A conversation with Michael J. Ward: DestinyQuest, crowdfunded publishing and the future

Michael J. Ward’s DestinyQuest series has recently emerged from scandalous publisher-driven turmoil with an exciting new book full of various improvements and bold ideas. Gamebook News has been closely following the unfolding Kickstarter delays and drama, and was keen to further examine the circumstances and fallout from Michael’s informed perspective – an unwitting participant caught up in the unprincipled failings of another party.


Your fourth DestinyQuest title, The Raiders of Dune Sea, is now available for purchase after experiencing ongoing issues arising from a troublesome publisher/Kickstarter campaign. Can you summarise the ordeal of a having a book caught up in events not of your making?

It certainly wasn’t quite the journey I was expecting. From the outset, I was really nervous about running a campaign, as I honestly didn’t know if the support would be there – but Megara (the publisher who I had signed with) had already run several Kickstarters and was adamant that it was the way to go, so I put my trust in Megara.

To be fair, the actual campaign itself was a huge success. The project funded within its first couple of days and then went on to unlock many stretch goals, finally reaching a total of over 20k euros. However, behind the scenes, the warning signs were already there that things were not going to go smoothly. Megara refused to pay for one of my suggested cover artists and, instead, promised me they could offer something of the quality level of previous installments. That was not to be the case sadly, so I had to step in and pay for a cover myself. Then there were issues with the quality of the maps, which again I had to pay for replacements – using David Atkinson who illustrated the maps for the stunning Gollancz editions.

Unfortunately, the problems did not end there. The book layout was a total disaster if I am being honest, so I went to Matador (the company who self-published my first DestinyQuest book) to get that rectified. Finally, after all the drama, I felt like we were finally on track and things would turn out okay. Oh how wrong I was…

Things went rapidly from bad to worse – with Megara finally coming clean with the reality of their situation and announcing financial difficulties. They’d apparently used the funds from this Kickstarter and several others to pay bills and running costs, rather than ring-fence the money for delivery of the books and the add-ons. So, 481 backers faced the prospect of getting nothing for their money and dedication. I never got an apology from Megara for the mess – instead, was treated to pretty much an air of indifference.

So, with no other choice I stepped in at the last minute and had the book published myself using Matador. It was the only way that I could ensure my book would get published and be readily available for fans. It has been offered at a special discount for Kickstarter backers – which is small recompense for all the upset and drama that fans have had to endure, but at least the book is now getting into people’s hands – and created to my specifications.

The whole process was incredibly stressful for myself, as I have always had very high standards for the series. As a perfectionist, it was exasperating to have to deal with a publisher who really had very little understanding or interest in quality production and art direction. I was also upset because fans were getting caught up in these problems too and I felt responsible for that – but I have to say, the gamebook community has been incredibly supportive and, whilst I’m sure some damage has been done to the reputation of the series, in large it has come out the other side with fans’ continued support. And as people start to finally get their books and enjoy the game, I’m sure many will put this sorry episode behind them. Myself included.

Kickstarter backers certainly were unhappy with the visual style of the original maps organised by Megara. That shows just how much people are invested in your work, and its associated creative standards.

Yes, with the previous titles I have always pushed for the best quality that I can, from cover art and maps, to the typesetting and finish. Fans quite rightly expect that same level of quality to be upheld. The maps that Megara produced just didn’t have the detail and character necessary, which is no disrespect to the artist that created them – I just don’t think it suited her skillset and experience.



The infamous ‘air conditioner’ excuse must have annoyed and concerned you.

Oh yes – I literally didn’t hear anything from Megara for about four to six weeks. I was not told about the air conditioner situation until I literally hounded Mikael for an answer as to why he was not communicating with me or the backers about the book’s progress – and yet was happily posting daily on his facebook account about his social activities.

For those that are not aware, the Megara offices were shut down for about three months due to the heat and their air conditioner not working. At a time when the book was meant to be getting typeset and printed, this was very frustrating for me (and backers). The lack of communication was insulting to everyone really and I’m still not entirely sure how a company can cease trading for that amount of time and justify it. I think what was worse, is that he actually ended up asking backers to help fund his new air conditioner!

