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The AGP - Issue #5 - An Interview with Iko
Outer Rim: Uprising, The Lost Bay, and the Final day for The Progeny Crowd Sale
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An Interview With Iko
For this week, I have an interview with Iko from the Lost Bay about his current Mothership Kickstarter campaign for Outer Rim: Uprising and his work-in-progress game, The Lost Bay. We discuss some of the business and workflow aspects of assembling a large bundle like Outer Rim: Uprising, and we talk about solo play in The Lost Bay.
Outer Rim: Uprising looks to be a rather hefty bundle. What aspect are you most excited about?
I love its mind-blowing art, its fantastic layout, but I find even more exciting about ORU is the way it allows you to jump right in a rich setting. All the items of the bundle can be used independently: some are adventures, others are adventure-building tools. There are several player-facing accessories, one of them is the NPC card deck which I’m really excited about. They are all designed for Mothership, but a few of them are actually system agnostic, like BLINK, a guide to faster than light travel, or SAP, a Voight-Kampff-like test to determine if a subject is an android or not. But together, all the items build a setting with a strong theme: at the fringes of the galaxy, mega evil corps experiment with terrifying technos, xeno horrors dwell, and rebel alliances organize and revolt. The bundle items share NPCs, factions, events, outlining a common universe, and on top of those we’ve designed the Campaign Handbook that contains a series of frameworks, classes, resources to run a medium/long campaign set in the Outer Rim. So, to recap, the ORU is highly modular, and comes with a formidable tool to ease and speed its use. There is an incredible gaming potential in the bundle, associated with the fun factor of getting a collection of items.
There are a lot of contributors to Outer Rim: Uprising. Are there any tools or workflows that you’re using to help you wrangle the project?
We have a private channel in The Lost Bay Discord server. I opened it simply because most of the contributors were already members of the server. This channel is where most of the talk happens. I usually send big recap emails when we reach milestones. Discord is cool, but maybe I would have preferred a (free) tool that allows for better file management. The workflow is pretty simple. We talk a lot! Every time there is an important decision to make, I ping the crew. As a publisher, I have the responsibility of a lot of decisions, but I want those decisions to be informed by the feedback of the designers and other contributors. And it happened a few times that the feedback received pushed things in an expected way.
Can you share anything about the financial structure of a project with a large number of collaborators like this? Are there opportunities for contributors to receive equity?
Sure, I believe that transparency is important to keep the scene healthy. The bundle designers, myself included, are all paid an equal percentage on the bundle profit (the money that’s left after all expenses, production, marketing, transaction fees, taxes). The company itself takes a 10% fee on the net income to finance overhead. Designers fund development expenses for their own projects, like art or layout, and they remain sole owners of their zines. Lost Bay Studio gets a license to publish them within the bundle. In a sense, we are functioning like a temporary cooperative of publishers.
Tell me about The Lost Bay ttrpg, it appears to be a real passion project for you.
The Lost Bay is fueled with memories of the place where I grew up and that I had to leave abruptly as a young adult, and it’s heavily influenced by late 80s and 90s media.
It’s a horror game set in a gigantic coastal suburb of a mysterious and faraway town, urban and rural, beautiful and derelict, filled with contrasts and contradictions. Modern, at least in a 90s way (with skateboards, metal music, and console games), but also archaic. Magic prayers, curses, wicked monsters and immortals are part of daily life alongside scooters, arcade games, and strip malls. In it you play as young and powerful characters, who have been touched by the Weird, an ancient force that grants them incredible powers but consumes them as well.
The playing characters are inspired by cinema and fiction of the 80s/90s (the Firestarter, the Splinter, the Scanner, the Screamer, and many more) but they also carry with them something ancient and untamable, something dark and mysterious.
How are you approaching solo play tools in The Lost Bay?
At first The Lost Bay rpg was built as a group game. After its release, roughly a month ago, I received positive feedback from solo players, who found it easy to run solo, but needed more resources. So I started discussing with them on twitter, via email, DMs, collecting more feedback on tools and procedures. I exchanged with as many people as possible. It’s been an extraordinary experience, that shows how the scene works at its best. The subsequent development has been very much influenced by this. TLB remains a group game, but mechanics and support/generation tables and procedures are designed in a solo first way. I believe that if the game works well solo, it’ll make a better group game.
