Here is a brief summary of one of the FabCon 2020 talks, all dedicated to the topic Italian Game Design, moderated by Seeker G and with lots of industry experts!
Last Saturday the third Fabcon 2020 online talk was held, dedicated to a theme that is deeply felt in our community: Italian game design, hence the title Italian Game Design
As we had already anticipated in this article, the talk Italian Game Design has seen as speakers and speakers personalities of the Italian RPG community experts both in Kickstarter and in the creation of role-playing games and settings for RPGs. Several Italian RPG creators were guests of the talk: the creator of Not the End, Claudius Serena di Fumble RPG, the creator of Nightfell, Angelo Peluso, and the creator of History, Mirko Failoni. As Italian Kickstarter experts and communicators, we also had Clare Listo e Joseph Vitale di Morning gift.
Let's see what we said during the talk on Italian Game Design!
Italian Game Design: in-depth analysis on Italian Kickstarter
The talk Italian Game Design it opened with a series of questions from Seeker G, moderator of the round table, on the characteristics and structure of the Italian Kickstarter in which the speakers participated. Also based on the data collected by Eugenio Lauro in this article, it has been seen that the Italian RPGs launched on Kickstarter more than doubled in 2019, and in 2020 there were some titles with record revenue.
To better understand the strategies, challenges and characteristics of the Italian RPG Kickstarter, I asked the speakers a series of questions on the topic.
NB: the citations do not report word for word what the speakers and the speakers of the talk Italian Game Design they said, but they are a mere summary. I recommend to view the video of the talk to have the extended version of their interventions.
Ai Morgengabe: in your opinion, how do Italian Kickstarters differ from foreign ones? And instead, what are the best lessons we have learned from overseas Kickstarters?
Since the Morgengabe deal with Kickstarter from a professional point of view and also keep a newsletter on active crowdfunding campaigns, over time they have got a pretty good idea of how a successful Kickstarter is structured.
The Italian kickstarters have become more and more professional. We started from projects with a lot of enthusiasm, but without great strategies behind it, to arrive at projects with a remarkable graphic, artistic and marketing sector. We have learned a lot from the Americans, who are masters of this.
Today, projects like Nightfell have nothing to envy to American projects like Blades in the dark or Savage World. Indeed, now from the point of view of the graphic and artistic sector we even beat them, which a few years ago would not have been possible.
There aren't many differences, but we have learned to dare by studying foreign Kickstarters. Then there is a big difference between the Kickstarter designed only for the Italian market and the multilingual one. There is a difference in budget, in the people you want to reach and also in investment. In fact, reaching the American public through advertising costs a lot more, because the US is huge. One of the great difficulties of Italian authors is reaching the hearts of Americans, because we are not at their fairs and we do not have a direct relationship with overseas fans.
To Claudio Serena: in this sense, why did you only address the Italian public and what were the advantages of this strategy?
Not the End was our first Kickstarter, and so it was an unknown area. So, we went to the least unknown area of the unknown area: Italy. Here we had a solid community, born with the podcast over the years. We knew a lot of people, who attended fairs, other authors and publishers. So we felt like going a little safer by limiting ourselves to Italy.
Furthermore, another factor that made us lean towards Italy was logistics, that is, managing shipments. In Italy they have already been difficult for Covid this year, but any shipments abroad would also have been complex. So, luckily we limited ourselves to Italy, because the Kickstarter ended when the global pandemic started. It was already traumatic to manage shipments in Italy with quarantine, even managing foreign ones would have been impossible.
This is also why we preferred to make an Italian-only Kickstarter, knowing that then we could also do one for abroad.
To Angelo Peluso: why did you also address the international audience and what were the advantages of this strategy?
My reasoning was slightly the reverse of Claudio's. I didn't start with a fanbase, because first of all I'm an illustrator, and also I'm not a person who exposes himself a lot. So, if I have to do it, I try to do something that could give me greater longevity in the long run, and then go abroad because it could give me a much larger audience.
When I proposed the project to Mana Project, actually, Nightfell's is an “American” setting, that is, those settings that, throughout history, have caused a sensation in the USA. I was delighted when some compared him to Ravenloft. Unintentionally, Nightfell went to cover a slight market gap in the US, taking audiences passionate about classic fantasy and horror.
