Emil Larsen, of Sun Tzu Games, has the infamy of one of the longest to fulfill Kickstarters in Burning Suns, yet rather than give up Emil pushed through and is successfully delivering Burning Suns, while also running a successful campaign for his second smaller game, Burning Rome.
We grilled him about what he had learned through his journey so far.
Your first Kickstarter, Burning Suns, seemed to be a huge learning experience for you. What were the biggest lessons you learned?
Phew, yea.. it seems almost impossible to point out one single thing, as I've learned something at every turn. But I can of course mention a few bullets....
- The 3 Ts... Things Take Time: It doesn't matter how much you plan for it, when you rely on other people, you rely on their ability to prioritise, and it'll never align with yours.
- The 3 Ss... Streamline, streamline and streamline: You can always streamline something, and you should, whether it's your folder system on your computer, your Excel spreadsheets, your mail communication, your working hours or something else. Optimise and stress test your methods before putting them to work, so you know your capabilities. As an example, Burning Rome was build with its future in mind, so all my spreadsheets, folders, artwork and platforms were build to expand. I haven't had to change any fundamental approach to this project yet (e.g. InDesign or Photoshop files, Kickstarter project, Accounting or Communication).
- The zone: Don't work when you can't get in the zone. Time is precious and you should use it effectively, and you're the most effective when you're in the zone. People have many ways to get there, I usually have a to-do list where I try to curve into my tasks by starting with easy tasks moving into difficult tasks.
- Documentation: Make sure to always document your way through your project, no matter how cumbersome it might feel, going back in time and being able to check data is insanely important.
- It's so easy to delay your daily workout or not to watch the latest Star Wars or spend time with your son (maybe a combo?), but once you did it, you probably also realised that the world kept turning in the meantime. A spiral of bad is hard to climb out of - so make sure to priorities to keep your mind and body happy, and you know best how to do it, but just make sure you do it (it's above your project and company)!
Were you ever tempted to give up? What kept you going?
Of course... and if people ever tell you otherwise about their Kickstarters, they are lying ;). Luckily the body can't remember pain in its true form, so when you get through a tough day, you have the strength to move on.
It's certainly due to my military training, that I've been able to push on regardless of the situation and the pain. I've had some really horrible times during this period, and while most of them where not related to the Kickstarter project itself, the failure to find closure in the project only worsened the matters. My wife has been a huge pillar of support, though she hasn't taken much active part in it (what I do isn't within her skill set), she has always supported me and tried to steer me clear of other challenges.
Understandably some backers were quite upset by the process. How did you manage your own disappointment and address the backers?
During my first years of working in the creative industry (Animations, Video, Web and such) I learned to own my failures just like I should own my successes, this was of course emphasised during my time in the army. This is how I've managed to be so up-front about everything going on in my company and in the Burning Suns project. I never try to lay blame, but to explain the situation, then people can put the blame where they see fit.
Disappointment comes from your past experience held up against your present situation, and they can be very overwhelming. In order to work my way out of it, I take a break, then I try to focus on concrete actions that I can learn from, lessons identified, and then turn all my attention towards the current situation and my plans for the future, hopefully turning it into lessons learned (much easier said than done).
You new campaign, Burning Rome, has funded well. Can you tell us about the game?
Yea, thankfully my new game is off to a humble but solid start. Burning Rome is a quick tactical card game, that lets you play out famous battles between the mighty empires of the ancient era. The game is my attempt to bring authentic war games to a wider audience and thereby bridge the gab between hardcore and casual gaming.
Short and simple rules that lets you play within minutes, combined with a deeper layer of tactics and theme. I feel this area hasn't been touched upon much, and hopefully this will allow Burning Rome to grow into a bigger series.
What are you future plans?
As I allured to in last question, I'm planning to have Burning Rome grow a lot more. Up to 20 unique ancient factions if I get it my way!! Furthermore I want the game series to have a specific campaign expansion, that lets people take their quick card game and put into a heavier area control game in the same fashion that Total War brings real-time-strategy into a turn-based civilization game.
I also have several other projects in the works, but they are still on an early stage.
What advice would you give to anybody thinking about running a Kickstarter?
Can you afford it? Can you afford to learn all the lessons yourself? People tend to read a ton of lessons learned from other creators, just to find themselves with those very challenges on the other hand. Many project creators forget that all lessons learned (including mine) comes with a perspective, and when you remove that perspective (e.g. by implementing on a one to one scale), you either remove some of the initial factors or remove the ability to deal with them.
When I say something requires a lot of work, I say that as a soldier who knows how it feels, to work beyond your own limits. When I say that you learn at every turn, I say that as one who's been an entrepreneur for almost 10 years. It's not enough to read lessons learned, you have to understand how to implement them for yourself.
That's why I also love to teach 🙂
Do you plan to revisit the Burning Suns universe?
Oh boy yes! My awesome author (Lisa Wylie) and I have already created the first novels that leads up to the events of the Burning Suns game, so there is that. But I also have two very unique games in the pipeline, which will take a new approach to their respective genres as well.
Like with all my games, I always want to find a little blue spot in the red ocean, otherwise I don't want to do it at all.
Can you let us in on you plans after Burning Rome?
Well, I've already mentioned both plans for Rome and Suns, but a few other ideas revolves around the Medieval and Napoleonic period, as they are of great interest to me too. As with everything else I do, it's the experience I'm going for, so we'll see if I can make it work.
Sun Tzu Games - Closing Thoughts
What struck me with Emil is his integrity and active engagement with fans despite the risks in doing this. With developers like Jamie Stegmaier and Edo Barack demonstrating this publicly maybe we will see more companies follow suit?