Game Producer Journals: The Jumpstart

In the kickoff for my game producer blog series, I wrote about demo materials for different types of games, defined a few terms, and dove into quickstart design.

Today, I want to talk about jumpstarts. First question: why do you need one? Well, the answer is “it’s complicated”. A jumpstart is one method for obtaining fans of your game and, like any promotional tool, it has its utility. Some people believe jumpstarts deter corebook sales because they encapsulate the game and often have a lower price point. I am not one of them.

Jumpstarts are best designed when they are not conceived in a vacuum. When the jumpstart has a clearly defined goal like: “teach new players how to play our game” or “give existing players a sample of what they’ll find” or “use it as a free, promotional tool to attract all players”. Jumpstarts can be designed with several goals in mind when they’re produced with the understand that anyone–even those players unfamiliar with a publisher or gameline–might pick up a copy.

Like quickstarts, jumpstarts are marketing tools for a gameline. Unlike quickstarts, I don’t believe they’re always necessary provided the corebook teaches players how to play their game. Most corebooks do not have actual play examples, sample dice rolls, a step-by-step outline for a sample campaign, a full adventure, and a full page ad to show where new players should go if they need more information (YouTube!, Twitch, Discord, forums, etc.) Many corebooks, especially second editions, serial games, or collector’s editions, are not designed with new players in mind. Many games are crafted for people who already know how to run a tabletop gaming session.

Jumpstarts are often needed because they serve players who need a different type of game design. Often, jumpstarts employ word conservation by focusing on what players need to know in order to play the game. Jumpstarts are great for a) complex settings b) complex rule sets c) new or debuting rule sets d) games with multiple playing styles e) original settings and d) messaging/visibility showing how the publisher is new-player friendly. Players who have fun with a jumpstart will have more confidence when running the game–and that player confidence is key.

It can be challenging to distill a corebook into a jumpstart. My approach to writing/designing in this form is to empower the player while providing value. I’ve found the easiest design method is to utilize a 3-to-5 act narrative structure, 3-5 non-player characters, and a sample fleshed out location. All games need setting–especially places where the players can hunt, search, investigate, etc.–and a jumpstart helps ground the players in it.

My last post included five steps to producing a quickstart. These are the same steps to follow when plotting a jumpstart with one, major caveat: conceiving a jumpstart requires greater analysis of your corebook’s content. You could repurpose some material for the quickstart. A jumpstart that rehashes all of the corebook’s materials is less useful, however, and you’ll miss out on residual sales–even if the jumpstart’s release precedes the corebook’s.

Lastly, I want to mention that while there’s no “one way” to design a jumpstart, I do believe a good jumpstart provides value. The jumpstart shouldn’t be an exact replica of your corebook’s content–there’s a different type of product for that called a “beta”. Instead, use the jumpstart to frame your corebook’s material so players transitioning from one to the other are confident they know the basics and are eager to learn more.

Game Producer Journals: New Players and 5 Steps to Quickstart Design

Two of the ongoing needs in game production are to retain players and attract new players. In video games, short interactive demos give players the feel and basic functionality of the game. Part-marketing/part-preview, player demos are arguably the best way for them to understand gameplay outside of actual play reels.

In hobby gaming, there’s a number of ways to preview a game before a title debuts ranging from actual play videos to hands on demos at conventions or retail stores. This introduces a lot of challenges for veterans. After a while, it’s easy to associate who’s playing a game with personal interactions online and off. This can skew a designer’s perspective and lend to design decisions geared toward the audience you’ve encountered and not the people who play the game but never contact the publisher. Setting sample data set analyses aside, the people that interact with a publisher are not typically new players, either.

Jump starts, quick starts, convention demos (live, recorded, and in print), and actual play videos work well when they’re designed to attract new players–people who don’t typically interact with your company. Otherwise, you’re targeting players in the same audience at different times. Though existing players and player retention are both incredibly important, new players are crucial to the overall health of the industry. If you’re having trouble understanding why, please remember that gaming is a dynamic industry. New players often become core fans integral to the community in direct and indirect ways.

Attracting new players is a complex process that requires a multi-pronged approach. It is often intimidating to be a new player because they don’t know the culture (of the publisher, fans, and intersecting micro-communities) or the linguistics on top of not knowing how to play that game. These are barriers to new players that can be resolved in multiple ways, but doing so requires intent and knowledge of both community management and basic marketing techniques.

