Adam Watts, founder of Carpe Omnis Games (www.carpeomnis.games) discusses his journey as a designer of tabletop games, his Kickstarter success, and his fascination with new TLDs including .GAMES in this week’s My Side of the Dot™.
Where are you based?
I am based in Essex, Vermont.
How and when was Carpe Omnis Games founded?
Carpe Omnis Games was officially founded in May of 2016, in preparation for publishing a fantasy heist card game called No Honor Among Thieves that I had been working on for two years at that point. I was planning on raising funds to publish the game by running a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, and the research I’d done over the past few years had said that it was a good idea to found an LLC beforehand to accept the money instead of taking it myself. I already owned carpeomnis.com, where I had been blogging for years, so I decided to call the company Carpe Omnis Games so I could keep using the same website. I paid a lawyer to do the registration for me, opened a business checking account with my bank, and I was ready to go.
What’s the significance of the name Carpe Omnis?
Carpe Omnis was the name I picked for my blog when I started it in 2011, because I thought it sounded cool. I was trying to make a play on the Latin saying “carpe diem,” or “seize the day,” with my own version meaning “seize everything.” I found two possible translations for that phrase, “carpe omnis” and “carpe omnia,” and I decided that carpe omnis sounded better. I think that carpe omnia is actually the better translation, but it’s a bit late to change it at this point.
What is No Honor Among Thieves?
No Honor Among Thieves is a card game for three to six players where each player is running their own gang of thieves in a fantasy city, trying to steal the most wealth from the rich and powerful of the kingdom. Staging a heist by yourself is difficult, but working with other players opens you up to the possibility of betrayal—or gives you the opportunity to betray them, and take the prize for yourself. It’s a game where you can’t get far alone, but also a game where backstabbing your allies is heavily incentivized, meaning you have to get creative with negotiating and figuring out who you can really trust.
How did you get into game development? What’s the appeal?
There are a lot of reasons that I got into game development. I like the way I can write a small number of rules and watch them blossom into complex interactions between players. I like entertaining people, to the point where I actually like watching people play the games that I’ve made more than I enjoy playing them myself. I do like playing other games, of course; I don’t think I’d be a good designer if I didn’t, but when I’m playing a game that I’ve made I spend too much time thinking about the rules and how the specific wording of them is influencing my thinking to really enjoy the game itself.
I also went to college to get a degree in Game Design & Development, so it’s nice to be able to use what I learned there. I wanted to get a job working in the video game industry after I graduated, but that didn’t really pan out (even with the degree, those jobs are extremely, extremely competitive), so I ended up doing web development work while still wanting to make games. Card games are much easier for me than video games—the degree program I was in at college was very technical, but I’ve always been happier writing than programming—so that’s what I ended up doing.
Whenever I think about how I ended up founding a company to publish tabletop games, I always think back to a very brief conversation with a recruiter at a career fair during my senior year of college. He was a busy guy recruiting for the (at the time very new) Amazon Games team and barely paying attention to me, and when I told him that I was a designer his immediate response was “Oh, have you done anything on Kickstarter yet?” That question kind of stuck with me afterwards, and I started looking up what it would take to bring a project to Kickstarter. I had no idea what I’d do, but I knew I wanted to do something, or at least wanted to know that it could be done if I ever came up with anything good.
What came next was a series of things that seemed like simple, obvious next steps to take rather than anything resembling long-term planning. I found the series of Kickstarter Lessons blog posts on Stonemaier Games website, and played a lot of card games with my friends, and read The Lies of Locke Lamora, and somewhere in that all the different ideas I’d been having and concepts I’d been reading came together in a sort of alchemical process and I had the idea for No Honor Among Thieves. The core game hasn’t really changed much since then. I worked on it a little bit the summer after I graduated, set it aside for a while, and then came back to it more seriously when I couldn’t find a job for three months. Then when I did get a job, it turned out that the creative director of the agency I was now working at also made card games in his free time, and after talking about it with him for a while we both joined a local game design group. At that point I had to keep working on it so I’d have something to show at the meetings every week.
Looking back on it, there’s a lot of places that I could have branched off into something completely different, or just let the dream fizzle and die out like so many other projects I’ve worked on. Recently at a party a friend of mine mentioned to me, “I bet you’re surprised that you ended up publishing a game before publishing a book,” and honestly until he said that it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. But he was right—back in high school and for most of college, my long-term plan was to be a fantasy author, and I was all about writing short stories set in different universes or on different planets. I even wrote a thesis paper for one of my classes about methods of self-publication for that sort of thing. And now I have a tabletop games company instead, and the path I took to get there seems like a series of strange coincidences when I look back on it.
Life is weird sometimes, I guess. I’m not complaining.
Tell us a little about the Kickstarter project: How did it go?
