QST: Interview with Corey Jones

Q.E.D.: QST. QFT

Interview by Joshua Hale. Transcribed and introduced by Nathaniel Hobbes

QST

Intro

If you go to MeUndies website, you can order an underwear subscription box. Just pick your size, cut, and fabric style, and BAM! Underwear! In your mailbox! It’s the perfect gift for the significant other who hates to do laundry! But what do you do if your S.O. is good about laundry? What if s/he is into board games? Why isn’t somebody doing this for board games? Never fear, gentle readers. Corey Jones has got you covered with QST (pronounced “quest”), a board game subscription box currently on Kickstarter.

QST is watching you...

Subscription boxes are nothing new. They exist for absolutely everything, including some board game subscriptions. You can take a look at Game Box Monthly or Board Game Crate to see what is going on that side of the hobby. If QST is going to make it in the world of subscription boxes, it needs to stand out and offer something different, engaging, and totally unique.

To find out more, our very own Joshua Hale sat down with Corey Jones at GenCon50 to let Corey explain for himself what QST is, how it works, and how it’s more than just the board game equivalent of a pair of novelty underpants in your mailbox each month.

Corey Jones is watching you!
Corey Jones

The Interview

Joshua Hale

So you’re a partner on Cryptozoic, and are you the principle and primary on Hex?

Corey Jones

It’s the same group of partners, pretty much, with Hex, but I’m the CEO of Hex. I’m running that company, but also separately involved as one of the partners in Cryptozoic. As an example, one of the games we put out at Cryptozoic is Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards. I make that specifically, so it’s my game. Each version of that is coming from me. QST, which is the Kickstarter we’re talking about, is actually a completely separate thing from both of those companies. It is clearly using all the resources I have at both of those companies to make sure I can deliver all the stuff inside of QST, but it is sort of a separate thing. 

JH

Okay, so tell me about it.

CJ

The quick pitch is this: QST is a subscription boxed game product. We’re trying to something sort of fun with that concept. When I first had this notion, it was actually quite a while ago. Before any of this, I was in charge of global licensing and bizdev for Blizzard, so did all the physical products that go with the video games. One of the things that we tried to put together was an parts work magazine. An parts work magazine in Europe is one of those things where you get a magazine, but you also get bits with it that then snap together to make some bigger thing, or some game pieces that help build out the gaming experience. I loved that idea. So, a long time ago, I had the idea of trying to build a subscription-based business around board games where every month you would get a board game, and you would also get bits and pieces for some of the other boardgames you had received in past months, so it’d be this evolutionary collection.

JH

So each month was a complete board game, and you might get something that hits a previous game?

CJ

Yes, exactly. That was the idea, and I didn’t do anything with it.

JH

Now, are the parts that would hit a previous game, are they for a specific game or interchangeable within the games?

CJ

It was for specific games, but again we could have made the games to be sort of interchangeable, but the point of this isn’t that. We didn’t do that. It was just an idea. 

Years later, the subscription stuff really took off, and I was kind of kicking myself that we didn’t do some kind of a subscription box. As I looked at the subscription boxes for board games, just about a year ago, it become sort of clear that most of the subscription board game services are just sort of aggravating existing products and giving it to you at a discount. I’ll buy it at whatever wholesale is. I’ll tack whatever margin I want to on there, probably buying stuff at closeout—I don’t know. So they’re selling you stuff at a discount. Most people’s response to that was, “Well, I’ll just go to my FLGS and buy the games I want on sale. So, that was most of the board game subscription boxes, or the only one.

Most of the stuff I create, I create as a consumer. What do I want? What would be exciting to me? Having had a lot of subscriptions, I don’t have any now. One of the things that was great about them was getting stuff in the mail every month. It was like Christmas. The blind reveal was very exciting. What did I get? The downside was, I ended up throwing a lot of the stuff away.

JH

Due to?

CJ

Most of the subscription boxes I had were just pop culture in general, so either it would be stuff that I wasn’t interested in, like, “Hey, look, here’s some stickers, or a poster!” or it was existing brands that I’m not a big fan of. Because it was so all over the place, a percentage of the stuff just wouldn’t end up being for me. I would end up keeping it for a while, giving it away to other people, or just putting it in the trash, which didn’t feel great. So eventually, I ended my subscriptions.

But I did like getting stuff in the mail and being part of the program, and so what I do is make games. What I thought would be really fun would be getting a brand new, small form-factor board game in the mail every month. I thought, “Oh, that would be really fun, but would be really great about it is if they were original.” It would be the first time you ever saw it was that moment. Then I thought, “What would be the fun-est way to make those games?” So that not only did we get to pop it open and see what the theme was, what the game is, and all that excitement, but having another layer of reveal.