This process is easier for new games that don’t have previous editions attached and becomes increasingly more challenging the older the game (or property) is. These legacy games (Shadowrun, Vampire: The Masquerade, Dungeons and Dragons) are more complex to manage because of their multi-year, multi-edition spanning history. Each edition that debuts, which is healthy for a publisher to consider, has a core audience and the potential to welcome new players. If the game is primarily being played solely by legacy players with few to no new players added, then over time the core base will shrink.

Using Product to Attract New Players

One product that can help reach out to new players is a quickstart. Here’s where it gets fuzzy: the words “jumpstart” and “quickstart” are often used interchangeably, even among publishers. I asked Matt M McElroy, the Operations Manager for Onyx Path Publishing, what the difference was. He said that: “Jumpstarts are more robust, and are basically starter sets in book form. Quickstarts are very light introductions with some marketing attached.” The jumpstart can also serve as a quickstart and often does, which is partly why the terms are swapped so often.

Going forward, I’ll use the word quickstart to mean “a short standalone marketing product designed to demonstrate the core rules and feel of a game” and a jumpstart as “a robust starter set for a game that includes an adventure, characters, etc.”

Quickstarts are almost always free and are treated as a marketing expense; jumpstarts can be free, but are often not due to the costs involved. Often, jumpstarts must hold more perceived value for the consumer than a free product because of the cost.

Designing the Quickstart

Designing a quickstart is one-part game design, one-part marketing. I personally feel that game designers shouldn’t develop the quickstart’s outline by themselves. This task is something the publisher and marketer should be involved with for a few reasons. They typically 1) know their core fanbase 2) have a rough budget in mind and 3) know how to brand their game. Who works on the quickstart, in particular, is less about skill and more about perspective.

Step One: Identify Your Audience

How a team is set up to handle production won’t matter unless the publisher has a clear idea of who the quickstart is for. Typically, that answer is one or more slices of an overall audience. Just saying “new players” is pretty generic. New players who like “X” system can be too specific if that fanbase is small or insular.

To figure out audience, I recommend reviewing a minimum of five similar products produced by different companies. In this way, you establish a marketing baseline for your game by analyzing what others have already produced.

Step Two: Determine Your Message

Once you have your audience in mind, you can then brainstorm your message. Saying “we have the best game evah!” is not a good message and, quite frankly, is challenging for engagement. Rephrase that to be: “here are the reasons why this title is the best game of its kind”. Then, list the reasons.

Unpacking my last statement, here’s what my rephrased statement means:

    * here are the reasons – you’re presenting the meat of what your audience needs to know in order to purchase your game.
    * why this title – you’re focusing on revealing more about this game and not previous editions, similar settings, etc. This keeps your focus on the present.
    * is the best game – you’re acknowledging the hard work that went into making your game. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of what you created.
    * of its kind – you’re acknowledging this game has its own style/feel and will be compared to other games in this vertical regardless of publisher.

Codifying these reasons will force you to think about your game from the perspective of someone who’s never heard of it–which is typically the hardest audience to write for.

Step Three: Identify Components

While an outline is valuable and typically follows next, I feel that quickstarts necessitate a different conversation before it can be finalized. Components are key elements of a game that are important to the audience and messaging.

Items might include:

    * Ad for the corebook
    * Sample player character
    * Sample NPC
    * Highlights of gameplay: damage, advancement, combat, investigation, social conflict, player vs. player, success/fail, etc.
    * Condensed setting
    * Iconic art
    * Flash fiction or character sketch
    * Corebook chapter preview
    * A DM-facing section
    * Sample adventure hooks
    * Sample loot
    * Sample equipment
    * Sample map
    * Mini-scene
    * Gameplay examples
    * Graphs/icons of dice rolls
    * Full page ad for company (with links to social media, streaming channels, etc.)
    * Ad for upcoming products or Kickstarters
    * Interview questions with the producer/developer
    * …and more!

I recommend that this stage occurs without a clear page count or product spec to freely allow for brainstorming.

Step Four: Outlining

This phase is where the nuts and bolts shape the quickstart. I personally believe a sample layout here is crucial, because knowing how many words are on a page will impact the outline. Once the production parameters are known and a page count is determined, then content can be assigned on each page.

