H[dropcap size=big]H[/dropcap]ave you ever wanted to speak an additional language, but have never been able to do so? Have you always been more of a “hands on” type of person when it comes to learning? If you’ve answered yes to both of those questions, then this game just might be for you.
Bernhard Hamaker is the creator of “Japanese: The Game.” A card game that allows you to play while also learning Japanese. The game can be played by yourself or against others. The cards in your hand are various words that you use to form sentences. These cards are set up so you will make grammatically correct sentences that you can then speak. Currently the game has been a huge success and I was lucky enough to get the chance to talk to Bernhard about Japanese: The Game as well as his other up and coming projects coming up.
Cliqist: Alright Bernhard, let’s start with you telling us a bit about yourself and your projects.
Bernhard: I’m a father of four children with another on the way. I have a degree and nine years of experience in Marketing, which was helpful but not sufficient to get me through the turbulence of Kickstarter on its own. My wife fills the world with beauty and order; she’s completing a fine arts degree. The first Kickstarter launched Japanese: The Game, which is a project I’d been working on for six years. It was inspired by a tutoring student of mine who was having a very hard time learning Japanese, so I thought perhaps he’d do better if he could touch the words. Some people learn with their hands. So I made cards he could put together and move around to get familiar with the sentence structure. That evolved over years of sporadic free time into something I eventually prototyped so I could play it with my friends. After a dinner party I was playing with three of my friends, and one of them got a bright expression and said, “This would be perfect for Kickstarter!!” He proceeded to tell me what Kickstarter is and convince me to run a campaign. After a few months I thought I was ready to launch until I read an article about a Kickstarter project and what the project owner did to maximize his reach. I realized I had no reach, and put my project on hold so I could educate myself about best practices, and to build my audiences.
The second project was an extension of Japanese: The Game to cover areas of the language the first wasn’t broad enough to touch on.
Cliqist: That sounds like quite the story. How long did it take for you to feel like you had maximized your reach?
Bernhard: Reach is a case of “good enough.” I didn’t reach a tenth of a percent of the people interested in Japanese in America, let alone the dozens of other countries in which Kickstarter operates. But after boosting my Facebook following from 70-ish to over 200 (which was still not remotely enough by my standards) and actually putting some effort into consistently posting to Twitter, I could see it was going to take another 6 months to get what I would consider a sufficient follower base. So I decided to focus the rest of my time and energy on making my Kickstarter Project Page as good as it could be. If the Kickstarter project page is good, it has better chances of going viral, persuading backers to click the green button, and getting onto the Popular Page for additional views. So during the following three months, I listened avidly to Richard Bliss’ “Funding the Dream on Kickstarter” podcast on my 25-minute commute, one episode per direction. I read all of Jamey Stegmaier’s “Kickstarter Lessons” and I joined the extremely helpful Kickstarter Best Practices and Lessons Learned group on Facebook. I spent nearly every spare moment learning all the pitfalls, all the great ideas, and all the time-optimizing tricks I could. My goal was to make sure that the project page’s first few seconds became an important moment for the people who landed there. So that if they had any interest in Japanese, learning games, or anime/otaku culture they would stay to hear the rest of the story and pledge if they could.
Cliqist: It sounds like it all paid off. So after that being such a success, what do you plan on doing next?
Bernhard: The next project will be a Traditional Japanese Storytelling deck. It’s going to be a thick one–I’m calling it a SuperCore–with amazing illustrations by a Japanese family of artists, and vocabulary from Japanese folk and fairy tales. After that, I’ll be producing a 4-dimensional checkers game that will co-launch with a novel I’m writing that features the game. And then there’s Korean: The Game, Mandarin: The Game, and making every game available to different home languages. Japanese: The Game for German-speakers will be Japanisch: das Kartenspiel if I’m not mistaken. I love learning–it’s my core drive in life–and making it easier for others really multiplies the fun of it, I think.
Cliqist: It sounds like you keep yourself busy! Where is the best place for us to keep up to date with your upcoming projects?
Facebook is where i’m most active. But I also post to Twitter and on the blog at JapaneseTheGame.com, where the game and all expansions are available to purchase.
Cliqist: Alright, well thank you for sharing this with us. Is there anything else you’d like to say in closing?
Bernhard: Anyone who wants to make something happen can do it now. There are podcasts and videos and articles about how to do anything. There are groups of dedicated people who love to help just because they want to share their hobbies or their experience. You can accomplish anything. With Kickstarter, even money is available if what you’re doing inspires other people. Chase your dreams. They’re closer than ever before.
Those are some inspiring words from Bernhard and it was an absolute pleasure interviewing him. Be sure to check out Japanese: The Game and see what all of the fuss is about!