Andrew: Yesterday, we posted the first half of our interview with Boyan Radakovich. In March of 2014, Mr. Radakovich’s company, the Gamesmith, ran a successful Kickstarter for a game called Pirate Den – a game which backers are still waiting for. Today, over a year later, backers will finally get answers to some of their most pressing questions, such as where the Kickstarter funds are now, as well as when and how Boyan intends to fulfill his obligation to them.
In yesterday’s post, Boyan Radakovich gave us insight into the events which surrounded his successful-yet-controversial Kickstarter campaign. In brief recap, we closed with him talking about the challenges of getting Pirate Den picked up by a publisher who could complete the game in a timely manner, noting the added stress of having to have these negotiations after the Kickstarter was done and most people believing he had nearly $40,000 to work with and a near-finished product.
Today, we pick up where Mr. Radakovich left off – specifically talking about the reason Queen Games, which, at one point, he thought would be his publishing solution, ended up not working out. According to him, the first contributing factor was Queen’s acquisition by Asmodee; an event which made Pirate Den, a relatively small project, difficult to fit into Queen’s new scope of business.
The second factor, says Boyan, was of a much different nature.
The following interview has been edited to make it fit within our posting format. Again, to catch up, please read the first half of the interview here.
Boyan: So there was that. [Referring to Queen’s acquisition by Asmodee, which, Mr. Radakovich says, complicated the prospects of having them publish Pirate Den]
And then I basically got hit by a slander campaign by my own backers.
There is no way of ‘unbacking’ someone from Kickstarter. It’s basically an unmoderated forum, so people can say and do whatever they want in this forum. In fact, if someone gives you a dollar, you can’t even refuse to take it. They back you, even if you don’t want to, they now have the right to post on your forum and say whatever they want.
So I have 700 backers, roughly. Well I have 1 who is really quite out there. Who is saying things like I’ve stolen the money, I’ve gone to another country, I’ve committed fraud, I’m a thief, this kind of stuff. So that’s called slander. Normally it’s very difficult to prosecute slander, because you can’t show the effect of it. However in my case it’s actually quite clear.
The Titans campaign, I was actually supposed to be a part of that. The campaign that just finished. And these guys went on there, campaigning against me. I did the right thing, which was to back out of the project, and make sure that my friends were successful. But in reality I actually got pressured out of that campaign and I lost my percentage, my royalty for designing a game for that project which I had finished already.
So it’s difficult. I understand that people are frustrated. I understand that the process isn’t clear and transparent and some people are just mean on the internet. I get that. I know what forums and comments look like.
You cannot moderate Kickstarter. I can’t unback someone. I would love to give you a refund. I would love to give you your $30 back or $40 back and have you go away. But what I have found in the past, these are my numbers, 60% of the people that I give refunds to continue to post, continue to email, continue to message and continue to engage in an active slander campaign, after the fact. There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s actually, I think, a very serious problem, because every other site out there has a policy about forums, about comments, or users or backers or that sort of thing. But Kickstarter doesn’t.
Andrew: On the subject of Titan, Ray Wehrs [President of Calliope Games] spoke very bluntly about his support for you when he announced your decision to leave.
[In a post to the Titan Project previewers, Mr. Wehrs explained Mr. Radakovich’s decision to detach himself from the project. Mr. Wehrs, calling him a friend, defended Boyan’s reputation as a professional.]
Boyan: Yeah. Ray’s awesome. I basically told him ‘I don’t want to damage this. This is such an awesome project and I want to be a part of it. And I want to support my friends but I know that these guys will come after you as well, because I’m involved.’
Andrew: So, I was in the Kickstarter preview for Titan. I read the comments you’re referring to and I will corroborate that at least there was definitely vocal opposition to your involvement. And it was in stark contrast to what Ray Wehrs had to say about you.
Boyan: Right, because basically you have 7 people on the internet who hate me and that’s 1% of my population. I hate to do the math like this because it makes it sound like their point isn’t valid. I’m not saying that. I understand that they’re frustrated. I understand that they want the game. I do too, but that does not mean that you engage in slander, or libel, or harassment, or these kind of things. You just don’t cross that line.
So I’ll close it back to the original point. These people came after Queen. Now Queen has, I don’t know, like 6 employees or 12 employees or something like that. And they certainly don’t have a dedicated customer service department. They did the best they could, but Rajive was really feeling the pressure and so he talked to me a couple weeks ago like ‘What is happening online here? Why is everyone so upset?’ I said ‘Everyone’s upset because Pirate Den is not out yet and it’s not out yet because I haven’t gone to print. And so it’s impossible for me to fill this order until I actually have a publisher. That’s why it’s important for us to finalize when we’re going to print and all this kind of stuff.’
I had to go through this process again where I felt like I was hurting my friends by being engaged with them in a business relationship. It’s like, now Queen had to put up with all this nonsense. And I felt like it’s not right for them to do that and so I told Rajive that ‘if you want to walk away from the project I’m ok with that as long as I can have another publisher… [Audio lost]… because my top priority is making sure the game comes out to the backers this year.
