May 182011

While the Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple kickstarter has been going on strong and is now within sight of the finish line, Daniel has been posting insights we’ve picked up along the way. I’m (mostly) not going to repeat that stuff — you should read it yourself, because it’s awesome. The first post in particular is important for folks contemplating how to right-size their kickstarter goal:

Instead, I want to talk (briskly) about what the existence of Kickstarter does for a publisher.

Polling for Interest, Voting with Dollars

Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo aren’t much different from various polling sites out there: folks are asked whether or not a particular point of view is interesting to them, and those results get displayed. Here, the point of view is the product, and the votes are measured in dollars. With Kickstarter in particular, this gets interesting due to the “hit the minimum or get nothing” funding targets — if there isn’t enough money to fund the project, nobody’s on the hook to pay anything (your guy doesn’t get elected, to extend the metaphor).

That means that if you’re not 100% sure that there’s enough interest to make it worthwhile to do a given project, you can find out by way of trying to get the project funded. You’ll still need to do SOME up-front work — and you’ll probably see more success the more work you have to show people — and be willing to cover some of the expenses yourself (as Daniel has noted). But much like the preorder model has done in years past, you’ve got an opportunity here to get a taste of the level of demand there is for your game before you lay down the money to get it printed. And if your project doesn’t get funded, you’ve learned that you’re overreaching and can either restrategize and restructure or cut your losses. Either way, that’s gold, and provides a basis for risk management that’s akin to what the rise of print on demand did for the small guy. The new technology changes the playing field.

Safe Growth and Experimentation

Relatedly, this means that as a publisher you can try to pursue some avenues for growing your business that you might not be inclined to attempt otherwise, if you had to go into it blind and without assurances that your customer base is interested. In the patronage-style crowdfunded model, money up front is entirely reasonable and expected, allowing you to attempt projects beyond your usual means without opening a second mortgage on your house. (There’s a lot that goes into making sure that you have the right numbers on hand when you go into starting something like this, but for the moment an exploration of that is out of scope for this post.)

In the coming months and years you’ll probably see Evil Hat take advantage of this, for all of these reasons.

We’ll probably do a Kickstarter to help cover part of our costs on our first card game, Zeppelin Armada, currently in development. This will help us get the product out there by covering costs, but it’ll also answer questions like “how interested are folks in seeing Evil Hat do card games?” and “is our pitch for this particular card game enough to get people excited and contributing?”

There’s also a chance we’ll be working with C. E. Murphy on turning an old idea or two of mine into a graphic novel — if we can demonstrate an interest in Evil Hat publishing the occasional stand-alone graphic novel (maybe even with a tie-in game, to think all multimediaishly). Kickstarter would be how we demonstrate that. (And, man, the costs there are way too intimidating without some crowdfunding backing behind it: even a modest graphic novel can cost $30-50k to produce.)

We’ll also use Kickstarter to help cushion some of the costs of growth both by evaluating and backing riskier products, and maybe launching ones where we need a little help on the printing costs (which we might need help on with our due-sometime-in-the-coming-year Dresden Files supplement, The Paranet Papers, as it’s likely to be another decently sized full color hardcover).

Before tax season hit, Evil Hat was getting close to around $200k in the bank thanks to our successes. We paid nearly half of that in taxes, and had some other expenses (like paying Jim his cut of the DFRPG sales, getting a reprint of Your Story queued up, etc) that drove it down even more. With the full scope of what we’d like to do in the next couple years all tallied up, we might not have the money on hand we need in order to do all our projects both big and small. With Kickstarter, we have an opportunity to spend less money in advance of measuring the potential success of a project –which means we’ll be spending the money we have more wisely.

Alphavengers Assemble

Here’s something else that the Kickstarter does for you and your product: it grabs hold of your extended social network, and picks out the alpha fans — those folks who are willing to commit some money because they believe in and trust you to deliver (do everything you can to avoid abusing that trust; bend over backwards if you must!). Then it puts all those folks in one place, gives them something to rally around, and a tangible, flag-like thing they can wave at other people to try to get them interested too.

That right there is amazing. It’s like a magnifying glass that focuses the rays of fandom into a cutting laser. Use it well and use it wisely. These are the people who will stick by you and cheer you on towards the finish line. You’ve found your army thanks to Kickstarter. Now go conquer your objectives!

The Game Changer is a Game

This last point, short and sweet, has struck me every time I’ve peeked in on a Kickstarter campaign in the last few months: here we are, keeping score. The amount of money pledged to a campaign is right there, and visible. All of us who are backing the campaign or considering backing it are playing in an MMO called Will This Make It? It’s a team effort, and just a little gamelike, in that — which is particularly likely to appeal to the audience of a game publisher.

Anyway, I figure that Kickstarter is here to stay for a lot of good reasons, only some of which I’ve covered here. It’s a big deal for the small guy — and the not-so-small guy — and so long as it’s deployed intelligently, a successful Kickstarter campaign can be a real tentpost for a product’s success.

Speaking of which, go check out the Bulldogs! kickstarter from Galileo Games. It’s a new Fate sci-fi game — think “Han Solo, the RPG” — and I’m doing the layout. It’ll be about 168 pages, full color, hardcover, and does a great job of taking Spirit of the Century, updating it, then flinging it into space. It is indeed “Sci-Fi That Kicks Ass!”


  16 Responses to “Why Kickstarter is a Game Changer for Game Publishing”

  1. Given that Bulldogs! has met its funding level already (even if it was relatively low) suggests that, on the heels of DO, there is another data point for your idea, Fred.

  2. The sum total of the thesis, that kickstarting games is here to stay, and is a game-changer in terms of funding RPGs and establishing interest in same.