Here, it’s also smart to figure out how you intend to distribute your quickstart, because that will affect its intent and budget. Saddle-stitched and digital quickstarts are the two most common types and are used for different reasons. Printed quickstarts are great for conventions/retail distribution and may attract people who have never heard of that game or publisher before. Digital quickstarts can do the same thing, depending upon where it’s offered and what the perceived value is.

If you’re on the fence during the outlining phase and find you’re adding more information, you might want to consider a hybrid jump/quickstart that you can charge for. This is the perfect step to make this decision!

Step Five: Production

Following this, it’s time for production to begin. I would treat this product just as you would a gaming supplement by hiring a writer who can simplify setting and rules into a condensed space. Less is usually more. The quickstart is a slice of what your game is all about and why it’s unique. I would absolutely lean into that to best inform potential players.

If you’re worried about art, I agree with your instinct. People make decisions to buy games for all kinds of reasons and mentally associate gameplay with emotions that are invoked through their experiences. Art can invoke emotion and is important to their impressions of value and setting.

Lastly, you might get to this point and realize you don’t know how to market your game. That’s okay! It’s for this reason you’ll want to plan a quickstart even if you don’t go through with production. The elements you decide during this project further shape how you want to present your game. If you need to stop and rethink a detail, that’s a good thing to happen early on.

Thanks for joining me and good luck!

From the Developer’s Desk: Hunter The Vigil Second Edition Kickstarter Debrief

Hunter The Vigil Second Edition LogoWe’re wrapping up the Hunter The Vigil Second Edition Kickstarter and I wanted to pop in with a debrief of how the campaign has been going. We funded quickly, and with five days to go we have 1,640 backers and $82,607 in funding. At the start, I had several interviews lined up with my writing team which I’ll link to later on in this post.

When we started the campaign, I hoped the backers would be deeply invested in the game–and that’s exactly what happened. Huzzah! I was already familiar with the Hunter: The Vigil fan base having worked on a few first edition supplements and having played the game. The concept and design for second edition was to enhance an already fun experience as opposed to change it into something that wasn’t recognizable, and to do that I had to weigh what content from first edition would be refreshed, what new rules/setting would be added, and what value this game would add for second edition. That said, it’s always tricky to develop the new edition of a game because there’s a lot of audiences to consider.

For Hunter: The Vigil, there are players who are both visible (e.g. talking/chatting online) and not–especially since the game came out in 2009. Some people actively play other Chronicles of Darkness Second Edition games while others have only picked up a different game or two. Some have played Hunter: The Vigil First Edition and never touched Second Edition rules. Some are brand new to Hunter: The Vigil but heard it was fun. Some, just love to talk about the setting but don’t have time to play. And so on. Many, many types of players! If you’re a designer working on the new edition of a game, I strongly encourage you to think about who you’re making the game for and what playing styles (plural) you want to cover. That has a big impact on the decisions you’ll make and will factor into its overall focus and reception.

Designing for “one” audience was never my goal, because the game would become too niche and specific for a certain type of gameplay. What made Hunter: The Vigil First Edition a great game was that it stood apart from the other gamelines because of its perspective, its opportunity for social, mental, and physical conflict, and its ability to give players and Storytellers flexibility to create new setting and rules that fit their aesthetic with its toolkit mentality. Hunter: The Vigil is a game about being the underdog in a world rife with unspeakable and unknowable horrors. Most hunters have no idea what they’re fighting or don’t know much about the supernatural, but they’re doing their best anyway to deal with the supernatural for a variety of reasons. They win. They lose. They keep holding a candle to the dark. Sometimes, a “monster” could be a ghost haunting a house or a zombie creeping around in a cemetery. Other times, the “horror” could be a false alarm or a terrible human being instead. Even then, their job isn’t always clear cut. Hunters might question the definition of “monster” when their friend turns out to be a vampire. Other times, that line is clear and distinct. When it’s not, well… That has the makings of a powerful, narrative moment.

