Game Publisher Interview: Mark Kaufmann and Eric Hautemont on Small World 2

articlesmallworldBucking years of tight-lipped tradition, Days of Wonder currently has a Kickstarter campaign going for an update to Small World for the iPad, which they are calling Small World 2. In addition, this is a “hybrid” Kickstarter in the sense that it’s also a chance to get some physical, board game-related swag. This has led to a bit of confusion, though, so the head honchos Mark Kaufmann and Eric Hautemont talked with me and sorted me straight. Thanks to Mark & Eric for taking time out of their busy schedules!

 

I’m sure you’ve been busy the past couple of days…

Mark: Yes, we have! We’ve announced the first stretch goal: Android Tablets and Kindle Fire.

 

 

You’re stealing my thunder!

Mark: (laughs) Sorry! But we had enough people who really needed to know, and we kinda got to the point where we needed to say it. Although we didn’t want to be too presumptuous and announce our stretch goals up front, we’ve gotten a nice response so far, in terms of the number of backers, and obviously there’s a lot of questions. We’ve given the specifics [Android 4, 512 MB RAM, 1024x768 screen] – the setup is for the standard, new, popular tablets like the Nexus and the two Kindle Fires.

 

Welp, sounds like you’ll be funded now!

Mark: Well, you know, this is part of the reason why we did a Kickstarter. A lot of the questions or comments from people about “Why does Days of Wonder need to do this; you’re an established company!”… In addition to the reasons in the Kickstarter video, we had some really cool ideas for board game stuff. We’re kind of the only “hybrid company” in that we’re the only company that does board games and develops their own software, we thought, well, we can have a hybrid campaign, which no one else can really do. Which, of course, has caused some confusion, and some people questioning our motives.

 

I don’t get the question-the-motive thing, when you’re a business, of course the motive is at least partially to make money.

Well, you know, there are a lot of people in the world who don’t understand that. And that’s fine, it doesn’t matter – we have thick skin. What we’re trying to do is just make fun and cool stuff for people. Obviously, no one has to participate if they don’t want to – we want to create something that people want to do; it’s not our intention to make people angry about it. What we want to do is create fun stuff – that’s what game companies should be doing. Everyone gets to choose if they want to be a part of it or not. But if they do participate, then we’re able to do, for example, some Android stuff.

 

I think people get a misinterpretation – they see us as being pretty successful, and relative to lots of companies doing iPad or iPhone games, I think we’re more visible than some, but people have a misconception about how much money is being made with iOS software. The guys in the top two or three are doing quite well, and even though we’re typically ranked in the top 100 to 150 with our games, it’s not a huge amount of money. It’s not like we’re rolling in dough from the iPad and iPhone market. The other reason for the Kickstarter is gauging support.

 

Yep, “reasons people get angry” is the idea behind a couple of these questions… I gotta be honest, I’m a huge Small World fan, but I haven’t pledged yet. Apart from the special powers and races, am I right to say that I can go buy the 7-dollar version now and get all of these upgrades, if the project is funded, rather than pay 15 dollars?

Eric: If you go and buy the version now, ahead of the release of Small World 2, if the project gets funded, the free upgrade will get you the new features like online play and 3-5 player maps, things we really don’t want to charge for as in-app purchases. It won’t get you the new expansions like Be Not Afraid.., which you will still have to purchase as an IAP, and it won’t get you the new powers and races that are for Kickstarter backers.

 

There is a fine detail, though. The model we use is a board game model: so we believe that if you play with someone who has these expansions, you should have access to them during the game, as if a friend has invited you to their house to play with their game and all of the expansions they own. This is true for the expansions like Grand Dames and Cursed!, in addition to the Kickstarter bonuses.

 

So in a perfect world, after this is over and funded, the only in-app purchases in the game will be Grand Dames, Cursed!, and Be Not Afraid…?

Eric: Well, we’ll have to see how far we go with the campaign and the stretch goals. We have stretch goals in mind that are additional expansions like Small World Underground. If we end up programming and releasing that, it will be something that we will charge for, probably quite a bit of money for. Now, people that pledge at the $30 level and above, will get all of the expansions that get funded. If we get to a level where we announce a stretch goal like Underground, then people who pledge at $30 or more will also get that as part of their pledge. Other people will have to purchase it as an in-app purchase.

 

Okay, so the $30 level is guaranteeing me free access to any expansion that’s a stretch goal?

