2016 Retrospective

Hi everyone!
Another year has passed already. Honestly, I can hardly believe it. But we are here and 2016 has been a very different year to any previous to this, so I thought I would cover the things that we’ve achieved this year, as well as adding a few thoughts about where we are going.
We have done more production this year than ever before, with no fewer than 7 Kickstarters run successfully, between games and comics. We have attended more conventions than ever before and played our games with an amazing number of people. 2016 has been a year of full-on game production, an attempt to see whether people would continue to be interest in a myriad ideas that I have for games. We have been fortunate enough to find you, the fans who are making this continue to be possible, who have made this year have not just a remarkable level of production but also one which shines a light forward.
Entering 2017, we are not wondering what we can do any longer. I believe that is one of the strongest statements that can be made by a company in our phase of development.
I am getting a little ahead of myself, however.
Here are a few of the things we did in 2016:
We have attended a lot of conventions and been pleased to do so. Investigating smaller conventions has given us the chance to introduce new people to Tabletop Roleplaying Games, and we have not ceased our regular appearances.
You might have seen us at:
  • London Anime and Gaming Con (February)
  • London Gaming Market (April)
  • MCM Comicon London (May)
  • UK Games Expo (June)
  • StrategyGamingCon (September)
  • MCM Comicon London (October)
  • Dragonmeet (December)
But that is not all: with the help of Envoy, our games have been visiting conventions across the US as well!
I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank both every Envoy herald and the team that works with me on the UK-based conventions. We couldn’t do this without the dedication that you guys bring to the mix.
At these conventions, we have had the opportunity to demonstrate our games, run panels on game design and meet a huge number of amazing people. We will certainly be doing more conventions next year, and you will be able to find out what by keeping an eye out right here!
I have produced more this year than ever before. We have several books still outstanding for Era: The Consortium, but we have succeeded across the board in delivering ahead of schedule, to the degree that a few people even commented on it at Dragonmeet!
So here are the games and what has happened with them this year:
Era: The Consortium (2 Kickstarters)
This year has very much been my opportunity to prove what I said last year: Era: The Consortium’s Core Rulebook is only the beginning of the journey.
We ran a successful Kickstarter for The Secret War expansion at the beginning of the year, delivered well ahead of schedule… and then decided to up the ante a little.
Our second Kickstarter offered anywhere up to 18 expansions, based on Stretch Goal unlocks. It brought an unprecedented level of support to Era: The Consortium – we unlocked 8 books and had almost £10,000 pledged in the end (including PayPal)!
We have already delivered 4 of these books, with 2 more being actively written, 1 being proofread and 1 in the queue. I believe there is every probability that we will deliver these before the end of January in Digital form.
That wasn’t the major headline of the campaign for me, though. We are also producing a Definitive Edition Rulebook for Era: The Consortium, which has over 100 pages of unique, new content never seen before. Some of it is stuff I had to cut from the initial rulebook for length reasons, and other parts are brand new. It is going to be amazing and the first piece of a new hardback set for the game.
Seeing Era: The Consortium achieve this has been an incredible experience for me. Add to that the nomination for Game of the Year at UKGE… almost unbelievable stuff to me, a small game creator.
Era: The Consortium still isn’t done: There are at least 10 more books out there, if not more! We will see what we can do about developing some during 2017, but I am not ready to make promises until we have delivered our current Kickstarter, for obvious reasons!
Era: Lyres (1 Kickstarter)
When I ran the Kickstarter for Era: Lyres in 2015, I considered it a fun little experiment that was finished. We could sell some more copies, but that would be about it.
A suggestion was made to me a year ago (at Dragonmeet) by John Dodd that we should cut it down to an A5 book. We ran a Kickstarter to see if people were interested and they really were!
Era: Lyres Pocket Edition is now the single game which we have sold the most copies of this year.
What is next for Era: Lyres? That is a good question… Is there something you want to see? Contact us and tell us!
Era: The Empowered
For this year, Era: The Empowered has been “the one that got away”, at least in game terms – I will talk comics later.
Between personal crises for the team members, an uncertain direction on artwork and other things taking up my time, Empowered has not had the attention I wanted to give it.
However, we are now back on track. We have set aside the budget, we have fogured out the new direction for the artwork and we have finalised the mechanics.
