WORK IN PROGRESS: COYOTE & CROW
A sci-fi and fantasy tabletop RPG set in a First Nations alternate future where colonization never happened, Coyote & Crow smashed its crowdfunding target, raising more than a million dollars on Kickstarter this spring.
The game's core rules are available now in PDF ahead of their physical release but earlier this year with the game’s development well under way we checked in with its creator Connor Alexander to see how things were going.
Hi Connor, so over 16,000 backers and more than a million dollars raised. What was it about Coyote & Crow that you think struck such a chord with so many people? From conversations you've had do you think the game reached a lot of people who might not have traditionally played RPGs or seen themselves represented in tabletop games before?
I think I guessed my audience correctly when we planned the Kickstarter but what threw me off was the scale of the response. We've got a great mix of people who are interested in the game and they generally fall into three overlapping camps. First are Natives, who are rightfully desperate to see themselves in any kind of media where they aren't ridiculous outdated tropes and cliches.
The second are people within the gaming hobby who just overall want to support diverse creators and liked seeing something fresh.
Then the third are the hardcore RPG crowd, who are typically voracious for new content but I think were also drawn to the mythology and world building we're doing with Coyote & Crow.
But it was the sheer scale of folks who fell into each of those buckets that shocked me. And I've been genuinely touched by the number of white backers who have asked respectful questions and have shown genuine support as well as the avalanche of Natives who haven't just been enthusiastic, but to some degree sort of sideswiped.
I don't think there's a ton of media out there like Coyote & Crow. So seeing themselves in this setting, not just a sci-fi one, but one free of colonialism, was a bit of a shock for some of them.
How long had the game been in development before you launched the Kickstarter and how far along that process were you?
I started developing the game in mid 2018, I believe. So really almost two years. As I learned more about the Kickstarter process and began to refine the game, I basically decided that I wanted at least one full rough draft of the core conceits of the game and some key art and one video.
Once those were assembled, I'd launch. By the time we actually launched we had about twenty pieces of art, I was into the second draft of the game and we had that incredible Kickstarter video, which I think did a lot of our heavy lifting.
Your initial goal was $18,000 and you ended up raising around 60 times that amount. Has that success changed the project in any way?
One hundred percent. The game is a completely different animal. You can sort of tell by our stretch goals. I think we'd originally built four or five. They jumped from a 90k goal to a 750K goal because we were scrambling to come up with additional stretch goals that would excite folks without breaking our ability to deliver.
But at its core, the original Kickstarter was about creating a book. The amount of backers and funding we received changed that dramatically.
We went from being a bunch of folks working on a passion project after our day jobs, to a publishing company. We're already in the planning stages for our next Kickstarter and have designers working on two additional tabletop games set in the world of Coyote & Crow.
It's altered everything about my life. I quit my day job, I had to hire attorneys and accountants. My day to day life will probably never be the same.
As for the book itself, it lets the project breathe a bit. We don't feel as constrained by page count or things like that. Our backers have made it clear they're willing to wait while we scale up. And I'm so excited about some of the stretch goals, like the mobile app, which for me are really important. Accessibility is a big deal for me so it's nice to know that
I don't have to cut those corners.
“My day to day life will probably never be the same”
You've worked in the games industry for several years but this was your first Kickstarter, what was the experience like for you, and what lessons did you learn from running it that you'll apply in the future?
First, I have to give a shout out to Heather O'Neill, my Kickstarter manager. She's been an absolute rockstar. She came recommended to me through a number of my industry contracts. My day job was on the sales and marketing end of things and I'd never had to deal with Kickstarter in my normal routine (outside of personally backing projects), so going into this was definitely intimidating. She made my life a lot easier.
For any folks thinking about doing a Kickstarter, hire an experienced Kickstarter manager. You won't regret it!
The other thing that was really huge for me was the power of advertising. I was truly shocked at how impactful the advertising process was. Find a pledge manager that you're comfortable with and if they don't do external marketing themselves, find someone who does.
Just the reduction in my own cognitive load was worth it. And being able to see in almost real time the effect that advertising has was stunning. I know advertising has a bad rep to some degree and I know a lot of folks don't like how invasive social media marketing can feel. But I can tell you with 100% certainty that there were hundreds if not thousands of backers who never would have heard of my game if it hadn't been for that advertising.
