Developer Diaries 1: Getting Started


Why Write Developer Diaries?

Creature College is currently winging its way towards our distributors ready for mailing out to all the lovely people that pledged for a copy of the game so our minds here at Happy Otter Games have turned to the creation of our next project.

I thought it might be interesting for anyone else thinking about creating a game to understand some of the process I’m going through when thinking about designing a new game. So I’m going to write these developer diaries as a record of the set of problems that I’m trying to work through whilst developing the new game.

Honesty is the Best Policy

Whilst Creature College funded it didn’t quite hit the sweet spot for Kickstarter. I’ve written an entire article on why I think this was, so I’m not going to go into further detail here. What I will say is please be honest with yourself. What do I mean by this? It’s really easy as a game designer to get dragged down into your own enthusiasm for your game and not see that it doesn’t have the legs it needs to make it on Kickstarter. Ask the community and listen to what they’re telling you. They’re going to be the one’s buying the game.

As we’ve approached the new game I’ve been determined that we were going to hit Kickstarter bang on. A lot of this is about understanding your market; there are many different games that seem to do well on Kickstarter but three things seem to be critical:

  • Theme – While almost any theme can work on Kickstarter there are some themes that seem almost guaranteed to draw people’s attention if done well – Steampunk, generic fantasy, viking, dragons, and a few others. We polled the community and both Viking and Generic Fantasy polled equally highly leading to our choice of theme for the new game.
  • Artistic Style – it’s very important to get this right. For our new game we found five great artists and asked them all to deliver a piece of artwork based on a very specific brief. We then showed the artwork to the community to find out which artist’s work seemed to resonate.
  • Branding and Design – The elements that you design around your artwork and the branding have to make your game look like something people will want to play. We’re very fortunate to be able to work with a couple of brilliant designers based in Buenos Aires.

It’s a little trite to hold these three items up and make them sound like the only thing that matters. Many other things go into making a Kickstarter game successful, marketing, game-play, play testing, reviews, design of your Kickstarter page, the video, pricing, pledge structure, miniatures, your own track record, I could go on and on. However if you get theme, artistic style and design right you’ll be a long way to having a successful game.

Game Mechanics First?

Perhaps oddly I tend to think about theme and artistic style before I think about the actually mechanics of the game. I suspect everyone has a different way of developing a game but I figure out how I want the game to feel before ever putting pen to paper for the mechanics.

Part of this is aesthetic, I want the game to feel like something people want to play. There’s nothing quite as validating as putting up a piece of artwork and on that basis alone someone writing “shut up and take my money”. The feel of the game is often what will make it easy or hard to market. Interestingly some friends of mine went to a talk by the fabled game designer Reiner Knizia at the Cheltenham literature festival a few years back expecting a weighty discussion on game mechanics. What they got was a treatise on how important marketing is in the game publishing business. Get the right feel to a game and it will sell because of what people perceive it to be.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that game mechanics should be an afterthought, just that they don’t have to be the first thing that you do.

Realistic Budget

Building and marketing is likely to cost you money which, unless you’re phenomenally successful, you won’t make back in the first year. Scribble yourself out a budget with realistic costs for artwork, design, materials, marketing, attending shows, video production and prototype production. Be realistic here, I probably spent around $10,000 on Creature College to get it off the ground and my new game will probably cost around $15,000. Even if you’re very talented and can do all your own artwork and design you’ll still need money for marketing and show attendance.

Also, unless you manage to hit it big on Kickstarter with your first game, don’t expect to make any money initially. Once I’ve sold all my copies of Creature College from the first print run, which I’m guessing will take me a couple of years, I may make $2,000 – $3000.

So What Have We Done So Far?

We’re already a little way into our second game project so I thought it might be useful to catalogue what we’ve done so far:

  • Theme – after a lot of research we’ve decided to go for a Fantasy Viking theme. Out of the 60 or so respondents we had to our surveys Fantasy came out as by far the highest scoring genre
  • Artwork – We asked five very talented artists to create a piece of concept artwork for our game and based on community feedback we chose a couple of artists to work with us.
  • Brand – Working with the same designers we used for Creature College we’ve created a name and brand for the new game which we will trademark once we have the final logo files
  • Core game loop and initial game mechanics – We’ve figured out what the core game loop of our game should be, in this case and very roughly it’s get goods, to explore so that I can complete quests, win artifacts to transform my characters so that they win honour points and become better and getting goods.
  • Plan out the events calendar for the year – We’ve purchased stands at our big annual events. For us that means UK Games Expo and Essen Spiel 2016. Figuring this out is great because it gives us points in the year that we want to work towards. For instance I know that I want new company branding work completed for UK Games Expo and hopefully a playable demo of the new game.

