[ANIMAL CRIME] Shipping out boxed sets + webcomic

Started by Ben Lehman, February 14, 2012, 04:01:14 AM

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Ben Lehman

Hi folks!

I just released a new game, ANIMAL CRIME, which I'm doing a lot of new publishing things with, from its origin on Kickstarter to producing a boxed set (not as expensive as it looks) to running a promotional webcomic alongside the game. I'd really love to talk with folks about some of that stuff. Thus far, the experience has been really positive, although I've yet to have to pack all the boxes so we'll see how I feel by the end of the week.

Anyway, if folks are interested in any stage of the process (how to get together a kickstarter, how to promote one, how to make a boxed set on the cheap, how to set up a webcomic site, etc.) I'd love to hear them. Likewise, if anyone has experience particularly in using webcomics as a side promotion or in the webcomics world in general I'd love to ask you a bunch of questions.

One of the goals here, for me, is to get into branded products, rather than just one-off publishing. So ANIMAL CRIME is a game, a comic, and possibly more things in the future as well. Any thoughts on that, particularly if they're backed up with experience?


Copy follows:

My game ANIMAL CRIME (which you may remember from the wildly successful kickstarter is just about ready to ship out the door. I'm super excited about what I've put together, so let me run through the details.

What is it?
ANIMAL CRIME follows the investigations of Marmot Detective as he is sucked once more into the grim underbelly of Animal City, where danger is around every corner, even the innocent have their secrets, and no one is above suspicion. His cases take him from dive bars and numbers rackets to the boardrooms and elite clubs of high society, and everywhere he goes he uncovers rot and decay.

Okay ... so what about the role-playing game?
The ANIMAL CRIME roleplaying game lets you and your friends take on the roles of Marmot Detective and his list of suspects, as he tries to unravel yet another sordid crime. It takes about 45-90 to play, and comes complete in a boxed set, with board game style rules and play sheets. The goal is to have a game which you, as someone who enjoys role-playing games, can play with other friends in the social space of a board game.

The product I'm selling is a boxed set containing:
1) A 16 page, three color comic, (ANIMAL CRIME presents MARMOT DETECTIVE in THE McCORGI AFFAIR), detailing one of Marmot Detectives most famous cases. Art by Jake Richmond, writing by me.
2) Enough dice to play the game (six)
3) Character pamphlets
4) Pencils
5) Game rules
6) A secret gift

It is on sale now for $30 + $5 shipping<a/> at the animalcrime.com store, and will soon be available on the <a href="http://www.tao-games.com/">TAO Games site as well. International orders coming as soon as I can figure out what it costs to mail this thing internationally.

I have only made 100 copies of this game, and more than half have already been sold, so act soon if you want to make sure you'll get one.

But what if I don't want to buy something? What's in it for me?
If you're not convinced, or don't have the money, that's fine. Today is also the launch of the ANIMAL CRIME webcomic. The introductory comic (ANIMAL CRIME presents MARMOT DETECTIVE in The McCorgi Affair) will run weekly (updates Monday/Tuesday 12AM) for the next several weeks, until it is finished. After that, we have ... well, let's just say we have plans. The comic is absolutely free and I would be thrilled if you could tell your friends and enemies about it

But what if I hate comics and only like role-playing games, and even then only ones that are free?
You're in luck! A barebones version of the ANIMAL CRIME role-playing game will be available on the TAO Games site within a week. Like all TAO Games, it will be available for free or for a suggested donation.

Aren't you just ripping off Sea Dracula?
ANIMAL CRIME and Sea Dracula are closely related games. Jake (and, to a lesser degree, Nick) has been involved in the game since the very early stages, including providing the art for the project. We're hoping to do some even more closely related stuff in the future.

Eero Tuovinen

Concerning brand management, isn't Animal City the brand here? I mean, of course Animal Crime might be a brand as well, but it seems that you're building in part on Sea Dracula, so there's existing brand familiarity there. Nitpicking, of course, unless you have some wise observations related to this. Either way, I like the idea of doing more things with the brand, it seems vivacious and interesting, even if there are all sorts of competing anthropomorphic IPs in the Internet.

I'd be interested in your physical productization logic. What types of solutions did you investigate before settling on your final product? What sort of boxes did you get, how, and at what price point? (The box is one of the trickier parts in a boxed game in my experience.) Are you wrapping the boxes in plastic?
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Ben Lehman

We're still figuring out the relationship between Sea Dracula and ANIMAL CRIME. For right now, though, ANIMAL CRIME is the brand identity we're going with ... you can see it in the URL, the website header, and so on. I think that this is largely because ANIMAL CRIME is my thing, and I'm right now the driving force behind the endeavor. We'll see how it goes in the future, of course. You're right that, in terms of connection between products, Animal City is the center. But just because Animal City is the center doesn't mean it also has to be the brand name.

As you can see, I'm still juggling this.

