Originally appearing at the Kickstarter Conversations blog.
Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation! I’m pleased to welcome Rob Duenas to talk about his latest Kickstarter Game Cave Vol 01: Fighting Junkies. Thank you for joining us today Rob!
Thanks James, glad to be here, Game Cave has been a three year journey and it feels awesome to talk about it.
Game Cave sounds like such a great project for those of us who had video game magazine subscriptions from the 90’s. (Mine was PC Gamer) Can you tell us about your project?
Game Cave is cross between old school gaming mags like Game Fan, Nintendo Power, and PSM with their colorful, multi screen, themed layouts, and a comic book. It features original characters talking about games from NES to IOS, lots of artwork, and is designed to bring back a sense of enthusiasm to gaming publications. No scores, no “buy this game now” mentality, just honest opinions, crispy screens, and rad art. It’s designed, drawn, and co written by myself. I have three freelance writers, Wesley Rusher, James Bacon, and Trey Mack, who turn in typical game coverage, which I then collaborate and re-write into a comic style format for our fictional editors. Josh handles customer service and fulfillment.
With the gaming magazines a seemingly dying breed with everyone going online, what made you decide to create this project now?
Well first off it’s available primarily in digital format, Kickstarter gives me a way to market that as well as physical goods like 11x17 prints, real artwork, as well as physical copies. Moving forward I would love to add hardcover additions and pull out posters for those things. But they (physical copies) will be limited and cost more than digital, it’s quality over quantity. Theres a fanbase for that sort of thing, I get emails and talk to fans at conventions all the time. Current publications are dying due to non existent ad revenue, the delay in up to the minute news and reviews, and their generic mass market formats. Even the best of them like Retro Gamer, struggle each month, it costs a lot to employ dozens of people and ship monthly worldwide. I’m not getting back into that game, I’ve already experienced it first hand at Play and GameFan and over time it’s crumbled in on itself. The chance here is to create something new and yet harkens back to gaming publications past. Covering myself, Josh, and a few freelancers is doable on that budget.
How do you see collectability differentiating Game Cave from online video game sources like Polygon and Giantbomb?
It’s like comparing CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC with the Daily Show or Howard Stern. We’ll have lots of great info wrapped up in an entertainment format. What I do in terms of design and artwork takes far too long to ever compete with those sources and btw I read them all, so I wouldn’t dare try to. I love Screwattack, Giantbomb, Destructoid, Polygon, all the big hitters, if you read or watch those sites then you’re fully prepared to get all the inside jokes and commentary buried in each issue. The trick on my part is to be entertaining, not annoying or schticky. I think the Stern Show, if you’re aware of the family dynamic among the cast and crew gets that perfectly, and it’s authentic as well as entertaining. I’m not gonna complain about Mortal Kombats controls as Rad Masters just to be controversial, it’s how I personally feel, however in that same article, Chili can defend it in a real and authentic way. If that makes any sense lol In terms of collectability, you can physically own the books, the posters, and artwork. I’m planing on three to four issues a year, it’s niche, but we’re dedicated. Adding that tangibility to Game Cave is essential to the experience.
Since reviews aren’t what Game Cave is about, what can I expect to read along with all the great art to admire?
For the first issue its historical coverage, hence Fighting Games, which I chose as an entry point into getting things down on paper. Working out the format if you will. Plus theres a few modern fighters out there, like Street Fighter 4, Guilty Gear, or Skull Girls. With future issues having one or two big features that I can break into a comic book, game magazine, light novel hybrid in terms of presentation is top of the list. I’m all down for interviews with indie devs and such while, trying to balance factual game coverage with satire. But scores, hundreds of generic previews, and generic mandatory AAA coverage is out the door. If its in our issue, its cause we love it or really, really hate it. Without the need for ad revenue and with drawn characters/editors you can be more bold in your copy.
I understand you’re approaching this more as an art book instead of like a magazine, how does this paradigm shift change your approach both in design and sales?
In design, right now I’m starting with what I know, the game review and sketchbook format. Only this time it’ll be “reviewed” (I used that word for lack of better vernacular) with the characters. I’ll be adding a few comic panels into those to show actions or portraits. Second, some of the pages will have a “sketchbook” like format with big character art pieces, or background arts, comic book type letter boxes and word balloons, plus the usual screens. In terms of sales I plan on them being evergreen, it would back a great coffee table product or poster on your wall and I’ll be hitting conventions with them. The hardest part is breaking out of the stigma publications have gotten themselves into and thats just time and pressure on my part.
I love the idea that all of the “writers” are actually characters with their own specialties and personalities. I especially like that you have Chili Pop be the PC Gamer goddess. Mainly because growing up a PC Gamer I always felt sidelined by magazines such as these. How important was it to you to cover all the bases as it were with your “crew?”
As with any first issue it’s been an evolving nature, the individual characters were developed after the first issue topic, so moving forward I’m definitely gonna place each character in their own “zone” so to say lol. I really wanted characters for a few reasons. One, I don’t intend to build a buyers guide. Showing real people reviewing real products is necessary in terms of credibility. However going towards satire, I think of Game Cave more like the Daily Show, Colbert Report, and the Muppet Show lol. Second, I’d like to add more comic book type panels, or light novel hybrid formats. The book exists in a fictional world I’ve already developed, Valence, in a town called Wellspring, Game Cave is a fanzine and used game store where Bombkatt, Chili, Bacon and Rad work, while the other editors freelance out their own regions. Mochi lives in Netherville, its a demon realm on earth where people go the first time they perish, so everyone parties down there, it’s like Disneyland, Las Vegas, and Disgaea combined. I’d love to have games covered by different creatures from this realm, not unlike how crazy muppets would arrive on the Muppet Show.Truffles is from Catalonia, a cross between Costa Del Sol from Final Fantasy 7 and American Graffiti. A mix of caribbean and 50’s rockabilly culture wrapped up in a jrpg. The effort moving forward is to get that into each issue, it’s a continual discovery and I look forward to seeing it unfold.
