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Ramblings of a Failed Kickstarter...


Artist: Miguel Santos

So...you want to run a RPG Kickstarter???!!!? Ok...holy shit….Are you sure? Fuck yeah—good on you!! It’s the next step to pushing your passion project to the next level!! It’s a way to afford cool commissioned art!


THIS POST is geared towards the OSR---underdogs, individuals or small groups—like garage operated publisher groups that have a dream….you love 0e, 1e, and 2e, and all those retroclones?…..you LOVE what you publish? You have PASSION?!! You sad mofo’s are doing this shit for fun??!!! You’ve been scraped across red hot coals/read reviewer’s opinions/advice from the likes of Bryce Lynch, Prince of Nothing, and Melan’s reviews and took it to heart AND have tried to improve your product??? I salute you brothers and sisters....this post is for you.

This post is all about my opinions and experience….which means it will be long as I’m known to ramble and I’m certainly no expert on this subject, but maybe it will help someone out there. But it’s my blog...so deal with it. This post is about Kickstarters. How I ran a Kickstarter, my experiences, and thoughts. Just an inexperienced nobody who decided he wanted to grasp for that branch of opportunity to make something happen..I failed to reach my monetary goal….BUT achieved other unrealized goals in the process….


I ran the City of Vermilion Kickstarter in August-September 15th 2019. It FAILED… $8,332/ $9,400. Ummmm…. 174 backers, 231 Followers...holy shit!! I honestly don’t care what you think….I was completely humbled by this...the Kickstarter failed, but I feel victorious!! It was so damn close!


There was a mini-community that formed through private and public messages. There were actually people out there…. who BELIEVED in this product and wanted to see it happen. Yeah...if you are a creator...you know what I’m talking about...people talking about YOUR creation and EXCITED about it??!!! It’s totally worth those late nights or going back through sections to make it the BEST product you can. That’s part of the drive of publishing this shit...right? People ACTUALLY using your material, excited by it...AND enjoying it?! That equals success in my book and made the Kickstarter experience all worth it to me.


Another perk??--people from my high school and/or college that you haven’t spoken too in years who don’t even play—they came out of the bushes and threw support towards my cause. Very cool and humbling feeling...it was amazing.


Alright, let’s break it down:


PRICE


I’m a Program Manager at my real job...I work with grants and have to figure out cost estimates for implementation projects usually for creek restoration projects. I felt this was definitely an advantage when setting up my Kickstarter—but that experience ended up biting me in the ass as I’ll explain later in my #1 reflection below….


My cost was $9,400 to get the project of my dreams funded.


This included a professional editor, professional artists, a kickass wrap-around cover, and a professional hard cover option. This didn’t include any money for myself. I figured I would maybe make a little money when I sold it on Drivethru.


This product was going to look sick!! If I had hit $10k...it would have been completely perfect as I would have had as much art as I wanted. For those who don’t know...this was for a 165+ page super module for OSRIC—numerous adventures inside a city and its surrounding environments (underwater, and islands). The adventures are loosely connected but can easily be ripped out and thrown into anyone’s campaign.


KS PAGE SET-UP


I was told by others that art was key. One of those ‘others’ was Exalted Funeral and I was (and still) grateful for their advice and help. I’m also grateful for EOTB for providing his honest feedback and thoughts. Give people a link so they can preview your page!!


I plastered my page with art I was planning to use. Looking over my page, I think I wrote too much, but whatever—I wanted to try and answer any questions people might have so I didn’t get swamped later answering people….creating the page took a lot of time. I tried to give some examples of new monsters, maps, and random tables.


I also created a video. I hate pictures and videos...so I just showed a video of sections of my work. I researched other people’s videos and thought some were pretty dry and boring….so I decided to try and spin it a little to keep people’s attention and forced my wife to narrate it. Overall, I thought the video was funny, but some people may not have thought so…


I set up my funding time for 30 days as suggested…and LAUNCHED.


ADVERTISING


This is everywhere I advertised and hated every moment of it:


Paid Facebook ads--targetting people Age 30-55 who like D&D in US, UK, Canada. This helped generate about 50 new likes on Merciless Merchant’s FB page but didn’t really direct people to the Kickstarter as I had hoped (about 11 people).

Covered Mewe and advertised in 5-6 groups--one group being OSRIC

Instagram

Twitter--I don't understand it that well….and hate it. Maybe 2-3 people saw it? Probably should of made an account a long time ago….but, I have since deleted it and want nothing to do with it.

Youtube—same..no presence there, but I threw up my video for the project. I just checked it...4 views..lol.

Roleplay Chronicle:http://roleplayerschronicle.com/ And they tweeted it.

Reddit--Spaghetti Quester, one of the artists I was going to use did it for me.