As for printing: I actually looked into a lot of different presentations, from stapled printouts to posters of the game rules. But, given the social space of the game, I decided a board-game style box would be good. I investigated doing printed set-up boxes, which were surprisingly cheap but too expensive for the size of the print run I was doing. I ended up buying some blank set-up boxes (very cheap), as well as some very large stickers (pretty cheap), and will be applying the stickers to the box as a "cover," white box D&D style. The downside of this is that the pre-made set-up boxes are 2" depth, where I really would have preferred 1" depth for this project.

In all, I was very surprised at how cheap it was to put the box together. I was able to keep component cost quite low by the following means:
1) Not buying custom made set-up boxes.
2) Printing booklets, rather than books, for the inside of the box.
3) Using bulk dice (which limits design to d6s only but that's actually not a big deal for me.)
4) Designing play aids to be mostly paper based, rather than having boards and plastic bits.

We're not wrapping boxes in plastic unless that becomes a shipping problem. If it does, I imagine I'll be asking Epidiah about his shrink-wrapper and the associated costs.


Ben, like I said on G+, the art looks great, I can't wait to check the game out. I've just recently started design on a game that I think fits much the same social space. Can you tell anything about any special thought you put into "Writing a game for non-roleplayers" or "Writing rules for roleplayers facilitating non-roleplayers." Also, how much of a differentiation do you see between non-gamers (those who don't play any games) and non-roleplayers (who play maybe board games, but not RPGs).

Ben Lehman

Yeah, I think that there's a huge differentiation. Actually, really, there are four groups here, representing parts of a venn diagram.
1) Self-identified gamers.
2) People who play games.

My goal for ANIMAL CRIME (as a game, not a brand) is it's something for identified gamers to play with their friends who, while not identified gamers, still play games. I think that it will probably be of limited use to identity gamers who don't play games (the game itself is pretty simple and doesn't have a lot of ideas to "mine" for your "campaign" that you're never going to run) and will be totally foreign to people who don't play games or have any interest in them at all*.

In terms of design, it's rather simple.

1) Use only simple game components, and include them all with the game. In the case of ANIMAL CRIME, if you're not the detective, you just get a simple hand out which contains the game's rules, as they apply to you, and a few details about your character. In addition I only use playing cards or regular dice as randomizers, although this is more of a keeping down costs issue.

2) Explain everything twice: once for the person teaching the game, another time for the person learning it. There's some important stylistic differences here: when talking to the teacher you can use some gamer shorthand, when talking to the student you can assume that they've already had a brief overview of how the role works.

3) Play must take under 90 minutes, ideally under 60 minutes. There's a huge amount of design techniques that go into this; it's really a whole thread topic of its own. If you start it, I'd be happy to participate. I suggest taking a look at S/Lay w/Me, Mars Colony, Murderous Ghosts, Hot Guys Making Out, Clover, and so on.

Continuity with previous play must be absent or strictly optional. Optional isn't quite the right word here. I mean, you could do a "if you play this game again, change these things" rule, like in Risk Legacy. But the expectation of continuous narrative between play instances must be shot dead and buried deep.

4) The game's color must have a degree of "grabiness." Someone needs to be able to look at the cover and go "oh that's cool looking, I'd play that." I find that I've been moving towards specifics. Rather than "this is a murder mystery game" it's "this is a murder mystery game in this setting with these characters about this crime." Rather than "this is a romance game" it's "this is a gay romance game between Honoré and Gonsalvo in a remote estate in the pyrenees during the Spanish Civil War."

5) Actually put it in front of people who will want to buy it. The hardest part ^_^

6) I am experimenting presently with varying levels of commitment models where people would be able to contribute to the game in different ways depending on their skills and inclinations. This is less of a "game" and more of a "manufactured fandom," and I'm just starting to scratch the surface on this. Again, a topic for a whole thread.


* There's a few edge cases here, like maybe noir fans.


Awesome. Pretty much all of those things are things that I've thought about, or just things that have turned out that way because of source material and design constraints (game length, self-containedness, grabbiness). Some of the other points are great things to think about, so thanks.

Hans Chung-Otterson

Quote from: Ben Lehman on February 14, 2012, 06:32:31 PM3) Using bulk dice (which limits design to d6s only but that's actually not a big deal for me.)

Hey Ben,

So it seems pretty natural to think about what you need to play the game when considering the audience (like, if I want to target people who don't self-identify as gamers I won't consider a d20 when I'm designing), but are you saying that you were thinking as far along as product design while you were doing game design? That might be an obvious question, but the answer will be enlightening for me.

Ben Lehman

Hi Hans!

I don't consider it in initial design inspiration (which is quite varied, of course) but I do consider it in terms of development. For instance, I really like Dice Fighters as a mechanic but I'm not going to probably ever going to develop it past the initial idea, because it requires non standard dice (of course now I've just thought of a way to do it with all cube dice. Would still need custom die manufacture, though, so probably not worth it.)

There is a second issue here, which is that most things you can do with a platonic-solid+d10 dice set you can do better with either standard dice (if it's simple) or a deck of cards. But that's kinda a tangent.