30 Jan Game Design Lesson #6: Road to Kickstarter: Where Do You Start?
So you’re confident that your product is good, that what you’ve got to offer the crowd is something that people will want to pay money for… now where on Earth do you actually start to get this thing out there? There are a dizzying number of things that you know you need to do, and also need to find out about. Endless false leads, trails that lead you down the wrong way, and basically lots of things that can cause you to lose confidence and feel overwhelmed.
If you’ve decided to turn to crowdfunding to launch your product (your RPG book, board game, cool new gizmo, or whatever), then chances are you’ll be looking at Kickstarter, GoFundMe, IndieGoGo or Pozible, etc. For me, and for most tabletop RPG and board game designers, I chose Kickstarter. But it is important that you know which one you’re going to go for, and why. Each one is different, each one has different markets.
In truth, I know a fair bit about Kickstarter, but very little about the others. This is because I wanted to publish a tabletop RPG book (Infected! – which is still taking pre-orders by the way), and when I searched the various crowdfunding platforms, Kickstarter had waaaay more tabletop RPGs listed, and heaps that were successful. The first one that I really noticed from start to finish was a fellow Aussie game designer in a similar sort of position to me – Wade Dyer created Fragged Empire a couple of years ago, and I thought it might reach $40,000. In fact, it nearly tripled that final figure, with even more raised on BackerKit! Wow. I was sold.
Now, my own project did not raise even close to the funds that Wade did, but that’s fine by me – it still succeeded, which is what matters the most, and I learnt a lot of valuable lessons.
I have written down some of them here: Game Design Lessons #1: Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Game Design.
But here are a few things that you should do to prepare you for the crowdfunding whirlwind. Note that because I made a tabletop RPG, I will tend to lean this towards being a game designer, but the lessons apply pretty well universally.
1) Research Crowdfunding
Hey I said this last time, but it is just as true this time. Think about it like this – if you’re going to put this much effort into something, if your months and years are going to be spent creating this beautiful monster, you want it to work, right? So you can’t possibly research enough. You should read all of Jamey Stegmaier’s blog on crowdfunding. Subscribe to him. Learn from him. His last project netted him $1.8 million USD… he knows what he’s doing. He also works like an absolute fiend – I just read one of his latest articles, where he said he works 80 hours a week. What a machine!
The thing is, you need to look into each different type of crowdfunding to see what works best for you. See what sort of projects each of them have. As far as I know, Pozible is more on the band/performing arts field, IndieGoGo is more about cool gadgets, and Kickstarter has a big niche for games and books. But my knowledge is limited. I must take my own advice and continue to look into them!
2) Get Your Product 90% Ready
Infected! was about 90% ready before I started, but then just before the start of the project I found through test-readers that there was more of a niche (and a better game overall) if I changed the timeline of the setting and moved it several years back. I liked it a lot more, it gave huge scope for characterisation and interesting places and small cultures popping up – rather than the quintessential (and somewhat tired) story of desperate survivors just trying to live through each day. However, this required a total re-write of that portion of the book.
I also thought that my rules were pretty airtight, but one of the great things about crowdfunding is that it gets you out there into the public sphere. People see you more, and thus I had a lot more eyes and attention on those rules. The feedback I got meant I had to change them, which took more time than I expected, but has really turned out nicely.
Added to that, there have been delays from artists that have sent me scrambling – and this was with a product that I thought was 90% done!
Don’t get caught with your pants down. Don’t feel that you have to get your product out straight away. Don’t do it. Get it as good as you can right now. Because if there are holes in the design, if there are any glaring flaws, people aren’t necessarily going to think that you’re going to fix them. Remember, it’s a confidence game. Maybe you know that you’re going to pull through, no matter what. But good intentions really don’t mean a finished product. Prove to your crowd that you’re serious about your product – get it test-worthy now.
3) Get A Sample Ready
Oh I learned this one the hard way. I created a small teaser sample of the book, putting in some of the story and a whole chunk of the art…and none of the rules. I did that because I felt, as many new game designers often do, that my rules were so good that people might just take the rules and leave, having everything they now needed to play Immersion.
That was really not the right idea. At all. Not at all.
If you are thinking of doing that…don’t.
For any project you’re doing that is literary or art-based, you need to have a sample for people. If you’re making a hoverboard…then no, you just need to show that it works…but for an RPG creator you need to lay it all on the table for people.