This positive reception made me happy, because I have been working on this project for over a year, writing, drawing and doing worldbuilding for Nightfell. Beyond the economic result, which will give me the opportunity to carry out the project as smoothly as possible, it is the joy of seeing all these people who are passionate about something of mine that gives the most satisfaction.
A Mirko Failoni: What are your sources for your drawings on Historia? Where does your passion for drawing characters that tell a story already from the image come from?
One of the characteristics that in my opinion makes the manuals of Italian KS precious is the aesthetics, and in particular the drawings, which alone are capable of giving the idea of the story that a role-playing game wants to tell. In particular, the illustrations are the strong point of a title like Historia.
Historia was not born as a game to play anthropomorphic animals "for the sake of playing anthropomorphic animals". Historia was born to play archetypal characters. I have very specific tastes and I wanted to give a very specific feeling to the project.
Being passionate about history and customs, it shines through. I didn't want Historia to give the idea of a classic fantasy Middle Ages, but to have its own identity. My references are varied, I could cite animated films, artists, or other RPGs. As in any artistic creation, there are my past experiences, my tastes, my profession and my education.
Italian Game Design: original game system or setting for D & D5e?
Il debate on the use (and perhaps also on the abuse) of the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons for the creation of new RPGs and new environments is always very hot. Let's see what our speakers and our rapporteurs think.
Morgengabe: two valid products, but with different sales strategies
We have worked both on projects based on D&D, and on much more indie and authorial projects. They are two very different products, both very valid. Being able to sell one is very different from being able to sell the other.
Meanwhile, with an unknown product that doesn't rely on another famous game, you start from scratch. The first thing you need to do is make yourself known for the particularity of your system or setting. You have to figure out which niche of players you want to target, and it's not so straightforward. You will have to work a lot more.
If, on the other hand, you rely on an already famous system, you will already have a niche of interested players and you will have to work more on the color you want to give them. You have to appreciate the setting as much as the system. In this way, however, you also preclude some people. While with a new system you are potentially not precluding anyone, until they try the game; relying on an existing system you preclude those who do not appreciate this system.
In any case, the fanbase is essential. Without the fanbase, it is difficult for anyone to even know that you are doing the Kickstarter. A lot of non-professionals think that the work on the Kickstarter you do after you have published the crowdfunding campaign. But in reality 80% of the work on Kickstarter you don't see, because you did it before the launch: when you gave the game a try, you brought it around and you made it known. Generally, by the time the Kickstarter is launched, much of the work has already been done and you already know that with that Kickstarter you will make a certain amount of money.
Claudio Serena: only original systems
Fumble GDR only released games with original systems, because it's in our manifesto. For my personal obsession, making a setting is not making a game for me. So, for a purely semantic question, I prefer the original systems, because so I can say “I made the game on a certain thing”.
Also, I like to test and push game systems to the limit. The strong point of making an original system (and not a generic system, because Not the End is not generic either!) Is taking away necessary things in a generic system and being able to focus on the important parts that can convey a tone, a world and a very precise narration. We did it with Not the End, with Gattai! and with Monogatari, which focus on specific issues.
Angelo Peluso: big fanbase, but a lot of competition
I for one say Nightfell is a D&D setting rather than an RPG. Semantically, Claudio is right. The thing that mattered most to me was just to create a setting, creatures, ethnic groups, religions and the like.
In my opinion, the catchment area of D&D is a double-edged sword. There is a very large, consolidated and rooted catchment area that awaits products of this type. The problem is that for the fifth edition there is whatever, between expansions, objects, powers or settings. Here you have to elbow to stand out in the midst of an incredible sea magnum. So yes, you select a specific target, but you have to convince them that you are doing something really good that is not like the other twelve thousand things already out.
I don't know exactly why Nightfell was so successful, but obviously people like me liked it and who want what I want from D&D. Quite simply, I went to people like me.
Mirko Failoni: a middle ground
In a sense, Historia is halfway through. It is based on the D&D open game license, but we made the choice not to make an add-on, but a D&D hack. Historia classes are not archetypes to add to D&D classes, but we have created special classes. There are particular mechanics made for the setting, because my idea within the book was quite specific.
