What a year it’s been. It’s really hard to believe that it’s over!
Renegade is officially closed the week between Christmas and New Years and it’s a nice time for me to reflect and review the past year and to shift my focus 100% on the year coming up. What I’m going to do here is go over the last year a bit month by month. I hope this gives you a little insight into what our year is like for us here at Renegade.
I’ll also share some thoughts about what I think we did right and what I think we need to work harder on and then maybe go into just a little bit of what we have coming up in 2017.
So let’s get started, shall we.
Starting in January makes sense so as I look at my calendar and notes from that month that immediately takes me back to December 2015. You see Fuse had just released on December 13, 2015 so it really did miss Christmas for all intents and purposes. This wasn’t part of the plan. Originally we had Fuse on the schedule for the summer but ran into some delays and eventually had to bring in more help with graphic design. So even though the game released in December it really was a 2016 release for us marketing and sales wise.
Building our graphic design bench was definitely at the top of my list for the New Year. If you’re familiar with our games at all, you will notice that art and design is something we take very seriously. Finding the right designers to help bring a game to life is as important to me as finding the right games.
Fuse started off with really strong sales and continued throughout the year. It’s been one of our best sellers all year and the 4th printing just arrived before Thanksgiving. We supported Fuse heavily with an event kit over the summer and a promo die in the Santa’s Renegades holiday promo box.
Also in January I began my travels for the year by going to Nuremberg Toy Fair, in Germany. I have a love-hate relationship with travel. I’ve traveled a lot most of my life and really do enjoy seeing new places and experiencing different cultures. But I also don’t like being away from the day to day of my work, not to mention my family. I really enjoy being hands on with product development and it’s hard to do from the road.
Anyway Nuremberg was great for Renegade. I got to meet with some new designers and got to see lots of old friends. Some of the groundwork for upcoming foreign language partners began here. It’s a much more business-oriented event. Everyone is in meeting mode and my typical routine is to have a meeting room and new meetings scheduled every 30-60 minutes for several days. It’s productive but exhausting.
After Nuremberg the travel continues in February with a trip to Toy Fair NY. This meeting is again, all about meetings. Mostly with our distributors and non-hobby retailers like Barnes & Noble, Target, Think Geek, and others.
I love New York (someone should put that on a t-shirt) but February weather there is usually cold. It’s also a long show. This year my goal is to enjoy the city a bit more while I’m there. I friend of mine at another pop culture company goes to a Broadway Show every night he’s in town and I’m always envious of that. So, this year I’m vowing to go to a show, at least, one night.
So while all this traveling is going on, behind the scenes we are getting Kitty Paw, Bullfrogs 2nd edition, and Brick Party ready to release. Randy over at Foxtrot is wrapping up J. Alex Kevern’s World’s Fair 1893. This is what keeps me away from the theater when I’m in NY!
Up to this point Renegade was just Robyn and myself full time with what I call the cast of a thousand contractors and very dedicated game designers working on their respective projects. Things were going pretty good and I knew that if I was going to continue to grow Renegade I was going to have to bring in some help. I was overseeing all product development, game selection, marketing, sales, events; you name it. I did everything except the books, accounts payable and receivable. That is Robyn’s domain.
I really do love all aspects of the business but I was going to have to let something go on a day-to-day basis. I decided sales and marketing. In February I hired Sara as Renegade's director of sales and marketing. Sara is a great fit for me. She’s not a “yes man”, (I hate those), she’s smart, hard working, and really knows our industry.
Sara's background is similar to mine too. We both started in this industry as store owners. I eventually went on to contract for Decipher and then brought on full time. I actually hired Sara for her first full time industry job a few years earlier at another company, so I was already familiar with her abilities.
That brings us into March and the GAMA Trade Show. This is a big deal for game companies and stores. It's where publishers go to show off their latest games to store buyers and give them an overview of what they can expect for the new year. It's really a tabletop industry "Toy Fair". My first GAMA was back in 1996 when I was a store owner. Over the years I think I’ve missed two or three for various reasons.
If you are a publisher that sells games to game stores this is a no brainer, you must attend. For new Publishers there are educational seminars and panels. The last few years I’ve been on the “Industry Hot Topic” panel. This past year was about release dates, pre-orders, and pricing as it pertains to game stores. As part of the panel we built a fictitious game with the audience's participation. The point here was to show retailers some of the process and decisions that go into making a game for them to sell. As always it was fun. I kept a running back of the napkin P&L going and in the end I recommended that we not make the game the audience had developed. It was too expensive and our margins stunk!
I can’t even begin to explain how busy GAMA is for us. This was Sara’s official start at Renegade and we were meeting together with all our distribution partners so I could hand-off the day to day relationship to her. We also conducted two Renegade only seminars where we taught over one-hundred retail stores how to play our games, we hosted a designer speed dating, spoke and presented at one of the meals, sat down with some designers and checked out new games, and had countless meetings with some of the best retail stores in the country.
Then we come home and have to catch up from everything that didn’t get attention while we were gone and start following up on things from those meetings.