The grey areas of Hunter are spaces that I personally enjoy, because these have the potential for amazing storytelling that aren’t just about lighting everything on fire. (Though that’s fun, too.) Monster hunting is a challenging type of game to maintain week after week, because you always run the risk of being too repetitive or pushing players too hard, too fast. To that end, the game offers multiple types of conflict and examples of antagonists that may tap into a hunter’s need to investigate, research, or strategize before confronting them. The social component of Hunter is also very strong, because depending upon which tier you play, you’ll glean more about what you’re up against from your peers. There are three distinct tiers of gameplay: at tier one, you’re playing a gritty game with a group of friends who don’t know much other than “they’re out there”. At tier two, you have more support and the backing of a group called a compact. Each compact tends to operate regionally, as opposed to globally, but could have isolated groups in different areas. The compact knows more about the supernatural than tier one, but tier two hunters still need to get their hands dirty to figure out what’s behind those spooky power outages. They just have more support and resources to hunt, compare notes, etc. At tier three, hunters have convinced themselves that they need to empower themselves to fight fire with fire. Endowments, which are conspiracy-related gifts to their members, equip hunters with supernatural powers to deal with the darkness. Greater powers also invites more bureaucracy and goals that are often shaped by what the conspiracy leaders want from its members.

For the new edition, most of the compacts and conspiracies were retained from the first edition corebook. (I tested removing one early on and that response told me I had better be extremely careful, there.) We added a modern, inter-tribal Native compact called SWORN designed by Allen Turner, who worked on all the compacts and conspiracies with me. You can read an essay about SWORN to learn more about the group and Allen’s experiences. We also added the Nine Stars compact inspired by Chinese detective dramas and the Council of Bones conspiracy that deals with ghosts to help the living. Other existing and new groups were mentioned as well. The reception, overall, was positive but some backers stated this introduced metaplot rather than a setting update. Our goal was not to create metaplot, but I can see how some of the phrasing might lean that direction. I knew Hunter players would be reading every line and phrase, but I did not anticipate that feedback. Behind-the-scenes, Hunter: The Vigil‘s setting first changed when I worked on the Dark Eras line, because suddenly we had an issue where the compacts and conspiracies needed to have more history. The Cheiron Group, for example, had new setting added to expand its reach along with alternate names like the Acheron Shipping & Trading company. Now, I can’t/didn’t/won’t expect players to know this, but that sense of time and additional Hunter content factored into the setting update. I can see where some people are coming from on this, though, and I’ll definitely be giving the manuscript a re-read before turning it over to layout. What will likely happen, is that the phrasing will be clarified and reinforced by saying that a lot of Hunter history is suspect given how fractured hunters are. So many rumors!

Also reinforced in 2E was a global feel for the setting, because Hunter: The Vigil is a game anyone can play, anywhere. We have a diverse fan base that calls multiple countries home; my intent was to give them something they could draw from for inspiration, so they could see themselves in the game. To that end, I asked Cassandra Khaw to write the Hunter fiction and work with Monica Speca to create monsters. You can read an interview with Cassandra Khaw about her work to learn more. Having a large group of antagonists (and rules to create them) isn’t enough for a monster-hunting game, however, so I added a chapter about Mysterious Places that outlines where hunters can find monsters. My series was kicked off with an interview with Trip Galey and Matt Miller. A couple of backers also wanted to know if there was more information about Bygones, and there is! In the Storyteller chapter, there’s a few examples that line up with the sample create-your-own conspiracy, Aegis Kai Doru. I need to see how the stretch goals shape up before making more decisions, because my plan was to add them to the Tending the Flame supplement as opposed to writing more in the corebook, but we shall see.

Every Second Edition has a chronicle or sample setting attached to jumpstart a game; these are not presented similarly, but are often shaped by the developer’s tastes. For Hunter, that sample setting is the Slasher Chronicle and it is full of rules, sample locations, *coughs* bullet points *coughs*, and OH MY GODS a lot of horror. Chris Allen and I worked on that together. You can read an interview with Chris Allen for more information about these horror movie-inspired antagonists. The Slasher Chronicle leans into modern horror by underlining a hunter’s darkest fear: what if they become the monster they’re hunting. It doesn’t have to, however, and that was by design; the chronicle is a toolkit to help shape what you need it to be.

