Gaming Ballistic started as a blog in late 2012, and then became a company in its own right in October 2016, as the company formally launched its first product, Dungeon Grappling.
This year, 2017, marks the first full year of the company’s operation. It still has but one person doing all of the administrative work: me. And thus far, Gaming Ballistic exists as a vehicle to deliver Douglas’ game ideas, but with luck and planning, that will change.
Gaming Ballistic is a producer of games and entertainment.
2017: Executive Summary
The year started off with a frenzy of activity completing promised deliveries for Dungeon Grappling, the first product Kickstarted and delivered by Gaming Ballistic. All rewards were delivered ahead of schedule – physical product was 3 months early, PDFs were delivered a month early. Not bad for the first Kickstarter for GB.
The Gaming Ballistic website and blog site were completely revamped, and look and work very well. A lot of below-the-waterline work on several projects consumed most of the company’s time and money in 2017 to no real outcome in terms of “product that GB can sell.”
GB did hit GenCon as part of the Independent Game Designer’s Network booth, and I was also there as part of a reward package for backing the Dungeon Fantasy RPG by Steve Jackson Games. That was inspiring but expensive, with relatively little to show for it in terms of market presence or sales. I did, however, write and run a scenario whose purpose was to demonstrate Dungeon Grappling. Fifteen people from ages 10-50 played through that scenario to good success.
The combination of leveraging some of the Dragon Heresy background material and the existing write-ups allowed GB to write and launch its second Kickstarter, for a linear demonstration adventure eventually called “Lost Hall of Tyr.” That Kickstarter also successfully funded, and primary rewards were again delivered three months ahead of schedule.
Expanding into physical stuff a bit, GB also researched and constructed mostly-authentic Viking-style shields to match the Dragon Heresy theme. A single shield was sold at the end of the year, which capped off a lot of building and trial-and-error to get the process down. Larger plans for such crafting have been scoped out.
The year ended with the return of certain parts of the Dragon Heresy manuscript to my primary control, and new plans being laid for that product that will hopefully bear fruit in 2018.
The High Points
The two clear high points were the production and closure of two Kickstarters – one from 2016, and the new one for Lost Hall of Tyr in late 2017.
The Dungeon Grappling book continues to sell in bits and pieces, and the entire cost of development was covered in the Kickstarter. The product sold enough in 2017 to earn back all the money spent in acquiring inventory for it after the product was finished, and sales through the new web platform were decent – and since I make a lot more money (about double) from webstore sales than DriveThru, contributed to the overall success of the product. Dungeon Grappling is – on a stand-alone basis – in the black by a comfortable margin. Granted, that means “a few hundred dollars,” but it’s a solid, good-looking, very gameable product that represents a fantastic first-time offering.
Perhaps more importantly, it set the stage for a reputation for Gaming Ballistic as someone who not only fulfills Kickstarter promises, but does so ahead of schedule. As Jayne Cobb would say, “well that’s somethin’.”
Website Redesign and Webstore
Daniel Lunsford, who some of you might know as one of the movers behind the GURPS Fantasy Grounds user-driven skin, did a fantastic job redesigning my website, and we migrated over to WordPress and my own domain early in 2017.
While there are still some legacy hiccups (the Blogger to WordPress migration is never perfect, and many links and photos were lost), the site is gorgeous, the “ballistic” theme is on-point, and it remains readable and portable to mobile devices. Between the two of us, we got the webstore up and running, and one can purchase my stuff and I can collect money from those purchases. All good stuff.
Lost Hall of Tyr: The Kickstarter
I’ll say more about the Lost Hall of Tyr project later in the “Challenges and Missteps” sections. But one thing is certain: the launch, management, and execution of the Kickstarter went very, very well. Project management remains a strong suit of Gaming Ballistic, and the process of creating the book went even more smoothly than the first time. Say what you want about how the adventure plays out, it’s a freakin’ gorgeous book.
Challenges and Missteps
Of course, not all went well. Here were the big missteps from 2017.
Lost Hall of Tyr
While the Lost Hall of Tyr adventure is a beautiful book, and reads and plays well, I was completely off the mark in terms of my anticipated market. Dungeon Grappling racked up 300 backers, and the subject was, well, grappling. I figured that an adventure targeted at Fifth Edition, following a successful early delivery for Dungeon Grappling, and including art from someone with 30,000 facebook followers and thousands of Patreon supporters would do much better. My hoped-for “conservative” estimate for the book was 450 folks coming from my established mailing list and my prior Kickstarter, another 100-200 because “Fifth Edition,” and anywhere from 100-400 from being talked about on my friend’s FaceBook feed.
That wasn’t completely crazy-talk: the last time my stuff was mentioned on his site, I got 4,000 new folks coming to read my work in two days. As many of the stretch goals were “commission the artist for even more great work!” I figured that “up to 400, or 10% of those that came by” might throw a few bucks into the ring.
So my “Hold my beer, I’ve got this” estimates for what the Kickstarter would bring in “easy peasy” were on the order of $7,500 from 500+ backers, and I really thought 1,000 would be unlikely but not crazed. My stretch goals were scoped accordingly.