Think about it this way – just go to Drive Thru RPG and see how many books there are there. Millions. Every conceivable system, setting and storyline is already there. This isn’t the 70’s. It’s not a new concept to come up with a different way to roll dice. Your way may be the coolest way ever. But if you don’t show it to people, they won’t believe you. And if you do show it to them and they do like it, then chances are they’ll back you, if you’ve got a half decent setting.
These days, the first thing I do when checking out an RPG Kickstarter, is to look for what sort of rules they’re employing. If they’ve got a nice, tidy quick-start rule download, then I check it out. To know what sort of thing you should put into your sampler, check out Savage Worlds, Dungeons & Dragons, Fate or even check out the Infected Quick Start. What I found was the most successful, for me, was to make the book as short as possible, and as simple as possible. You want it to be very clear instantly how your rules work. People are probably quickly browsing through the sampler to see if they can make sense of it. If you can show them how things work, and get them interested in your setting at the same time, then you’ve likely got a winner on your hands! One of my personal favourites that does this is John Harper’s Blades in the Dark book (which is still in progress). I don’t really love the system, but I can understand it easily and I really do love the setting and the way he’s put it together. Everything about it makes me want to actually play it – which is exactly what you want from a quick start!
Even just putting your sampler together will force you to decide how to format and lay out your book. You will learn a lot doing this. I recommend Adobe InDesign (and definitely not Microsoft Word), which you can use for $20 a month on Creative Cloud (or get the full suite for $50) but there are some great free programs out there as well.
4) Find Your Niche
It’s true that virtually everything has been done before, or will be a mash-up of things that have been done before – but it is your job to communicate what is fresh and new and awesome about your game, story, setting, design, or gadget. Again looking at tabletop RPGs, I feel you want to focus on the setting far more than the system. The rules are only there to facilitate the game. But the game is all about that setting. So when you’re going to market the game, you need to look at the story you’re telling, the game world you’re bringing to life, and market that – not the rules you use.
One thing interesting, is that things that are already popular are not necessarily going to make your game popular. I learnt this the hard way too. Zombies are popular – look at The Walking Dead. But if I come up with a “zombie game” or “zombie book” it just looks like more of the same. What’s to differentiate it? How do they know that my zombie book is different? In the end I went for a line like, “The outbreak is over, the zombies are mostly gone, now humanity is trying to rebuild and recover…or tear it all down.” And I found that had a much better hit rate with people. I also liked it better, because it was just more interesting… seriously, some plot lines have just been done to death. If you’re wanting to create a world with orcs, elves, humans, dwarves and maybe a great Dark Lord…jeeeeeeez you’re going to have a tough time, no matter how popular the Lord of the Rings and D&D are… seriously.
So you need to really look at your game, your world or book or story or design, and see how you can communicate that swiftly and easily – and to communicate what’s so fresh and new. Personally, I shy away from comparing products with anything else, though that does sometimes work. James Patterson’s book Along Came a Spider had a title that read, You can stop waiting for the next “Silence of the Lambs.” That works, but in general I would avoid it. Particularly if you’re a one-man-band or small group. Don’t compare yourself to someone else. In all likelihood you’ll get a bad reaction, or you’ll just look like a copycat.
Instead, find your niche. Find what’s different about your product and communicate that. You should be able to sum it up in a short sentence of about 10 words max. Also, you should have a good “elevator pitch,” a 30-second or short-paragraph pitch about your product that tells them everything that’s awesome and gets them interested. This will also help you with the Kickstarter, as it has a title, then a short summary, then you get to work with the full description.
Check out other games. See what they say. Then try out a few different ones and check them with people – see what they think. If you’re stumped, choose the one you think is best and run with that. But it couldn’t hurt to go on some forums and gauge reactions… of course, people might still chuck tomatoes at you, but just be prepared for that. In the end, you could end up doing what I did… choose one, then tweak it as the campaign goes on… but that’s not recommended! Really…seriously not recommended.
5) Create Your Page
Okay this is a big one… you need to start creating your page. That includes a video. Heck, there are heaps of different ideas for what you should put on your page. Personally, I found it dizzying, difficult and confusing… but I just started at square one and went from there.
Here’s some thoughts:
Have a good video. Make it short, sweet and interesting. I like ones that display the setting and get me interested in the story.