So to get to the game, we adapted D&D to the setting and the setting to D&D. We tried to get to a middle ground to marry the two visions. D&D gives access to a large catchment area, as we said, but for the type of setting of Historia some things could not go well, due to a stylistic and mood choice. Within Historia something like a monk would be out of tune, for example. A class like the Monaco would be out of tune in a setting based on Italy of Commons and the Renaissance. So we rebuilt the classes from scratch, from level 1 to level 20, which match the setting.
I don't hide the fact that I would like to one day make a proprietary system for the Historia game, to explore some worldbuilding issues that D&D doesn't support. I would like a system that doesn't see all classes with the same level of power, but has mechanical differences between characters from different walks of life, which D&D doesn't allow.
Appeal not to create the Italian Kickstarter football championship
Angelo Peluso notes that there is an air of unmotivated competition, which pushes those who make a Kickstarter to have necessarily better results than those of others.
The Kickstarter serves as a projection of how far you've managed to reach your audience. So it is a personal satisfaction, not a community one. It is not the victory of a championship. I don't know how, but a toxic competition has begun to be the most successful Italian Kickstarter.
What I mean is that already doing a Kickstarter is a huge finger in the ass, of constant work and preparation. So if we have to add more stress, it is useless. It seems to me that there is a general desire to make the Kickstarter championship to those who earn the most. In a while they will be the Italian fanta-Kickstarter, with people who will focus on one or another.
The impressions of Claudio Serena and Morgengabe
Claudio Serena admits that some of them from Fumble GDR also started this trend, because they were amazed at the results they were achieving.
A little bit, saying that Not the End was the Kickstarter that made the most backers and the most money is a question of marketing. Maybe someone experienced it as a junkie. But with the guys from Broken Compass we didn't perceive him as toxic and we made jokes with them, even publicly. We were a bit of the "big of the little ones", because we were the biggest Kickstarter, but only in Italian. So there was always that "but" right after that narrowed the scope of what we were saying a little bit, and it was almost puffy and cute.
Even the Morgengabe claim they didn't experience Kickstarter as a toxic competition. On the side of independent games they have not seen this competition, even if perhaps in the D&D environment or with the increase of backers, more football situations can arise.
Mirko Failoni's invitation to always look at the context
According to Mirko Failoni, there is a part of the fanbase that expresses their opinions "with a certain firmness".
But from a certain point of view this supporters are in the declaration of intent of what we do. Sooner or later we will always have a group of super fans who, even if they spit on the ground, will say "work of art" (hopefully), as well as you will have detractors that whatever you do, even if there is proven evidence that you did well, they will come to say "yes, but, mh".
So this is something that, as time passes, interests me less and less. Even competing with Kickstarter makes little sense to me. It always depends on the context, on what kind of product you make, on a lot of things. Today there is a type of context and a type of following that allow you to do certain things and certain figures. If we see it in comparison to the results they will make in ten years, probably combining all the results of all our Kickstarters we will not make the successful Kickstarter that there will be in ten years, if the trend continues like this.
Kickstarter numbers as indicators of the success of an RPG?
Subsequently, a commentator pointed out that the Kickstarter numbers are one of the few indicators the public has to get an idea of how Italian RPGs are doing. To this, Mirko Failoni replies:
Selling lots of copies of an RPG at launch is fine. But if in the following years the reviews kill you, if you got things wrong, you are years late, it is a result that you have made even € 100.000 more, compared to someone who did half of you, but over the years has a continuous sales that go well or even go up. In fact, there are settings that explode after a year.
Kickstarter has to be seen as how much gasoline the rocket has to get into orbit. It is not said that the rocket can be refueled later. It's just the initial push.
The Morgengabe agree and point out that the metrics that count in Kickstarters are two, and you can't see them from the number of backers or the amount obtained.
The first metric is the return on investment. If you do a € 100.000 Kickstarter, but have spent € 99.000, that's worse than doing a € 20.000 Kickstarter and spent € 3.000.
The second metric is the long term earnings on your brand, your game, how many people will play your game. We've seen games that sell 3.000 copies, but then don't get played. Instead, there are also games that sell 400 copies, but then form an ever larger community. And this is what counts and is good for the environment: games that are played, on which something can be built and on which an interesting community can be created.
Italian Game Design: pros and cons of making a name abroad
According to Angelo Peluso, therefore, we should be happy with the fact that other Italian projects are successful Kickstarters, because we must build the identity of Italy and, as the title suggests, ofItalian Game Design in the global role-playing market.