Oh yeah! Kitty Paw launched this month too and instantly sold out. I could see that the response for this was looking good at Toy Fair so I had already ordered the second printing in February. So even though we sold out instantly our partners in distribution would probably only be out for a few weeks. Kitty Paw would turn out to be one of our best sellers this year. In the first 7 months we’ve reprinted 3 times and it continues to do well.
Kitty Paw came from designer Aza Chen, who is based out of Taiwan. Aza is a brilliant designer on so many levels. His games are light and appealing to young kids but surprisingly challenging for adults. He really hits that sweet spot for a game that parents can play with their kids. Personally it took me a while to get good at Kitty Paw. Don’t let the cute cat fool you. Like real cats there is a sinister side there as well. Kitty Paw kicked off what will become a long term relationship for Renegade as we have the rights to most of his games now and plan on releasing a few a year strategically to build his brand and the line.
March also saw the release of the second edition of Bullfrogs from Keith Matejka. I love this game. It’s such a tight little strategy game. We decided to change the art and give it a more family friendly look. (I like the original art too but felt the frogs with axes might not fit our line) The game has sold pretty well but we learned some lessons here too. The most important is that you only get one chance to launch a game.
We kept running into distributors and retailers that had some of the old version left. I think this is something that new publishers, especially those using Kickstarter, should be aware of. When you “launch” a game and then try to generate all that excitement again many months later, it’s old news. Your early adopters, core base, etc. have moved on. Now there are always exceptions to this but those exceptions are few and far between. We don’t want to ever count on being an exception. So what we learned here is that if we can’t give the game a proper initial launch, we don’t want to do it.
That said, I really do love the design and we are exploring other options for it in the future. It’s really, really good and deserves a larger audience.
The other big thing that happened in March was that Lanterns: The Harvest Festival was nominated for Game of the Year by SXSW (South by Southwest). We were up against some pretty stiff competition. Codenames, Blood Rage, and Pandemic Legacy. We didn’t win but it was really nice to be nominated….again.
That became a bit of a running joke for us all year. We were constantly being nominated for awards but almost always losing to Codenames. Not to say that we would have won otherwise but it was pretty funny. The great folks at Czech Games even invited us to their table for the Origins Awards where Fuse was up against Codenames for Family Game of the Year. Hey, at least we had a fun night with friends!
Wow, that’s a lot going on and we are just getting into April. The big highlights in April were Unpub, the Mensa Mind Games Competition, and the release of Apotheca.
Unpub is really fun if you like play-testing games for designers. This year Renegade was a sponsor, as I’m really passionate about us supporting the design community. Events like Protospiel, Unpub, and Speed Dating are fantastic. They provide a way for aspiring designers to make contact with publishers and hone their craft. More people designing games are only a good thing for our industry.
For two days Sara and I bounced from one game to another playing, testing, and evaluating. It’s a whirlwind of non stop games. I also got to be on a panel about publishing. I love it and we will be back in 2017 as a sponsor again!
The other big event was the Mensa Mind Games competition. We had 3 games make it past the preliminary round of evaluations and be accepted into the competition. For those that don’t know, this is one of the best competitions for games. It’s not just based on the opinion of one or a few people. Or an editorial team at a magazine or website. Here’s how it works:
Minds Games is held every spring and moves around the country. Only Mensa members may attend and publishers or designers with a game in the competition (even if they are members) may not attend. Some Mensa members travel around the country and attend every year. Publishers send 6 copies of their game and 10 extra sets of rules. Only 60 games make it to the final cut that weekend. 300 players are assigned to play certain games and evaluate them using a score sheet that covers everything from art, rules, fun, replay value, and more. Players can play other games not on their list but must at least play their list.
The scores are tallied at the end of the weekend and the top 5 games are announced as Mensa Select games that year.
The reason I like this competition so much is that it’s a pretty comprehensive evaluation and involves 300 players. You also get all the evaluation forms back so you can see how your game scored and comments from the various players.
In 2016 World’s Fair 1893 (co-pub with our development partners Foxtrot Games) won one of those 5 spots. This was the 3rd year in a row that a game I published won at Mensa and I couldn’t be more thrilled.
At the end of the month we launched Apotheca from Andrew Federspiel. This was a game that I first saw in the fall of 2015 and really liked it. It’s fast and fun but has just enough depth that makes decisions important. The game came out looking beautiful as well and made a really nice addition to our line-up.
April also had Sara on the road for some more sales meetings and we were really starting to gear up for the summer conventions. In between all this travel I was in overdrive finishing up all our development and production for our summer and fall releases. Our Gen Con previews and releases needed to be to the printer in May!
Do you see a trend here yet? I’m tired just going back and looking at all this!
Tune in next week for part 2, when I visit the Tabletop set for the taping of our Lanterns episode and then Sara and I head straight into the whirlwind of summer conventions and trade shows!
See you next week!
Have questions about this? Ask me on Twitter @scottgaeta and be sure to follow Renegade @PlayRenegade