Friday, July 11, 2014

What I Have Learned About Producing Miniatures

One of the cool things about gaming that is bigger now than it ever has been before is the ability of just about anyone to get into the biz. This has its pros and cons and certainly not everyone is cut out for it and not everyone's stuff is polished to the same degree. That is not to say that the less polished is somehow bad stuff, it just means that often critical, useful and sometimes necessary editorial steps may been skipped. This is true for printed works, but also extends to other gaming media. In my case, this is miniatures.

When I first set out to be a sculptor, I really had no grand aspirations of having my own line of miniatures and even when I did, I decided to enter the commercial realm of miniatures using contracted sculpts that I felt better represented my ideas to a degree that was, in my opinion, beyond my ability at the time. I do not regret this initial decision though I have reflected on its effect on my dedication to learning the art. But what does this have to do with what I learned about the miniatures business? A lot really.

My original plan was to contract for two packs of 6 different poses, which would have allowed for the basic elements of any combat squads. This was a reasonable starting point, I thought. I found a sculptor that did good work for a price I could afford and worked out a deal with a caster that I knew. This was falling into place and I was well within a reasonable budget for my finances. It all looked like smooth sailing.

It turned out that I tapped my sculptor's talent right as he was about to make a serious shift in his personal life. This stuff happens and I could hardly fault a guy for trying to better himself and his family's situation. He's a person and still an amazing talent that I hope to some day tap into. I tried to give the sculpts some time but eventually I had to pull the plug on that work and find a new sculptor. Finding a new sculptor wasn't all that hard and I soon had the initial sculpts for the Chuhuac back on track but then I ran into another snag in my personal life that really set me back, so much so that I entertained, and finally went through with running a Kickstarter for the miniatures.

I feel the Kickstarter went well, overall, but I have to admit that my lack of experience in the industry really set it up for all the problems that came out of it. I was new to KS and felt that I needed to pad the campaign with all sorts of stretch goals and discounts to attract backers. While this worked, it escalated the scope of the project beyond my original agreement with my caster and taxed my sculptor. I could have, and likely should have stuck to the original plan, had faith in the quality of the idea to attract folks to it. This would have prevented it from growing in the monster it did and would have saved me a lot of stress and anguish.

Flash forward to after the campaign and into the production and fulfillment process. This period was a lot of wondering and stressing and having to adapt. We had issues with the sculpts when they went to molding. I had to modify master casts so they would work for production casting. Add to this that we had to change what type and how much metal was needed for the project. Heck, just getting the over 100 pounds of metal from the UK to me cost a good chunk of cash. This is where I really learned the most. 

During the process of actually getting the miniatures to production, I took in a ton new knowledge. In addition to technical details, I had to realize that none of this stuff went fast. Mold makers and casters are often piled under work and it can take time for your turn to come up. Then there is always the possibility that things might not go right in the mold. Many problems will only emerge once you have attempted to mold the sculpts. It really pays to have an expert look over your sculpts before you send them for production. A good caster will catch most issues before they go in.

So, moving on to after the Kickstarter is done and gone. What is there left to learn? Well, for one there is marketing and such. This is where it can be hard as an independent producer. I have ZERO advertising budget and so have to rely on low cost or free outlets. This can work, using blogs, Facebook and Google + as communications outlets. There are also a lot of hobby news outlets who will pick up on your material for free, but you have to keep the releases rolling for them to do so. This last part brings me to my biggest marketing realization.

Since the Chuhuac have gone into general release, sales have been less than I would have hoped. There was a bit of a push when they first came out but sales dwindled fast as the months went on. Part of this has to do with the lack of new releases. Now, I realize it seems odd to talk about new releases after having just dropped an entire range of troops, support and other elements into the market. The truth is that most of the immediate market was accessed by the Kkickstarter and with the Kickstarter having dropped everything into the hobby's lap all at once, there was an initial buzz and then...tumbleweeds.

The Kickstarter actually left me in debt. Despite having generated thousands of dollars and even getting a financial shot in the arm from family, I still could not cover the full cost of the Kickstarter which came out to something around $10,000. This meant that I wasn't in a position to invest in new projects to keep the ball rolling. Going back to the original plan for the Loud Ninja Games start up, if I had released the two packs and then rolled those sales into new development, I could have kept up a semi-regular series of releases that would have established a market for my figures and built the LNG name up. Instead I came into the world screaming and kicking with a mixed bag of emotions and then pretty much went silent. 

