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Is Your Mini Hot or Not? A Brief History of CMON Games

Is Your Mini Hot or Not? A Brief History of CMON Games

Geek & Sundry’s Painters Guild is our show where host Will Friedle goes on a journey to learn how to paint miniatures. Last season, he learned basic techniques, and in season 2, he’ll be improving his miniature painting skills as guests join him and teach him new tips and techniques. Join him on Alpha paint those #happylittleminis!

CMON Games is a titan of the tabletop. The company is a true behemoth of board game design and production. In the past four years, CMON Games has grossed over $38 million on Kickstarter, and has produced a number of critically acclaimed games. The company has gone public, and is now traded on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The company has yearly miniature-painting contests with a first place cash prize of $10,000. Yet for all that, CMON Games started out in the most humble and surprising of ways: As HotorNot.com for miniatures.

Your Space Marine Mini is a 10

James Hong and Jim Young, a pair of Silicon Valley software engineers, started HotorNot.com in 2000. The site allowed users to rate each others’ attractiveness on a scale of 1 to 10, telling users whether they were, uh, hot or not.

David Doust, who is now CMON Games’ executive director, thought the concept would work just as well with judging painted miniatures. Chern Ann Ng, who is now CMON’s CEO, took over coding the site, “as a hobby.” Ng said, “You have to remember this was before Facebook, Twitter, etc., so we became the de facto place to share your latest painted miniature work with everyone, swap tips and maybe pick up some hot imports from our online store.”

Crystal Brush FI

The site grew, and over time, Doust and Ng considered using the site as a launching point to publish their own games. Ng said that the pair saw an opening in the market, a niche which they could fill. The pair loved miniature games, and had since they were kids. But the problem with miniature games was that they were a huge investment, both in time and in money. What 33-year-old with three kids a cat and a mortgage could keep up with Warhammer 40,000?

Ng thought, “Self-contained board games, with great miniatures, reasonable pricing, and two hours or less in game length would be an attractive product category that no one really addressed before.” The pair self-funded their first game, with advances from European distributors.

The company used Kickstarter to launch games beginning in 2012, and one of their most successful franchises, Zombicide, was born.

Zombies: Now with more artificial intelligence

Zombicide grossed over $781,000 on Kickstarter, but the game came about through a stunning series of coincidences, happenstances, and serendipities which, if gods of game existed, would look like them shaping the terrain of the tabletop for the 21st century.

Ng had played zombie-themed board games before, and all had the same deeply irritating mechanic. He said, “most (if not all) of them had to have an ‘Evil Mastermind’ controlling the ravening undead. Ng believed that no one sat down to a zombie-themed board game itching to play the undead. But the “Evil Mastermind” mechanic forced at least one player to miss the fun of the game. Ng observed, “No one wants to control zombies, everyone wants to blast them!”

Ng had a revelation. Zombies were “perfectly predictable eating machines.” Why not create rules to dictate zombie movement so that everyone could enjoy the fun of applying high-velocity rifle rounds to their skulls?

David Doust knew that David Preti, director of Guillotine Games, was working on a zombie-themed board game with just such a mechanic. Preti was Italian, but at the time he was living in Singapore, so close to Chern Ann Ng that the two were “practically neighbors.”

3DBox_ZombicideS1

In an example of globalization at its finest, Ng was able to sit down in Singapore and talk with Italian David Preti whom he had met through his American CEO. They discussed publishing Zombicide together.

In a further happy coincidence, Zombicide was on Kickstarter at the same time as Ogre: Designer’s Edition. Ng said, “Both of our companies had a fan base, so having two projects at the same time funding well generated a lot of buzz for both projects.”

The buzz led to the famous and geek-hallowed halls of Penny Arcade. Tycho (Jerry Holkins) wrote an editorial about Zombicide and Ogre which led to a spike in funding on Kickstarter.

In another happy coincidence, one of CMON Games’ employees lived in Seattle, and he knew a number of people who worked for Penny Arcade. To capitalize on Penny Arcade’s attention, CMON licensed one of Penny Arcade’s characters, the Cardboard Tube Samurai, as a special piece for Zombicide. As a result of the licensing of the Cardboard Tube Samurai, Kickstarter exploded for Zombicide. CMON originally was seeking a mere $20,000 in funding, and that would be used to pay for the tooling of the miniature pieces. The Kickstarter had already blown past that modest goal, but the last three days of the campaign would see hundreds of thousands of dollars in pledges streaming into Zombicide. The game brought in a total of over $781,000 on Kickstarter, with 50% of that coming in the last three days of the campaign. Ng described the experience as, “surreal.”

It was a series of coincidences, or perhaps luck informed by a number of savvy business decisions on the part of the CMON Games staff, which made Zombicide into what Ng today described as, “our most successful franchise.”

CMON Goes Public at the HKSE and Shows Geek Games Make Green

In December of 2016, CMON Games became a publicly traded company on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Every time a game company becomes so successful that it goes public, it is a historic moment. It is a moment that says to every geek, dweeb, nerd, and poindexter that ever shuffled a miniature across a hex grid that in the great game of culture, we’re winning.

In addition to signaling the victory of geekdom, CMON Games going public means that nosey journalists like me get a look under the hood at the financials of a game company. They show a company growing at a quick clip, and getting more profitable over time. First of all, the company’s revenue increased by 41% between 2016 and 2017, approximately $21 million to $29.8 million. Secondly, net profits at the company shot up 34.6% in the same period.

Song of Ice and Fire Kickstarter

In addition to speaking to the dedication, talent, business acumen, intelligence, and the ability of everyone at CMON Games, it is also a testament to the stunning growth of the hobby gaming market since the Great Recession. Gaming is now in its ninth year of growth and appears to have truly broken into the mainstream of world culture.

Zombicide keeps growing, having explored zombies in modern day, in fantasy and with the launch of the Zombicide Invader Kickstarter, the franchise has taken to space. Moreover, CMON Games continues to grow, and this year will be launching A Song of Ice And Fire Miniatures Game based on the George R.R. Martin novels.

It’s an interesting start for a company that has come to dominate the landscape of boardgames, and we can’t wait to see more.

What CMON Games do you love? Let us know in the comments below!  For more tips and techniques for painting gorgeous miniatures for your tabletop games, check out Geek & Sundry’s Painters Guild on Alpha. Don’t have an Alpha subscription? Get a free 30-day trial at projectalpha.com.

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All images courtesy: CMON Games, Teri Litorco

Ben Riggs speaks five languages and has lived in four countries on three continents, but still manages to lose his keys in the bathroom. A friend to man, animal, and werewolf alike, you can discover more of Ben’s thoughts on game, the universe, and everything on Twitter, or on the Plot Points podcast. you can read his novel about the only good orc here.

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