I’d originally written a whole spiel on Kickstarter campaigns for RPGs as part of my last blog post but saved over by accident! For those unaware of Kickstarter, its a funding tool owned by Amazon that allows people to pledge cash towards a project, with “stretch goal” rewards. It has been used with great success by a number of projects that are RPG related – notably the Order of the Stick reprint drive and the recent Reaper Miniatures drive. At the moment I’m supporting the reprint of the classic Call of Cthulhu boxed set, Horror on the Orient Express.

At one point, Kickstarter was used by smaller projects to fund their startups. Nowadays it is becoming used as a marketing tool as well by some of the bigger companies. One of Kickstarter’s strengths is that if the funding goal isn’t reached, no money is taken. It’s in the interest of a Kickstarter Project (KP) to encourage people to pledge an amount obviously, but the use of stretch goals can encourage a projects backers to part with more cash. Stretch goals are points during a project where backers gain a reward of some kind. A souvenir of some kind or something extra like a free adventure when that point is reached, that can make the campaign unique. These goals can in themselves help increase the pledge levels.

Unfortunately many KPs probably don’t make it or don’t really engage with prospective backers. They don’t plan out their campaign properly –  they simply see it as a revenue stream. Here’s some things that I think most KPs forget:

  • Shipping information from the get-go. Postage to international backers can be expensive, so work it out.
  • Planning the pledge levels. You can’t change them on KS once you have launched the Kickstarter campaign.
  • Using stretch goals is a great way to encourage backers to pledge more, but work out the costs. If you’re offering a signed copy of a book at a certain level, and get 10,000 backers, you’ll need to sign them! If you add more to pledge level rewards, remember that shipping might change.
  • Make the event unique – more than just a final copy of the book. Throw in some extras (such as replica train tickets or floorplans, like the Horror on the Orient Express KS).
  • Communication with backers is a must – through KS itself or social media such as FB and Twitter. Most backers will check the KS page first. Its also a good idea to check regularly during the campaign and update the project.

As a business tool, Kickstarter is invaluable to those starting up their own RPG. Not only does it give you an instant established fan-base, you can also use it to connect with a whole new audience as well as the chance to test the waters as it were. I’m pretty sure that a number of small-press projects would never have made it. However, there’s no guarantee of quality at the end of the process. In an industry that has increasingly begun to hinge on PDF sales of their products. I’ve always found the whole print vs. PDF argument somewhat moot. If you’re going to print a product, you’ll likely send the proofs (bleeds and all) to the printer as a PDF. Whether its Quark or Indesign or MS Word, the PDF is pretty much what you send to any print house – be they Amazon, Lulu or a dead-tree printer :). My thoughts are that any game should be a professionally-published PDF. If you’re unclear on how to do it, you shouldn’t be trying to get your game out there. And for gods sake get someone else to edit it.

If there’s one thing I hate, its a badly produced PDF. Text should be readable and the reader should be able to copy from it. It should also be laid out in a reasonable fashion, aligned in columns – and readable on any mobile device. It should also be bookmarked. I appreciate not everyone has access to DTP software like Quark or InDesign, but Open Office or similar still offer pretty good tools.

I’m no entrepreneur, but I like to think I’ve acquired some business sense. Several years ago, myself and a friend launched a PBM (play by mail) games partnership. We approached it as business, not just a hobby – and as a result we made a profit. We worked out the time taken for development, the materials involved, and the cost of doing business! RPGs are often a labour of love on the part of their creators and it is often far too easy to slap together a PDF, secure some cheap artwork, then slap it on the ‘net for $30. However, if you take the time to test it, invest the time in marketing and “polishing” you’ll get a much better response to your project.

At the end of the day, take a look at KS campaigns that failed, and what they were offering. Also, consider the glut of RPGs and their systems on places like RPGnow or DrivethruRPG. What will make your game stand out?

Kickstarter campaigns may allow you to raise funds to get a book published, but the quality of the product rests solely upon the creator.

Published by Bill Heron

Wannabe game designer and would-be author. I've been playing RPGs for over 25 years and have recently started creating my own RPG called Mandragora: Ashes of Freedom. I also run a number of RPGs: Cthulhutech, Call of Cthulhu, WFRP, and D&D. I'm active in the Edinburgh RPG community at http://orcedinburgh.co.uk and regularly play RPGs.