We also worked on Second Edition rules to lean into Hunter’s core concept. Vera Vartanian and I worked on the new Endowments; Danielle Lauzon helped with rules editing for Endowments and Dread Powers to ensure that their power level was consistent with other Second Edition gamelines. I had a great conversation with Vera; if you’re new to Second Edition (or even if you aren’t), please read my interview with Vera Vartanian about Tilts and Conditions. Meghan did a lot of work on the core rules, and implemented The Code, Touchstones, a Tactics redesign, etc. You absolutely want to check out my interview with Meghan Fitzgerald if you’re interested in systems. Of the new rules, The Code and breaking points is something I’ll be looking over again for clarity; it really, really helps when a backer says they’re confused or makes an assumption because of how something’s worded. Essentially, the Code is a hunter’s framework of belief to help keep them focused on the Vigil. It was an optional rule in First Edition that I felt would be great to integrate in Second Edition as part of regular gameplay. Not as a punishment, mind you, but as a realistic way of handling encounters with the supernatural beyond a failed roll or an acquired Condition.

Lastly, I spent some time this week in a couple of Discord channels (thanks to a few players on the Onyx Path forums who directed me); I’ve chatted with many players on Twitter and Facebook, too, and on the Kickstarter itself. It’s been great to read how online players are dissecting the text and providing feedback, but are also inspired to create new compacts, conspiracies, and mysterious places. No, even I can’t make everyone happy. I hope these in-depth interviews and my feedback helps show that we (all of us on the team) love Hunter: The Vigil just as much as any fan, and we put together a game that we’re very proud of. I’d also like to thank any backer or player reading this for being open to discussions about setting/rules, and for sharing with me their inspirations for the game. The responses from you have been… Phew. So fantastic throughout all of this. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience thanks to your camaraderie and support.

If you’re curious about the new edition, visit: Hunter The Vigil Second Edition on Kickstarter. If not, hope you do find a game you love to play!

Edit: I’ve opened up comments if you want to add your thoughts about the game. Comments are moderated.



Thank You Fans of Hunter The Vigil Second Edition!

Hunter The Vigil Second Edition Logo As I write this (after what’s been an emotional two days) I have to giggle. I left my office just before dinner last night; when I came back upstairs this morning, I realized I’d left a lone candle burning in the darkness. I’m on theme!

The Hunter: The Vigil Second Edition Kickstarter funded quickly, and we’re well on our way to achieving stretch goals. We’re also on the cusp of debuting the compacts and conspiracies in the corebook, too, and many of you are already digging into the lore. Rules to create the compacts, conspiracies, and their Endowments are present in the Storyteller’s chapter. If you don’t see a hunter group you want to play, you’re encouraged to create one of your own. There is room for you and your approach to the Vigil. We all uphold the Vigil the way we feel is best, but that doesn’t mean our approach is the right one–or that hunter groups are monoliths. Ahhhhhh! There’s so much more to come!

Of all the games I’ve worked on, Hunter: The Vigil Second Edition means a lot to me because it’s a game I can see myself playing. Chronicles can be focused on hunting the monster-of-the-week just as easily as they could explore the nuances of a conspiracy’s political structure or an initiative to search for Bygones. I want that feeling for you, too, and hope you’re inspired to draw from movies or shows you like (or even your own background and culture) to hunt monsters in your backyard.

Thank you again for supporting Hunter: The Vigil Second Edition on Kickstarter. Keep those candles lit!

[Announcement] Hunter The Vigil Second Edition Now on Kickstarter

Hunter The Vigil Second Edition Logo

Hello friends and readers,

I’m thrilled to announce that the wait is over for the Hunter: The Vigil Second Edition Kickstarter.

I’m so proud of my team and the work that went into this modern monster hunting game. Like I said in a recent interview, I know I can’t make every fan happy—but I can say with authority we did do our best. Between the additional lore, new monster hunting groups like the Circle of Bones, and a fresh take on the rules I hope this will be a game filled with powerful, narrative moments you can see yourself playing.

For updates about the game, you can follow the Kickstarter comments or the hashtag #HTV2E #ttrpgs on Twitter. Over the past couple of weeks, I reached out to my Hunter 2E team and sent interview questions to several writers and designers. Their words will be posted on www.flamesrising.com during the campaign and shared on the Kickstarter, too.

There are more monsters than ever before. They are appearing more frequently, too, and are emboldened to step out of the shadows. Will you light your candle? Will you heed the call? I invite you to join our hunter society, because when the chips are down and the stakes are high—we are stronger when we hunt together.






Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore and game store near you.

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