Well. 240 people (who are awesome) came on board. This is why the conventional wisdom at Steve Jackson Games is probably “adventures don’t sell.” (Caveat: It could also be MY adventure didn’t sell, because of any number of reasons, from ‘uninteresting’ to ‘one-shot’ to ‘grappling’ to ‘bad marketing’ or all of the above.)
I was able to make the book, but not how I wanted it. My confidence in the outcome led me to write a lot of checks in advance. This helped schedule (big time), but put me at risk of a significant loss. In the end, I suspect that it cost about $500-1000 more to make the book than it brought in. Sales post-Kickstarter have thus far been lackluster.
What I was hoping from Lost Hall was to repeat and grow my success with Dungeon Grappling, expanding my market presence and increasing my fundraising ability by a hoped-for 2x past the Dungeon Grapplig experience. That didn’t happen, and I need to carefully look at why for 2018.
Late. Late late late. Things got stalled in the development process and most of 2017 was spent waiting. When I wasn’t waiting for manuscript movement, I was spending money on things. Gorgeous, awesome, spectacular things – Michael Clarke is a wonderful artist and a great graphic layout guy, and the work he’s delivered was so great I gave him a well-deserved bonus.
But it’s hard to sell what you don’t have in hand, and I didn’t turn DH into a product. The pains encountered with Lost Hall gave me pause as well, and I really had to rescope what might be possible as a “low end” product that would get Dragon Heresy into the playable and salable state while not costing quite as much as I calculated it might.
(For what it’s worth, the manuscript lays out at near-on 800 pages in three volumes. To have the art-heavy, gorgeously appointed, thematically unified books I want to have and pay myself back for pre-investment? I probably needed $125,000 to do it with Plan A. There are ways of making that a lot less, and I’m exploring all of them.)
Fortunately, no launch date was ever announced, so this is more of a “missed opportunity” than a failure. Still, what looked like a fast turn in Feb of 2017 and a mostly-complete manuscript in April or May turned into a much more involved ground-up design process.
In short, both the author and I completely biffed on the scope of the project, and we revised estimates for timing in dribs and drabs rather than a complete step-back and project scope rewrite.
The good news for GB as a company is that very few checks were written for this in advance. I have a great prelim layout template from Nathan Paoletta that still will be just fine. But overall, I had hoped that I’d see VB as a product this year, and it didn’t happen.
The Shields of Torengar
One thing that Gaming Ballistic blog-followers saw but GB shoppers didn’t are custom-made Viking-style shields. They’re not entirely historically accurate, but they’re much closer than one finds in many places, and a wonderful custom piece of kit (the one pictured, for example, is glued with hide glue, has a rawhide edging that’s stitched in place with linen thread, a hand-carved oak handle, and weighs about 5.25 lbs). I did a lot of learning here, and am confident that I can make and sell these things if there’s a market for them.
I did not, however launch the product on the site yet. Mostly because by the time I was confident in my ability to make them, and make them well, it was wintertime in Minnesota, and it’s really hard to work in the garage when it’s -15F/-26C outside and the workplace is poorly insulated. My compound miter saw? It blew the breaker every time I started it up because all the lube and motor parts were just that cold.
So this one is more of a “meh” than a “failure,” and I hope to be able to offer some nifty bespoke crafting pieces in 2018.
Administration and Organization
While project management was very, very strong, I let the ball slide on a few things this year, notably accounting and expense tracking. Oh, sure, I know the total of what I spent, and was very good about keeping things in the proper bins, not letting personal expense and business expense cross over.
But I need to be better about real-time (or at least prompt) logging and classification of spending and revenue, and keeping better track of such things so that there’s a proper documentation trail for anything good or bad. Bad would be a surprise audit. Good would be a breakout success. Both can be fatal to a business if they’re not backed with good planning and record-keeping.
I’m not an artist. I’m not a layout pro. I’m actually a pretty good editor, but editing your own work is folly. So in 2017 I built on the good relations I’d formed in 2016’s projects, and added more collaborators. Top of the list goes to Todd Crapper (yes, really) of Broken Ruler Games, who knew when to listen to me and knew when to ignore me in getting Lost Hall to be the fantastic-looking book it is. John Adamus, editor-extraordinaire, blazed through the draft so quickly I almost couldn’t react (but again: project management skills let the next steps be taken immediately). John answers emails so quickly sometimes I wonder if he’s psychic.
My artist pool expanded a bit too. I built on relationships with Juan Ochoa and Rick Troula, and added a few other artists to my rolodex. Well, digital rolodex. They each did fantastic work.
In the behind-the-scenes column, I got the best advice I’ve ever received on writing and editing from Kenneth Hite at GenCon. His success in Delta Green and Vampire 5e was my loss, however, as he got too busy to really wrangle with Dragon Heresy. Nonetheless, his functional advice on the guts of how to write better continue to influence my published work today.
Finally, I’m in mild to intense discussions with no fewer than five other parties with respect to future games or game supplements. Some of the content of those discussions I’ve spoken about before, and at least one falls into “knock me over with a feather” type news.
