Boyan Radakovich Breaks His Silence, Talks Kickstarter and Pirate Den (Part 1/2)

andysmAndrew:  There are probably plenty of people even within the board game community who don’t know the name Boyan Radakovich.  However, nearly all of us are familiar with his most successful project – Boyan is a producer of the phenomenally popular and hugely entertaining Tabletop (hosted by Wil Wheaton, King of the Geeks.  You should watch it, it’s amazing).

However, Mr. Radakovich’s success as a game designer and producer have recently been shadowed by the events surrounding his last Kickstarter campaign for a game called Pirate Den – events which have left some sincerely angry with him and that have potentially left an impression on his standing within the board game community at large.  His detractors are quick to attack his integrity as a businessman, while at least one major member of the gaming community has come to his defense.

So which is it?  Is Boyan Radakovich a charlatan, who failed to uphold his obligations to his backers?  Or is he as much a victim of circumstance as they are, trapped between the uncontrollable forces of the industry rarely glimpsed by consumers?

The answer, as usual, is rarely so simple.

Capture

First, some background:  Pirate Den hit Kickstarter in March 2014, finishing strong with $39,352 raised.  Boyan’s campaign promised that the game was in a good state going in, seemingly very confident that the game would be published in a timely manner (estimated delivery date of October 2014).  At the close of the campaign, Boyan made no indications that there would be any problems, barring unforeseen circumstances.

Mr. Radakovich’s next Kickstarter update would come in November 2014, a full 7 months after the close of the Kickstarter and 1 month after the estimated delivery date.  In it, he explains some of the reasons for the delay in production, as well as stating that he generally communicates via channels other than Kickstarter (a statement which did not stem the tide of frustrated backers, who felt he had completely neglected to keep them informed).  Boyan estimated a new delivery date of April 2015, assuring backers that Queen Games would be picking up the production of Pirate Den.

As of June 2015, backers are still waiting for their games.  Several have expressed open displeasure with Boyan for his handling of the campaign, particularly his lack of Kickstarter updates.  Some have even cried foul, accusing Mr. Radakovich of having stolen their money with no intention of ever actually producing Pirate Den.

When we met Boyan at NYTF2015, we realized that he had never really opened up about the state of his wayward Kickstarter and, simply, what had gone so wrong.  We reached out to him recently and found he was finally willing to share his story with us – a story, he says, he had not been comfortable sharing until now, due to some of the legal issues surrounding the problems he’s had.

Mock-up art from the Kickstarter campaign
Mock-up art from the Kickstarter campaign

The idea of a ‘board game controversy’ may sound silly to some, but to the 697 backers of Pirate Den, whose nearly $40,000 has been unaccounted for since April 2014, and to many gamers besides, this certainly qualifies.  The hardest part for backers to accept seems to be Mr. Radakovich’s lack of anything resembling regular communication on Kickstarter, and some people have been extremely vocal in their displeasure with him.

What follows is part 1 of our 2-part interview with Boyan, with the rest going up tomorrow.  The interview was a long one and it would just be too much to dump all at once.  Mr. Radakovich shared a lot with us, all of which we think is worth hearing.

However, here is one salient point (because we feel that backers have waited long enough for concrete news on the matter) – as of this publication, Pirate Den is still scheduled to be produced.  Mr. Radakovich has secured a production company, which has confirmed to us via email that it is engaged to fulfill his obligations to his backers (details in the interview).

The following interview has been edited to make it fit within our posting format.  Again, we will be publishing the conclusion tomorrow.


Andrew:  So, first thing’s first.  Most people think that game companies are big, and they don’t have any sense of scale.  Most people seem to assume that everything is Fantasy Flight, and that Fantasy Flight has a million people working for them.  So, why don’t we just talk a little bit about The Gamesmith itself; what it is, where it is now, where it was when the Kickstarter started.

Boyan:  Sure.  I think maybe, to start, maybe even Fantasy Flight’s not Fantasy Flight.  They have 50 people which is pretty big, but, by any other industry, that would be considered a small or medium-sized company.  Asmodee, which bought FF, separately has about the same number of people, so, the largest publisher on the planet has, maybe, 100 people?  Maybe 150?  Gamesmith has 1.  That’s me.