While all this is going on it’s important not to forget our current game which as I type is currently in the air and winging its way towards our distributors. In order to be trusted to run a second Kickstarter campaign it’s very important that I deliver on the first!

I hope this has been useful to folks. If you would like to have a general chat about game design or have any specific questions please do drop me a line at, but if you haven’t read Jamey Stegmaier’s excellent blog posts please, please go and read that before you do *anything* else! 🙂


Creature College – 10 Things No One Ever Tells You About Running A Kickstarter

10 Things

Ever take a look at a running Kickstarter and think to yourself “That doesn’t look so hard, you just stick some pretty pictures up, film a neat video and watch the money roll in”?

I’ve been running the Creature College Kickstarter for about a week now as I stare at the screen with bloodshot eyes. I’ve forgotten at least two of my children’s names, started to talk to myself, begun to cheer incoherently every time another illusive pledge appears and I think my highly disheveled beard has started to develop its own ecosystem. To top it all I’m now into the dreaded Kickstarter Lull which feels a bit like being cast adrift in the middle of the Doldrums, in an upturned wheelie bin, with only a couple of teaspoons for propulsion and tea cozy as a sun hat.

Bearing all this in mind I thought it would be a good moment to write a short article on things no one ever tells you about running a Kickstarter.

  1. Launch night – If you’ve done your prep work properly then launch night will be party time, you’ll be up till the wee hours talking to folks who are almost as manically excited about the game as you are. The Adrenalin will be flowing freely and if you get to sleep before 5:00 AM (I didn’t) it will probably only be because your significant other has rendered you unconscious with a sharp blow to the back of your head. Enjoy this moment of Euphoria because from here on in it will feel more like trying to run through a lake of treacle with a live raccoon strapped to your head. (Just to avoid any potential law suits, please don’t try strapping a live raccoon to your head. It’s difficult and it will seriously upset the raccoon).
  2. I’m here to help! – The following morning you will hopefully awake to a seriously cool number of pledges and a full mailbox of messages. Don’t get too excited just yet – 90% of these messages will take the form of “I’m a student studying social media at the University of Point Barrow  (correspondence course)  and I happen to have 1.5 million followers who will all buy your game when I tell them to for the measly investment of $200 on your part”. Be prepared to get a slew of follow on messages from these people telling you how you must take their services now or face the inevitable apocalypse complete with fire, brimstone and small red people with little pointy forks.
  3. Don’t operate heavy machinery – If like me you have a day job be prepared to be seriously distracted at work. You’ll be doing your best to do your job but find yourself oddly mentally misplaced every now and then with stray thoughts about whether or not that backer number has crawled upwards. If like me you work in an office surrounded by generally very understanding people this isn’t an issue. However if your job happens to be driving a wrecking ball or a test pilot for Boeing, I strongly suggest that you take a month off!
  4. Kiss your family good bye – well not permanently, but let them know ahead of schedule that they’re hardly going to see you for the next 30 days and when they do you’re going to be wandering around in a zombie-like trance muttering incoherently about either Facebook or Twitter. Your wife/partner also needs to know that you’re going to be running in auto-response mode when it comes to talking to the kids and take appropriate precautions. This is important because when your middle child runs in and happily informs you that she’s made a miniature guillotine and she’s about to test it out on her younger brother’s finger, the correct response really shouldn’t be “Have fun munchkin!”
  5. Carpel tunnel syndrome – OK…you’re going to be doing a lot of typing and I do mean *a lot* of typing. Whether it’s Facebook messages, tweets or articles about running Kickstarters your fingers are going to be a constant blur. Invest in a hand massage each week and buy yourself a couple of industrial strength wrist straps.
  6. Social stigmatization – Sooner or later during this month your friends are going to get seriously fed up of you talking about your Kickstarter. You’ll rationalize that it’s only reasonable that you’re talking a lot about it because, well, it’s your life right and they’re your friends, they’ll understand? Try and have enough perspective to spot the warning signs in your friends that they’ve had enough, rolling eyes, foaming at the mouth and sudden unconsciousness are all indications that you may have taken your last diatribe on Kickstarter mechanics a little too far.
  7. Bouts of sudden despair – This is a hard one. Before you start your Kickstarter campaign let me tell you that you will lose backers at points throughout the 30 days. The right response to this is to shrug your shoulders stoically and move on. If it causes you to weep uncontrollably in a corner or message the lost user with threats to do unspeakable things to their pet kittens, then you need to seek professional help.
  8. An irrational preoccupation with graphs – Look, it’s kickstarter, that Kicktraq trend is about as accurate a prediction of your final funding as trying to predict tomorrows weather forecast by studying the mating behavior of frogs in the local pond. Just accept the fact from the onset that you’re not really going to have a clue what the final funding will be until you cross the finish line and embrace your ignorance. You’ll be far happier that way. If you want some general guidelines then 35% after the first three days or 50% after the first week is “cooking with gas” so to speak.
  9. Love your community – If you’ve done your job properly you’re going to have a whole bunch of people really excited about your project. Love them and hug them and call them George! Seriously, these guys and gals are going to amaze you over the next 30 days. Running a Kickstarter has some huge highs and lows so when you’re feeling a little bit like committing Japanese ritual suicide with your letter opener, read back through some of their posts or the cool things they’ve done. Here I’m actually going to mention a couple of members of my community, Lars, Jim, George, Chantal, Robert, Larry and Reiner…you know who you are, love you guys! Thanks also to all the brilliant folks too numerous to mention that I can’t mention here on account of you being too numerous.
  10. The long dark tea time of the soul – Sooner or later you’ll hit the dreaded mid-campaign Kickstarter lull. This particular pit of despair will have you tearing your hair out trying to think of ways to ramp up your campaign. You’ll feel like every pledge gained is like wrestling a grizzily, dressed in a gimp suit (you not the grizzily, see commas are important) whilst covered in butter. On the bright side, by the time you get here you’ve only got three weeks’ish of this left to go. So assuming that you don’t collapse under the mental strain, start to wear your underpants on your head, stick a couple of pencils up your nose and start to go “wibble” (little homage there to the bard), you should do OK.

