The Secrets of Mad King Jamey

30 August 2018 | 18 Comments

Yesterday I announced a new game, Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig (the title of this post is a play on that name–I do not consider myself a “king” of anything). During my Facebook live video immediately following the announcement, someone asked, “Why all the secrecy?”

You see, I’ve kept this game a secret for a long time. While plenty of people knew about it–the designers, artists, playtesters, partners, etc–they knew to stay quiet about it until August 29 at 9:30 am CDT.

The secrecy is particularly notable because it flies in the face of something I frequently recommend to Kickstarter creators: Tell people early and often about your product. Get the word out so you can build a devoted following of people who are itching to back it on Day 1. Let people feel the joys of anticipation. Solidify proof that you are the originator of the work. And so on.

Given that, why would I keep a huge product–our 2nd and final new game of 2018–secret until the day we started accepting pre-orders for it, which is just days before we start shipping it to Stonemaier Champions?

Here’s why (and how):

  • Accurate, simultaneous information for all: This is by far the #1 reason. I’ve had too many incidents in the past when people found out about a product at different times (including the infamous Rhine Valley leak…by me). This creates chaos on all levels of the supply chain. I’d much rather everyone learn the game name, SKU, price, and release date–or at least have access to that information–at exactly the same time.
  • Timing without uncertainty: This ties into the previous comment about the release date. There’s so much uncertainty that goes into freight shipping a game from the manufacturer to our broker’s warehouse…many things can go wrong along the way. However, my level of certainty skyrockets the moment the game actually arrives at the warehouse–after that, I can announce the release date with confidence, as well as the direct pre-order ship dates.
  • Minimal gap between announcement and delivery: A few years ago, Riot Games announced a board game called Mechs vs Minions. The announcement came out of nowhere, with high-profile reviewers posting their thoughts at exactly the same time. To the delight of people like me who looked at the pre-order information that day, we didn’t need to wait months to get the game–if we ordered right away, we would have it within a few weeks. This was revelatory to me. I love anticipation, but there was something unique about this, especially given the stark difference between this method and Kickstarter. The Cards Against Humanity folks use the same method.
    • One perk I forgot to mention about this: If you fulfill orders within a week or two of the announcement, you don’t need to deal with address changes. The longer the gap between the order and the fulfillment, the greater the chance the customer will need to change their address (or, as often happens, forget to change their address until they get the shipping notification).
    • Another perk is that there are much fewer cancellations using this method compared to Kickstarter.
    • Yet another perk is that this method doesn’t require the hassle of stretch goals, as we’ve already made the game.
  • Tease without telling: This is more about the method than the madness, but I’ve found that I can tease an upcoming game to help build curiosity and anticipation. I did this with Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig by revealing images on Instagram and Twitter. I could have also created a Facebook event–I’ll probably do that in the future. And I’ve mentioned certain concepts relating the game on various podcasts and videos for a while now–our games aren’t completely secret if you pay attention.
  • Make a splash: I want people to talk about our games. In my opinion, this makes the release process more exciting, fun, and lucrative for everyone involved. I like the idea of the buzz starting and sustaining itself from the announcement through the release date, and I think we can best accomplish this by being able to ship pre-orders to customers very soon after the announcement. Ideally this also benefits retailers who will release the game on October 19, because the early reviewers and early adopters help to sustain that buzz for other customers.
  • An existing, attentive audience: You can see our social media stats here if you’re curious. This is something that enables us to use this announcement method, while many first-time creators don’t have an audience yet.

I think my biggest regret is that I wish this announcement hadn’t come so close to the release of our other new game, My Little Scythe. Ideally My Little Scythe would have been ready for a spring release, but that didn’t happen. Fortunately there was still a 2-month gap between the official releases of those games, and an even bigger gap between their announcement dates. In the future, though, I’d like for each of our new games to have plenty of room to breathe and build buzz.

What do you think about this method?

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18 Comments on “The Secrets of Mad King Jamey

  1. […] It was exciting and fun…but it wasn’t perfect. Distributors and retailers were caught off guard–they weren’t used to a publisher announcing a game that way and actually having the game in stock right away. Many consumers were excited, but my sense is that they felt rushed to learn a lot about the game and make a decision right away. There was no sense of anticipation. Also, while Stonemaier fans knew that something would be revealed that day, they had very different ideas about what it would be (and I don’t think anyone guessed this). […]

  2. I absolutely thought it was going to be something different. I won’t say I am disappointed because I have not played the two games that were mashed together. However, I did order this game on trust alone. I loved My Little Scythe and was completely surprised by that. So I will continue to roll the dice and hope the surprises blow my mind (no pressure). I did like playing the guessing game.

  3. I have really enjoyed the big reveal nature of this game announcement. B2C is a favorite of mine and seeing a new game in that line thrilled me. When I saw that it was so close to release I was even more excited, but then when I saw today that my Champions order is even closer to shipping, it made my day. I felt not only the satisfaction of a new game I think I’ll love, but I got the satisfaction of my Champion subscription being more than worth while.

    I appreciated you not dumping every announcement into GenCon, as so much gets lost in the shuffle.