Eric: Yes. For something like the stretch goal of the Android version, you are still only getting one version of the game, but all of the actual expansions will be given. If you already have the iPad version, and you have an Android tablet, you could pledge at the $30 level, get the Android version and its expansions on Android, and still get the basic free upgrade for your iPad version.

 

Is there going to be cross-platform play between iPad and Android versions?

Mark: Yes.It’s going to work very similar to the way Ticket to Ride online play does, in that respect.

 

Eric: Except that it’ll be asynchronous play, and it’ll be running on our own servers, not Apple’s. Because we want to make it cross-platform, we don’t want to rely on Game Center. If you play the iPhone version [of Ticket to Ride], we’ve had a number of customers having trouble with asynchronous play on Game Center. Because it’s not our own server, we can’t do anything about it. So this time we want to have our own asynchronous servers anyway.

 

So, you began with Small World as your first iPad app, then you go to Ticket to Ride and you’re able to successfully support online multiplayer and things without in-app purchases or Kickstarter… what’s different? 

Eric: The player differential between Small World and Ticket to Ride is almost 10 to 1. That’s something people don’t realize. What people don’t realize is, let’s say you’re the number 1000 game on the iPad. Which is pretty good when there are so many games. So people think, “Oh, you must be raking in cash.” Well, no, you’re making less than $1,000 a month. And if you’re number 10,000, you’re making less than $100 a month. Ticket to Ride is in the top 150 grossing games, but we’re not making millions a month, or even millions a year.

 

Mark: So, yeah, the economic and financial sides of the two games are very different, in terms of what happens on iOS.

 

Eric: With Ticket to Ride, we make enough money that we can justify doing the development on our own. With Small World, it’s unfortunately not clear at all, and we’d like to see how the campaign goes. It started off strong, then slowed down, and now it’s picking up again, so we’ll have to see where we end up.

 

This kind of begs the question – how come Ticket to Ride wasn’t your first iPad app?

Eric: A totally different reason, actually. When they first launched the iPad, we went for developing a game that wasn’t an online game, but was a game that you could play face-to-face, sitting across an iPad. From that standpoint, Small World was the ideal candidate, because it has almost zero hidden information. Whereas in Ticket to Ride you have all your hands of cards which are hidden from other player, so you would have to assume people own two iPhones in addition to an iPad, which is just kind of crazy.

 

Well, it was kind of crazy…

Eric: (laughs) Well, you have to step back in time almost three years ago. Small World, then, was kind of the perfect game from that standpoint.

 

Mark: The development cycle, in terms of time, was very, very, very tight.

 

Eric: We basically did a rush project. We put in very few features. Because Ticket to Ride was already on other platforms with a lot of features, so we didn’t want to put out a version of it with few features. The original Small World app was very light on features – people don’t remember, but originally, there was no A.I.! You could play against someone else, and that was it.

 

So, not only is it a different user base, but there are also different challenges with programming, like the races and powers, and different player maps?

Eric: From a rules standpoint, Small World is much more costly to develop than Ticket to Ride. The basic rules of Small World are simple, every single race and power requires some additional programming, as does the map for each player configuration. That’s something people don’t realize - Ticket to Ride is by far our most successful game, both as a digital game and a board game, but Small World is vastly more complex to program, and then Memoir ’44 is even more complex to program than either of those two. And yet we’re selling less of that than of the original two games. So it’s kind of luck, the more complex it is, the more time it takes to program, and at the same time, the less it sells.

 

Can you give any hints on the new special races and powers? 

Mark: Uhmm…. no. Not yet. We have some pretty interesting ideas, some of which would be difficult to do on paper, not that they couldn’t be done, but they’ll be much more interesting and exciting digitally.

 

Are you going to reveal any of that before the campaign is over?

Mark: Possibly, but not necessarily.

 

One unique thing about this campaign is that you talk about how you’re usually so tight-lipped, but this time you’re trying something different… What’s the reason for the usual tight lips?

Mark: It’s actually pretty easy. Talking about things before they come out – I guess it makes some people feel good, but… first, when we develop things, if we announce it, we have to do it even if it doesn’t make sense anymore. You might later say, “wow, there’s a much better way to do this,” but you can’t change it because you’ve already made the announcement.  So that’s part of it – why say something that may change; you set expectations one way but then possibly go another way. The second reason is sort of an old maxim: don’t talk about stuff you can’t sell. I mean, people clearly want to get more information, but in the end, we’d rather have complete information when we’re ready to talk about it. As you can see, in this case, we came out early without all the information, and that’s caused some confusion. That’s partially because maybe we didn’t explain things as clearly as we should have, but it’s also that it may open up to questions you don’t have the answers to yet or aren’t ready to answer.