My blog

Mewe again

Facebook Ad--targetted US gamers

Facebook ad--targeted UK

Facebook group--Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

Facebook group--Kickstarters

Facebook group--For Gold & Glory

Facebook group—OSRIC

Facebook group—1st edition D&D

Facebook—my personal FB page.

Bryce Lynch forums

Dragonsfoot Forums

Rpg.net

Rpggeek

Therpgsite

Was mentioned on RPG Pub

Roleplaycafe

Enworld

Drivethrurpg—you get a total of 2 emails for a kickstarter.

Was mentioned on Knights-n-knaves forum

Spaghetti Quester did a shout out on Instagram to his 1500 followers

Courtney Campbell--another artist I was planning to use—we cross promoted our Kickstarters.

Was mentioned by OSR News and Reviews http://osrnews.blogspot.com/

Was mentioned by Endzeitgeist: http://endzeitgeist.com/the-chest-osr/ AND http://endzeitgeist.com/the-red-prophet-rises-osr/ The timing of this was completely unplanned and was incredible.

Prince of Nothing interviewed me: https://princeofnothingblogs.wordpress.com/2019/09/01/interview-the-merciless-merchants-vermillion-kickstarter-interview-a-k-a-a-genius-interviews-a-genius/


Despite this advertising effort, I had some people say they never saw/heard about the Kickstarter and just stumbled upon it.


RUNNING A KICKSTARTER


You don’t sleep. You wake up at odd hours to check for updates, pledge levels, any changes or comments….you wrack your brain trying to come up with different strategies to get the word out or to make your Kickstarter campaign better. Seriously...you don’t sleep and I lost 12 lbs (yeah, for real).


But that is from the experience of a Kickstarter that fought tooth and nail for 30 days….those that get funded within a few hours probably have a completely different experience….you lucky bastards.


I had 12 updates, answered questions, and sent thank yous to every Backer which led to some neat private discussions. There are also some people out there who just want to help creators...they didn’t know who I was, don’t play RPGs...they saw my KS page and just wanted to help. Damn me, that is fucking cool as hell!


REFLECTIONS


Guy Fullerton has kept tabs on RPG Kickstarters and from his data (thanks for sharing it!) has found that usually there is about 100-150 backers. This sounds legit. I researched other Kickstarters that were going on that I felt was similar and thought the numbers would be closer to 300—however, I failed to acknowledge that those other Kickstarters were being run by people who have been in the biz for a lot longer and were better known than me. So in the future, even though I got 174 Backers, I think a target of 100-150 people is a good number to go by—which is important because it will be part of the reasoning for your funding goal amount. Your goal amount is $1,000? then a 10$ PDF with 100 backers will fit the bill. If your goal is $1,500 then you might want to think up some other options (POD, etc.) to try and make the difference. Admittedly, for my attempt, I was more focused on the costs needed to make my dream product, but it was comparable to some of the other projects out there—Cha’alt, Midderlands, etc.


So this is what I learned or what I would of done differently:


1. Forego all the bells and whistles—go bare bones. Basically instead of creating a product that I wanted….I’d create a product that the people/backers wanted. Do they want a professional editor...or a professional hardcover option...or commissioned art? Maybe...Set it up as stretch goals though or even internally and let the people decide.


For my KS, instead of going for $9,400...I should of set my goal for say $3,000 or so to cover the cover art and a few pieces of commissioned art. Then any money past that I could use for an editor, more art or whatever. That $3,000 would have been easier to achieve and once funded, people may jump in due to FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Plus...people like to ‘win’ and throwing a pledge at something that they don’t think is going to fund can be hard for some people to swallow...or wait 30 days and wonder if the project will fund.


Cutting costs is hard to do because you want your baby to be perfect, but for me personally, when my funds breached the $7k mark I was kicking myself and trimming costs in my head of how I could of made it work. Which brings up another point—careful with contracts. I wanted to have everything set in place, but being in a contract with someone locks you in and makes things less flexible. The hard part of going this route is that if you reach your funding goal...you got to be good with what you can work with. I become a perfectionist working on this stuff so if I had to put my product out there and wasn’t exactly how I wanted it...it would be hard for me.


2. Sorta related to #1. I had mixed emotions about Backers stretching their wallets to try and make it happen. On one hand, it felt amazing and I was completely humbled by it. On the other hand—it really made me want to do something special for them...and all the Backers in general. I wouldn’t be surprised if next time I run a Kickstarter for Vermilion (yes, I’m gonna do it again!) that I would have EXCLUSIVE content for the Backers. Maybe its a short 3-5 page adventure...or a full blown one….who knows, but to me, Backers are fucking special and they deserve something...I learned this from running the campaign. I had people go to bat for me on advertising and I felt super supported. I want to show my appreciation.


3. Commissioned art. I had a few pieces of art that I commissioned for the adventures. I think this is an important investment so you can flash the new art on the Kickstarter page—I’ll be doing that again. Even better if you can afford the cover art.