And I’m not an employee.  I basically got paid $4000 from the Pirate Den Kickstarter campaign.  I’m not an employee, I basically get a percentage of revenue, if there are any profits, but in reality it’s a side project that I do for fun.

Andrew: Sure. Kinda like us. [Referring to Gameosity itself – we haven’t quit our day jobs yet]

Boyan: Yeah, except it’s different because when you are on Kickstarter, there’s an expectation that games are basically competing in that space…let’s say Steve Jackson, for example. Steve Jackson games has maybe a dozen employees or so including full time marketing and sales people production people and that sort of thing, right?  So they go onto Kickstarter and they put up a game and they have graphic design and game design finished and they have a dedicated team to do customer service and answer all the questions on Kickstarter.

And then whether it’s successful or not they all get paid.

Andrew:  ::laughs:: Sure.

Boyan:  Then Pirate Den for example is a great project, an awesome game, beautiful production value, arguably a better game, a different game than Ogre, but you know, it competes in that space.  Except the companies are on a completely different scale and, on Kickstarter, you really can’t tell the difference. You interact with this very limited website and perhaps there’s a brand outside of it but for the most part Kickstarter pretends like it’s a level playing field between all actors but in reality those who have strong brands and marketing dollars outside of Kickstarter tend to do the best.

I think this is what happened in the past couple of years…things moved from patronage: ‘oh you’re an artist. You have a game design. You have a group of people that are talented and want to get together to make a thing. I’ll give you some money and then in return I get the thing eventually.’ The thing is created and that’s the reward itself. And maybe you get me a mug or a t-shirt or some other thing.

That’s, like, the #1 thing people really don’t understand about the games sector.  Kickstarter is not a store. At best you’re funding a dream. It’s like extremely risky venture capital.

Large companies who come on, essentially using it as a preorder, have changed the model. That game would be produced without Kickstarter. And so, the gaming community has been trained to assume that all games are like this.

But Gamemith’s not like that. I actually need the money to make the thing and the thing was not finished when I went onto Kickstarter. I was basically going with the old patronage model. So that’s a major thing that has happened in the last 2 years. It’s shifted completely, at least in games, from patronage to preorder.

Andrew: Yeah, it makes sense. In fact it is something that I as a gamer and as a consumer struggled with. I’ve been backing things for a couple years now and I noticed that I got to a certain point where I was treating Kickstarter as a very advanced pre-order system and that’s just not smart.

Boyan: Yeah, it’s actually…it’s not actually Kickstarter’s fault. The community has created that expectation. Publishers, game designers, the fans in general have gone that way, but Kickstarter itself, they’re great guys and I know the folks who do the Tabletop side and they say that’s not what Kickstarter is about. It’s about creating a dream and making the thing happen, delivering it. It’s just hard to control expectations of thousands of people.

Andrew: Sure.  You mentioned that when you came to Kickstarter with Pirate Den, the game wasn’t finished. So on the Kickstarter everyone looks at the fine print at the bottom, or at least I hope they do. And you talked about having finished art assets and a lot of playtesting in. You sounded incredibly confident and I understand why, but-

Boyan: So I’ll give you the sort of short background of how a game is built.  It usually starts off with business development, where people come together and say I’m going to license a game or create a game. Gamesmith already had that.

Typically, you do sales and marketing after that. After the game is being produced, because the game is finished. You go out and you do pre orders and market it in advance and you launch the titles.  With Kickstarter, what happens is, sales and marketing happens first, before you go into production, so you can get the money to go into production. So it’s right to say that the first part of this was finished. I had everything I needed in advance to do business development, licensing, design, development, art, and production, but the later half of that, the fulfillment part and logistics is a complete nightmare.

And no one ever talks about this on Kickstarter, but once the project is funded, your nightmare starts.

Because you’re pretty much at the whim of all these moving parts…and without a dedicated sales and marketing team I’m basically relying on my distributing partners, which are garbage and a real source of conflict for me, because I have lost, after 3 successful Kickstarter campaigns, about $40,000.