Queen has a game in for Spiel des Jahres now and they’re really focused on that and they have other games. The production pipeline isn’t very large, so sliding in Pirate Den isn’t as easy as you think.
We discussed it and the main thing is that Queen doesn’t think that they can get the game out this year. And my position is that the backers need to have it out this year. I had delays. We all got busy. Life happens. But again, this is all behind after the curtain, after it’s successful. So again, not something to talk about in public. You don’t talk about contracts, in fact there’s a clause in there that says confidentiality. We’re not supposed to talk about the terms or the deal and that sort of stuff.
I actually have a new publisher who has promised to bring it out this year. It’s Crash Games. Crash Games is a small table top publisher-
Andrew: One of my favorites!
Boyan: Yeah Crash is Awesome! They make such good games.
Andrew: Crash is amazing.
[We were able to reach Patrick Nickell, founder of Crash Games via email to confirm that yes, Crash Games is indeed producing Pirate Den!]
Boyan: Yeah and from a production point of view, they kill it. Patrick’s a small company, like, it’s maybe only one or two people, but he gets it right because he has amazing relationships with these publishers. He said ‘yeah, I want to do Pirate Den. I think it’s amazing.” and I said “we can do this, but I need it to come out this year. Is that even possible?” and he said “Yeah. I’m gonna do it!” and he basically put in his order 2 weeks ago. That’s when I talked to Patrick. He has his quote back already, last week, and has already speced it out…
So basically Crash is in production right now. They already have the quotes in. And what’s awesome is that Crash can make the base game the deluxe version of the game.
Andrew: No way! That’s awesome!
Boyan: Yeah, exactly, so not only is he faster but he’s better at this than I am and so the game will come with a larger box, it will have the cloth bag, it will have the acrylic gems in it already. It will have the full deck of cards, and the rules booklet, he’s working on having it translated into multiple languages so that way it can work as one international game. So not only is the game coming out, but it’s I think going to be better than if I had put it out myself.
So big props to Crash Games for that. I know it’s a bit of a rescue project, but he loves the game.
So Queen and I, good relationship, nothing’s wrong. We’re still friends. It’s just they have a Spiel des Jahres nominee, their production timeline is complicated because they’re a large publisher and now part of Asmodee group, and Crash nimble, very aggressive, and in fact that’s part of the deal.
Andrew: So, is your arrangement with Crash Games formal at this point? Signed contracts and all?
Boyan: The Crash games deal is executed and guarantees a delivery of Pirate Den this year. Ink is dried, my files are transferred, and printer quotes are in. However, nothing in production is ever final-final until the product ships. But it’s a strong as we can make the relationship.
Andrew: That’s excellent news all around. That is really great.
Boyan: Nobody want to see how sausages are made, we just like eating them.
Andrew: Exactly. That’s one of the crazy downsides of the Kickstarter experience is that it exposes just enough of the back end of the process for us to feel involved but not enough for us to be informed.
Boyan: And also, in terms of expectations, it’s difficult. If I’m a fan and if I back a project and they say ‘oh give me $40 and that’s a valid contribution.’ I think ‘Oh cool. I’m making this thing happen’, but when you actually look in your spreadsheet they need like tens of thousands of dollars to make this thing happen.
[Final round of connection issues]
Andrew: So…my main question, and it’s definitely the thing you’ve taken the most heat for, is: why not more communication? Why not more transparency from you?
Boyan: So, I do talk about this online. I talk about it on Twitter, Facebook, and in fact when I’m at conventions I see my backers personally. I talk to them, we hang out, we play the game, we do demos. I give them copies of the game.
So, why don’t I do updates all the time? Well if the update is ‘nothing new’, that’s not useful. If the update is ‘hey I’m doing a legal thing I can’t talk about’ that’s also not useful. 10% of the people actually read these forums. They don’t care. And so you’re like ‘oh but that’s so insensitive and so arrogant. You’re such an asshole for doing this’, but if I have to cut 90% of my problem and I can do it very simply by essentially ignoring the 1% of the population, don’t you think that’s an efficient solution?
And so people are like ‘Why not once a week? Why not once a month? Why not once a day?’ Everyone has a different level. Because I can’t unback the most unreasonable people who demand instantaneous gratification for their unreasonable expectations. I can’t address it. The simplest solution is for me to say ‘Hey man, um, here’s your $40 bucks back or $80 bucks or whatever it is. Please go away.’ I’d love that. That would be amazing. Instead what happens is ‘Here’s your money’ ‘oh, I will continue to post.’
Andrew: So there is no such thing as a no harm, no foul solution? You tried getting these folks who were vocal and negative, you gave them their refund and they still follow you around?