Do you know if Megara actually hold a quantity of your books in storage?

I am not entirely clear on how Megara operates but I have a sense that they use a ‘Print on Demand’ system and only keep a very limited stock. But I could be wrong there – and I’m not clear on how many copies of my book Megara have.

If I can, I will endeavor to get hold of some of the hardback copies, which I could then make available to people. I wasn’t 100% happy with what Mikael did in terms of butchering the layout that I provided, but it is still a very nice edition of the book and I know a lot of fans are interested in getting hold of a copy as it has the bonus quest printed inside.

Megara certainly do use a POD service, and appear to only ever order a very small amount of copies to hold in stock. That is why a few online orders for Dune Sea were recently filled (Megara receiving both book price plus postage) while Kickstarter backers offering to pay extra postage to have their pledges fulfilled were totally ignored.

Yes, I did think that was somewhat discourteous to backers, some of whom were literally pleading on the KS forum to pay for their shipping – and were ignored. It’s always a real shame to see such a disconnect between producer and company (although I do see that more often than not these days, particularly in the computer gaming market). Megara’s handling of the whole situation from a communication point-of-view just poured more fuel onto the fire.

Other Megara gamebooks also feature poor design and layout. As you had an existing style and structure, it shouldn’t have been difficult for them to achieve a similar professional standard. Was this discussed before you agreed to publish with Megara?

Yes, Megara had my previous books to work from – and I do accept that the DQ books are a difficult beast to layout in a concise way. I perhaps foolishly thought that Megara would employ a professional typesetter – or at least have the experience in-house to produce a decent result. Again, I was wrong.

Mikael attempted to lay out the book himself and – to be honest – at the early stages, because I was more focused on the smaller tweaks and errors, I was a little blinded to some of the more glaring inconsistencies. It wasn’t until near the end of the process that I started to notice the extent of the ‘botch job’ (for want of a better word) that had been done – literally no attention given to margins/borders, text was not aligned consistently, there were breaks in the text for no reason, it really was a complete mess – and when I raised this with Megara I got the response ‘well, fix it yourself’. So unfortunately, that is what I had to do to ensure the quality of the final product. It was a very upsetting situation to be in, but thankfully Matador came to my rescue.

What lessons should other gamebook creators learn from your overall experience, particularly regarding publishing partners?

The obvious lesson that I’ve taken from this experience is to do things yourself. Which might sound a little surly and extreme, but really – as a gamebook creator you can cut out the ‘middle man’ and take the self-publishing route, using Kickstarter as a platform to help raise the funds you need and gain valuable publicity. I’m starting to see this more and more, not only from new authors entering the scene, but also veterans such as Dave Morris and Jonathan Green, who are essentially publishing their works independently now.

For me, the whole experience has brought me full circle back to self-publishing (which is where I started with my first edition of The Legion of Shadow). I’ve gone back to Matador, who have always been amazingly professional and supportive – and by self-publishing I’m putting myself back in control, so that I can produce the books to my standards (and not have to suffer the decisions of others, which often run contrary to that!).

I’ll be publishing the next DestinyQuest book with Matador – and also my new gamebook series that I am currently planning and writing.

How is your relationship with Megara now that the Kickstarter has drawn to a close – particularly due to the costs that you have personally incurred due to having to publish the book yourself?

In all honesty, despite all that has happened, I do wish the best for Mikael and his future. I can never condone his actions and decisions, and the way he has treated backers, but I also can fully imagine that – when your company is sinking into greater and greater debt, you can make ill-advised decisions. We’re still in open communication as the final updates of the Kickstarter take place – and I am immeasurably thankful for Mikael giving me permission to reclaim my rights on the book and publish it myself. He didn’t have to do that and could have made things very difficult – but he was very supportive of me getting the book done. So, I think you just have to forgive and forget sometimes, otherwise things just turn ugly and difficult, and neither one of us wants that at this stage.