2017 on Target
My goals for 2017 were four-fold
- Complete the delivery of Dungeon Grappling
- Move GB to its own website and domain, and establish my own storefront
- Launch Venture Beyond as a Kickstarter and deliver it in the middle of 2017
- Launch Dragon Heresy and have the Kickstarter moving during GenCon so I could promote it
Dungeon Grappling and the website went swimmingly.
Dragon Heresy and other projects were delayed so badly that I had rather too much room to create, produce, and deliver Lost Hall in the meantime.
Overall, Gaming Ballistic brought in about $7275 in revenue and sales in 2017. I spent roughly $26,000 during the year, much of it on Dragon Heresy (editing, art, layout, some promotional materials). I’ll post a more detailed breakdown later.
So not much cash flow in, and a lot of flow out. That does not make for a happy business, but there are some benefits to pre-investing.
In My Sights: 2018 Goals
Looking ahead to 2018, there are several definite priorities for Gaming Ballistic
This is the big one. With thousands of dollars invested in writing, art, layout . . . my goodness, it’s almost as though I could, with existing assets, put together books almost immediately.
This is, in fact, the case. And the plan is to work like crazy to put together either a one-volume or three-short-volume introductory set that will cover making characters, level 1-5 advancement, the new rules concepts, and the basics of the setting.
I have the Heroes book re-edited based on Ken’s teaching. Foes is likewise complete. Deeds is next. Then comes the painful part: removing 2/3 of all the material to make one book of less than 256 pages but fully playable with that one book. Alternately, cut it down to three books of appropriate size but on the order of 64-112 pages each depending on topic. Still, I can do this with the layout template that already exists, the art assets that already exist from pre-investment, Dungeon Grappling, and Lost Hall, and a small infusion of funds from a low-threshold-for-success Kickstarter. That will get me a third-party edit and a bit more money for layout, because if nothing else the Foes/Monsters section is a lot of work.
That gets the game out there, being played and further torture tested by the customer base. Much like Fifth Edition led with an introductory set, so will Dragon Heresy.
From there? See how things go, and set a trajectory for the full books in all their glory.
The Hunted Lands
This will be a Level 1-5 mini-setting that will enable out-of-the-box fun with the Dragon Heresy Introductory set. If you so desire, it could easily be run with Fifth Edition, and other systems as well. The Midderlands, by Glynn Seal of MonkeyBlood Design, is an example of such a thing. A fairly self-contained area in which to romp around and adventure. The Hunted Lands is an area in northern Torengar and adjacent Tanalor in the Dragon Heresy world.
I’ve had a lot of good brainstorming on this one, and unlike Lost Hall, this will not be a scripted adventure. It will be a bunch of people, places, things, and events that the player characters can interact with . . . or not. It will have bandits and pirates, dragons, undead, fiends, and politics of the feudal variety. Many of the facets of the setting will interact in multiple ways with other facets. In short, it should be a great mini-sandbox to explore.
I’m aiming at “second half of 2018” for this one.
A bit of a wild card, my intent for this one is, as we say in my Day Job, more to have a serious skull session with the author on this, and work out a plan. I love what David has done with the system, and it’s more of a framework than a setting. All the old-school fun of Traveller or Firefly, but without quite so much history and weight of many pre-written assumptions. Need to polish the system, play the game, and see what revisions are needed. More on this as it comes, but it is coming.
I want to go live with the shield-making this year, as soon as it warms up enough to work outside. This is an outlet for my own urge for crafting, but could be a real boost to the game side of things too, a much-needed source of revenue.
There are maybe five things “in the hopper,” that I can’t or won’t talk about. Two involve me as author, three more are me acting as publisher. All have great potential.
My productivity recently on original blog content has been poor. That needs to change, and rather than vacillate between “post every day” and “do nothing for weeks,” a schedule of roughly 3-4 posts per week will be worked out so that I can continue to exercise my creativity and communicate with the outside gaming world on a more regular basis.
I’d like to attend at least two conventions with nifty product in hand. The first is Midgard, in freaking Iceland. I deeply desire to show off my viking-based RPG in the land of vikings. Second is GameHole Con, which is in nearby Madison, WI.
There are some local cons I really ought to be present at, as that’s a matter of a car trip and not a major jaunt and hotel stay.
One thing that will not happen this year, perhaps not for a while, is GenCon. Too expensive and my chosen sales vector proved ill-suited to peddling games based on SRD5.1 or the OSR. Folks both working at the booth and shopping there were sometimes openly dismissive of that market segment and gaming style, which doesn’t make itself conducive to moving a lot of product.
The watchword for 2018 needs to be revenue. With a strong side-order of Marketing. Lost Hall needs more eyeballs and players. It’s got some good feedback, and one decidedly negative review, but that’s fine; I can learn from both. But I need to increase my salable product portfolio so that my future game development is no longer subsidized to such a ridiculous level by my day job and other hobbies.
I also want to see about acting in other capacities. A recent interaction with a fellow game designer and editor made me realize that I can add value doing third-party editing, and that’s also a venue for me to explore.
If one somewhat generously calls 2017 a year of infrastructure building, 2018 simply must start using that infrastructure to deliver on things that have been in the works for a long time.
Let’s get to it.