    Sam Dominguez

  4. Hi Jamey, I’ve never tried Between 2 Cities or CMKL. It’s funny, Kingdomino arrived yesterday for the children. I thought it was a good game design, and my wife really liked the gameplay. Later that night we watched Rahdo’s runthrough of Between 2 Castles of MKL. My wife thought the gameplay looked similar to Kingdomino, but more complex/interesting. She said “Hey did you plan Kingdomino to arrive on the same day this was announced?” I couldn’t have as I didn’t know what game was going to be announced.

    I’ve just bought Between 2 Castles of MKL through Stonemaier Champions.

    You asked “What do you think about this method?”

    It sounds like you like it and it is good for business. To be frank, personally, I no longer like it from an outside point of view. When something turns out to be not what you hoped, you know the feeling. Human nature. I was anticipating another large euro game or madly enough a 2 player card game. I realized that the future games, without any info, can never turn out to be what I’ve imagined and anticipated for months. It’s impossible. But that is my problem, not yours. I let my self get sucked into the guessing game. So to solve that feeling I think it is better to stop myself from guessing what type of games the next ones “are”. I’m going to opt-out of the imagining game so the feelings on announcement days are 100% positive, not disappointment that my hopes were wrong, that is ridiculous, after all announcement days are happy days, so it should be 100% positive feelings. Daniel Ariely, where are you? Help me understand! :)

    Rahdo said Between 2 Castles of Mad King Ludwig is “amaze balls”, and my wife loves the gameplay so I’m sure I’m going to have a blast with it. It’s fantastic than you made the pre-orders EU friendly. You are shipping them by freight to the UK, right? Does that mean the games will arrive at people’s EU doors after October 19th? If it does, that’s fine, as the discount is great and being a Stonemaier Champion is more about showing support for your blog, not about getting games early.

    P.S. You have countered your title and denied that you are a king, but you have not denied that you are mad……

    1. Gerald: Thanks for sharing your perspective. That’s a really interesting point about people who played the guessing game and had a vision for what they thought/hoped I was going to reveal. I can see how getting caught up in that and having a very different expectation based on pure speculation.

      Yes, right after September 6, we’re going to pack up all the European pre-orders and freight ship them over to Spiral Galaxy in the UK. They’ll then fulfill the orders to European customers. That whole process should take about 4 weeks, so you’ll still get it before the release date.

      1. That’s nice :) Quicker than I thought. When the UK leaves the EU soon (Brexit), maybe you’ll have to ship another EU country. Perhaps an EU country that is closer to the U.S than the UK. Oh….. Ireland is just before than the UK :)

        Yes, the guessing, without knowing the game type/category, can be like losing (getting it completely wrong) in Mysterium, but a Mysterium that last for months.

    2. I just wanted to post in agreement about the slight disappoint at it being ‘not what was expected’ – I just sorta assumed it would be something meatier and wholly new rather than a mash up.

      Which is odd really as I love B2C and CoMKL and I think this game will be fantastic. I think if there’d been no hints I would be super excited to hear about it instead of “Ah, well that’s cool I guess” .

      UK shipping is awesome though, especially from Spiral Galaxy as I know it’ll be prompt and well packed :).

  5. I loved the secrecy. It adds dramatic element and the thing you “love” the most – hype! Making a splash is awesome and by far IMO best marketing strategy. When I released my first TV show I had to start marketing early, but I managed to keep as much stuff secret as possible. Making a splash with big release is always the best way – not only all publishers, but Samsung, Apple, Tesla, you know.

    Sadly, those of us like me, who plan on Kickstarter can’t afford the element of secrecy.. We need annoying spam since the idea came to mind (figuratively speaking).

  6. I think it is a good move on your part, As an established company, with an established base, you benefit from people being able to get something in the near future vs far future( aka this method vs the kickstarter method).

    This also works because you have the funds and means to get the product to the warehouse to do this. Look at FFG every year at GenCon, they have a new announced title and it sells out at the con, and then releases soon after to the general public. You also see Asmodee use this model as well. Though some companies like CMON still use the Kickstarter model for many of their games, but if you look at it, only for the mini heavy games that have multiple expansions off the bat, they use the described method for The Godfather.

    I’d be interested in seeing sales number comparisons for this game and Between two cities a year out from now, and if you could get the generalities for the first year of Beizers Mad King sales. See how it compares, Scythe and Charterstone were two different games, but Between Two cities and the others are a more fair comparison.

    I think the Bigger question now that many would ask, is why did you not make the announcement a month ago at gencon, have some limited copies for sale, and say that the General release day was to be announced a month from now. I’m assuming that you already have copies in reviewers hands at the Gencon point, I know that from your previous posts that you may not attend the conference. But would love a follow up article with your thoughts.

    1. Sean: That’s a good idea to look at the long-term impact of these strategy as it compares to a long-tail announcement for a game like Charterstone (or My Little Scythe, which has a similar price point).

      That’s a good question about Gen Con. My reason is that I wanted all the attention (at least for Stonemaier) on The Rise of Fenris and My Little Scythe. There are so many announcements and games at Gen Con that I didn’t want this one to get lost in the shuffle, especially since we had two other major products debuting there.

      1. As part of the GenCon demo team, we really didn’t need more than Rise of Fenris or My Little Scythe at GenCon, and I think the rest of the year would have felt rather empty if the only full game releases were debuted at GenCon.

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