So everyone looks at the top line. Everyone looks at what’s at the top line revenue. It’s like: ‘oh congratulations, you made money,’ but actually I’m not going to make money. I’m going to lose money. Because I have to ship this stuff and, again, unrealistic expectations, ‘Well this publisher is delivering it for free so you should deliver it for free also.’ Ok fine. I’ll deliver it for free even though, really, I can’t afford it, but that’s the expectation so I’ll do it.

A lot of people say it’s a really good model because it’s very profitable, selling directly to the consumers. Sure it is, if I could create 500 copies of the game. But no manufacturer will produce less than 3,000 copies of the game. 5,000 is a slightly better printing cost.

So yeah well ‘congratulations you have 700 backers on Pirate Den. That’s amazing!’

No one will produce 700 games.

Andrew: Sure, you’re in the hole for more.

Boyan: So instead, I produce 5,000 games. Now that I am multiplying everything by 5,000, you’ll see that $40,000 is not a lot and it really does not cover the costs. And shortly after the campaign was successful, I realized I’m going to lose more money, and I promised myself I would no longer lose money. That Gamesmith, that I could not fund this out of my pocket.

So instead of losing all that money on production and fulfillment, I went and basically shopped the game around.  And it was supposed to be with Asmodee, originally.  But Asmodee then started gobbling up every publisher and it basically slowed down the process. And so, again, the expectation from the fan is that ‘I’ve given you the money. Give me the game’, but at this point I’m trying to work these international deals.

So, yes, the legal print says that I’m fairly confident that if everything goes according to plan that the game will come out in October but the game isn’t coming to plan so I’m going to try to find something else.

And so I shopped around but, instead of actually talking about Asmodee, which I probably should have, I was trying to be professional and courteous and not disclose the details of the plans because I knew about their acquisitions and that’s the reason why they were slowing down.

Andrew: That’s interesting because when I was reading that big November update that you put up on Kickstarter, where you finally put out a huge amount of information, the quote that jumped off the page at me was “I was very worried we’d miss our October deadlines but I wasn’t allowed to talk about the deal publicly, so I felt a bit trapped.”

Boyan: Yeah that’s right.

Andrew: And most people don’t understand things like news embargoes and the importance of maintaining quiet during those kinds of negotiations. You really felt like you couldn’t speak at that point about Asmodee, specifically?

Boyan: Yeah it’s not appropriate and in reality production delays are normal. Like, in the industry, any industry they’re normal. 100% of the games I’ve backed have been late. 100%

Andrew: Same here. Now because of Kickstarter we know about the slow boat from China.

Boyan: Yeah, I mean the process is incredibly long and complicated. There’s lots of moving parts. And at every single point there’s pressure on the system that can make it all fall apart.

But the last thing you want to do is talk about legal deals. And so I was a little bit frustrated with Asmodee. They’re very good friends. I’ve known them from the beginning, and I really thought it would be a great home for them. But you know, they had bigger fish. Like Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight. So they were caught up doing all that kind of stuff. That’s fine. So now I’ve talked to a few other publishers and they were very interested in the game…Queen Games was also very enthusiastic and I owed Rajive a favor from before.  [Here, Boyan refers to Rajive Gupta, head of Queen Games]  We had work in the past and he’s a good friend of mine and it’s a good fit for their style.

Andrew: It seems like, in that most recent update, that Queen is now the one that is going to do publishing and distributing. Is that still the case? Is that how you’re rolling forward?

Boyan: That’s not the case. In September, Rajive and I had a deal memo in place for Pirate Den. It basically described the terms and conditions of sublicensing a game to them and having them do international sales and distribution for us, which is great. But then, ::laughs:: then they got bought by Asmodee as well.

I’m very happy for Asmodee. They’re a great company and I actually like consolidation in general. I think it’s good. It creates stronger brand and stronger marketing potential, but in a big, big company, having some small project on the side makes it difficult. Right?

So Rajive and I were still talking about it for quite a while to try determine what print run we could go to, which manufacturer we were going to use. I wanted to do just a simple game. He wanted to do a larger price point game. We were just trying to figure it out, but these are all things that, again, at the beginning of the chain on business development side would be normal except this is happening after the game is “finished”. It’s successfully funded. So it creates a lot of pressure.


