Interview with board game dev Stephen Boyajian, founder of TCN Games - Part I
Game lawyer Zachary Strebeck interviews Stephen Boyajian, founder of TCN Games and designer of The Grind, Kung Fu'd and Undead Escape about starting a game company and regrouping after an unsuccessful Kickstarter.
I had a chance to interview Stephen Boyajian, the founder of indie board game company TCN Games and designer on such titles as Kung Fu’d, Undead Escape and the soon-to-be-re-Kickstarted The Grind. The second part of the interview will be posted on Wednesday.
Welcome Stephen! Before we start, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your company?
I started in web design and graphic arts back in the mid-to-late 90′s and spent the better part of the next two decades doing just that. I spent a lot of my focus on front end design, magazine layouts, brochures and marketing materials. I always liked games, but it wasn’t until I found my current group of friends who are also into them [that I decided to move into game design].
After a few game nights, I had the idea to try and make my own game. The result was a rather expansive networking/area takeover game called Island Conquest. It’s a game I eventually want to crowdfund, however with an estimated MSRP of about $55-$60, we felt that we should get our name out first and start small.
Designing that game definitely gave me the bug, so to speak, and in Oct. 2012 TCN Games was officially born.
What sort of legal steps have you taken with regard to your game development business? Have you incorporated or developed a partnership agreement? Why or why not?
I have a business registered with my local county as a sole proprietorship and have a register EIN number with the IRS. We have not had a lot of sales at this point, outside of a few games at conventions. We felt that it was best to have things in place should we have a successful Kickstarter.
I’ve seen a lot of people and companies who are just starting not keep finances separate, whether it be taxes or a business checking account. It usually ends in disaster or “missing” funds. When you are dealing with other people’s interests, such as a crowdfunder, I find it very important to ensure the money they pledge goes to exactly what they expect.
I agree, it is important to keep your business and personal assets separate, especially when you have a corporation or LLC. Now, tell us a little bit about the story of “Expresso” to “The Grind.” What happened with the Kickstarter and what have you decided to do going forward?
Expresso was a game I originally made for my wife. She is a big fan of card games and coffee. She probably drinks more coffee in a week than I drink in a year. I hadn’t planned on releasing it outside of conventions and The Game Crafter. But once a few more people played, it seemed pretty clear it was worth pursuing.
We originally launched its Kickstarter campaign in Oct. 2013 with a goal of $6,500. In the first day we had met about 25% of our goal. After two days we were closing in on 40%. At that point, we thought we had a hit. Then something happened, it stopped. It was one of those moments when you see a slow day and think, “It’s only one day.” Then one day became two, then three, eventually a week and then two. We started going backwards when people determined it wasn’t going to fund.
We spent a lot of time discussing what happened when it didn’t fund and we came up with three possibilities:
The Name. We had some people who knew we knew how to spell Espresso (we have a card in the game with the correct spelling). Unfortunately, many people assumed we spelled it wrong out of simply not knowing and never gave the project a look.
Something we hadn’t planned for, but I can definitely understand. In our minds, it was a clever play on words. We learned that if you have to explain it, it’s confusing, not clever. Thus, “The Grind” was born, still clever in its own right, but certainly less confusing.
The Art. We didn’t feel this was a huge issue. We had a lot of people tell us they liked the art, we had some who were indifferent and only a few who thought it needed improvement. Once we changed the name, we determined it was best to give the whole game a fresh start. A reboot, if you will.
Everything except some of the character art and ingredients were replaced. We’ve completely changed the color scheme, the box art, the card backs and fronts and the rule book. We spent more time cleaning up the rule book and even added in a few extra components and mechanics to help speed the game up and force more player interaction during game play.
The Price. We felt this was the main cause for our unsuccessful launch. We listened to a lot of people and in the end, we did what no business person should ever do. We ignored our gut and did what people told us the market would bear. Our original pledge levels were set as $20 for Early Bird and $25 for full price, both prices included free shipping to the U.S.
What we went with was $5 higher for both.After looking at the pledges and when they came in, we noticed that the early bird pledge level of $25 sold out in less than 24 hours (50 total spaces), however the $30 level only received 16 backers over the course of 29 days.
In a way, we lucked out. When reviewing the quotes with the manufacturer, they noticed they had misquoted us. The price we received was for a deck of 54 cards and not the 108 card deck we needed. This actually raised our cost and had we succeeded we would have been about $1,000 short.
After going over the components with other companies and considering a larger run to lower the overall unit price, we’ve been able to develop a goal that is not much higher than the original goal, but allowed us to drop the pledge price.
Since $25 worked out so well for us, and is Kickstarter’s most successful pledge amount, we eliminated early bird tiers all together and set the single game price to $24 with free shipping to the U.S. Since we now know the estimated weight, we’ve been able to cut the international shipping in half.
That’s it for Part I. Join us on Wednesday for the second part of the interview. In the meantime, if you are looking to start a company or begin a new game design project, feel free to contact me for a free consultation.