In the hobby gaming industry, it caused something of a ruckus, a promising Kickstarter project for a board game was canceled after long delays, despite being successfully funded. “The Doom That Came To Atlantic City” has become a cautionary tale for board games on Kickstarter and those who want to enter the industry.
Lets start at the beginning. Lee Moyer is an artist who has worked on film posters, comicbooks, and roleplaying games, including D&D 4th edition and 13th Age. For Doom, Moyer did more than the art and design, he dreamt up the concept. Moyer said, “I came up with the initial idea fooling around with friends some 20 years ago. Originally, it was about saving Atlantic City from Lovecraftian Elder Gods. I developed a series of assets but was never happy with the game design.”
Years later, Moyer decided to try again with Doom, with some help from his friend Keith Baker. “After Lee and I became friends, he showed me the game and challenged me to come up with a better design,” said Baker. “We went through a variety of design shifts; the most critical change was the realization that it was more fun to destroy the city than save it. We went through three major redesigns between 2004 and 2010, until we finally ended up with one we were happy with.”
Keith Baker and Lee Moyer
In 2010, Moyer recruited artist Paul Komoda to do the sculpts of the Lovecraftian horrors, Baker did the final tweaks on the game, and they had serious discussions with several board game companies to publish it. A quirky Lovecraftian game with a high pricetag, from the various components, wasn’t an easy sell.
They finally found a home with Z-Man Games, a small publisher who has released games such as Shadowfist and Pandemic. But it wasn’t meant to be. Baker said, “Doom had been on the verge of going into print with Z-Man in 2011, until the company changed hands and the new owners decided Doom didn’t fit in their lineup.”
They shelved the game.
Eleven months later, they were approached by Erik Chevalier, who knew Moyer. Chevalier said, “Lee and I were friends for nearly a decade. We met at the 2004 HP Lovecraft Film Festival while my then-girlfriend tried to convince Lee to design a back tattoo for her. That tattoo never happened, but over the next few years I hung out with him a handful of times and ended up at a few of the same social events. Our friendship wasn’t a close one, but we would chat by email and social networks occasionally, or get breakfast at his favorite cafe in North Portland.”
Chevalier had a video game background and only in recent years had become a fan of board games. And now he wanted to make some of his own. “I had my own game design in the works, which will now probably stay boxed forever, and was looking into self publishing. I read on Lee’s blog that he had this game just sitting on a shelf, so I sent him an email asking if he’d let me try publishing it. We talked about it a bit, he introduced me to Keith and Paul, and we started the process,” said Chevalier.
Baker said, “While Erik had no prior experience, he was enthusiastic, made a good pitch, and we put him in touch with associates of ours who were experienced publishers and could provide advice. Every game company has to have a first game. Our belief was that this would be a fairly easy one to start with.”
Chevalier founded this new board game company named The Forking Path and worked to publish The Doom That Came To Atlantic City. When the project was launched on Kickstarter in May 2012 the goal was $35,000. It raised $122,000. The game was to be manufactured in China and sent to the project backers by the end of 2012.
In October, Chevalier posted an update that the game’s use of a parody of Monopoly’s Atlantic City had resulted in legal threats and thus, changes to the game’s art. Hasbro had sent him a cease-and-desist letter.
“The primary legal issue with ’the company I shall not name’ was over a small element of their game they had patented. Lee reworked the board layout, street names, card designs, and color scheme to fix the specific issue they’d cited,” said Chevalier. “The mechanics of Doom are original and very different from what it is parodying. I absolutely don’t blame the other company for protecting their patent, but it added a lot of frustration to the project. There were then some communication issues and the whole ordeal ended up taking far longer to resolve than hoped.”
Doom’s evolving board
In a December 12 update, Chevalier stated, “Just a short note to inform you that due to the legal obstacles, redesign and working through some things with various printers, the game is now scheduled for a Q1 2013 release.” But then a February 2nd update read, “Our printer’s sales team got ahead of their production floor and overbooked their printing capacity. They had to push us back in the queue to fulfill the orders that came in first. … Once the factory returns from their Chinese New Year break on the 20th of this month they will dive into full production of The Doom that Came to Atlantic City. This makes for a mid-June release.”
Chevalier reassured everyone in an April 2nd update that everything was on schedule. The May 7 update stated that the printer was still behind schedule, so now a Fall release was the plan. On Jun 2nd, Chevalier’s update said, “The project is moving along but there isn’t any news beyond our last update to add. Still looking at a Q3 release.”
In the next update, on July 23rd, Chevalier canceled the game.