Incidentally, I’m currently in my Kickstarter lull so if you feel like making me irrationally happy and backing me, you can do so here…..”wibble!”.

We’re live on Kickstarter!

We're Live

So we’re live on Kickstarter! Last night we had a launch party on The Board Game group and we’re currently 16% funded and number 3 on Kicktraq trending towards 251% funding. The community really has been awesome and I can’t wait to see how the next few hours and days pan out! 🙂

We had some great things happen last minute. Andrey Batanov, one of the geniuses behind Tabletopia, helped us get a full Tabletopia demo alive and online for our KS page so you can now play a full game of Creature College online for the duration of the campaign and Jim Goff pulled the stops out to send us a last minute video report of Creature College.

We’ll have lots of news as the campaign progresses and we’re hoping to have an announcement today on our supported languages so keep your eyes peeled! It’s going to be a great day!

All the best,


Creature College Update 15 – 7 days until Launch!

Weekly Update 15

Welcome to Creature College Update 15

Only 7 days away now! In a few short days we’ll be up on Kickstarter and ready to be backed. It’s time for a really big thanks to our community as the support we’ve had from you all have been phenomenal.

This is going to be a short update but I do want to tell everyone about a fantastic competition we have running on Facebook’s The Board Game Group. We’re giving away $160(£100) of board games of your choice! If you want to enter head over to The Board Game Group and read the competition post. You’ll find it here:¬if_t=like

We’ll also be running competitions all night next Wednesday (23rd September) on The Board Game Group so join us for lots of fun! 🙂

Have a great week and see you in 7 days time!


Happy Otter Games

Creature College Update 14 – Only 19 days to go!

Weekly Update 14

Don’t forget to subscribe to our news letter if you haven’t done so already and you’ll be entered into our monthly “Win a board game of your choice” competition. Just click here.

Welcome to Creature college Update 14

So only 19 days to go until our Kickstarter kicks off at 7:00 PM EST on the 23rd September. Our highly trained games otters are working at full tilt to make sure that it’s going to be a great launch day and campaign. Don’t worry we’ll remind you when the Kickstarter goes live but we have some great things to tell you about!

