Jeeyon Shim carved a new path in crowdfunding for her keepsake games
For Jeeyon Shim, making games was not a hobby, but a necessity. After being fired from her outdoor education job due to the pandemic, the self-taught designer started doing game design full-time in 2020. She quickly garnered a loyal following for her work in narrative “memorial” games, an offshoot of role-playing games that feature highly personalized, player-created artifacts.
In 2022, Shim is once again venturing into new territory. She decided to crowdfund her latest game, The Snow Queenon a Squarespace website she built herself — Completely bypassing Kickstarter, which many see as the obvious choice for creative projects. The Snow Queen was fully funded in 90 minutes. It ended up bringing in more than $30,000 (384 percent of the original goal of $8,000). “I wanted to see where I was with my own audience,” she says. “How many people could I attract to a project based on the earnings of that project and my earnings?”
“I started in this niche of game design as a direct part of my last job,” Shim says of her previous career as a program designer/coordinator at a company that taught outdoor skills through live-action roleplay. During this time she also did games and settled in with small experimental projects. Shim’s first crowdfund was for Wait for me† a diary game with designer Kevin Kulp† They initially asked for $500 – a rookie lowball that Shim says she will never do again (Wait for me ended up receiving over $22,000).
When Shim entered into a long-term collaboration with artist/designer Shing Yin Khoroshe knew she had found her footing. Starting with Memory Field Guide, the pair defined keepsake games as both a genre and a handy shorthand for their work. (“Shing and I aren’t the first people to shape this game,” she clarifies; they just gave it a name.) Coming up with the term was a clever way to promote Shim’s more experimental art in the long run, but it still means doing a little more work to reach a new, wider audience. “I can’t really rely on existing industry terms for copywriting or marketing,” she explains. “And one of the things I’ve learned about tabletop is that those industry terms often don’t have consistent definitions.”
When it comes to getting an audience excited about something new, Shim’s background working with children is a huge asset. “People say that as kids get older they can articulate more, and that’s true, but nobody really wants that,” she laughs, pointing out that you still need an enthusiastic, warm approach to adults. “In some ways, crowdfunding and building crowdfunding is almost like facilitation or experience design… you have to define your terms as you go along.”
Of The Snow Queen, Shim stuck to a similar path of self-definition. She was originally going to use Kickstarter, but in December 2021 the crowdfunding giant announced that it would use blockchain technology for many of its operations. Shim, who lives in the Bay Area, turned to her tech friends to discuss her environmental concerns and the widespread financial scams and fraud in Web3. She found that the most eco-friendly forms of blockchain are still far more damaging to the environment than existing infrastructure, and was concerned about security breaches that could affect herself and her backers. “Even if Kickstarter were to say… that you don’t have to go for the blockchain side of things, how do I know operationally how much of my company they’re putting on the blockchain or not? I can really only take them at their word,” she says.
So Shim turned to Squarespace, which recommends them for those interested in an independent dig of their audience. “It gives you all the analytics you need, and you can basically plug and play,” she says.
“Kickstarter, if not a storefront, is increasingly becoming a platform where success is proportionally dependent on the audience you’ve already established,” she says. “An independent website made sense for this one project because it was an information-seeking project. I wanted to anchor my intuition and see how on track it was… and get a feel for what it would be like to completely divest off a platform.”
An independent campaign page also gave her space to delve into her thought process. “On existing crowdfunding platform pages it’s hard to talk about that in detail because those markets are really oversaturated, you want to be as short as possible in your text. On an independent page, you can do weird things if you want, and that’s fine.”
In general, what Shim is doing isn’t new, but it’s unusual at a time when “Kickstart” is a synonym for “crowdfund.” Shim evokes the influence of comics legend and crowdfunding pioneer Spike TrotmanWho manages Iron Circus Comics† “She did independent crowdfunding through web rings on people’s blogs in the old dark age of the internet, before there was any sort of centralized social media platform,” Shim says. “People would have pages on their Geocities or Angelfire blogs that were just links to other creators they liked or things they liked.” That evolved into curated RSS feeds and Google Reader, which could be used to create your own data infrastructure of artists and creators you wanted to support.
Today, Trotman runs a successful publishing business and continues to create physical products that generate “long tail” revenue (Shim especially likes the practical nature of Iron Circus’ wire-spool-bound poorcraft cookbook, which lays flat when you open it). Shim hopes to explore longtail income for himself with the same thoughtful approach to products. The Snow Queenwhich was originally planned to coincide with Zine Quest from Kickstarter event, will have a phrase for the player to draw on or cut out pages on. Going forward, she has her eye on non-game distribution chains to have her books in comic book stores and even art stores.
Shim’s faithful constants are her instincts, her hard-won audience, and her Patreon. Patreon’s income covers rent, but she still has to manage significant health care, pet and living expenses. Despite The Snow Queen‘s success, she knows she can’t go completely independent at this point with all her projects, including her next game, The longest rest† She also has a whirlwind of ideas for the Snow Queen page, which she turns into a personal site. Ultimately, she wants to integrate Twine-based games into the website or offer exclusive offers to her Patreon subscribers through Squarespace’s private page.
“Once I get the hang of it…I’d love to incorporate more of those kinds of interactive experiences into the crowdfunding itself…like you’re playing a little fantasy, if you decide to buy this thing or not,” she says. . “I just like that. It has no business advantage whatsoever. It’s just something I want to do.”