Writing has begun on the fiction, artwork has begun and we are aiming to finish production in the first half of next year – no more waiting!
I think you will be pleased with what we have in mind.
Era: Survival (1 Kickstarter)
Era: Survival has been a lot more popular than I ever expected!
The addition of cards as something I really liked and it has proven expensive but worth it. The fans love them too, I already had to make a second order!
According to feedback at Dragonmeet, people feel there aren’t many survival horror RPGs around and welcome this addition to our universe.
And so, I am pleased to be able to tell you that the first Source Book is actually underway right now! Artwork is almost complete and the writing is ongoing. I expect to be presenting it to Kickstarter in the next few months, and I think you will really like what The Swarm has to offer.
We have a second sourcebook, “Aqua”, planned for 2017 or 2018, and the popularity of The Swarm and Era: Survival in general will decide when that is.
Era: Survival is definitely a game you can expect to see more of!
Era: Silence (1 Kickstarter)
This is an odd one. It is a game that I believe is truly innovative, but it is very hard to convince experienced roleplayers that it is worth a try.
The Kickstarter went extremely well, but the same explanation doesn’t seem to work in person.
I think we haven’t figured out how to explain it properly, to be honest.
We will keep working on it, because every group (okay, it was 3 groups…) who played it with us both loved it and bought a copy, and that proves what a great game it is!
Era: Hitman
Our next pocket RPG is close to completion. A little graphic design, editing and proofreading is all that is left. This will likely be the next RPG Kickstarter you see from us.
And, for those of you who don’t know what this is… imagine the Hitman game… but working as a team… in a world where you and your targets can have superpowers.
I will leave the rest to your imagination!
Era: The Chosen
I am currently working on a horror game, aiming for mid-late 2017.
Jody, an experienced author in the genre, is working with me on this and between the two of us we have come up with something really special. The Era d10 Rule Set lends itself excellently to this genre and the story we have created contains not just modern era gameplay, but everything from Renaissance technology, through Napoleonic era weaponry to a near-future-ish (Turok inspired) level of technology.
More about that right here over the coming months!
Champion of Earth
Our first card game has had a rocky development process. It started with a lot of people liking it but having something against it that they were unsure of.
As a game which has a sense of humour about itself, had to be simple enough for anyone to pick up and have fun and requiring well over 100 images, this was a new challenge for us.
Fortunately, hard work paid off. We did some fantastic playtests at UKGE, Dragonmeet and elsewhere and have fixed the mechanics to a point where everyone is satisfied.
Artwork is now underway and I think you can expect to see this during the first half of next year!
Personally, I can’t wait!
This year is the first time we have produced a large volume of comic titles.
We have made a decision as a company that we want to do more of this. We do a lot of comic conventions and our comics are, in general, received very well.
Johnathan Lewis, my right hand, is picking up the comics aspect with some help from me, and will be producing more during 2017, you can be sure.
Lacuna and Penumbra
We have recently delivered these, and the only complaint we had was that people wanted more comics starring the characters!
We are working on more things, but Lacuna’s return will have to wait a little longer – the Empowered universe is very large and we have at least 5 more stories to tell first!
Consortium Comics
It was announced some time ago that a Hai-Xang Hayden comic is underway. It is actually almost complete and will be the first comic project in the new year.
Production Summary
When you consider that we have made 15 products during this year – that is more than one a month, you can see that we have had a busy year.
We have made a lot of great games and grown the number of people playing them. That is brilliant, and definitely the right direction.
We have also managed to have 2 of our 5 games break even, bringing in a profit equal to their development cost. I am currently funding most of this personally, with whatever Kickstarter brings in adding to what I can give.
And in a busy year, there are always…
Mistakes in 2016
Mistakes happen, it is how you learn, and that is fine. I have certainly made my share this year.
Volume of Products
This has been a very busy year, without doubt the busiest we have ever done, and I have personally scraped very close to burnout on more than one occasion.
At the end of last year, we held a strategy meeting and agreed that we needed more games to prove that we were serious about game creation, not a one-gane studio which would never push further. I worked accordingly, as the lead creator, to bring several of my ideas to fruition.
I do not think the volume we have produced was a mistake, but maintaining my drive to deliver everything when other people became unable to assist was not the best course.