 

What I’m more excited about personally is the physical components. First off, I’m looking at the Deluxe Editions I’ve seen of other games… I think the Catan set was $150. I’m looking here, and the cheapest way to get the Small World deluxe set is… $321. This must look really nice.

Mark: (laughs) Yes, we think it is! We’re in the process of doing this, we kind of have spec out of what we want… One of the things with Kickstarter is that 3-dimensional depictions of things that aren’t final are frowned upon. So we’re not in a position to show everything. So part of it is a trust level – we have a track record at Days of Wonder of putting out stuff that’s pretty darn nice. Our goal with this is to blow people’s minds when they see it. We’re trying to get some things done before the campaign is over, but I can’t swear that we’ll have a whole lot more detail, but we’ll be giving updates on that kind of stuff as we get it. I would expect that people will be extremely excited to get one of the Designer Editions.

 

Is this the only chance to get the Designer Edition?

Mark: We’ll have an update on that soon.

 

If I spent that much on a Designer’s Edition, I have to say, I’d be really bummed to see another basic race/power expansion afterwards. Is this a hint that you’re done doing those kinds of expansions for the base game?

Mark: Well, first, we’ve never implied that we won’t do more. For example, we’re adding the new digital races and powers. So there are things we are excited to do. However, as you continue to do them, it’s difficult to come up with more that aren’t repeats, and the game reaches an inherent limit within the theme and what we want to do with the game. So that’s a non-answer you. I can’t say we won’t do any more. On the other hand, I think the things in the Designer Edition are going to be plenty of coolness to play with for a really long time.

 

Is the Designer Edition going to have support or room for Tales & Legends, or the Leader tokens, or…?

Eric: It will have room, but it won’t include those expansions. The focus is really on the base game, and the three expansions Cursed!, Grand Dames, and Be Not Afraid.

 

Just to make sure I’m looking at the right things on the Kickstarter page.. There’s a tray for the Designer Edition – is that the same tray for the Deluxe token set? 

Eric: Again, these are just all preliminary. We’re still discussing this with different vendors, and we’ll have more details as you go, but nothing is definitive yet. The way the tokens are going to be delivered is that each set of tokens will have its own box, so when someone picks a race, you just give them the appropriate box. For people who don’t buy the Designer Edition but just buy the token set, we will give them a nice package to carry all their nice boxes in.

 

Maybe we’ll see a giant Ticket to Ride at some point, huh?

Mark: (laughs) Well, not Ticket to Ride, but you can pledge for a giant Small World or Small World Underground, your choice! You can pledge that level, AND still get your tokens – in fact, the whole Designer Edition!

 

Maybe you should create a level where Miguel Coimbra paints an entire dungeon for you to LARP in. Which brings me to another question I see often: How do I get the troll!?

Eric: Back the project at the Shadow Mimes level, and you get a figure in the race of your choice. We have an artist that does a high-resolution 3D model and then we do a 3D print of it, and hey, at that price point we even paint it for you.

 

How big is it?

Mark: (laughs) He’s gonna go grab it…

 

Eric: The troll that we have, it’s about the size of my hand. It’s about 11 centimeters high, and about 7 or 8 centimeters wide. It’s not your typical 25mm figure.

 

Mark: And it’s not a piece to play the game with, either.

 

Eric: Exactly. It’s one to put on your desk or in front of your window.

 

What all is involved in this encyclopedia that comes in at the $65 level?

Eric: This is an art book of Small World that covers all of the races and powers of Small World. It shows some new art and sketches, and some tips and strategy advice.

 

Sounds great – I’ll have to convince the wife to let me put it on the  coffee table. 

 

2 comments to Game Publisher Interview: Mark Kaufmann and Eric Hautemont on Small World 2

  • Brownie

    DOW is a compant, and wan’t to make money – great. Yet, they wan’t to make an iOS version, even though they don’t make money from it, hence the kickstarted.

    I’m sorry, but that doesn’t make any sense. A business, don’t want to spend time and money (in this case other peoples money) on a project, that doesn’t generate any profit.

  • Derek Thompson

    My understanding is that adding these benefits without the use of in-app purchases would not make them money. So their first option is to make all the upgrades IAPs. The second option is the Kickstarter, which is priced to be profitable.

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