So, here I am. I have a full range of miniatures released that are barely selling and currently no way to get new items to market. Even if I could get the greens by sculpting my own, I cannot get them into production until I am square with my casters. This is where hobby craft might come into good use. Displaying my product in use by others and showing off my own paint jobs of my product. The problem here seems to be that, despite there being 125 people out there with my product, only about four have posted any images of their new toys to the internet. This is not a complaint, but it certainly doesn't help with exposure. I do not have a local outlet for 15mm science fiction gaming and so posting my own game pics is difficult if not impossible. 

Soooo... key points.

  1. Consider taking it slow and steady. Consider your release schedule and how it will build your brand. 
  2. Do not take a Kickstarter lightly. It is a lot of work and can go horribly wrong.
  3. Get as much info up front and make your move only when you have all the details you can get.
  4. Pick your vendors (sculptors, casters, etc) widely.
  5. Stay hands on. Inspect, ask, bother, bug and otherwise make a pain in the ass of yourself with all your vendors.
  6. Advertise, show off and otherwise figure out how to market your products. Give them away to some convention goers if you have to.
For those looking for information on Loud Ninja Games and its products -

Store -

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Miniatures I'd Like To See


My blog is slow these days, I know. I just haven't found enough to blog about and haven't been doing much in the way of gaming stuff that wasn't purely physical (painting, models, etc). That said, I figured a nice editorial piece wouldn't be without it's audience.

I'd like to talk about miniatures I would like to see.

I know, I know. I'm suppose to be a sculptor these days, but I'm only one man and there are still many limits to my abilities. So, in the interest of throwing ideas out into the cosmos, I present my own wish list of oddball miniatures ideas.

1) 15mm Space Opera. There is so much room for new additions here. As much as Space Opera themes are popular in movies, TV and comics, we really do seem to lack a proportionate abundance of such figures in 15mm miniatures. Sure, we have some of the oldies but goodies (Laserburn, Traveller) and  ranges expanding with new figures on the old but solid ranges (Ion Age), but we haven't seen a mighty push in that direction from anyone.

2) 15mm High Concept Scifi Troops. As much as I love them, I really would love to see something besides near future humans. Yes, there are some such as GZGs UNSC, but you would think that some of these sleeker designs that are growing in popularity in movies and video games would have filtered into 15mm scifi by now.

3) 15mm Anime. Darkest Star is the only company I know that has done a specific push in the direction of anime styled miniatures in 15mm. Why is that? I have heard that anime doesn't always translate so well to miniatures. I get that, but I think 15mm would be infinitely more forgiving than larger scales as you are really shooting for the sillouette of anime rather than the detail. Mecha, robots, cyborgs, and some of the above mentioned high concept troops fit into this category along with distinct vehicle styling.

4) 15mm Distopian Street Figs. Again, a theme that has only really seen so toe-dipping. Style gangs, corporate security, urban defense and law enforcement miniatures along side some strategic street personalities would make this work. Can we say Akira style bikers.

5) 15mm Superheroes. Why is it that everyone looks at me like I'm crazy when I mention this? I get it, superheroes are all about personality and character, but I think it has been well established that 15mm can delivery on that front. Think about how epic mixing 15mm and supers can be. Super System recognizes this in its scale conversion to 15mm and talks about how the battlefield really becomes super when you can fight for blocks.

One aspect of 15mm supers that I have not seen mentioned, however, is what you can do when you reduce your base scale size. Giant things can be giant. Factions like HYDRA or AIM can really make a showing on the tables with more than just  single super tank. Come on, who doesn't want to replay the landing at Normandy with Captain America leading the charge? Cosmic villains anyone?

6) 15mm Fantasy. This is an area that is seeing some growth, but mostly along the tried and true styles and themes that have been covered in 28mm. I wouldn't mind seeing some out of the box ideas here but like Really Alien Aliens in 15mm sci fi this is a tough call. I know I have thought  lot about fantasy elements to drop into historical armies.

"Enough with the 15mm, Eli!"

I hear you, but for the most part 28mm does a damned good job of addressing nearly every subject out there. Face it, nobody is hurting in that scale. 15mm has received a giant push in the last few years, but that push has really been concentrated in direction of science fiction. It's a scale that presents a lot of opportunities that are just too damned impractical for 28mm. Considering a single tank in 28mm can run you $40 to $50, the math is pretty damned easy to do.

So, universe, have at!


Monday, May 26, 2014

Blue Dice of Shame

One of the funny gaming superstitions/traditions that I have encountered is the "Blue Dice of Shame". Originally thought to be something we did in our group alone, I began to encounter this tradition in other gaming groups removed from our own. These encounters occurred at conventions and games stores and I began to wonder how this happened.