One of the things I do when I make board games is I come up with a high concept, I’ll build all the IP around it, some of the baseline mechanical stuff. Then I’ll work with a game designer, often my internal head of boardgame design, Matt Hyra, and we’ll finish the game. Then I’ll hand that off to an artist that I find that I think is a really good fit conceptually for what I was making. So, that’ll be the three-piece team that makes the game. So, I thought, “You know what’d be really fun is to do that some thing with these games, but get this amazing roster of people to fill in each of those slots.” So, having a concept person who was very famous, and has done amazing things, and have them come up with a concept, build up that concept documentation, have the big idea, and then hand that off to a really well-known board game designer, and have them actually make the game. When that’s in the middle or towards completion, handing it off to an artist who’s a good fit for it, and then that three-piece set becomes the creatives behind making that game.

JH

Like a triumvirate for each game.

CJ

Exactly.

JH

So you didn’t envision yourself doing the design on all of it?

CJ

Oh no no. The first game is myself, Matt Hyra, and my in-house artist Robb Mommaerts, who’s amazing, because I wanted to get one pretty close to finished so that I could, one, do all my pricing and, two, have something that sort of front-loads the program so I can get one to people pretty quick, as all the other ones are being made. 

That is the first one, but the fun part of this is going to be that each month, we’re going to put up a video in which we’re going to announce who the three-piece team is, we’re going to do an unboxing of what the game is and show you all the bits and pieces, and then do a play through, so you’ll actually get to see how to play the game, so that a few days later when it comes in your mailbox, you’ll be ready to play. 

The list of people we have is incredible. (editor’s note: Check out the list of concept people, designers, and artists on the Kickstarter page or on QST Hub). So part of the fun of this is that you’re going to see artists on these games that you’ve never seen do board games before, and that’s part of what’s going to make it feel so collectible is that it just looks very different. The having these teams, revealing these teams, is a big part of what makes QST so special.

JH

Is the Kickstarter live right this second?

CJ

Yes. We had it as a monthly thing, and actually we had built two plans: one that was every other month, and one that was monthly. With the monthly one, the feedback we got from people was so overwhelming, that, “I’m feeling a little uncomfortable backing 13 games at once,” because it’s 12 plus the bonus one). So we switched it to the one game every other month to bring the cost to jump in down.

JH

So does that change the price per month as well?

CJ

No no. Basically, nothing has changed. It’s just that you get a game every other month. And this roster will be representing the first 24 months, not the first 12 months. But, the thing is, if you back the Kickstarter for $12.99, you can keep that price forever. The cost of this after the Kickstarter will be $19.99 for each of the games. You’re getting all of these people’s games, it’ll just be slightly slower, which most people seem to think was the right decision. The feedback we got immediately was, “Wow, I like this but…” the minimum backing was like 230-240 bucks, and people were like, “Wow, that’s a big number for a jump-in. If we were able to do this for just six months…”, so we just changed it. It’s now just 120 dollars to jump in, which seems to be much more palatable.

JH

Now, in order for them to keep their Kickstarter subscription they have to auto renew?

CJ

Yes, although we’ll look at how we’re going to manage that. It’ll either be auto renew or we’ll give some kind of grace period. You’ll have an account, so you’ll be able to jump back in again. The only issue is that if you don’t auto renew, the games get produced on a schedule, so you’ll have to make sure you have a subscription in place so we know how many we’re making. If you unsubscribe and we produce the games, then you’ll miss one, so you’ll want to stay subscribed.

JH

Ideally. I’m just thinking of the person who has a rough couple of months, and they love your service, but are they going to get penalised for that?

CJ

No, the goal would be to create a system inside of our subscription management software where you’ll have X number of grace months where you can jump back in.

JH

When is supposed to take off?

CJ

The Kickstarter is going now. The first game we want to deliver in March. The first game we have fairly close to finished in terms of all the design and a lot of the components. We’re waiting for the art–that’s the last thing. We’re feeling confident with our schedules. Clearly, Cryptozoic puts out dozens and dozens of games a year. We got multiple successful board game Kickstarters. We’ve saved a Kickstarter. We saved The Doom that Came to Atlantic City Kickstarter. We know what we’re doing. I have very little concern that we won’t be able to deliver the games. They’re also small form factor games, which are relatively easy to produce. 

JH

Who do you have printing it, or have you decided?

CJ

We have half a dozen that we use in China. We have multiple factories we use currently. When it comes time to actually pull the trigger, we have multiple bids, then we’ll figure out who’s the best bid. 

Also, one of the great things about the subscription version is that the packaging will be very nice. One of the things we’d like to do is potentially use varnishes or foils to make it look collectible. Because it’s subscription based, you don’t have to put a bar code on it, you don’t have to put ad copy on the back of it. It can just be full-bleed art the entire box, which would be very very beautiful, and I want to use very nice materials to make that, and come up with some potentially special printing.

