Lesson #9 – An Interview with James Hudson about funding a Family-Friendly game on Kickstarter

This week, Dan chats with Kickstarter creator, James Hudson, of Druid City Games. They discuss James’ successfully Kickstarted game, Barnyard Round Up, and the challenges facing family-friendly games on the platform.

Barnyard Roundup is a family-friendly game that recently funded on Kickstarter (see the campaign, pre-order the game). I recently sat down with one of the creators, James Hudson of Druid City Games, to pick his brain about some of the challenges faced when funding a family-friendly game on Kickstarter.

Let’s start with a little bit about yourself, how long you have been designing games? 

I have been building designs for about 10 minutes. Seriously, I just started really diving into building board games over the last couple of years. I go months with no inspiration at all, then I will have a wave of inspiration of work like mad for a weeks to build out a prototype. I am a theme first drives the mechanics kind of person. I know that will make someone mad. 🙂

What are some of your favorite family friendly games?

Las Vegas, Code Names, Skull, King of Tokyo, Splendor

6a37a7fcd2111ff518a0461f7e474768 original legacy square thumbCan you tell me about your family friendly game, Barnyard Roundup?

Sure! We wanted to make a game that had a repeatable mechanic that kept people engaged but didn’t feel like a chore for adults to play with children. I think we have all had our fill of Candyland and games of that sort. When I spend time with my family, I want to enjoy it. This was one of the main driving forces behind making Barnyard Roundup.

 What were some challenges you faced in creating a family-friendly game?

The #1 challenge is that most gamers don’t really want to play family friendly games. They want to play big meaty games that involve fantasy art and styles. Well, so do I! I mean, how often does the group get together for game night and the host says, “Ok peeps, who is up for some Candyland?!?” Never. So, the biggest challenge in the family friendly category is making something that draws in the board gamer, catches their attention, and when they play it, they don’t automatically throw it in the pile of “games for their kids” bin.

Did you find it hard to level the playing field between children and adults?

Yes! This is the crux of a game like Barnyard. I have answered the question “Do you really want to teach your kids to lie?” about a thousand times, because Barnyard is a bluffing game at it’s core. However, it’s so much more than that. It is an out thinking game that using bluffing as a possible strategy. I always mention the Princess Bride as a source of inspiration when we were building the game. The Battle of Wits (poison in the cups scene). I think the tough part is developing a mechanic that a child can grasp but has enough dynamic choice that an adult can enjoy. Also, art has to be just right. Something children can get into, but also something that doesn’t feel too Disney Jr. for the adults.

drinking-game
The Princess Bride Drinking Game. (c) 20th Century Fox

Family-friendly games can be a hard sell in the Kickstarter and gaming community, what made you consider creating one?

It’s the only real option, isn’t it? I mean, I could have pitched it to a publisher, but then my game would be lost in a sea of other games that the publisher may or may not be promoting. I wanted to control my own destiny and so Kickstarter was the only choice. And, yes, Kickstarter is very tough for family friendly games. Gamers want wizards, orcs, space, swords, magic, and fantasy. They don’t see kid like art and get excited.

I find that although Sushi Go, Haba Games, etc are wildly popular people seem to shy away from family-friendly games from indie designers.  How did you market it to ensure success?

Druid City Games | Uniting Family With BoardgamesThis is the most difficult question you have asked. It’s a mix of a million things. We did our best to have an organic, genuine presence in the board gaming arena well before we launched a Kickstarter. We didn’t just pop up on the day of launch and spam every group that had the words “board game” in it. We went to conventions and took people’s feedback to heart. We didn’t let our pride or ego get in the way when people said something was broke, not fun, or needed changing. So many independents have this issue, they do not take criticism well and they certainly don’t apply what they are hearing from the market. We studied games of a similar type to understand what our value proposition was to the market. Many creators are way off in this area, they haven’t done their homework on manufacturing and the game they are offering is way overpriced and they fail. We spent money on marketing. We built an audience and brought that audience to our project. This is not the “Field of Dreams”, if you build it, no one is coming. This market is flooded with great games, what are you offering that is unique and different? That is what people want to know and if you can’t answer that well, you will fail.

Did you ever consider pitching it to a publisher instead of publishing it yourself?

No, not really. I do have some other games that I am considering pitching. Mainly, because they involve minis and other high end components that are really hard for a small publisher to pull off well.

Do you have more games in the line-up? What is next from you? More great family-friendly goodness?

Our next game will be more adult focused. We aren’t Haba. 🙂 We are almost ready to announce the designer we are working with to publish their game under the Druid City umbrella. We have played this game a great deal and it is so much fun! It has dynamic choices, which is one thing we look for in any design, if a game “auto-plays”, we aren’t interested. It will be in the 30-60 minute range with depth and decisions, so a step in a different direction that a simple card game like Barnyard. However, it will bridge the gap theme wise. I can’t wait to show everyone the game!

What recommendations do you have for anyone considering publishing a family-friendly game?

Build an audience first. Go to Cons and purchase a demo table. Get lots of feedback from people outside your circle. Mail prototypes to blind play testers. Market yourself to the board gaming community. Be active. A family friendly game as your first game is super difficult, maybe start with something else first? It is still a question we ask ourselves a lot around here if we did correctly.

Special thanks to James for taking the time to answer some questions for me!  I think his main point of building an audience first is something that more first-time creators need to do for ALL projects, not just family-friendly ones!  Kickstarter is not going to drive an audience to you, you need to bring it yourself.  The best way to do that, with family-friendly games or others, is to get it in front of as many people as possible and find its audience. Thanks again James!

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