#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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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.
[1:43:06] 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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Past guests on The Tim Ferriss Show include Jerry Seinfeld, Hugh Jackman, Dr. Jane Goodall, LeBron James, Kevin Hart, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jamie Foxx, Matthew McConaughey, Esther Perel, Elizabeth Gilbert, Terry Crews, Sia, Yuval Noah Harari, Malcolm Gladwell, Madeleine Albright, Cheryl Strayed, Jim Collins, Mary Karr, Maria Popova, Sam Harris, Michael Phelps, Bob Iger, Edward Norton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Neil Strauss, Ken Burns, Maria Sharapova, Marc Andreessen, Neil Gaiman, Neil de Grasse Tyson, Jocko Willink, Daniel Ek, Kelly Slater, Dr. Peter Attia, Seth Godin, Howard Marks, Dr. Brené Brown, Eric Schmidt, Michael Lewis, Joe Gebbia, Michael Pollan, Dr. Jordan Peterson, Vince Vaughn, Brian Koppelman, Ramit Sethi, Dax Shepard, Tony Robbins, Jim Dethmer, Dan Harris, Ray Dalio, Naval Ravikant, Vitalik Buterin, Elizabeth Lesser, Amanda Palmer, Katie Haun, Sir Richard Branson, Chuck Palahniuk, Arianna Huffington, Reid Hoffman, Bill Burr, Whitney Cummings, Rick Rubin, Dr. Vivek Murthy, Darren Aronofsky, Margaret Atwood, Mark Zuckerberg, Peter Thiel, Dr. Gabor Maté, Anne Lamott, Sarah Silverman, Dr. Andrew Huberman, and many more.