Later than hoped but roughly around the time expected, phase one of the long gestating project that is ScreenPlay is now live and on sale. ScreenPlay Presents: Ironbound (or simply Ironbound because that’s going to be a nightmare to type over and over again these next few weeks) is now available as a Pay What You Want PDF. (If you don’t know what that means, it means you can go ahead and download it for free if that’s your style, tip later if you come realize it’s something you believe deserves the cash, or buy it at the suggested price right off the bat.)
The last couple months have been the art direction and preparations for the release of both Ironbound and ScreenPlay’s core rulebook. An eye opening experience. Truthfully, the entire process was extremely educational but I’ll get into that another time. When the public playtest began back in October 2015, my plan was to pocketfund the game. After the positive results from that playtest, I toyed around with the idea of crowdfunding before considering the risks for putting out an unknown, universal system without some kind of track record first. Use that early momentum to prepare something else that could be funded with a possible fan base. (Hint: High Plains Samurai)
Oh, what do I mean by “pocketfunding?” It’s the tried and true practice of paying for everything yourself. Like it used to be done all the time. Not to knock crowdfunding; even with larger and established publishers, it pumps out higher quality productions that were unrealistic before sites like Kickstarter. And as much as that would have been nice to make ScreenPlay loaded with wall-to-wall original artwork, I had to take a different approach.
There felt like a risk in releasing this game. Don’t get me wrong. I adore these rules and feel fulfilled for building a game that was not only different from any of my previous creations but also taught me lessons on what I love about roleplaying games and has revised my look on how I like to play. It’s just that I truly have no metrics on how successful this game can be; it’s a project of passion released to the public because I believe there are some who would enjoy playing it. Enough to make it worth investing a significant chunk of cash or earn enough success to pull off what I’d really like to do with this game? Too uncertain. To make this successful in all aspects of success, I had to make this work with a personal budget.
This is the first of a 3-part post on the tough calls and final decisions that went into pocketfunding ScreenPlay, starting with the choice to use stock art over commissioned original art.
Part 1: Stock Art To The Rescue!
If you are an artist and have ever provided stock art for publishers the world over to use… bless you!
The budget for ScreenPlay was not large, but it was comfortable. A safe amount accumulated from Killshot profits to make something professional, tested, and visually unique from my last publications. Most of that budget was largely spent on editing, cover art and playtest rewards. Leaving the little bit left behind (and some more taken from my own account, the first time I’ve ever done that for a project), I had to go with stock art to fill in the blank spaces in the book. And it wasn’t a case of, “Oh, guess I’ll have to stick with stock art.” It was more like, “Hmm, I have a collection of stock art I’d be happy to use instead.”
This was not a decision taken lightly. From the very beginning of the Rehearsal Edition playtest, I used some of that stock art. Not just as filler material, but to gauge reaction to the artwork. If anything, playtesters found it enhanced their impression of the game and my commitment to quality. (An opposite reaction Will Hindmarch has mentioned a couple of times on the Design Games podcast.) The pieces selected were acceptable to the game’s target audience and those selected for their particular pages fit the content. That knowledge made the decision easier.
Giving the artwork a boost should readers have seen a particular piece or two before meant it could stand out on its own a little better. This was a major hurdle during ScreenPlay‘s layout and it wasn’t until I was happy with the tilted strip of film and angled artwork that I was happy and confident this didn’t look like stock art.
In the case of Ironbound, I was incredibly fortunate to find Jack Holliday’s work early on while putting the playtest version of the preview/treatment together. It had a harsh and dark style exactly as I envisioned the world as well as having some badass imagery. Add on a very reasonable price for a budget-strapped designer like myself and they were downloaded before I could ever begin to doubt it.
Have a look at the results…
That’s the plus side of stock art but there’s also a risk in other products using the same art. Part 2 will deal with the issues of Ironbound’s stock art cover.