Tomorrow, we will wrap up our interview with Mr. Radakovich, continuing his story of his interaction with Queen Games, answering some long-asked questions (such as the state of the $39,352 raised during the campaign), and the specifics for his new plan to finally get Pirate Den to his backers, as well as the identity of his new publisher.

**Update – Read Part 2 of our interview here**

[We reached out to Queen Games for comment on this story, but so far they haven’t gotten back to us.  Should that change, we will update]

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13 comments

  1. Thank you for looking into this situation. As you stated, backers such as myself, have had an impossible time with the communication on this project. For example, on May 19th, an update went out stating a survey would be forthcoming in the next week, but it still has not been sent out. I have had other Kickstarters be delayed for even longer, but with updates that let me know that someone is still working on the project. Details are great, but I would have even accepted a quick note of the project hasn’t died.

    I am glad he is willing to talk to you since he refuses to talk to backers even through Twitter, his preferred method of communication.

  2. Frankly, it sounds like Bo doesn’t quite understand why we’re upset. I won’t speak for everyone, but at least from my point of view, it’s not a customer complaint that “I haven’t gotten what I paid for,” it’s that I decided to help support his “dream,” yet in over a year there has been nothing to show for it and very little communication as to why that is.

    I pledge money for board games on Kickstarter specifically because I love them and I want to be a part of helping more cool ideas become a reality. I want to be a part of the process from beginning to end, even if that’s just supplying money and then observing, but you can’t observe what isn’t happening, and it’s at that point that people want to know why progress seemingly isn’t being made. The impatience isn’t because backers haven’t gotten a game, it’s because there’s barely any indication that there might ever be one with no explanation.

    Sometimes projects are delayed or even fail because they’re too ambitious, you pick the wrong partners to work with, your delivery truck catches fire (I backed one project where the games literally went up in flames on their way to the distribution center), or any number of other reasons that either weren’t foreseen or were otherwise unavoidable, but if this truly is a “patronage,” an artist still has a responsibility to be upfront with his *supporters* as to what is going on, otherwise those people will stop being supportive. “Working out the logistics on the publishing deal, but can’t go into detail for legal reasons/because it involves sensitive business deals/whatever reason,” tells us a lot more than the silence we received in the 7 months between the end of the campaign and the update in November. And then even after professing to understand the length of time without an update was too long, another period of radio silence passed! I highly doubt there was absolutely NOTHING that could have been said between November and May to let us know production still had not begun.

    Many of us backers do realize we’re not viewed as customers, but rather investors, and that’s not the issue. When we’re deliberately kept out of the loop, there’s not much we can do beyond ask why and what’s going on. Couple ignoring requests for news with empty promises (“I give updates about the game on Twitter regularly,” “I’ll update later this week,” or “look for a survey this week”), and I hope it isn’t hard to see why there’s now hundreds of people with negative opinions towards Bo and cynicism about ever actually seeing the game reach production.

    I apologize for the soliloquy, but it’s incredibly frustrating that even now, more news is being delivered through this interview (and I’m sure the second part that is to follow) than has been given to backers in a year.

  3. Simply read the KS comments… facts? Here: in case you want a benchmark, I computed the average number of days between 2 updates (after funding) on the other 14 pledges that I made on tabletop games, including some which went well beyond announced dates.
    Result? 26 days!
    Mr.R. is at 1 every 394 days average.
    This is a simple metric for RESPECT of backers…

  4. Bo, I admit that I’m confused about something.

    You say that you were looking to make a print run of 5,000 copies of the game, that you needed such quantities to get the price you wanted from the printers. All right.

    But “Pirate Den” had a goal of only $25,000. For a run of 5,000 copies, that seems very, very low, particularly after you factor in the cut that KickStarter takes out, the costs of postage, paying yourself, and so on. As you say, even the $40,000 you received wasn’t enough to meet your costs.

    So, my question is: why did you set such a low goal? Why didn’t you calculate how much capital you would need to fund all your expenses, and use that number as your goal? That way, you would have either (a) Been able to meet all your costs and deliver on your promises, or else (b) you would have learned that not enough people were willing to fund your production costs. Either way, you would have avoided all the vituperation.