4. Speaking of art...don’t use art that relates to you. I kept looking at this drowning man picture that I used, and although I think it looks totally awesome, I felt like that for 30 days...lol.


Artist: Enmanuel Martinez Lema

5. Costs add up VERY fast. Be sure you cover your ass with KS fees. Also, consider the timing of the tax season. You don’t want to be caught making $10k or whatever, then doing your taxes and getting screwed. You want to make that $10k and spend it on your services (artists, editors, etc.) first.


6. People say you don’t have time to work on your product when running a KS campaign. This is legit. I actually found some time to work on things, BUT it’s not that you don’t have the time necessarily, but your thoughts and mindset is so focused on the KS campaign that its extremely hard to think of anything else. So make sure you got your shit organized because you don’t need that sort of stress when running your campaign. I felt pretty organized but could see that being an issue if you aren’t.


7. Advertising—check your data. I was really surprised where people heard of my project and which sites they came from. Some sites that I thought would bring in people—like MeWe, didn’t do shit for me. Prince of Nothing’s blog almost tied with Facebook...forums that I have spent a lot of time on and enjoy going too—brought only a tiny handful of interested people. So that long list of advertising I did above...maybe I’d do some of that again, but definitely not all those channels—a massive waste of time. One thing that helped was that I created several ads ahead of time. One less thing to think about during the campaign.


8. You will get weird offers during your campaign...be very wary. I ignored most.


9. Kickstarter cross promotion. This is where you talk to another creator and both agree to say something about each other’s campaign to try and increase interest/exposure. On one hand, it was kinda cool as it feels like a mini-community of creators and you are working together to try and make something happen. On the other hand, I can’t really say if it helped my cause much. I’d probably do it again with creators that were familiar to me. I was approached twice and accepted one with Courtney. I also approached once, a publisher that was familiar to me and they accepted.


10. Influencers—there are some popular people out there that could probably give your project some exposure. I didn’t attempt to ask...beg? those people to promote my KS. For my example, I’d count Prince as one though and saw some good results. My wife always tells me ‘don’t ask, don’t get’, but asking people I don’t know to promote something of mine just isn’t really my style. But it might be your style and probably would help. So something to consider.


11. Updates—I think updates are important, but there is a balance that you don’t do too many so that it becomes annoying. Not everyone is thinking about the KS like you will be as it will consume you for 30 days, so just stick with the important updates. However, I think if my campaign funded, I would probably send out a update once every 2 weeks or monthly because even though I find emails annoying, I do appreciate some updates from KS’s that I back to know they are working on it. During your campaign, some people suggest to pre-write updates...I didn’t do that and thought it went ok. But anything you can do beforehand is helpful because your brain just doesn’t work right as its completely focused on the campaign.


12. Stretch Goals—Stretch goals can be fun, but don’t make them complicated. I was prepared for several stretch goals that never saw the light of day. I recommend having a few.


13. Add-Ons—I have some material so this helped immensely. People just added to their pledge if they wanted other stuff. The problem with this is that some of the material was developed by a few people and the extra pledge amounts were going towards Vermilion’s funding goal—meaning they wouldn’t get paid unless the goal fund was met and went over. Luckily the people I work with are cool and said they didn’t care.


14. Doldrums—Your KS will go big for the first 3 days and the last 3 days...the middle can be really dang slow. Because of that, I don’t know if I would run another 30 day again unless I wanted to do another weight loss program for myself. Instead I might shoot for 15-20 days or so.


15. Followers—Man...I had 231 followers on my project...I really thought they would dive in the last few days, but they didn’t. I converted 34 of them, which means they became Backers which gave me a 14% conversion rate. Word on the street is that a 10% conversion rate is excellent. Conclusion: Don’t count on your Followers to become Backers.


16. Boosters—Since my campaign was faltering and not hitting its goal, I created Boosters. Boosters are like the opposite of Stretch Goals. It was an attempt by me to get Followers to become Backers. If we reached a certain money amount in an allotted time, I was going to add extra content. This attempt didn’t work, but I don’t think it was necessarily a bad idea—just might need some fine tuning.


17. Backer Kit—I was planning to use this if my campaign funded. I liked the idea that I could create a store at the end and that everything was organized to help with fulfillment. But, I’m still on the fence about it because if you are thinking 100-150 people, you might be able to organize it yourself.


18. Fulfillment—There are companies out there that can help. But I was planning to package/ship everything myself for the hardcover options. Obviously going through Drivethrurpg is easier, but POD vs. professional hardcover job...there’s a quality difference. Unfortunately, after my experience, I’ll probably do a POD through Drivethrurpg next time though due to costs, etc.


Again, I’m no expert, but if anyone is planning to run a Kickstarter for their RPG product, feel free to ask me any questions or share your experiences in the comments.

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