more time to prepare next time around!

Intrigued? You should go check out the Kickstarter campaign for The Emperor’s New Clothes.

UPDATE (from Jamey): A few people have asked me why I’m supporting this project. My answer is in the comments, but I’m going to paste my answer here as well.

There are two reasons why I’m backing Jonathan’s project and featuring him on this blog:

1. Jonathan backed Viticulture and became an extremely invaluable connection to Viticulture’s success. I’m committed to supporting my backers. It may not always mean that I back their projects or interview them on the blog, but that commitment to show some form of support to the dreams of those who made my dream a reality is really important to me.

2. There are projects that I consider sham projects on Kickstarter. Take the Death Star project. They’re not going to make a Death Star. Backers are literally getting nothing from that project. It’s cute and funny and they make it clear that it’s a sham, but it’s still a sham.

Jonathan’s project is different. Backers are going to get an tangible game if they back his project–rather, game components, but they will get something in their hands. If that weren’t the case, I wouldn’t have posted this blog entry. I’m not going to support imaginary projects. But this project will give me something tangible–in fact, I look forward to using these components for prototypes.

Now, to me the question is: Is Jonathan making it clear enough to backers that this is a joke? I think he toes a fine line there. And you’re right, it’s all about trust–Jonathan may lose all trust in him if some backers think that they’re getting an actual game (after all, not everyone is going to read the update that says “This is not a game”). That trust is for Jonathan to gain or lose.

What do you think?

15 Comments on “I Backed a Backer: The Emperor’s New Clothes

  1. Hi Jamey

    Have you looked at the fiasco going on in the Up Front Kickstarter project. Up Front raised almost $340,000 and it appears likely that the supporters will never see the game. Evidently, Valley games owed Phil Sauer close to a quarter million dollars in unpaid loans, and Phil got a judge to freeze Valley Games and Radiant Games assets until the mess is sorted out. It has a real stink about it. I personally am into Rik Falch for about $200 for Airborne in You Pocket and Up Front and don’t expect to see either product. That being said, a $340,000 financial loss for supporters will not likely go unnoticed and there will likely be some blow back onto Kickstarter. I have already seen a few people post that they will never support a Kickstarter project again. It is really hard for me to determine if this was really just bad decisions, or if there was any fraud involved, but some actions by the project creator within the last couple of weeks makes it hard to think it was just bad decisions.

    Since you have been writing your series on Kickstarter lessons, I thought you mighy look into this as a potential Kickstarter lesson.

    Best regards

    Bob

    Sent from my iPad

    1. Robert,

      Wow, that is crazy! I hadn’t heard about that. That is quite a significant project to not deliver. So you don’t even think you’ll receive Airborne in Your Pocket? That funded way back in September. I don’t think there’s any excuse for not delivering that one.

      Honestly, I think projects like that should give the money back to the backers if they can’t deliver at all (if they deliver late, that’s unfortunate, but I don’t think that’s a reason to refund).

      It saddens me a bit that some backers of Up Front would take the one-size-fits-all approach, though. Just because one creator doesn’t deliver (a terrible thing, to be sure) doesn’t mean that the thousands of other creators out there won’t deliver.

      I understand that the backers are looking to Kickstarter as the source of all these problems, which I don’t think is fair to Kickstarter. Imagine if Kickstarter had to verify the viability of every project and creator. So many project creators are first timers–like, I’ve never manufactured a board game before, so would they have approved Viticulture? Perhaps a middle ground would be a credit check. It could benefit everyone to weed out project creators who are trying to use Kickstarter to cover their own debt.

      Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Bob.

      Jamey

  2. I have to admit, I get the joke, but I don’t think it’s funny. I’m a bit sorry to see all these people I respect throwing their credibility and reputations behind an elaborate sham. It definitely diminishes those folks in my eyes, and it’s killing me that you’re in on it too. If Jonathan Liu takes a single dime from anyone with this project, there are a lot of people I will never deal with again. Abuse of community trust when it’s so hard to build — you talk about this!! — is just not worth a cheap April Fool’s joke, in my opinion. I get that we should all “lighten up” and laugh at ourselves sometimes, but the Emperor’s New Clothes feels like a very mean-spirited way to do it. Based on some private conversations I’ve had with local friends and friends on BGG, I am far from the only one who feels this way… those people are just turning away from Kickstarter altogether, as it already feels “risky” to them… I hope everyone involved has considered the backlash that is possible with a project like this.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I completely respect your opinion, and I hope you’ll give me the opportunity to explain. There are two reasons why I’m backing Jonathan’s project and featuring him on this blog:

      1. Jonathan backed Viticulture and became an extremely invaluable connection to Viticulture’s success. I’m committed to supporting my backers. It may not always mean that I back their projects or interview them on the blog, but that commitment to show some form of support to the dreams of those who made my dream a reality is really important to me.

      2. There are projects that I consider sham projects on Kickstarter. Take the Death Star project. They’re not going to make a Death Star. Backers are literally getting nothing from that project. It’s cute and funny and they make it clear that it’s a sham, but it’s still a sham.

      Jonathan’s project is different. Backers are going to get an actual game if they back his project–rather, game components, but they will get something in their hands. If that weren’t the case, I wouldn’t have posted this blog entry. I’m not going to support imaginary projects. This project will give me something tangible–in fact, I look forward to using these components for prototypes.

      Now, to me the question is: Is Jonathan making it clear enough to backers that this is a joke? I think he toes a fine line there. And you’re right, it’s all about trust–Jonathan may lose all trust in him if some backers think that they’re getting an actual game (after all, not everyone is going to read the update that says “This is not a game”).

      Of course, your comment makes me worry about the trust and faith the backers placed in me–everything I’ve done has worked towards building and maintaining that trust. Is this post going to ruin all that hard work?