There’s been a lot of negative commenting from fans burnt by Megara’s non-delivery of The Raiders of Dune Sea and other unrelated gamebooks. Do you believe that crowdfunding has gained a bad, and possibly irreversible, reputation that will make it difficult for future campaigns to reach an audience of willing backers?

There’s no doubting that the Megara situation has sent some negative shockwaves through the community – not only due to the non-delivery of products and fans’ inevitable frustrations with that, but also the very public name-calling and spats by Megara aimed at many established writers and creators. It’s fair to say that the whole episode has left a bit of a stink… but with Megara’s imminent departure from the scene, I think the healing process can begin.

I was worried that the failed Megara Kickstarters may affect the support of future campaigns, but Dave Morris’ latest Blood Sword campaign is going strong (and surpassed his own expectations) – and Jonathan Green’s ‘TWAS – The Krampus Night Before Christmas’ also successfully funded recently, despite a slow start.

Also, from the overwhelmingly positive and supportive comments I have personally received from fans and backers, I feel confident that people still have belief in myself and the series. Throughout the Dune Sea campaign I have always been transparent with backers – and have always had their best interests at heart. I guess the real test will be when I run one of my own Kickstarters – and whether I will get the support that has been promised. I’ll certainly be more conservative with my funding projections as I fully expect that I will need to win some people back after all that has happened.

The Raiders of Dune Sea promises to be the best DestinyQuest title yet. Can the book emerge unscathed from the damaging turmoil that has engulfed it so far to make a positive impact?

I put a huge amount of effort into the latest DestinyQuest title, from both a narrative and game-play perspective. More than any previous DQ book, choices and character interaction are slap bang at the forefront of this experience. While this can often be cited as an eye-rolling cliché, I do honestly believe that, this time around, players will be able to forge a journey through the content that will feel very unique to them. I would image that it would take at least three solid playthroughs to experience all that the book has to offer.

And what is exciting for me is that this is just one half of the story – which will conclude in the next DestinyQuest title, The Edge of Time. So the two books together will tell an epic (and very dramatic!) story, where your choices will matter – even those made in the first book will have significant ramifications in the second. I think together they’ll make for a gamebook classic that I hope will be referenced and talked about for many years to come.

As I’ve said previously, I can’t quite be sure what damage has been caused by the turmoil of the Kickstarter, but I honestly believe that once players get their book and start playing, hopefully the drama will be forgotten. The book will live up to its hype, I promise – and at the end of the day, that’s all that should really matter.


What can you tell us about The Edge of Time. Are any new ideas or gameplay mechanics involved, or is it a direct continuation of DQIV?

In many ways it will be a direct continuation of The Raiders of Dune Sea, which has already introduced quite a lot of new elements to the mix, such as the dungeon delves, pets and minions, more refined and dynamic class abilities, and so on. The next book will build on those foundations and develop them further. I’ve already finalised the new path careers, which I am incredibly excited about as they really push the level of strategy and the synergy of abilities to a new high. I was very pleased with how the individual paths and careers function in Dune Sea – they really feel unique and exciting, and that will carry through into The Edge of Time, where players will get to advance their hero to new heights of power.

My only concern is that I have so many ideas, that I might struggle once again to fit them into one book! That is always my challenge with DestinyQuest – to rein my ideas in, because I can go a little crazy sometimes!

What’s next for you and DestinyQuest?

In terms of DestinyQuest, I have started planning up the next book – and have already commissioned the cover art. I really wanted Dominic Harmon (who did the covers for the Gollancz editions) to return for this one, and he gets booked up incredibly fast. So I’m over the moon that he is onboard and will be producing the cover very shortly (so the cover will be ready before I probably even start the writing!). I’d like to think that I will be making a start on the book around summer-time this year, with the aim of running the Kickstarter around February/March of next year.