We are all pulling water to the same mill, which is the Italian working landscape in the field of role-playing games. And so, how could it be for cinema or many other things, as the general quality grows, we all gain. In fact, so those who see Kickstarter of Italian stuff from the outside will think that the Italian stuff rocks. This is what we must aim for.
Helios' first question: "Why build an Italian gaming identity and not create a global game-design culture?"
Helios Pu by Helios Games (we talked about his Kaiser 1451 Thu!) asks whether to create an Italian role-playing identity, then a Italian Game Design, is actually positive.
According to the Morgengabe, the point is not to create an Italian role-playing identity. The point is to make it clear that Italians know how to create role-playing games on other markets as well.
The point is to make it clear that our products, not only from a game-design point of view, arrive on time, are artistically and technically of a certain level, are well made. And on this we must work. On this point it is necessary that the leading products, in this case Nightfell, arrive on time and are of the quality that people expect.
Then obviously the game-design culture is global. We look at what they do in Japan, America, Russia, Poland. We compare, we look at each other, we buy each other. So, we weren't talking about closing ourselves off in identity, but about being recognized as realities that create products of a certain level.
Angelo Peluso then points out that, if the Italian role-playing landscape received more international consideration, our writers and illustrators could be hired more abroad as well.
I, for example, have noticed some discrepancies in how Italian illustrators are paid compared to US illustrators, because [Americans are paid more as such]. In short, it would please everyone if the Italian market became productive in all areas.
The important thing is not to lapse into parochialism
Mirko Failoni observes that an identity ofItalian Game Design not a bad thing regardless.
Not to divide us-them. But, for example, in terms of style of play, the Italian style could be conceptually different from an American style. I don't necessarily find something bad in this, quite the contrary. When there are these types of contaminations, there are the hybrids who then create new things.
The point is, we don't have to autarchy. Parochialism is not something I have ever liked very much. I never believed and never will believe in “made in Italy for the sake of made in Italy” and “it's Italian, so it's better”.
But if we manage to "impose", at the marketing level, a veil of authority because "they are Italian authors and there, heck, there are four cats, yet they play games with a certain weight", it is good for everyone.
The second question of Helios: but in this way we do not risk losing our authenticity and selling off our "typical products" by making them a bad copy of their original versions?
According to Angelo Peluso, the Italian role-playing game could become a "less than niche" niche.
If we became a mass phenomenon, we could have many horrifying games, such as tortellini at four in the afternoon, but also hallucinatingly beautiful games because there will be even more incredible possibilities. There will be more variety, perhaps.
Mirko Failoni adds:
The moment you do something that somehow has your stamp, if it's not shit, but it's something with the specific goal of selling a lot, is it necessarily a bad thing?
Because otherwise, here we go into another of the great controversies, according to which "the role-playing game should be something only and exclusively indie and authorial, because otherwise you do stuff for the mass and you crap". But there may be indie games done in a certain way [= badly done ndCG], as well as D&D hacks done very well.
If you taste spaghetti from the supermarket in Italy, the spaghetti is still better than the average spaghetti you will find in the rest of the world, it is because your footprint is there anyway. It is recognizable. And in my opinion it's that kind of footprint that does it all.
The risk of the “made in Italy” label according to Claudio Serena
Claudio Serena breaks a spear in favor of Helios:
I think the sense of what Helios means is that saying that something is made in Italy shouldn't be either positive or negative. It should mean that something is done in a certain way, but it shouldn't, in itself, say "then it's necessarily cool", because then you fall into the problem of the conception that whatever I do is cool, because it's Italian. And so you stop trying and then the shit comes out. Or, you fall into the problem of "it necessarily sucks, because they are not able to do it, because the Italians are not capable".
That is the danger of the "made in X" label. Which is a bit like what you said a moment ago, Mirko, about D&D. For some, if it's D&D it's necessarily disgusting because “with D&D you can't talk about the intimate feelings of stars moving from afar”. This can be interesting, but exploring a dungeon can also be interesting when you want to explore a dungeon.
So, if I understand correctly, the problem of “made in Italy” is that: everything becomes necessarily good or bad depending on who is observing the scene or depending on the context.