    I’m really ignorant of the gaming industry, but your campaign sure sounds like a painter who offers to paint my house for $50, and then, after I pay him, goes completely silent. And when I track him down, he tells me that of course he can’t afford to paint my house for only $50.

  5. This guy is practically a criminal. Twitter is the only way to contact him and he deliberately tries to be as useless as possible. He still has my money and has washed his hands of all responsibilities.

    1. I’m curious – we were lead to understand that Crash Games has fulfilled the Pirate Den Kickstarter. Are you a backer who never got their copy?

      1. I am a backer who never received my copy. Those who did back it were sent an email back in December about the game finally shipping and like all of those people I replied. There was never any official response in regards to shipping but watching the Kickstarter page I could tell that other people were getting the game and others in my boat until they just gave up.

        I decided to try to find Radakovich in some way. We all knew that he never responded on the Kickstarter page – where all the backers were and where it was possible to keep an eye on actual responses. It was known he used his Twitter, but it’s nearly impossible to scan nearly two years worth of tweets when he also tweets every day about things he’s doing. (How can a person find relevant information to that game without investing a few days of work?)

        I tweeted him asking about the game and a few days later he asked me to email him. Things being what they are – no one knew his email address as it wasn’t posted on Twitter, the Kickstarter page or even all the numerous articles out there like this one. I asked him what his email address was and he said it was in the backer update of December. I searched every email from the entirety of 2015 relating to the project and the only email address I came away with was “no-reply@kickstarter.com”. I’ve asked him a few times since then and nothing in that month long period. I think he’s decided that he doesn’t care anymore.

        In mid-April I sent a message to Crash’s customer support for help. As of yesterday I received a response from them and to sum it up: they can’t reach him either, they’re going to ship one to me, and that maybe one day Radakovich might fulfill his responsibilities but for now they’re not going to let me be without a copy.

        I don’t think Boyan Radakovich is a victim, but I do think he could learn a lot about being more communicative and helpful. I understand that when you’re producing a project that it won’t be the entirety of your focus but you can’t just become silent and try to ignore that you have responsibilities at all.

        1. Sounds like you’ve had a rough time of it, as have many of the project’s backers. I’m not surprised that Crash is going to address your situation – The company is solid and really seems to have its stuff together. And certainly, the most frequent criticism of Radakovich has been regarding communication issues.

          Our perspective is, necessarily, a fairly neutral one – if anything, talking with Boyan has illuminated a back-end of the game design/fulfillment process which I don’t think most people know (or care to know) about, and I do find myself sympathetic to at least some of his position. However, to be fair, we also aren’t backers who feel treated unfairly, so our neutrality is both professional and personal – if I was one of Bo’s backers, perhaps I might feel otherwise. Thanks for sharing your perspective, and I’m glad you’re going to finally get your game, at least.

          1. And today the game showed up with another $25 COD for a game that I already paid more than $50 for. A final screw over courtesy of Boyan Radakovich.

      2. I am a backer who never received a copy of Pirate Den. This is because I was offered a refund before the game shipped. The survey to confirm addresses and options included a line to indicate we would accept a refund instead of the game. This was confirmed by Boyan Radakovich in the Comment section for Update #10 about 2/3rds of the way down the comments:
        https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gamesmith/pirate-den/posts/1415865#comments

        I have not received a refund. Nor has anyone else who requested one based on the general Comments on the Kickstarter page.

        I have given up on receiving anything. I am just posting here “for the record,” in case anyone looking at this in the future is wondering about Boyan Radakovich’s character or integrity and reads through this interview. The statements have to be untrue to qualify as slander (technically libel when it’s print).

  6. Was this not the same guy that practically ruined an entire season of Tabletop because he didn’t know how to play the games he was employed to teach others the rules for? In fact, didn’t all that come out a few days after this article was published? If so, then no wonder he’s off the grid. For what it’s worth to all the backers he conned, keep in mind he also conned Wil Wheaton AND Felicia Day, so don’t beat yourselves up too much.

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