The Kickstarter campaign went spectacularly well, in ways that surprised me then and continue to surprise me now. I had done a lot of research on running a crowdfunding campaign before going to Kickstarter, attending panels at conventions and reading blogs and asking questions in Facebook groups until I was pretty sure I knew what I needed to do (I actually wrote about this on my blog a while back, if you’re interested). I wanted to make sure I got everything right. You only get one shot at a first impression, and this was my company and game’s official first impression to the market at large. I put so much work into this thing. And it paid off! I had set the funding goal at $28,000, which is actually very high for a first-time indie Kickstarter, and ended the campaign having raised $46,325. Over $16,000 of which was in the final two days, which was an absolutely crazy time.
I made mistakes, of course. Getting all the art done has been taking longer than I expected, so my proposed schedule to ship to backers might end up being a little off. And I don’t think I sent out enough copies to reviewers ahead of time, which was a mistake made especially jarring by the fact that one of the reviewers I had been counting on previewing the game ended up not doing it and not replying to my emails afterward. And I didn’t expect that the Kickstarter would get above $40k, so I didn’t have any new stretch goals prepared beyond that (stretch goals are something that are popular with game crowdfunding—basically, at certain levels above the required funding, the publisher promises to add in extra stuff that they can now afford to the game, like better cardstock or unique game components. But overall it’s been a fantastic experience, and No Honor Among Thieves should be safely shipping to campaign backers in mid 2017.
The biggest issue I’ve run into is that I keep being surprised when people ask if there are other things they can buy from me, because they want to give me more money. I feel like that’s not a bad problem to have, all things considered.
What is your goal for Carpe Omnis Games?
The goal for Carpe Omnis Games is to keep publishing games, my own and possibly others if I eventually decide to make it into a larger business. At the moment it’s essentially a hobby, albeit a very expensive and time-consuming one. I’ve also been thinking about writing fantasy and sci-fi stories again, and wrote 10k words in a new novel during NaNoWriMo this year, so I may also give in to my self-publishing urges and start a publishing imprint as part of Carpe Omnis Games. There’s a lot of different directions I could take things, and I’m excited to see what opportunities arise as I keep moving forward with this little business.
Ideally, it’d be cool to get this to a point where I don’t need another job to support myself. But that’s a very long-term goal, one that I don’t know if I’ll ever reach and certainly not one that I’m eager to lunge for prematurely. If I ever get to that point, it will be for the same reason that my Kickstarter campaign was successful: because I put the work in, patiently and carefully, over the course of years.
What’s next after No Honor Among Thieves?
I’ve got a couple of new games in the pipeline that will hopefully see publication after No Honor Among Thieves is out the door. The first and foremost of them is a game that I’ve been calling Station Nine (as a working title, that might get changed), which is a much simpler game with more of a slapstick party atmosphere than NoHAT. I’m pretty sure I can have that in decent working order by the time NoHAT actually ships. All of the money from the No Honor Among Thieves campaign is going towards making that game, so I’m going to have to run another Kickstarter to publish S9, which I’m looking forward to—I really enjoyed running my first campaign, and being able to do it again without making the same mistakes strikes me as a great idea. I also have a tabletop roleplaying system that I’ve been tinkering with on and off for a year or two, a Google Doc full of ideas for an expansion to No Honor Among Thieves that I’ll probably make after Station Nine is done, and some vague ideas for a noir-style mystery game that I haven’t put too much work into yet. Eventually I hope that I’ll be able to publish all of these ideas, or at least whatever variant they turn into as I work on them.
How did you hear about .GAMES?
My brother and I like to peruse cheap domain names from time to time and buy ones we think are interesting, or which we might use for a project someday. I was looking over all the unusual TLDs that have been released lately when I saw an ad on the site I was on suggesting that I pre-register for a .GAMES domain. I’d been waiting for them to hit the market ever since then, and when they finally did I snapped one up.
Why did you decide to register a .GAMES domain?
Mostly because I like weird TLDs, to be honest. I’ve had carpeomnis.com since 2011, and carpeomnisgames.com since late 2015, and I felt like carpeomnis.games was the logical next step. It’s much more elegant than carpeomnisgames.com, that’s for sure.
I’m thinking that at some point I’ll split my personal blog and my company site away from each other, and have carpeomnis.com keep being my personal site while carpeomnis.games becomes a similarly-styled site with a web store and information about my games on it. That’s one of those long-term ideas that I don’t have the money or time to implement yet, but it’s never too early to get the groundwork laid down for that sort of thing.
Is there anything you’d like to leave readers with?
If you want to check out No Honor Among Thieves, you can see the Kickstarter campaign page here, read development blogs about it here, and pre-order it here or here. Signing up for my (extremely irregular) newsletter or following my Facebook and Twitter feeds will give you advance notice of anything cool that comes up in the future, like new games or convention appearances.
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