Have an engaging intro text. Make it short, make it exciting. Make sure people know what it is! That’s vital. Particularly for an RPG, they need to know what genre, that it is a tabletop RPG and not a computer game RPG, and what it’s about. All in a paragraph. No sweat!
Have engaging pictures.
Have reviews (as soon as you get them anyway).
Have your sampler ready for download. I directed mine to Drive Thru RPG because then I know how many people downloaded it, and can send them update notifications when it changes (and it changed a lot), but it might be better to just have a direct URL to your sampler. It’s quicker, less fiddly and easier. It also has less chance of them not going back to your page.
Have a list of bullet points about what’s cool about your game.
Put down a timeline of development and the future. I didn’t do this, but wish I had! It adds much more confidence, and shows your level of preparation (it will also force you to be more prepared… you must think about all these things now).
Put down how you’re going to ship the reward, and how much it’s going to cost. Be very clear about this. You’ll lose waaaay more customers from here than you think. On mine I had worldwide postage worked out, but I still had people leave the project because they thought it would cost VAT to enter Europe (that’s the Value Added Tax scourge of Europe… you should research this…then look up Ideaspatcher who can handle this migraine for you – there are also some other great fulfillment companies around. Remember that word – Fulfillment Companies…now go and Google them… and you’d better have an idea about fulfillment before you start your Kickstarter).
Put down a detailed look at the product, Add-Ons, if any, and Stretch Goals, if any.
Tell people about yourself at the end – make them confident that you can deliver. That’s what you’re communicating.
You will also notice that most Kickstarter pages change as the campaign moves on. That’s because they tend to move the successfully funded Stretch Goals up to the top, so people coming in newly to the page can see that it’s a successful project. I don’t really like that, because it ends up looking like a confused mess… but I did find it seemed to help when I did it… so go figure!
6)Start Contacting Media
Once you’ve submitted your Kickstarter page for review, and it’s been approved (do this as soon as you can), you will get a Preview link. You can use that to show reviewers and bloggers about your campaign. You need to be able to show them something, and this is it.
Media attention is really vital to having a successful campaign. But it is tough to get it when you’re just one person or a few people with no real connections. So you have to start getting connected now. Don’t be dissuaded if you make no impact (apparently), you’ve got to keep going. For RPG designers, you should start looking for blogs, reviewers and youtube channels, find the ones that do reviews and previews. These people are vital, wonderful, beautiful people! You must cherish them when you find them. Then you must write to them to ask if they’d be interested in doing an interview, preview, etc. This is where your beautifully crafted sampler comes into play – you need to show them something good! You actually should have a media pack ready in a zipped file, to attach to your emails. In it you should have pics then can use on their blog, a press release, and the sampler.
Ultimately you also want them to see that you’re a person, and that you are directly communicating to them – not sending out spam emails. I find being personable, respectful and brief works pretty well. I don’t usually go down the serious and bland line… it makes me sound like a robot. Instead I tend to write to them the same way I speak… try out what works for you. You need to catch their attention. Tweak your subject line too – it has to catch their attention and make them open the email, after all!
There are lots of articles out there about writing a query letter to such folk. I have found that my greatest success rate with these is to read through their blogs, get an understanding of who they are and what they write about, then just write to them. Each one individually. I also recommend doing it about 6-8 weeks before your Kickstarter, because you want the media to start when you launch – and quite often it can take some time before people get back to you or get the article done. And you need to hammer them out. Do 20 a day. And don’t make that face at me… you should just do it, and not care if you get no response, or a rejection. Because in all likelihood you’ll get a lot of that! Don’t worry about it. Just know that for every 20 rejections, you’ll get a success. Keep that in mind. That’s a nice, charitable ratio really – sometimes it can be as much as 50 rejections to 1 success. For me it was about 10 to 1, but I feel that in the RPG world it’s all fairly niche and personable, and folks like to help each other out, so I got a little lucky (I still didn’t have nearly enough media attention…not even close).
Okay so that should basically cover the rudimentary basics on starting up your Kickstarter. If you only did those things, you would have a decent chance. There are also other things to consider, like social media, ads, forums, and on and on… but don’t make yourself go mad. Do one thing first. It’s one step at a time. Before you know it you’ll have created your Kickstarter campaign and it will look legit!
What do you think of these? Are there any other resources or lessons that you’ve learned on the road to a Kickstarter?