Kickstarter Thoughts

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Kickstarter is rapidly becoming ensconced as a key component to many new RPG projects. The ability to raise funds without recourse to traditional pre-order systems (although many people feel, not without some justification, that some Kickstarters are just that) or bank financing is a huge boon and has yielded some great stuff. Heck, I’ve used it twice myself to raise funds for Adventures Dark and Deep™.

However, it’s not without its pitfalls.

As we’ve seen quite a few times over the last year or so, gaming projects that are funded through Kickstarter have a pretty crappy record when it comes to delivering rewards on time, and that record is starting to give a lot of people pause when it comes to funding projects through Kickstarter at all. I see these problems stemming from a variety of causes:

Problem: Underestimating the amount of work left. This is huge, and is caused by starting the real writing of a game after the Kickstarter campaign has ended. Don’t do this! If you’re doing an RPG, at least have the rules written before you ask for money to get it in print. If you feel you deserve to be paid for your writing before a single book has hit the shelves, you might want to consider submitting freelance work for an established publisher, rather than self-publishing.

Solution: Front-load the work. Have it written before you Kickstart it, and only ask for the money you need to get it in print (art, layout, editing, printing, etc.).

Problem: Getting distracted.
I’m starting to see this more and more; a Kickstarter really takes off, and the game designer starts throwing in all sorts of tangential bonus rewards. Mugs, computer programs, Minecraft servers, conventions that a dozen people will realistically be able to attend, etc. None of these things are really connected to the actual project, and end up being enormous distractions because the game designer fools himself into thinking that the Kickstarter supporters actually pledged their money to get a some iPhone or Android app, rather than the dungeon that was at the top of the page. 

Solution: Stay focused. Concentrate on getting the core product out the door first, and worry about the tchotchkes after. Except in rare cases, people aren’t supporting your campaign for the extras. They want the main item.

Problem: Underestimating costs.
I’ve heard horror stories about people who forgot to include shipping in their calculations, or who offered a bonus stretch goal that ended up costing more than what they raised in the campaign to begin with. Some even need to do a second Kickstarter campaign to pay for the extras in the first one! 

Solution: Know your costs! Keep the extras cheap and simple and for Zilchus’s sake make sure you have accounted for every cost you’re going to incur. Pantomime going through the entire process if you need to (literally– physically go through the motions so you know you’re not skipping anything), from typing to mailing, and track the costs along the way.

Problem: Life gets in the way. It’s hard to plan for this one, granted. But if a project is the brainchild of a single person, rather than a creative team, then an illness, computer problems, etc. can be devastating. 

Solution: Teamwork. Don’t try to be a one-man band.

Now, this isn’t a comprehensive list by any stretch. I’ve been pretty good with the first three bullets so far, but I’ll confess I’m opening myself up to the third pitfall, and am working on mitigating it. I do think that if people who are considering Kickstarting their game are cognizant of those four pitfalls, the whole process will work a lot better for all concerned. 

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

1 thought on “Kickstarter Thoughts

  1. Joe,
    Kickstarter etc. is still in its infant stages. Withe the SEC promulgating new roles on equity capital fundraising through crowd sources (expected next yr), Kickstarter, or others, are likely to leap into full scale equity fundraising.
    This could allow the larger projects to upgrade from hobby to full time occupation by the founders. Think of it like this: instead of raising $5k to $50k, imagine raising $500k through selling ownership stakes in a process similar to kickstarter. This will allow a higher level of professionalism and a group of very serious undertakings.

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