I’m also working on a new gamebook series that I will also be Kickstarting. This is aimed at a younger audience (9-12) but I’m sure that won’t stop any of my older fans wanting to grab copies. Essentially the series takes a more fun ‘tongue-in-cheek’ approach, and incorporates a new combat system I’ve devised that has no need for dice but maintains the level of tactical strategy that DQ is famous for. I’d like to get the first book out this year but that will depend on my financial situation and whether I can fund it – as, whilst I am happy to run future Kickstarters, I would also want to be in a position where I could fully fund the titles myself – to avoid any repeat of the Megara situation and ensure backers have faith in the projects.

So, it could turn out to be a very busy and productive year for me, all being well. After all the recent drama, I feel I have something to prove – to show that I’m not letting what happened drag me down (and there were times when I thought I was never going to touch another gamebook again!). But thankfully, quite the opposite has happened, and I’m feeling more invigorated than ever – and ready for the fight!

Your new gamebook for younger readers is part of a series. Are these stand-alone adventures or an ongoing narrative?

They are stand-alone adventures, each one taking a different genre (fantasy, sci-fi, 50s B-Movies, etc.). It’s really a chance for me to flex my narrative muscles and explore new situations and characters in a fun way. I think fans will be quite surprised by what is in store. I just need to get on with the writing. The recent Kickstarter (and an imminent house move) have sidetracked me a bit!

A number of fans have noted that they’d really like to see full-page illustrations featured throughout your books. Is this possible in the future for DestinyQuest or your new series – maybe as Kickstarter stretch goals?

Yes, this is something I am very aware of and am considering for Book V of DestinyQuest. If I run a Kickstarter then I would seriously contemplate having black and white illustrations for the legendary monsters. It will really come down to finding a good illustrator and their availability and cost.

As for the new series – most definitely. It will feature a lot of internal illustrations and I’m currently in talks with an illustrator about those. I also have some cool ideas for collectibles when the inevitable Kickstarter comes around (see, I haven’t been put off!)

Lots of exciting stuff ahead. Watch this space!

Thanks to Michael J. Ward for taking the time to provide GBN with his comments regarding the Kickstarter fiasco and updating us on his future plans. You can now purchase the self-published version of The Raiders of Dune Sea from the Troubador bookstore – possibly with bonus loot cards included for those who grab an early copy!

Visit the DestinyQuest website for further information about the series.

8 thoughts on “A conversation with Michael J. Ward: DestinyQuest, crowdfunded publishing and the future”

  1. Always happy to hear about new gamebook series on the horizon, but disappointed to hear that the new series is aimed younger and combat-focused again.

  2. Great to see Michael branching out. Destiny Quest is great but its always good for a writer to try new things. Just as long as Michael doesn’t bump into his number one fan like what happened in Stephen King’s Misery. 😛

  3. Stewart Andrew

    I only wish I’d known about the Megara situation before I placed my order before Christmas. 50 euros and no sign of the Collector’s Edition. All I have received for the past 7 weeks is silence from Megara in response to my emails. It is sad as I had never had any problems ordering books from Megara in the past. I am glad Book 4 is being published (I’ve been a fan since being a winner in the (DQ1) SFX competition years ago; I loved the dice that formed part of the prize).

  4. Richard Harrison

    Great interview, thanks for doing it.

    Megara are a disgrace. They’ve treated their customers/backers with utter contempt across multiple Kickstarters. Really hope Mikael Louys is finished.

  5. Last year I ordered DQ4 directly from Megara (I missed the Kickstarter). It took two months before I received my paperback copy. When I emailed Mikael about the situation, he blamed the French riots for the delay. Thankfully the book did finally arrive, along with some laminated maps. When my copy of DQ4 arrived, the packaging was cheap and unprofessional to say the least, but the book and maps were undamaged. Shortly afterwards I saw the fundraising campaign where Mikael was trying to raise capital to keep Megara afloat. While I can always respect someone trying to uphold gamebooks as a viable medium, I don’t think Megara has the management skills at this time to run a publishing business. On the other hand, I am very much looking forward to the future work of Michael J. Ward, and would absolutely fund a DQ5 Kickstarter.

  6. Pingback: Kickstarter: Author Interview with Michael J. Ward – DestinyQuest: The World Companion  – Gamebook News

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