Having had to scale things up, what have been the biggest challenges managing what looks like quite a large team of writers, artists and games developers?
That's a question with an answer as long and complex as the book itself. I could honestly write a novel on this experience.
Art has been the largest hurdle. If we were just some ordinary role playing game, we'd be in heaven right now. Flush with cash and a big name, we'd have our pick. But our situation is a balancing act between giving as many Native artists an opportunity to step up as possible, while still getting a game out on time and that looks like the product our backers expect.
My original plan had been to work with just a select few artists to make the game feel as cohesive as possible. However as time went on that proved logistically difficult but also limiting. I was finding that seeing all of the different art styles from these fantastic perspectives was really inspiring and mirrored just how large this world was that we were creating.
The other hurdle is that the vast majority of folks I'm working with don't do this for a living. They have day jobs. Working on Coyote & Crow is either a side gig or a hobby. Which makes it harder to keep everyone focused and on target as a group.
Sometimes it's tough to explain that if one person is a week late on something, they might be creating a backlog for three other people who are waiting on them. I'm really grateful to be working with the team I have but it's always a push and pull between “hey, this is a business and you should be able to knock this work out in 24 hours” and “hey, I understand, you just worked your day job, you have a sick kid, and I don't want to scare you away from this industry because we need your voice in it.”
You initially aimed to release the game in November 2021, now a lot of people in the industry are having serious problems right now with issues like shipping, have things been going smoothly or have you encountered any unexpected setbacks?
Yeah, this has impacted us less than others because we're printing here in the US. However, in my next Kickstarter update, I'm going to be explaining to folks that the retail version of this game is going to be going from $50 to $60. It was a tough decision, but between cost increases in paper and shipping and our large increase in page count, the numbers just weren't adding up properly. It won't affect any of the backers. They're fine. But it's still tough news. $60 is a hefty price.
As for timing, we're technically still on track but I fully expect us to have to push back somewhat. Our art delays being the biggest issue. But we're still closing in on things and most of the other areas are progressing well. I still plan on sending out digital rewards in November. That includes more than just the PDF of the game. It will include some of the stretch goals, like our name generator, forums, and Wiki along with some other fun things.
Once we hit the holidays everything tends to slow down, so I expect that we'll likely delay the delivery of physical books until early next year and then shortly after that, release to retail.
You mentioned that you have two more boardgames on the way. Had you always planned to build on the RPG like this?
When I first envisioned Coyote & Crow, it was about world building. I settled on the RPG first because I know RPGs well and it's an amazing canvas to flesh out your setting and history and establish tone.
But I always wanted, in a pie in the sky kind of way, to see other games set in the same world. I'd originally planned to create those myself. But with the success of the Kickstarter, I'm relegated to a publisher role.
Instead, I designed the core of a dice game that uses the same set of d12s we recommend for the RPG. It's a stand alone game and will be price point friendly. Someone can play it without ever having heard of the RPG. But, if you're a fan of the RPG, you can also use it as a set of dice for your RPG in addition to the game. We've got an incredible Native artist on board for that and a fantastic, well known name within the hobby who is polishing up my rules set with some great development.
The other game, I can't say too much yet. We're pairing an established game designer within the industry with a new Native game designer who wanted a foot in the door. They're working together on a card game set in the Coyote & Crow universe.
I can't say much more than that for the moment. Both of those are still in the planning and development stages. I'm hoping to have more official announcements by the end of the year.
“Instead of asking for the minimum, I'm reaching for the sky”
With that in mind how do you see Coyote & Crow growing over the coming years?
For the RPG, I want expansions, adventures, merchandise. I want more games and tie-in novels. Hell, I want TV shows, movies and kids lunch boxes.
If I've learned anything from the success of the Kickstarter, it's that there is a chorus of Natives out there who really want more of this (and non-Natives too). I want to give them that sandbox to play in.
How many of those things will actually come to pass remains to be seen, but I've learned to not set my bar so low. Instead of asking for the minimum, I'm reaching for the sky.
The Coyote & Crow core rules are available now in PDF with the physical book to follow in 2022, you can keep up with all the game's news, order the book and subscribe to the Coyote & Crow mailing list at coyoteandcrow.net
And follow their progress on Twitter at @coyoteandcrowrpg
This interview originally appeared in Wyrd Science Vol.1 / Issue 2