#653: Elan Lee, Co-Creator of Exploding Kittens — How to Raise Millions on Kickstarter, Deconstructing Mega-Successes, Secrets of Game Design, The Power of Positive Constraints, The Delights of Craftsmanship, and The Art of Turning Fans into Superfans


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By Tim Ferriss, Tim Ferriss: Bestselling Author, and Human Guinea Pig. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

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Elan Lee (@elanlee) is the co-creator and chief executive officer of Exploding Kittens, a leading gaming and entertainment company. Under his leadership, Exploding Kittens has expanded its portfolio to nearly 30 different games with more than 20 million games sold in more than 50 countries since its founding in 2015.

Before founding Exploding Kittens, Lee was the chief design officer at Xbox Entertainment Studios, where he led the Interactive Entertainment Portfolio. Prior to that, he was the founder and chief creative officer of Fourth Wall Studios and co-founder of 42 Entertainment. He began his career at Microsoft Games Studios as a lead designer on the original Xbox.

Lee has won a Primetime Emmy for the series Dirty Work; Game Innovator of the Year for Exploding Kittens; a Peabody Award for the world’s first alternate reality game, The Beast; and an IndieCade Trailblazer Award for a distinguished career in interactive entertainment, among others.

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[06:00] Poetry For Neanderthals and collaborating with creative cohorts.

[16:41] Kitty Test Pilots and core gameplay loops.

[22:21] Crowdfunding, alternate reality games, and internet archaeology.

[25:54] Matthew Inman and The Oatmeal millions.

[32:18] The perils of operating faster than the speed of Gmail.

[34:06] Converting casual fans into superfans.

[34:51] What not to do when your Kickstarter goes better than expected.

[36:51] The budget of production needs to fit the fun.

[43:01] Does size matter?

[44:44] From direct-to-consumer sales to being featured in big box stores.

[47:07] Building a game from scratch quickly.

[52:26] Guiding principles.

[56:37] Foundational game recommendations for beginners.

[1:05:10] Is Settlers of Catan the game you think it is?

[1:07:35] Lessons learned from game design veteran Jordan Weisman.

[1:08:50] If you built Jar Jar Binks’ neck, they practically let you run the place.

[1:11:38] If you can’t rock the vote, then clothe the vote.

[1:15:35] Other practical Jordanisms.

[1:16:55] Steven Spielberg and The Beast.

[1:23:19] Hate playing Candy Land with your kids? Design new games with them.

[1:28:02] Growing Exploding Kittens from a game into a company.

[1:32:56] International shipping nightmares.

[1:36:13] Why an open-door policy had to be shut.

[1:38:27] Employees and their roles.

[1:41:50] Milestones.

[1:43:06] When big asks get big results.

[1:47:18] Investor expectations.

[1:52:15] What kind of retirement does someone who makes fun for a living envision?

[1:56:07] Dance partners, algorithm defiance, and other parting thoughts.


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