You’ve completely obliterated your original goal of $500, are you surprised by the response to your project? Will your future editions have a higher goal or are you going to keep the goals low and just print what is ordered?
I’ve been quite happy with the response so far, the funding goal was designed to cover Kickstarter fees and pay my freelance writers. Attaching original art to the tiers is how I pay myself really, if we do well I get paid more, if not, I take on personal commissions while I finish the issue. Some folks have mentioned to me with the funding already so much higher than originally planned it looks like we’re done and good to go, still I’d love to have between 300-500 backers, thats the typical short run printing I’m used to in indie comics and would keep us nice and comfy moving forward. As an artist you definitely want to feel like you are creating for an audience, whether a higher funding goal would help with that or not is something I’ll look into moving forward. With the printed issues, right now I can’t see a way to print hundreds of copies to have lying around, hence the print to order. I am working on getting extras packed in, theres always a wish list of goodies you’d like to add to each issue. My goal is to make physical copies collectable, 200-500 copies each, not disposable and with each issue I’ll be moving towards that as much as possible.
As there will be no subscription, and future topics aren’t set yet, will there be a backer forum to discuss future issues with? Can I put in my vote for a SCI FI Junkies issue?
We already have a private forum for Sketchcraft and all backers will get an invite to the first issue board where weekly updates, future topics, and general chit chat is welcome. It’s already a positive place to hang out for me for past projects and eliminates the possible trolling that can go on in a public forum. Sci Fi is def on my list, I think with issue two there will be two major themes with one or two subsections. For example, Sci Fi Junkies and Modern Heroes vs Classic Mascots. With a PC and indie section. It’ll allow me to define the characters even better within their favorite topics. As for subscriptions I find those to be very dubious in nature. They should be called subsidizations. Watching Play and GameFan fail I’d have to attend conventions and hear the folks who “lost” their subscription. The business up till 2008 was always about getting as high a subscription base as possible so you could net 200k in ad sales per month. That’s why subscribers would get so low a price, but that business plan went away overnight with the housing crash. I feel the best way to maintain the book, both in quality and economically is build them per issue and go to Kickstarter with all the incentives. If i'm gonna throw in discounted goods I want them to go to the dedicated fans, signed by me, and shipped by us directly.
My biggest ongoing concern with Kickstarter projects are budget breakdowns. These basic financial planning tools are essential to a successful project to ensure a proper use of funds and help prove to potential backers that there is a plan in place. Why does your project not feature a budget breakdown? Where was the original $500 going and what do you intend to do with the current total?
Our funding goal is based off initial printing costs and freelance budgets, not the money it takes to pay me to complete the project. Those extra funds have been generated so far thru the art prints, physical copy addons, and my physical art.
How did you discover Kickstarter?
I’ve been a fan since 2010 I found out about it while designing the first issue of GameFan in March of 2010, when it was apparent they weren't gonna generate the ad sales they were looking for. My pitch to Dave was to do single, focus driven issues we could publish through crowdfunding, keep our team incredibly small, and make some quality stuff. But the realities of their financial needs prevented that from happening.
A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer. How are you engaging your backers? What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on? Interviews? Videos? Stories from the project?
I’ve updated almost daily with backer updates as well as public updates. I’ve emailed every gaming site on the planet 5 times over with custom greeting cards and made myself avail to any interviews whatsoever. Not much response so far but I’m on it. Josh and I respond to all direct messages day and night as well as backer comments. I Livestream while I draw and engage with backers there as well. I’ll be adding a few podcast as well moving forward. I’ve always loved talking to fans, even at conventions you’ll find me chatting away all day with whomever comes by the booth. I grew up going to comic con in San Diego and I really appreciated artists who took the time to listen and hang out for a few minutes. I’ll never forget that experience and work hard to make myself available as much as possible.
What kind of media attention have you received with your project? How are you spreading the word? Facebook? Twitter? Google+? Youtube? Advertising? Are you using Kicktraq to track your progress?
Screwattack and igameresponsibly ran a nice post on us. I’m all over the internet for sure, Facebook, tumblr, twitter, deviant art, pinterest, instagram, youtube, I’m there daily. For some reason it’s just been incredibly difficult to get noticed by the mainstream sites. We just use the Kickstarter analytics to track projects.
Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?
If you aren’t fully prepared to be available to your backers night or day, then good luck. Things will go better and worse than expected within every project, being able to adjust to that and learn from it has to be an addicting part of your nature. Start small, do what you know, and be prepared to deal with shipping costs. Honestly, shipping and fulfillment is the hardest part of these things, luckily Josh and myself have worked together for almost 10 years now and we’re quite used to that experience.
Thank you for spending your time with us! Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?
I’d like to thank them for backing any project via crowdfunding. In all my years in print, t-shirts, and comic books, sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo allow artists of all types to reach out to the world, bypassing the wall of distributors you have to go through to get into a Wal-Mart or Comic Shop. It’s the wild west of entrepreneurship right now, a golden age of original projects. I’m proud to be a part of it. I have and will continue to back projects moving forward. Thank-you.
Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!