Saturday, January 11, 2014

Cautionary Tales

While customization is not a new idea (people have been kit bashing for ages), no one has successfully launched a product or service that provides reasonably priced, easy to build custom minis. There are a number of folks who have tried and failed, and there is a lot to be learned from their attempts.
Here are a couple lessons we've gleaned from combing through message boards, comment threads, and general discussion with our mini-loving friends out there. These are things we've really taken to heart and believe we have successfully addressed in a way other projects haven't.

Minis must be ‘truly’ customizable.

One of the most important things people look for in their miniatures, beyond simply matching their equipment and character specs, is that they evoke a certain attitude and disposition. For example, some fighters are rabid for combat, while others are master tacticians. People want that difference communicated in their character’s stance, equipment, demeanor, and expression. When it comes to customization, people want something that they feel are truly a result of their creativity. If you can't capture that feeling that the customization was comprehensive and worth it, most people will simply buy a boilerplate standard mini from any number of online stores.

You don’t get that sense of agency from choosing between one-of-three options for your plate mail; the way we've decided to give real control is by offering a more in-depth part system than anyone else has offered. At the moment, we're planning on each mini having approximately fifteen 'slots' (not including race, gender, facial expression, or pose, which will all also be customizable). Having control over something as simple as the style of cape, asymmetry of armor, and the overall profile of a character has a real effect on how involved you feel in the design process. With our amazing artists (no, seriously, go check out their cred in the meet the team posts--they're amazing) I am especially confident that we can produce some really amazing, inspiring, and versatile parts which, in the end, will be your toolbox.

Why have we not seen something that in-depth yet? Well, it is remarkably hard to create. I can’t stress enough how vital our team’s experience in the video game industry has been to making this possible. This expertise really enables us to provide the kind of agency that people want to have.

Customization must be easy but deep.

People love to make things, but the fact of the matter is that 3D modeling is hard and not everyone has the artistic skill they’d like. A lot of folks can’t, or won’t, want to learn a rigging system, or manually rotate and position object. This is something we've learned from video games as well: people want flexibility, but they want it to be presented in a clean, easy to use manner. Look at something like the character creator in a game like Skyrim—one of the most in-depth character creators I've used.  Yet I don’t know a single person who threw down their controller in frustration when trying to get their elf's face right.

By building a character from the ground up, you get to feel more connected to it. A procedural menu where you can tweak the details that are important to you is key. But making that accessible is just as important. If someone were a master 3D modeler or rigger, they could simply sculpt something themselves. We are bringing customization to everyone, artist and non-artist alike. So customization needs to be easy.

There is a lot more to gathered from picking the bones of failed Kickstarters, but the thing I wanted to touch on was this: We are building this service with the user in mind, because we want to BE users of this service. We launched this project because we went looking for a service just like this, and it didn't exist. We can't wait for it to be a reality! 

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