The game is a relatively simple “strategic kitty-powered card game” based on Russian Roulette. Players take turns drawing cards until someone draws an exploding kitten and loses the game. We talked with one of the card game’s co-creators, Elan Lee, about why the campaign for the card game was so popular and what the lessons are for others.
The game was created by Elan Lee (Xbox, alternate reality games), Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal), and Shane Small (Xbox, Marvel). They’ve added a fourth person, who will help them handle social media and figure out how to spend all that money. It is the biggest tabletop game project in the history of Kickstarter.
“No sane person would have predicted it would be a success to this degree,” said Lee, in an interview with GamesBeat. “We did think it would be popular, but we were off on the scale by several orders of magnitude.”
Instead of producing 500 decks, the company will now be producing nearly a million decks on the schedule they promised for July.
Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal came up with the name and said he would put The Oatmeal’s name on the game after playing it with Lee. Inman is accustomed to a following of tens of millions for his regular digital comics. But he has done Kickstarter campaigns before, and Exploding Kittens raised more money than all of those projects combined.
“Now the campaign part has ended, and we’re moving on to the production part,” Lee said. “This is even more fun because we will be playing it with people and getting their feedback on it.”
He added, “First and foremost, it is designed to make you laugh with your friends.”
After the funding was completed last week, Lee slept.
“During the campaign, we didn’t get more than one or two hours of sleep for the entire month,” he said. “There was a massive amount of community organization to do. We didn’t have a lot of time to congratulate each other. It was more like, great job getting through the day. What the hell are we going to do tomorrow?”
As for the lessons, Lee said, “You have to watch the community. You have to make sure their needs are being addressed. You have to provide them with things to do every single day. You have to make sure complaints are heard and dealt with.”
“We said we would give them more things to do every single day,” he said. “We put up our stretch goals, tied to an achievement system. We created achievements and asked them to take pictures of themselves as cats. We said if they submitted 25 pictures of a bearded cat, we will unlock an achievement for you. We made these requests for audience members to do without contributing more money. But it was fun and contributed to the community.”
The Exploding Kittens team playtested the heck out of the game while on a Joco geek cruise. They showed a lot of the art work to the community, and they’ve been tweaking it based on the feedback. The game rounds will last five minutes to 15 minutes.
Lee most recently ended a stint as the chief design officer at Xbox, a technology design position that was closely linked to Microsoft’s shuttered Hollywood TV studio, the Xbox Entertainment Studios. Lee previously cofounded highly creative companies such as 42 Entertainment, the creator of the landmark ilovebees.com marketing campaign for Halo 2. He also started eDoc Laundry, which hid codes for a web mystery in T-shirts.
Lee has partnered with Inman, creator of the online comics and quizzes site that draws tens of millions of fans. The Oatmeal is publishing the card game. The third collaborator is Small, the former principal art director at Xbox Entertainment Studios. Small also led the creative efforts at startups like Smith & Tinker, Go Go Kiddo, and eDoc Laundry.
It helped that their creation was hilarious. You take turns drawing cards, and if you draw the Exploding Kitten card, you are out — unless that player has a “defuse” card that can neutralize the kittens with laser pointers, kitten therapy, and catnip sandwiches. You can also deploy a Tacocat, Abracrab Lincoln, Magical Meat Bikini, and a Catterwocky. Action cards do things like remove or mitigate the kittens. You can deploy the thousand-year back hair, peek at cards by rubbing the belly of a pig-a-corn, skip a turn by wearing a portable cheetah butt, or seek out the wisdom of a goat wizard. You have to decide which cards to play, when to play them, and which of your opponents to target. Every card you draw increases your odds of drawing the Exploding Kitten, making things tenser as the game progresses.
Lee said that they consider the first run of the cards to be sold out now. The team is exploring retail options. The company has to deliver them and make sure that the initial customers get something special that nobody else will get.