    It’s much more visible and open than,say, straight up pre-ordering.

    Given how open you and Rob have been with discussing the specific economics of Evil Hat, Kickstarter looks like a natural for your products.

  3. Thanks for once again feeding my MBA-geekdom and my gaming geekdom.

    More productively, the only useful bit I find missing from the kickstarter is something to move me from fence to Alpha, even if I’m not willing to be a true Alpha. For example, Bulldogs is intriguing, but I haven’t seen enough to get me off the fence to contribute money because I don’t know enough about it. Whereas, with Do: The Flying Pilgrims, we had a good idea of exactly what we were funding and why we might decide to (or admittedly for some not) fund it.

    Now really, the point is moot, considering, as Paul did previously, the reserve was met so this may not be a huge concern to try to capture the “Beta” bidders – the ones who are interested, but not sold on it.

    (Hopefully this is coherent, it got interrupted a few times by life.)

    • Totally. I’d love it if Kickstarter had a “I’m not convinced. Here’s what I’d like to see.” button that made it easy for an interested beta to identify himself and maybe keep tabs on the project.

      Interestingly, that functionality might exist there in a buried fashion — if you’re willing to contribute 1 dollar, but no more, that’d put you in the door for getting backer updates, etc, which might turn your interest into certainty. But that’s a crap way of doing it, I’ll be the first to say it — I’m just wired to look for workarounds. 🙂

  4. I think Kickstarter will also create new lines of business like RPG focused turnkey publishers. You don’t have to start your own publishing company to see your product come to life. You can work on just that which you are passionate about, and then hand a print ready PDF to the turnkey publisher. How the backers’ pre-ordered copies are secured would need to be addressed, but that is something that can be overcome easily with PDFs IMO.

    This is not to say that Kickstarter makes it easy to produce the product. You still need to write it, edit it, acquire artwork, etc. It just means that you can fulfill the role of create without taking on the business of publishing as well.

    Of course, I’m not a publisher so I’m basing this upon my limited experience as a contributor to other successful projects.

  5. What’s your opinion on the just-announced RPGnet moderation decision that mentions of Kickstarter will now be moved to Ads/Promo instead of Open (which was allowed up until now)?

    Link for sourcing:

    Personally, I think it will have a really unfortunate dampening effect on the grassroots efforts.

  6. Good stuff, Fred! Am considering using kickstarter sometime in the nearish future to try to fund the recording of my compositions—hiring musicians and getting studio time is expensive!


  7. My only problem with some of the kickstarter projects I have been a part of was being disappointed that the project sold at various conventions before getting the kickstarters their copy. I figure you should help your alphas first, which ties into your don’t abuse that trust.

    • Yeah, that’s fair — expectations need to be managed there, either way. For example: going in at a contribution level where you get a signed copy is *for sure* to take longer to get to you than unsigned copies, especially if the publisher is using a shipping fulfillment service for getting those unsigned copies out — the signed copies more likely have to be shipped separately to the signer’s home address, then packaged and shipped by the signer, and that’s almost always slower.

  8. Nice thoughts, Fred.

    On the more pessimistic side, one thing that’s beginning to concern me is the possibility of a “golden goose” phenomenon with all the recent Kickstarter games, where the spare money that certain swaths of the community have to support games gets mopped up by a handful of densely launched Kickstarter projects, leading to potential funding problems for later projects.

    It doesn’t seem like we’ve hit that point yet, or — at least — that the audiences for games have overlapped enough yet to have a real money crunch. But if people are regularly supporting games they like at $100 rather than $20, part of me wonders how long that will be sustainable. Are we really expanding to new audiences? Definitely in many cases. But we may also be simply drawing on existing audiences to a higher degree, in the way that limited demand keeps driving up the cost of academic books.

    So, I suppose, my real concern is about the sustainability of this model, especially if outreach and marketing efforts for projects continue to focus on the same sizable-but-still-ultimately-limited gamer communities for their intitial funding.

    Do you feel like there’s any validity to those kinds of concerns? What could we do to mitigate the possibility of problems? I’m asking this mostly as someone who’s been considering funding a print run this way, but wants to make sure I position it well to coexist with other funding initiatives. It seems like we’re not really doing this right if we end up competing against each other such that worthwhile projects don’t get the support they need.

    • Those $100 backers are a bit of a squeaky wheel, though: they are highly visible, to the point where they seem like a large portion of the contribution population. But when I look closely, it turns out they’re also very few in number. The $500 jacket-backer on Bulldogs is 1 guy or gal. 4 have contributed at $150. Together, their contributions amounted to over a third of the minimum goal for that campaign … but they’re only 6% of the total number of 78 backers currently on deck.

      Do’s been running longer, and to look at that data, there are 475 backers right now, and 436 of them are showing as operating at $40 or less. Assuming everyone contributed exactly the amount of the tier they’re listed as backing, over $16k of the almost $22k has come from folks contributing at entirely reasonable, non-golden-goose-scenario amounts. The remaining $5700 — the golden flock, as it were — came from 39 people, or about 8%.

      Ultimately I’d be more worried about the picture you’re painting if we were seeing a heavier level of buy-in at the golden flock levels of projects. But we’re not, really. We’re seeing the bulk of activity coming in at levels that are akin to print and PDF sales as they would be anyway.

      That doesn’t mean your point isn’t well-taken, though. It goes to underscore why it’s important to provide incentives at many different levels of contribution. Over a third of the Bulldogs! backers are at the $10 level, after all.

  9. […] czyli masowej zrzutce internautów na wybrane przedsięwzięcia. Fred Hicks na swoim blogu Deadly Fredly opisuje w jaki sposób Kickstarter wpłynął na sukces Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple oraz […]

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