Boyan: Yes. I would like to communicate more and I would like to have good news, but when things are bad, is getting a litany of excuses a useful…is it useful for me to send an update every month saying ‘Well it’s not this publisher. Well, that deal I had is somewhere else’?
Or, and this is the perspective online, ‘I don’t care if you lose money. I want my game.’ Ok well, I cannot sustain this business model. I have already lost way too much money in this deal already.
In fact, Gamesmith cannot be a publisher anymore.
I have essentially funded this company out of my pocket, after the fact, the entire time. This is bleeding directly into my personal gains and like I said, I don’t take income. I paid myself $4,000 for Pirate Den because I knew if I didn’t I would receive nothing and the pain would be even greater.
If someone’s like ‘oh $4,000 that, like, you totally stole money from us. You’re a thief or whatever.’ $4,000 to do design, development, art direction, production, print buying, all the legal consultations, and pitching the game and all that kind of stuff not to mention recording and doing the photoshoots and the Kickstarter campaign itself and managing all of this terrible forum? Is it worth $4,000? It’s not. Yeah, I actually get paid more to do other things.
Andrew: Aside from the $4,000 that you paid yourself, where is the money these days? As you say, some folks are quick to accuse you of stealing it. Is it still around?
Boyan: Much of the money was spent repaying the advance on game design royalty, the illustration costs, graphic design costs, marketing costs for the campaign, the video production and photoshoot, plus the creation of the premium items (treasure chests, coins, etc.). There is still money reserved for production and fulfillment costs for the final delivery to backers.
In reality, this is a labor of love. I love the game. I love the community. I want to make something awesome and I want to get it to the people, but it’s not acceptable for me to listen to these people who say ‘give it to me even if you have to lose money. Give it to me regardless of my demands, or, I need a response right now.’ I’m not going to be intimidated by these people.
Maybe that’s callous and maybe that’s arrogant, and that’s fair. I could have been more communicative, but…it’s either you give total information and you talk through the entire process or you have to do these, like, staged releases where everything is ready. And when legal contracts aren’t finished and correction timelines aren’t finished and products aren’t at print, it’s very difficult to give a finished, final word on anything.
It’s very difficult, you know…like, Kickstarter felt like I was part of a community and now this active slander campaign has officially ostracized me from it. No one cares to read the facts. No one even cares at all. They just see the numbers of all the posts and this kind of stuff. It’s hard to clear your name after this sort of thing, but whatever, you know? Years from now no one will ever remember. That’s the way the internet works.
The short of it is, Gamesmith can’t be a publisher, not because I have a bad reputation…but simply because I don’t have funds to continue to do this. And if the expectation is that I have to pay for everything in advance of doing a Kickstarter campaign and essentially going to print like a pre-order system, you know, ‘insert cash, get your game’, then I can’t do that.
So I’ve learned many lessons. I find that an expert is someone who has made every mistake in their field and I am an expert on Kickstarter now.
I think that’s my takeaway is that top line, that number that you see is like ‘oh congratulations. You’ve successfully funded!’ This number is just the beginning of all your trouble and often you don’t even get a small percentage of that number. You get like, zero, or a negative percentage of that number.
I’m super passionate about tabletop gaming and that’s not going to change. I’m still a game designer and that’s not going to change. I’m constantly designing, I’m just going back to the old days of being pretty much a game designer and developer, helping other people’s games, instead of trying to be a publisher which is, you know, very problematic.
And…In the future, my whole policy is going to be very, very open about everything that I’m doing.
We appreciate Mr. Radakovich taking the time to speak with us so candidly about the challenges he has faced during the last fourteen months. With Patrick Nickell of Crash Games confirming their commitment, it seems like Pirate Den is finally on the path to production and delivery, and to hopefully be enjoyed at long last by its backers.
It is clear that there were a great many factors in play which prevented Mr. Radakovich from fulfilling his obligations to his backers according to his early estimates. As consumers (and investors), we the gaming public aren’t always in a position to know what’s behind the scenes, and we found this glimpse to be quite revealing.
However, Boyan’s backers’ most constant criticism, that of a persistent lack of communication, is one which he seems to acknowledge. If indeed his policies going forward are geared more towards transparency and openness, we believe he will save himself (and others) much needless heartache.
Even now, there are fresh comments on the Pirate Den Kickstarter page by backers expressing frustration that Boyan chose to speak with us, rather than with them directly. We understand that feeling, though we are just glad that we were able to share some answers to questions they have been asking for some time now.
While there are undoubtedly some (especially among his long-frustrated backers) who will either disbelieve his sentiments or dismiss them as too little, too late, it is our sincere hope is that Mr. Radakovich follows through and commits himself not just to getting Pirate Den delivered, but to opening more lines of communication.
But what are your thoughts? If you are a backer, are you still looking forward to receiving Pirate Den? Do any of Mr. Radakovich’s statements change your perspective? We appreciated those of you who responded to yesterday’s interview with such even-toned and thoughtful comments; we welcome further discourse below.