We’re pleased to announce that Chris and Johnny O’Neal at Brotherwise Games have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Tell us about your company, Brotherwise Games. How long have you been designing games?
Brotherwise Games was founded by (wait for it) brothers Chris and Johnny O’Neal in 2012. Like many dedicated gamers, we’d been “designing” our own games for years; playing around with ideas, improving on games we liked to play but found some faults with, and generally dreaming about how much fun it would be to bring our own games to life. A few years ago a job move brought Chris to southern California where Johnny already lived, and we decided to pursue game development in earnest. Of the various games that we’d been percolating over the years, Boss Monster showed the most promise as a game that we could fully develop and seek funding for.
Chris is a Ph. D. in Biology and a teaching consultant at University of California; Johnny is a brand manager for a major toy company. Tell us more about how those disparate careers have impacted your work as a game designers.
Tabletop game design is one of those few careers where there’s not much in the way of formal training available. Like most designers, we learned about games by playing them — a lot of them. You’d think that Chris’s background in science would make him the more analytical of the two designers, while Johnny’s background in marketing would make him more aware of the “feel” of a game. This isn’t always the case, though. In developing Boss Monster, Johnny tended to take a more quantitative approach to design while Chris focused more on the game’s feel and theme. For each Brotherwise Game, one brother serves as lead designer with veto power over the other brother. This is important for ensuring the project moves forward, but also important in that it allows each brother to bring different things to project. As co-designer, Chris could react to Johnny’s design changes without having been there for the computation that went into balancing each change. This method worked well for us.
Please describe Boss Monster.
Boss Monster is a tabletop card game for 2-4 players that puts you in the role of the big baddies of videogaming’s golden days: the bosses lurking at the end of the dungeon.
In Boss Monster you build a side-scrolling dungeon of different room types and try to lure hapless heroes into your dungeon. Different hero types are lured to different types of room, and at heart Boss Monster is a bidding game where you the resources being bid on are heroes. But you use your rooms to kill those heroes as well, and if your dungeon isn’t as attractive as it is deadly, the heroes will make it through and deliver wounds to you, the Boss. Spells and room effects allow you to interfere with other Bosses’ dungeons and tactics.
8-bit and 16-bit pixel art has become popular in the past few years. What made you decide to take that direction with your artwork?
Like many games, Boss Monster went through uncountable iterations on its way to a final product. The game had its roots in a popularity-based game Johnny created years ago, in which the game’s currency was friends. Not surprisingly, that didn’t feel right for us and the game morphed into a more sword & sorcery feel. At some point, the “side-scrolling” mechanic became a permanent part of the gameplay and we realized that the game had organically come to mimic the layout of the 8-bit and 16-bit video games of our youth. It was a natural decision from there to invest heavily in the retro-gaming feel of Boss Monster, a decision which was clearly a good one as many people are brought into the game based on the artwork and nostalgia alone.
Did you create a design journal for your game? If so, did you publish it anywhere?
Design journal? That sounds like a smart thing to have done…dang. We did not keep a detailed design journal, but we did keep a pictoral representation of the game and it’s iterations. This is something we recommend to all designers. A journal can seem a bit daunting to stay on top of, but whipping out your phone camera at every play testing session and documenting what you see is a useful way to keep what worked and didn’t work in mind. We have not published these photos, and likely won’t, but we did put some of them in our Kickstarter-exclusive strategy guide.
You pitched Boss Monster on Kickstarter, and were successful. Tell us about the project of setting it up, getting backers, and ultimately fulfilling those orders.
Running a successful Kickstarter is a full time job. We can’t emphasize this enough. Don’t do it if you don’t have 8 hours a day to commit to it. As partners we were able to split this 8 hours up, but we were still exhausted at the end of the month. Setting up the campaign online, making your videos, setting your pledge levels, crafting your stretch rewards, sending out press releases, managing your social media connections, posting on the comment boards, creating daily updates, and all of this while also working on polishing your game and getting it ready for print – these are just a handful of the ways you’ll spend your day running a successful campaign. We’re now in the fulfillment process, which feels AWESOME! I can’t overstate that. For those of you reading this and dreaming about making a game that people will play and enjoy, it is indeed an amazing feeling.
