Death of a Publisher


I’ve decided to interrupt our usual Designer Spotlight series to talk about a publisher today.  I received some sad news yesterday: Megacon Games are calling it a day.

You may be forgiven for not knowing who they are.  They are a relatively small indie publisher whose most famous game is probably Myth, which did incredibly well on Kickstarter.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel however, as they are in talks with a much larger publisher who is planning to buy them out.  What will this mean for their games and the design team who produce them?  Let’s take a look.

Megacon Games is essentially three people: Brian Shotton and Kenny Sims, who design the games, and Keith Lowe who does all the artwork.  They started out by making miniatures and then developed their own miniature skirmish game called MERCS in 2010.

They came to fame in 2013 when their Kickstarter for Myth, the co-op, fantasy dungeon-crawl, earned nearly $1 million.  With great artwork, an interesting card-driven movement/combat system and the world of cool miniatures, many people found it hard to resist.

One of the things that attracted people to Myth was the fact that you didn’t need a ‘Dungeon Master’.  The bad guys were controlled by an intuitive AI system – one of the best I’ve seen actually.

Fame turned to infamy during 2014.

Unfortunately, fame turned to infamy during 2014 as they discovered that fulfilling over 5000 pledges for a large miniatures game with lots of custom add-ons was anything but straightforward.  The first backers to receive the game did so about 18 months after the original campaign.  Some backers still hadn’t received everything two years after the campaign finished.

Megacon were caught out by a number of things, but many of the issues boil down to the scale of the project.  The three guys obviously worked their socks off trying to deal with all the issues, but they clearly didn’t have enough time to do everything and as a result things suffered.

One of the biggest issues, as far as the backers were concerned, was the lack of communication.  They seemed to take the view that if they didn’t have anything useful to say, they would just keep quiet.

Nevertheless, the games were delivered and a lot of people liked Myth.  Unfortunately, the rulebook was one of the areas they didn’t have time to playtest and edit properly and this created more ill-feeling amongst the gaming community.

Fast forward a few years and the latest version of Myth, with a revised ruleset, is actually one of my favourite games.  It is a shame that the fiasco surrounding the Kickstarter soured so many people’s impression of Megacon Games because as a team they possess some creative genius.

I decided to go the whole hog and get everything.

Myth occupies a special place in my heart because not only do I love the game, but it’s the first Kickstarter where I decided to go the whole hog and get everything.  I actually backed the second Myth Kickstarter (for the expansion essentially), rather than the first, but there was an All-In pledge that allowed you to get all the previous stuff as well as the new stuff.  I have no regrets.

Megacon Games have made several other games over the years.  MERCS Recon is a dungeon-crawl version of the MERCS skirmish game.  Emergence Event is a space 4X game.  Dumpster Diver is a light, hand-management, set-collection card game.

They took the The Banner Saga licence (a computer game) and created a boardgame version of that.  They also Kickstarted Myth: Dark Frontier, which is a completely different game, but set in the Myth universe.  It was designed by Brady and Adam Sadler (of FFG fame).

Earlier this year, while many people were waiting for them to deliver on various Kickstarter projects, they went eerily quiet.  There was mention of a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and not much more, which got people understandably worried.

After several months, they issued an explanatory update to backers.  In it they said that they were looking to sell their company and/or their IPs (Intellectual Properties, ie. the rights to their games).  They wrote an email to several large publishers in the industry.  Here is an excerpt from that email:

“We started MegaCon Games 8 years ago under the name MERCS Miniatures. There are three of us. In that time, we’ve had our share of successes and setbacks. We are reaching the completion of our active and last Kickstarters. We have plans for several more games, including expansions to existing properties, but we’ve decided we don’t want to be a game publisher any more.

We’re pretty far from what we truly wanted to do, which was design games. Publishing has made us smarter game designers, but there are things we don’t have the bandwidth or the skill to do effectively: marketing, community, logistics.

“We are dying a slow death.”

We are looking to become a design group for a larger game publisher and/or sell off some of our IPs. The pressure of performing all the jobs is too much. You know what is required to run a hobby game business. We cover all the jobs: warehousing, distribution, finance, marketing, logistics, customer support, art, game design, and game testing. We cannot continue as we are; we are dying a slow death.”

They had several offers and are close to signing a deal with one particular publisher.  If the deal falls through, I suspect that that will be the end of Megacon Games and all their games, which would be a real shame.

However, if the deal goes ahead and they become a design studio (which I think would be their ideal outcome), we may see the best of both worlds.  They would continue to design great games and (hopefully) a quality publisher will handle all the areas of production and fulfilment that they always struggled with.

I wish them all the best.  I, for one, am hoping to see much more content for Myth, apart from anything else.

Do you think that they made a good decision or do you think that they had other options?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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