Chevalier stated in the update, “Every possible mistake was made, some due to my inexperience in board game publishing, others due to ego conflicts, legal issues, and technical complications. No matter the cause though, these could all have been avoided by someone more experienced and I apparently was not that person.”
For legal reasons, Chevalier is tight-lipped about what exactly happened that ultimately resulted in him shelving the game. “The cancellation was due to a lot of factors, big and little, adding up over time. Money, the part that has garnered the most attention, was only a single piece of the puzzle,” said Chevalier.
He did try to save it before he pulled the plug. Chevalier said, “While I was deciding to cancel the project, Keith and I worked together, by email, trying to find a new publisher. Those prospects sadly didn’t work out.” He has stated that he will try to refund everyone that backed the project with any future earnings he makes.
Baker and Moyer had little to do with the actual fulfillment of the Kickstarter project. They supplied content, but were not employees of Erik Chevalier. “The Forking Path licensed the right to produce our game. We had no other working relationship with the company, and there was no reason for us to be involved in its daily affairs,” said Baker. “Erik contacted us when there were issues preventing the game from moving forward–files that needed to be formatted in a different way, clarifications on rules during final layout, visual elements that needed to be adjusted at Hasbro’s request. As of 2013, our understanding was that the game was at the printer.”
Moyer said, “I did everything I could to make the Kickstarter work: from being in the promo film, to making lots more art, to fulfilling Stretch Goals as they came up. Keith and I were very busy at this time. While I was creating Tomes, Board Markers, Dice, and Desktop wallpapers; Keith was formalizing rules for Tomes and Resorts.” Tomes and Resorts was essentially an expansion to the game that become part of the main game after hitting one of the stretch goals.
With the game’s cancellation, the hobby-gaming sites on the Internet erupted in anger. In that July update, Chevalier said all rights to the content had returned to Moyer and Baker and Komoda. Baker soon sent an email to backers stating that, besides looking at a legal options, he would soon release PDF files for a print-and-play version, one where gamers would have to print the board and other materials themselves. It was the least that Baker and Moyer could do.
Erik Chevalier and Scott Gaeta
“When the news about the cancellation broke, there was a tremendous outpouring of support from the gaming community. A number of large and small companies were interesting in producing the game,” said Baker. “We didn’t like the idea of putting it on the shelf in a store and asking those people who had put their faith in it from the start to buy it all over again. Our plan was to give the game away as a free print-and-play file–so that we could at least share our work with the people who had put their faith in it; but we weren’t sure what would happen to the game beyond that.”
But then Scott Gaeta, COO of Cryptozoic Entertainment, came along. Cryptozoic is known for publishing games such as “The Walking Dead” board game and a card game called “Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre.” Gaeta said, “I sent Keith a message a couple of days after the news broke and told him that we were interested in trying to help. Right away Keith and Lee said their priority was to try and get something in the hands of the backers. I agreed. We spent the next few days working out the details.”
In the follow-up email that linked to the PDFs for the print-and-play version of the game, Baker and Moyer announced that Doom would actually be physically produced. Cryptozoic would now publish the game, including send free copies to the Kickstarter backers, with the Tomes and Resorts expansion included, before the game reaches store shelves. The game should arrive end of 2013/early 2014, depending on, you guessed it, the printers in China.
Baker said, “This was about helping gamers. I would have been happy enough with the idea of getting the backers free copies of the game, but Scott hopes to go further than that; he’s looking over the backer rewards levels and evaluating what else Cryptozoic can do for people. Cryptozoic’s motto is ’Fans First,’ and I really think Scott lived up to that here.”
So a board game with the high concept of Cthulhu destroying Monopoly will finally see the light of day.
“I’m extremely glad that Cryptozoic is helping bring the game to the masses. I hold no animosity towards anyone involved,” said Chevalier. “Its incredibly unfortunate that things didn’t work out as we’d all hoped, but sometimes that happens. The game deserves to be a big hit and I hope for Keith and Lee’s continued success.”
The whole experience left its mark on Baker. “In retrospect, our biggest mistake was in treating this like a traditional publisher-creator relationship. The critical difference is that in a traditional relationship, if the publisher fails to produce the game, they are the only one who suffers,” said Baker. “When a Kickstarter fails, all of the backers are hurt by it. I don’t think I’d ever do another Kickstarter where I wasn’t integrally involved from start to finish. In the future, I’d want to create and run the Kickstarter myself.”
Chevalier has his own regrets. Chevalier said, “I’m a fairly private person and don’t like using my own hardships to gain sympathy, but it was a hard year with a few painful personal losses. As can probably be gleamed from the public side of this whole situation, there were definitely feelings hurt and at least one friendship permanently ruined, but I really hope that in the long run we can all move on.”
[Images courtesy of the respective subjects]