  • If you live in the US, UK, Western Europe, China, Japan, Australia, Korea or New Zealand postage and packing on the Kickstarter will be absolutely free – yup, you heard us! There are a small number of countries that we’ll still have to charge postage and packing for but for the majority of our customers you won’t pay a cent/penny/euro cent or yuan!
  • We’re going to give you an additional card absolutely free regardless of whether we hit stretch goals or not! Hector Headskew is a free wild card that will only be available for backing the Kickstarter and at game shows. We’ll even be able to give you the card this year at Essen!
  • Hector Headskew
  • We’ve had some great reviews from Breacher18, Board Game Brawl, Bower’s Game Corner and Undead Viking. You can see all of the reviews on our Creature College.
  • We’ve finalised our stretch goals and we have some really exciting ones for you, 5 additional replacement art cards for the game, your own creature college cup, cloth gem bags and custom 3cm wooden custom dice! We’re not saying very much yet about our final stretch goal but we can tell you that it’s more than a bit special! 🙂
  • We’ve created a whole series of Creature College videos which will not only show you what you’ll get in the Kickstarter but will also really help you get to grips with how the game is played. You can find the unboxing and play through videos here.
  • We’ll be running give away competitions and doing all sorts of other cool stuff all night on the 23rd and 24th of September on The Board Game Group. Come and join us….we’ll have lots of fun and there will be a stack of prizes to win!
  • If you live in the UK and your an avid reader of Tabletop Gaming Magazine you’ll find us in there in the latest issue. So pop down to your local W.H. Smiths and pick up a copy or better still…give a copy to a friend and spread the word!
  • We’ve created a whole bunch of social avatars that you can use. Spread the word and we promise you some really great stretch goals as our targets fall.
  • social_avatars social_avatars2 social_avatars3 social_avatars4 social_avatars5 social_avatars6

Not to forget that we’re also now only a month away from Essen! We’ll be on stand 7-G112 at the show which we’re sharing with our fantastic printer Wingo Games! Come and play a game with us if you’re going to be there!

Last but not least, thank you for all the fantastic support that you’ve given us and continue to give us. We couldn’t do this without you…no I mean it, we *really* couldn’t do this without you. We’d give you all a great big hug if we could!

Creature College Update 13 – Fighting the Hamster of Chaos

PS Update 13

Don’t forget to subscribe to our news letter if you haven’t done so already and you’ll be entered into our monthly “Win a board game of your choice” competition. Just click here.

Welcome to Creature college Update 13

In homage to the late great Terry Pratchett, “If complete and utter chaos was an escaped rabid hamster with little pointy teeth then I’d be the sort standing next to a hamster wheel dressed as a carrot trying to tempt the hamster into a tiny box muttering “Here Squeaky, here boy””. We’ve definitely been in overdrive this month. Three cons, updating the website, finishing stretch goals, filming play through videos, running competitions and working with our artist, designer and media studio to get ready for our Kickstarter. My wife has hardly seen me, the children have formed their own self-ruling proto-civilization on the top floor of our family home and given my bleary eyed state at work my colleagues have adopted the mistaken belief that I spend my evening crawling bars sampling the heady Cheltenham nightlife as an elderly Lothario.

So what has actually been happening? Well with less than two months to our Kickstarter now it’s been all hands to the rigging to try and get everything ready.


Well for those who haven’t already noticed we’ve completely revamped an updated the website. Partly so we could add new features but mostly because the old website looked like it had been created by a five year old with a bunch of multi-coloured crayons. The new website is a big improvement, it has play-through videos, our rule book, details of other projects and even a shop where you can buy some of our natty Creature related merchandise. We only have t-shirts available in the shop so far but that will change over the next few weeks as we get closer in to the Kickstarter. You can take a look at the new website at


We’ve now sent sample games out to all of our reviewers and there are some really well known names on the list. Keep an eye on the website for details of the reviews as they become available.

Stretch Goals

All our stretch goal art work is finished and we’re currently working on our extra stretch goal items with our fabby printer Wingo Games. We’ll publish more details on these as they become available but take a look at these cute little suckers!

StretchMost of these guys have already been named by our friends over at The Boardgame Group but there’s still one naming competition left so keep an eye out and join in!

Play-through Video

We know that you’ve been dying to find out more about how Creature College plays so we’ve filmed this neat little video to take you through the game. It’s hard to see the cards so at some point we may film a top down view as well. You can take a look at the video on the front of our website

We’ve arrived on Board Game Geek!

So we now have our own Board Game Geek page!

We’d love for you to go take a look at our page, vote on our page and become a fan! We’d love you, and hug you and call you George ( unless you’re a girl in which case we’ll call you George).

Ninja Snails

We’re currently working on a game to be released after Creature College. We don’t plan on being a one-game-wonder! It will be a few months yet but we can give you a sneak peak at our concept art! Here is our Hashimoto Clan Leader. Ninja Snails is a card game that we think will have two decks of just over 100 cards in total. The aim of the game will be to defeat other ninja houses to collect koku. The person at the end of the game with the most koku will win.

hashimoto final Hashimoto-ideas

Well that about wraps it up for this addition of the Newsletter. We’ll be running more fabby competitions and all sorts of other good stuff will be happening in the run up to the Kickstarter so keep an eye out and thank you for all the support you’ve given us as our community. We couldn’t do this without you!