      Jamey

      1. Hi, Jamey, just FYI the “This Is Not a Game” update is about ARGs, in which the phrase “This Is Not a Game” is often used as a sort of mantra in-game. I don’t actually say in that update that Emperor’s New Clothes is not a game.

    2. Hi, I will be addressing this on the project page but I want to make one point here. You’re right—running a Kickstarter campaign for a cheap April Fool’s joke is not worth it. That’s why my project is not a cheap April Fool’s joke.

      There’s an assumption that you look at the project page, you scroll down, and then you’ve gotten the joke. Ok, so what am I saving for April 1, then? Why not run this Kickstarter ON April 1 instead, make some noise, and then pull it down?

      I have been told it seems mean-spirited, so I’m working on my approach. I know that not everyone will be reading my updates, particularly those who do think that this surface joke is all there is, but there’s only so much I can put on the front page, and only so much that people are actually reading anyway.

      But rest assured that I would not be staking my credibility, nor asking Game Salute to risk their reputation, just for a few people to have a good laugh.

      If it feels risky to you, then by all means do not back it. Kickstarter is not a place for people who want a “sure thing,” something that isn’t “risky.” I’ve risked thousands of dollars backing projects. I backed a board game about wine making from somebody who had never published a board game and I don’t even like wine, because I could see this was a person who had a dream and wanted to pursue it. Have each of my bets paid off? No, some of the games and books and things I’ve received have been terrible. Some haven’t arrived after two years of waiting. But I’m a dreamer, and I’m not going to quit Kickstarter because of one bad egg.

      Jonathan

      1. Well said, Jonathan, and thank you for chiming in. It’s tough to take criticism, and I admire that you’re willing to engage people about it.

        Also, that wine game guy sounds familiar…

    3. Perhaps you would enjoy my thoughts on the subject. Though I too generally agree with Jamey’s impeccable taste on all things board games, I too found myself at loggerheads on this one (though perhaps not as ardently as you.)

      https://caffeineforge.com/2013/03/06/naked-truth/

      I wouldn’t support this project, but acknowledge it is a legitimate project. I find it helps to think of it as a novelty item (or board game prototyping kit) instead of an actual game. In this case, what you see is very much what you get.

  3. Speaking as someone who supported Balance of Powers (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/balanceofpowers/balance-of-powers) — a game which is all story, and has not had new content in 2 months — I completely applaud Emperor’s New Clothes. I am getting a lot of joy out of the continuing saga. Yes, there are a bunch of in-jokes about the nature of kickstarter projects, but that same satire can be applied to exactly any situation

    I am living in the moment, hoping Mr. Liu’s crazy idea is able to play out in all its glory. He has put a lot of thought into so many little details. Consider the music by John Cage, used in the Kickstarter videos fFor this project. John Cage’s 4’33” is not really about silence. It’s about going through the activities involved in performing music. It’s about the spectacle of the event, wearing the nicest suit and gesturing exactly like you would when playing the piano.

    I look fForward to taking my copy of the game to the next company picnic, where I will merrily collect a fFew mates and play an elaborate game to the complete wonderment of everyone else. Every year I take a bunch of games to picnics and game days. It is known that I will have the most interesting and unusual games. Well, this year, they won’t know what to think, and that thrills me.

    All of that — the story Mr. Liu is telling, the artists he is introducing me to, the awesome giggling experience we will share together — all of these things are worth $40 to me.

  4. Ken over at Geek-Craft (https://geek-craft.com/wordpress/?p=847) has a view on this project that I actually agree with. I think this is a no win situation for kickstarter and the board game industry. It smacks of elitism at it’s finest, especially when people say “Well some people will get it and some people won’t.” I get it. I just don’t think it’s funny and think it hurts credibility. There will be people who feel burned from backing this project, no matter how many times Jonathan says the components really are blank. There will be people who think kickstarter is no longer for the little guys, or just think it’s all a big hoax and/or scam. I don’t think the project is funny. Clever, yes. Terribly, wonderfully clever. But it feels like now all the people who are “in” (that elitism again) are just laughing at others and enjoying their cleverness. I think the idea to have a game with blank components that you market with the concept of expanding creativity by having people come up with their own games is cool, but that’s not what’s happening here.

    This project is saying, hey we have a game. Look, here’s how you play the game. All the while, there’s nothing there. I get the joke. I get the cleverness. I think it’s supremely clever. I don’t think it’s funny. And I think it’s a little insulting.

    1. Dominique–Thanks for your comment. That’s a great point about the perspective of the “in” group versus the “out” group. Although I have no idea what is actually going on with this project at this point, I would say that I’m very familiar with Kickstarter, so I’m part of an “in” group there. For someone new to Kickstarter, they might stumble upon Jonathan’s project and not realize that there is a joke in play.

  5. I know its been a while since this happened but I do have a couple of opinions:
    1) If the whole thing is about a sort of ongoing community play experience creating a story, why does it cost so much? Would it not have worked just as well sending people an empty box for a few dollars?
    2) I’d buy a prototyping kit, but this isn’t a prototyping kit, or at least not a good one, because everything is a single colour. Which has been done as part of the joke, so the product such as it is has suffered to the joke.
    3) And most importantly some people buy things because they trust other people. In the end this felt to a lot of people like a group of people who were in on the joke teaching the people that weren’t a rather cruel lesson not to trust people. Whether anyone bought the game because they saw Jamey Stegmaier quoted on the project page and trust him to support good games or not is hardly the point. The point is that it leaves a bad taste in the mouth that someone could back it expecting a game because you supported the project and that they would be wasting money to be taught not to trust you and you were okay with that.

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