For us, the Blue Dice of Shame were a set of tattered, light blue, casino-style D6s. They were chipped, rolled funky and generally the unwanted bastard children of somebody's dice collection, likely picked up sometime back when they scavenged dice for their early gaming experiences. They were most often assigned to players unfortunate enough to forget their own dice when coming to the table. This sort of hazing encouraged mindfulness and provided a sort of bonding ritual for us guys. The blue dice could also be sentenced upon somebody for some sort of gaming misstep (forgetting snacks, being late, forgetting to wash for the third day in a row, etc.).

I am curious if anyone else out there has Blue Dice of Shame or other table traditions they would like to share.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Valderia Ho! - Myrmos

Throughout the Valderian Empire there is a great diversity of soldiers and warriors ranging from simple militia and professional soldiers, but few evoke the cold, brutal spirit of war as the Myrmo. These professional soldiers make a living for themselves as heavy fighting line breakers, the sort of fighter that brings fear to their enemies.

Wrapped in thick plated armor and wielding mighty weapons or fighting with two weapons at once, the Myrmo are at home wading through the carnage of battle as they free once soul after the next from the shackles of their flesh. These mythic warriors have a reputation for being un-killable, shielded from death by their legendary armor and even said to lack compassion or even any soul at all. The mythology surrounding the Myrmo is enhanced by the lengths to which individual Myrmo go to build their image and reputation.

Myrmo helmets and armor often make a point to remove all humanity from their visage. Empty sockets, featureless face shields, monstrous visages and even entirely themed suits of armor make these very flesh and blood combatants seem to be otherworldly and inhuman. One popular trend, among the seafaring people of the Valderia, is to adopt maritime themes in armor decorations. Fish, sea shells, sea monsters and other beings of the see are often emblazoned on these Myrmo, only adding to their fearful appearance. 

Valderian lords often boast and draw status from how many Myrmo they employ, taking the killer reputations of their hired brutes as their own.  A house with many Myrmo in its employ is a force to be reckoned with and sends a message to those who would oppose it that to do so militarily would be a costly endeavor. 

Design Notes: The concept of the Myrmo was not built into the story of Valderia from the beginning. Rather, it developed from the design sketches of trying to come up with fantastic armor that looked to be drawn from a combination of Earth's Renaissance period and other terrestrial armors from other parts of history. As I conceptualized heavily armored warriors from the Empire, themes and ideas formed until i had this odd blend of Roman gladiator and armored knight. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Valderia Ho! - Thinking More on Fantasy Armor

For the Valderia project, the continent of Moran is pretty well fleshed out both in style and content. The central Empire of the setting, Valderia, is decidedly inspired by Renaissance Europe with elements of Spanish, Italian and even a little Swiss and French influence in there in terms of clothing style and arms and armor. It's northern neighboring "cold war" enemy, The Lyndermarke, are not quite as well developed stylistically.

My original thought for the Lyndermarkes were a stalwart, stern race of northmen, but not Vikings. I wanted them to wear plated armor, wield long swords and heavy axes into battle. I wanted them to feel a bit less refined than the dueling, militaristic Valderians and provide a cultural counterpoint that seemed a bit more early Renaissance. I once described them as...

They are broad men, standing a head taller than those of the seven realms of Valderia. They have fair skin, wear the skins of beasts over their plated mail. Long stout blades are their weapon of choice and thick-hafted spears.

This evolved into a concept of armored coats being worn over their legs rather than fitted mail under which they would wear warm breaches to stave off the cold of their home. Drawing on their tradition of proving their warrior prowess by hunting monsters and great beasts, I thought horns and antler adornments might also fit well with the concept. Two-handed swords and solidly made bardich type axes seemed appropriate for their heavy warriors. I also decided to go with crossbowmen and half-armored spear men for their medium troops. The illustrations below show some of the brainstorming I have been doing.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Sculpting A New Generation

Today my 10-yr old daughter, Nim, picked up her first sculpting tool to try her hand at pushing greenstuff.

What you see his is the result of five minutes work from the hands of a child who's only experience with working with sculpting mediums is your usual modelling clay and school projects. I showed her how to sculpt a face once with conventional miniatures sculpting tools and techniques (as I know them) and then smoothed it over, handed her the tools and left the room with the simple instruction of, "Come get me when you are done". I didn't want to hover and run the risk of micro-managing her or making her nervous.

I think she did an amazing job for a first go.

The next thing I will show her is how to construct an armature and bulk out the body form.

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