UPDATE (Friday May 7th): We just hit our $100K goal on Kickstarter! Now the fun starts.
It’s about 2 a.m. - I’m sitting in my in-laws’ lakehouse basement, Ashley and Kate are sleeping upstairs, and there are more or less 4 computers in front of me. My 27-inch iMac is the mother brain - all the big stuff happens there, video creation, managing cost spreadsheets, and anything that requires copy and paste (which is about everything) is way easier there. I had to get away from the lure of meetings to focus, so here we are - and I’ve lugged every last one of them down here with me.
The other computers are there so I can stay focused on various aspects of managing the Kickstarter campaign. We’re just now 30 days in, with 7 to go. Luis, my PR pro has scolded me a few times already for ending this thing on the same day as the end of E3, apparently a “press overlap issue”. I should have hired him at the beginning, I guess - but the past is the past now, as it is with many things about this campaign.†
Back to the computers - I’ve quickly realized that managing a Kickstarter is like social media for insane people - and only insane people use 4 computers at the same time. The newest edition is an 11-inch Mac Air that Rob gave me, which is like having an iPad with a keyboard. That’s my social media hub for the most part - but of course Apple’s “interesting” notification settings make my phone and my iPad still beep with the Tweets and the Facebook posts even though I swear I’ve turned them off. †
I’ve told a million people this I think - managing three email accounts, two Twitter accounts, two Facebook accounts, two very active blogs, and 17-some-odd additional website services with comments of their own is no small task. But I can’t complain, I got myself into this - and I’ve enjoyed it, if only because I know it will end soon and I can start building.
Pixel Press as an idea started in January of this year. It was the germination of a simple discussion between Josh and I. I think I spent the night at his house about 180 times a year for the first 12 years of my life, he 180 times at mine, and then most hours before and after school for the next 6. The amount of video games we played is astronomical, but probably in comparison just about as much as anyone else that enjoyed their childhood in the ways we did. It helped that we grew up in a neighborhood full of kids - many older - that had already beat-down their parents psyche to purchase insanely priced entertainment equipment, and the hundreds of games required to keep them fed. I got my first kick’s on my grandfather’s Coleco - Donkey Kong, Pepper II, Blackjack are the ones I remember the most - but it all really started with Nintendo.†
Josh and I used paper to track just about every video game we played. Whether it was Metroid for the codes, Tecmo Super Bowl for the stats, or Zelda to create our own maps (never had many Nintendo Power’s for some reason) - everything used paper. But most of all, I recall drawing our own Mario levels, and we had a very specific system for doing this. It’s certainly the one paper variation we remember the most.
But I’ll skip ahead a bit. My memory must be horrible - that or it’s wrought with Kickstarter juices - I don’t recall the exact time and place but sometime in early January (New Years maybe?) I was talking with Josh about us drawing video game levels, and I recall thinking about an OCR project I had heard about recently, and it just clicked. I’ve been building mobile apps for 5 years in some form or another, and knew instantly this could be done.
I’d also been working on a couple other paper related products over the years. I quickly realized none of them would make much money so I’ve held off. But this meant I knew how to build a quick prototype of the gridded sheet of paper that would match almost exactly our childhood level design format - and off I went.†
Within a few weeks I was showing the concept off to the only guys in St. Louis that I knew that did video games (they have a SNES Super Scope hanging from their office wall for Christ sake!). Jon and Michael of IDC - and they instantly got it. Michael gave me some great advice - create a kick ass video, find someone to manage your campaign or do it FOR REAL yourself, and find a key press outlet to launch it.
I’ve done lots of ideas in the past, and learned a lot. What I’ve realized quickly is MVFP. Minimum Viable Fucking Product. Relentlessly, you need to build as little as possible before you take the next step - otherwise you burn yourself and your wife out real quick. †The curse word in there is not for show, it’s to remind me of the importance of the other words.
So I did that, I built a kick ass video with my Dad’s help on the super cheap, put it up with a password on Vimeo, and started emailing the press.
Actually I emailed just one “press”. Andrew Webster of The Verge got my first email - I’d never connected with him in any way, total cold-call - but he bit. He wanted to write about it right away, but at the same time was willing to work with my timeline. At that moment I was still on the fence about Kickstarter - I knew the benefits financially, and was struggling to figure out a better way to get the word out quickly. He kind of sounded concerned when I suggested anything otherwise, “How are you going to fund this without Kickstarter.” and I didn’t have a great answer for that, was thinking back to MVFP, and so I made that decision. I decided I’d run the campaign myself (with help of course), and I had my golden ticket with The Verge. I really sold myself on the idea of using Kickstarter as I thought about the difference of 1 person giving me $100k versus 1000 people giving me the $100k. Once I reached that mind-set, I knew I was on the right path.
Things got pretty intense from there. On top of a full-time job and a new baby, I was working very late nights - but my energy was super high. I was building something I believed in and wanted for myself, and after Jon, Michael and Andrew, I’d finally shared the idea with Josh. No one I had talked to so far didn’t get it instantly - and Josh - whose feedback was critical for me on a personal level, really pushed it over the edge.†
“Are you kidding me, of course this is something you have to do, you’re talking about taking a picture of a piece of paper and turning it into a video game. How could you not build this?”
Ok, fine, you talked me into it. But crap, I don’t code, there’s something missing here...†
Getting Bryan on board was the icing on the cake. A developer, with a team - who I’ve respected for long time - suddenly gets this message on LinkedIn from this other guy (me). I imagine Bryan sitting on his hotel balcony overlooking Hong Kong with the glow of his own array of computers sitting in front of him. He’s been traveling the world to build what is now a 12 person mobile development team, and here I am asking him to build me a prototype of an insanely complex piece of software for eh, let’s float $1,000 by him and see what he says...†
I think I started the email with “I’m sure you’ve heard this before....” Well, he had, but not with this idea apparently.
Long story short, he instantly got it. He’s had two seasoned engineers working on this non-stop for a month - and I think I still have only given him $1,000. I guess we’ll work it out later.
Tonight Luis tells me I need to keep this post relatively short for Gamasutra. I’m not sure why, but I think he’s trying to keep me from staying up til 5am writing this. He’s learned me pretty well considering we’ve never met in person and only talk every other day - I guess me being a bit of an open book has its consequences.
So we’re at t-minus 7 days and I’m writing this post while every-so-often looking over at my Mac Air to watch the international backers slowly pile up ($40 from Danny Jukes, thank you!) and despite Ashley’s constant reminder that I don’t †“seem” excited, I really am. Not just because the outpour of support for Pixel Press has been far beyond what I could have hoped for, not just because we’re 90 percent of the way to our goal and closing in quickly, not just because I’m working with a special group of people that I’ve wanted to find a way to work with for a long time, - but because we’re all getting ready to turn the page and start building a product that is going to require an entire community of people to build the right way.†
The concept of that challenge is what excites me the most.
Darn, almost hit 3 pages. More to come if you like. Let me know.
Keep up with our progress here. We're currently at 96% of our goal, and just 25k short of our Android Stretch goal.