You raised over $200,000 on your Kickstarter. At what point did you know this was going to be hugely successful, and what do you think aided you in raising so much money?
We can’t say enough good things about our Kickstarter backers. They took the game and made it a mission to get it funded, and then some. There are a lot of tabletop games on Kickstarter now, and we’ve received a number of questions from other designers about what we’d done to raise $215,000 for Boss Monster. The answer is, we’re not sure. It helps that Boss Monster is a great game, but there are lots of great games on Kickstarter that don’t raise the money we did. It helps that Boss Monster had an iconic feel that people resonated to, but we see lots of cool-looking games on Kickstarter that don’t do as well. It helped that we worked like maniacs to get the word out (we sent out over 200 press releases in the first two weeks alone), but lots of games get the word out and don’t get funded. Kickstarter is a very nebulous beast, and we advise anyone looking to Kickstart their game to follow a couple rules: 1) Get your pledge tiers right. Low entry costs and progressively cooler “super-size me” tiers got backers engaged and then had them coming back to give more money later on. 2) Kickstart to publicize your finished game, not to fund an unfinished one. Backers want to know they’re gambling on a decent chance the game will actually be finished and delivered. Close-to-finished, polished games do better than in-development ones. 3) Treat your backers like what they are: partners. We spent countless hours listening to our backers’ suggestions, trying to involve them in the process, and cultivating their sense of ownership of the game. We owe these guys huge, and we know it. We want to live up to the faith they‘ve put in us.
Now that you’ve run your first successful Kicstarter project, do you have plans to do others? What would you do differently than the first time?
As successful as Boss Monster was, the reality in tabletop gaming is that indie designers like ourselves will always have a tough time maintaining the capital necessary to independently publish games. For the foreseeable future we will be Kickstarting all Brotherwise Games titles, starting with the next round of Boss Monster expansions.
Obviously, the Boss Monster Kickstarter was extremely successful, and I don’t think we’ll change a lot about how we run our campaigns, but we did grossly underestimate our potential, and that meant that we were always playing catch up to a campaign that was running wild. We’ll set our sights even higher in the future.
Is Boss Monster going to be available in retail stores? If so, where can people buy it?
Yes indeed, Boss Monster will be available in your friendly neighborhood gaming shop in the summer of 2013. We’re currently talking to distributors about making this happen.
Could you describe any influence The Game Crafter had on your success as a game designer?
We can’t say enough nice things about The Game Crafter. Brotherwise has a hard-and-fast rule of game design: always play test with the closest thing to polished that you can. We used TGC extensively during our playtesting and prototyping process and we truly believe that while pencil and paper can get you a long way in designing the mechanics of a game, you won’t really know how it feels to play a game unless you can approximate the final product: TGC lets you do this better than any other method.
We’d also like to take this opportunity to thank TGC publicly for saving our bacon. One of the many hasty promises we made to our backers was to have early prototypes of the game in the hands of backers (who pledged for them) by Christmas. We naively hit TGC with an order of about 200 games in early December. I’m picturing the massive face-palm JT did when we hit him with these orders. Nevertheless, he went out of his way to hire extra help and delivered ALL of our orders before the holidays. It was epic and a real testament to the dedication the folks at TGC bring to this business.
What’s next for you?
Work, work, and more work. As we are discovering, the table-top games business is a tough one, and not for the faint of heart. Both of us have families and full-time jobs to attend to, so Brotherwise work happens in the evenings and early mornings. We’ve got two Boss Monster expansions in the work, another Brotherwise title in development, and some super secret projects we can’t talk about yet (always wanted to say that). We think the future looks bright for Brotherwise and we’re having the time of our lives.
Any last words of encouragement or advice to all the designers reading this who would love to experience your success?
Just this, there is absolutely nothing different about you and us. We’re not any smarter, more creative, or more persistent than you. If we could pull this off, any dedicated game designer can. Good luck, and visit us on the web at www.bwisegames.com!