JH

So you won’t even offer the games outside of that?

CJ

No, but, once a game comes out, we will wait one year before we do a reprint. The reprint will be different packaging, so completely new art for the reprint. It will have all the bar codes and everything else on it, so it will look different. It will look like a regular retail game.

My feeling is, if we have our goal of three or four thousand people subscribed to this, and we have these games being made by these incredible people, if there’s only three or four thousand units that exist, I think the value, the collectability of those games will be very very high. Games are actually starting to become more and more collectible, so, games that want to double down on that notion of being collectible, I think, can create that value.

JH

So are you doing this only to end users, or are you doing this for vendors, or what are you hoping that the model is going to be on this?

CJ

The hope is that we would have the subscription, the game comes out, game is successful, people love it, it has a really robust secondary market value because, clearly, we didn’t make a ton of them. The demand is there, people have heard about it, they’ve read the reviews, it’s got these crazy incredible creators involved, and then we get to the next phase, which is, after a year, we’re able to do a new printing. At that point , we can look at demand and see what our partners think in terms of how many units to make, and then we’ll make 30,000 more units and sell those. But again, the packaging will be different, there’ll be two or three promo cards in the original subscription box one that will not be part of the reissue version. 

JH

So in terms of the idea of “the new hotness,” if you’re waiting from the initial year to a year later to produce this game for mass market, are worried at all about the idea that people will have moved on from that game idea to the next? If you are why, and if you’re not why? 

CJ

No, board games, that’s not how they work. Board games are like fruit trees. Once you have a successful board game, you can continue to reprint it for, literally, ever. Look at Monopoly. Being “hot” is a little less important for a board game than it is with other entertainment vehicles. A lot of our games are in their fifth, sixth, tenth printing, so it’s part of board game culture, I think, that you’ll see a game you like and play with your friends, and have to wait for a new printing. Like Codenames when it first came out. When we first made Rick and Morty: Total Rickall, we printed 20,000; it sold out immediately. It was on eBay for, like, 50 bucks! Then we had to wait for the new printing. We’ve done four printings of that at this point. That’s pretty standard, and I feel like the time between when it first comes out of the subscription box, and when you have a chance to actually buy it creates this really interesting anticipation where people will be like, “Oh my god, have you seen that game? Have you got the chance to play it? Are you watching the video? I know someone who has a copy; let’s get together and play it with them.” I think it will be very desirable.

The Takeaway

So, that’s the end of our interview. A big “thank you” to Corey for taking the time to sit down with us. QST is a bit of a different animal than most Kickstarter projects, so this information really helps us consumers in the hobby make an informed decision. So how do we analyse all that information from Corey? 

Typically, game concepts that limit designers are quite hit-or-miss. Button Shy Games Wallet Series releases one small-form game per month, and it is more of a novelty than a contender. Though some of them are reported to be quite good, it has yet to produce a bona fide hit. Going back a few years, there was Stonehenge, an anthology game that provided the same set of components to an impressive slate of top-notch designers and told them to go nuts. The results were a bust. I’m sure there are other examples as well.

The advantage that QST has over these others is that there’s an extra step in the process. Rather than just giving a designer a set of parameters, the process actually begins with a strong creative perspective without restrictions. The designer’s job, then, is not to make just ANY game, but to make THAT game—to use components and mechanisms to give skeleton and flesh to that concept. The artist breathes life into that component set so the players can experience the theme the way the concept creator intended it. Will that extra step make these games more than just a novelty collectable? You’ll have to subscribe to find out.

QST is not for everyone; QST is for risk-takers. You have to have a huge amount of trust to gamble on a completely unknown board game every other month. You have to have the surplus cash to weather the games that aren’t any good. You have to have the time to learn and play new games regularly, and have a gaming group that also supports this.

In fact, I would go so far as to say, QST is not for gamers. QST is for play-testers, collectors, and gaming hipsters who love to be on the bleeding edge—to say they were into it before it was cool. QST is for people who love game design, those who want to get behind the curtain and feel as if they’re part of making game, who love a lens into how a game is made—the creative process, design and development process, production process and how all these come together to bring a game to your table.

If you’re one of these experimenters, it’s not a lot of money. $12.95 per game is pretty low (it’s lower than the price of a pair of underwear from MeUndies, just for reference). Sure, some of the games might be mediocre, or even bad, but finding that out is half the fun. If you find a few gems and play them regularly, there’s still a lot of value for the money. If Corey is right about the collectable side of QST, there is the chance to recoup some or all of your money on the secondary market. The point is, if you think QST fits the style of you and your group, you’re probably not going to have your car repossessed if your one-year subscription turned out to be a mistake. Get rid of the games in the BGG marketplace, dust off the space on your shelf, and consider a subscription to MeUndies instead.

 

Get in touch with Corey Jones