Business Structure and Personal Reflection
What excites me most about this discussion with Iko are the inventive ways that he acts as a publisher. The way that Outer Rim: Rising is structured is fascinating to me. Spinning up a temporary publisher collaborative is a very innovative approach to a large project like this. However, Iko has positioned himself as the main publisher, which definitely helps for guiding the product as a whole, I’ve seen many collaborative projects fall apart due to design by committee. Iko is very community-minded, though, so this structure makes sense. He runs a super friendly and welcoming Discord server that gives people a place to build community and connect over life, not just about games. He shares early drafts and lets community feedback guide his design for The Lost Bay. It’s something I admire even though it is very different from how I operate RV Games even though we both have similar goals.
With RV Games, instead of a more collaborative model, I have a model more similar to Artists Equity, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s new production company. As I wrote in my interview with Noora Rose, I take an auteurist perspective on games, so I’m looking to publish and distribute independent games with strong authorial voices. To put out these kinds of games, I have two different methods that I use: publishing and distribution.
When I am publishing a game, it usually starts at the manuscript or pitch phase, but it needs art and product development. I have to really believe in a game that I am publishing because I then take on all the risk of paying for development, editing running campaigns, advertising, printing, distribution and fulfillment. I take on a very strong editorial role when I am publishing; however, the rights for the game still ultimately belong to the lead designer for the project. We establish a publishing agreement where net profits are split 50/50. I am still working in partnership with independent artists, not taking ownership of games. When I publish the work of others or myself, so I am paying for it, I do make sure that I am creating contracts and paying out equity to major contributors (artist, editor, layout) in addition to paying the lead writer/designer their royalties.
When I act as distributor, I fill more of the role that Iko has been filling with Outer Rim: Uprising. A game that I distribute is mostly complete with art and layout. The publisher of the game is responsible for funding, running campaigns, and marketing. I just focus on physical product development, printing, distribution, and fulfillment when I am distributor. In this case, it is a 70/30 net profit split with the publisher receiving the larger amount. Just like with my publishing contracts, the creator ultimately owns the game, I’m just receiving royalties for getting the game out there. I use this model to get games out that I would not ever design myself but that are so unique that they need to get out into the world; however, I don’t have to take on the full risk and time investment of acting as publisher. This model also make distributor and publisher partners, I only make money as distributor if copies are sold, so we both have the incentive to do the leg work. If I were just operating as a fulfillment house, I would get paid per copy, and generating long tail sales is not something that would necessarily be in my interest in the same way that it does as a distributor who takes a percentage of net profit.
I think it is very telling that both Iko and Sean McCoy have both said that Discord can only get you so far as a collaborating tool for a project. It works at a certain scale, but it becomes hard to manage. I’ve considered learning Base Camp for this reason, but I’m still not sure if my projects escalate to this level. I operate with small teams on purpose because I want to keep things focused, and I want to keep individual vision in tact for every collaborator. I have one project idea that will definitely take a larger team than I have been working with, and that is something that will take me some time to process. I need to finish this series of Microgames and Blood Leeches before I can think about my own next projects (I have a few publishing and distribution deals on the books for 2024, but I’m very slow with my own work).
Upcoming in The AGP
10/17 - Issue #6 - RV Games Microgame #3: Pyroclastic Flow Pre-Launch
10/24 - Issue #7 - An Interview with the Creators of An Infinity of Ships
10/31 - Issue #8 - A Review of Altar Shock by Disaster Tourism
11/7 - Issue #9 - An Interview With watt, creator of Cloud Empress
11/14 - Issue #10 - A Review of Turbulence for Mothership by Green Moon Games
GURPS inspired Zombie Apocalypse TTRPG created in Fresno, California
A massive bundle of Mothership 1e modules and a campaign structure that features 12 veteran designers
A toolkit and selection of space ships with art by Rob Turpin. Also features Lesbean Ships!