I think we have proven an ability to produce a wide range of games this year, and I believe that we should slow down a litle bit for 2017.
Exchange Rates
With GBP and USD exchange rates what they currently are, we have fewer resources than at the beginning of the year.
Because of Kickstarter’s rules, we have to use a UK bank account, which means that almost all of our income is in GBP and our outgoings are in USD.
This poses some obvious issues which we need to resolve. We have not yet figured out how to deal with this, but are working on it.
Team Size
I touched on this under volume, but it has become clear to me during this year that I am wearing too many hats and doing too many things in a way that is not expert enough.
Marketing is the big one here – I am not suited to it personally and, while I learn everything I can, I don’t have the time to devote to it.
As a result, we are going to be looking hard for some more people to join the team in 2017, especially in marketing but I am also looking for someone to take ownership of a couple of the roadmaps for games. Era: The Consortium will probably always stay with me, but most of the others need careful forward thinking that I don’t have the brain space for.
For most of this year, I have been working 40 hours a week at a paid job and then an extra 60 or so on SoV (the weeks where I was on holiday, I just worked 60-100 hours on SoV!) and I am fairly sure I won’t be able to keep that up for ever.
In short, we need to become less of a one-man band as a company and have a few more people running around, instead of just me, if we want to keep growing!
So I should say… if you are reading this and are thinking you might like to do some work with us as a part-time thing, contact us! I would be happy to talk to you.
I have been unhappy with our website for a long time and this year I made an effort to improve it.
In many respects, we succeeded, but the amount of time, effort and money it took was a lot more than I expected. We have spent a large chunk of our limited resources on that and, looking back, it probably has not made much difference.
Direct sales are easier all-round – you no longer have to wait for me to Email you the book, it is downloadable from the purchase screen – but few of those occur, most of our sales come from Kickstarter or conventions.
While I would still like some improvements, it has dropped down the list for now in terms of priorities.
Marketing Practice
One of the hardest things for any creative person to do, according to everyone I have met, is to market their products.
We are no exception: we struggle to get penetration. Audiences of 200 or so are fantastic, way better than the 100 or so we achieved at the end of last year, but it isn’t enough to continue to grow at the rate we want to.
Fringe Projects
I am including this under mistakes because we have spent a fair amount of money and not yet achieved anything in this area.
I have a lot of ideas and dreams. I want to have miniatures. I want to make a computer game. I want an automated character creator. And much more.
We have spent some money on developing towards these things, particularly miniatures this year, and they have not yielded much so far.
Miniatures themselves are actually looking fairly encouraging – we are making progress… but we aren’t there yet. In terms of the strategy, we need to start achieving these things when we put money towards them – too much is half-done.
What should you expect for 2017?
2017 is going to be a little bit different to 2016.
Rather than focusing wholly on production, we are going to be looking into how to best market our games and company. We have already agreed a fairly aggressive marketing budget for next year.
That doesn’t mean we are stopping production, though: Era: The Consortium will have more expansions, Hitman and Chosen are expected, along with Champion of Earth. I may also create one other game which I have been working on for a while – more on that when I decide.
You can expect to see a number of comics from us next year as we work to complete our Empowered set and the Bug War graphic novel (of which the Hai-Xang Hayden comic is the first part).
I am looking forward to 2017 as a year where we are able to spread the word and get more people playing Era games (and Champion of Earth, which is technically not an Era game!)
A few final thoughts…
2016 was to be a year of proving we could take this step, and I believe we have done that.
I will continue forward with Shades of Vengeance using this knowledge. And I hope that you will continue to support this venture.
I believe that we do something with Shades of Vengeance and ImagineRPG that is valuable not just for the customers but for the people who work with us. Amongst other things, I am pleased and proud to be giving freelancers enough work to stay freelance.
We have learned a lot this year.
We have come to understand the value of marketing the games I create in a certain way – while we are not all the way to the right place, we are learning to explain them in a way that people can unserstand and get behind.
We have seen just how many projects we can run in a year, glimpsed how fast we could make games with unlimited resources even if we didn’t grow our team size.
And we have worked to maintain a high level of customer service – answering questions, delovering ahead of schedule and with more content than we had initially promised.
2016 has been hard but, overall, encouraging.
– Ed