All the best,


Printing Your Game Overseas

Wingo Games at UK Games Expo

Wingo Games exhibiting with Happy Otter Games at UK Games Expo

So you’ve finished and play-tested your proto-type and you’re ready to look for a printer. Getting your game printed can feel like a bit of a mine-field and depending on who you ask you’re going to get some wildly varying quotes for printing. Five of the first things to bare in mind are:

  1. You’re going to want prototypes and these are best done with the printer you’re going to be using to produce the game. This way you get to catch places where they may not have understood what you want up front
  2. If you’re going to use traditional distribution to get your game into stores then you’re going to want to have a very low base cost as retailers look for very large margins on games (up to and over 50%)
  3. The printer you choose should be experienced at producing games and have the technical ability to realise your dream. Make sure that you look carefully at what they’ve produced before and if possible…get references
  4. They should be easy to communicate with and responsive. If you ask a company for something and it takes two weeks to get a response (to a simple question) you should consider walking away. When you’re on tight deadlines the last thing you want is an unresponsive printer
  5. You’ll need them to be flexible at times. You need to feel like your printer is coming with you on your boardgame journey and they’re willing to work with you to make your game work

So where to print? If you run a google search for game printing you’ll get a raft of companies coming up that print games. For early good looking prototypes Game Crafter is a good first stop but if you’re going to require non-standard pieces or large print runs at a low cost per game then you probably don’t want to use them for your production run. If you live in Western Europe or the US you’ll find a lot of great printers. The benefits of printing in country are:

  • You can go and sit down with the printers and brief them in person (In the US this could involve a plane flight 🙂 )
  • You don’t have to worry too much about transportation
  • Depending on where you live and where you’re transporting to import duties and VAT cease to be so much of a problem for you
  • People speak your language both literally and figuratively

So given all these great benefits of printing in country, why do so many games companies (even Kickstarters) print over seas. In the first instance there is only one over-riding reason; COST. Simply it’s cheaper per unit to print overseas than in either the US or Western Europe. The difference in cost can be staggering, quotes for my game in the UK were coming in at around $25 – $35 for 1000 units, my base cost in China is closer to $12, even with transportation costs this doesn’t come anywhere close to $25. Prices in Eastern Europe (Poland/Czech) aren’t necessarily quite as good although you can get some excellent prices and you have the benefit of working with a company within the EU. So bearing in mind the huge financial benefits to printing overseas, what are the downsides?

  • You need to find a reputable printer who is easy to work with and both of these can be a challenge if you’re not fortunate
  • Language can be hard if the printer’s contact staff don’t have good English
  • It can be hard to assess quality of materials unless your printer is willing to send you pictures or samples
  • You can feel a bit disconnected from the process
  • You may have both VAT to pay (reclaimable in the UK if you’re VAT registered) and import taxes (Games are 0% rated in the UK and come under the import code 9504908000)

So how can you lessen the impact of these downsides? Find yourself a great overseas printer. This is down to word of mouth recommendations for people that have used them. I was very fortunate to hit upon Wingo Games almost straight off the mark. They were kind enough to provide a couple of references one of whom had been another Kickstarter project. The references were good so I asked them to quote on the game. I was immediately impressed by the level of contact that I received from Wingo, despite the fact that they company turns over millions of dollars a year my contact, Ivan (they all use western names to make themselves easier to interact with), made me feel like I was Wingo’s only customer. I have contact with Ivan maybe every couple of days and he’ll regularly drop me a line just to ask me how things are going. His English is close to perfect.

They were very flexible with me for my sample games which was very much appreciated as samples are very expensive. Typically a printer will have to include the same set up costs for a big print run in the costs for your sample games. This means that some of the quotes that you receive for samples can seem astronomical so flexibility here is very much appreciated.

The next thing that impressed me was the quality of the sample games:


Here is Creature College in all its glory. You can’t feel the quality of the materials but suffice it to say (and I fully accept that this is a little bit weird) I sometimes just run my hands over the box to feel the finish! I was very impressed with the quality of work from the thickness of the box cardboard and design of the insert straight through to the print quality in my rule book.

Finally you want to feel that your printer is a real partner. As you can see from the title picture Wingo Games has shared a stall with me at conventions and we’ll be at Essen together in the fall. I don’t heap praise on a partner without good reason but Wingo Games are a vital piece in the potential success of Happy Otter Games and Creature College.

I hope this little guide has been useful. If you’re interested in my experiences and just want to chat about your own project then feel free to drop me a line at I’m happy to put people in touch with Wingo but you can also contact them yourself at