Does Evil Hat Need Kickstarter?

Yes.

I could leave it there, but I suspect you’re looking for more!

So, first, some background on why I’m writing this post. A retailer friend of mine (you can probably guess who) has mentioned to me that he’s had at least a couple people, fans of the Hat, come into his store and pose the question: If Evil Hat is a successful company, why are they talking about using Kickstarter at all?

This is a good question to ask! And, it highlights how not everyone sees Kickstarter the same way. (For some of how I see it, make sure to read my earlier post from May 2011, Why Kickstarter Is A Game Changer.) That said, the question does point at a perspective that sees only one mode of Kickstarter as the totality of what it’s for — so it’s time to dig in there and shine some light around.

“Successful company” does not equal “immune to risk.” One of the fundamental things to recognize about Kickstarter is that it is a risk management strategy made real. Crowdfunding like this gives you a chance to assess in advance of production how much you need to produce. This kind of information is gigantic for a company of any size and any level of success, ranging from “guy with a dream” to “puts out several titles a year that sell well”. Evil Hat is somewhere in the middle of that range, and especially as we look to expand our reach beyond roleplaying into markets where we haven’t been tested as a company, we absolutely need that kind of data. It’s the sort of thing that will protect us from sinking 20-40% of the company’s cash assets into a single game only to find ourselves sitting on a mountain of inventory that isn’t moving and won’t make its investment back any time soon. On the one hand, yes, Evil Hat is successful — on the other hand, expenses are such that any one given project will still eat at least 10% of our cash assets (at times, much more than that — simply reprinting Your Story took around 15-20%), and we have enough projects on deck to consume 200% of what we have in the bank. Kickstarter lets us shift around the timing on when we’ll see some of that money back, thereby making up the funding gap.  Bottom line: In a year where we’re testing our ability to expand into board games, card games, fiction, and graphic novels, Kickstarter will be central to our ability to pursue such expansion safely, without sinking the company. Using Kickstarter gives us a stronger shot at becoming the bigger, better company we want to be.

Kickstarter is a new, better way to do our preorders. If we did our “usual” preorder thing with one of our games, we’d put up a preorder item on the Evil Hat webstore, draw in orders, and get an idea of what our minimum production run needs to look like. That’s great, as already noted. But here’s where it falls down a bit: that’s only as good as Evil Hat’s current reach. To find our preorder there, you likely need to know that Evil Hat exists at all. Kickstarter, meanwhile, taps into a larger audience, a bigger pool of potential customers, AND provides a clean, scalable way to offer value-adds and incentives for the superfans. Both for its market reach and for its paradigm, Kickstarter just makes for a smarter way to do that sort of thing. It’s not that we won’t do more “typical” preorders, too (especially if we have a Kickstarter for some other game already running), but, bottom line, these days the question is more “can we manage to launch this without a Kickstarter drive?” than “should we do one?”.

Kickstarter creates a community around any project. While Evil Hat has one of the best communities out there (seriously, y’all rule from orbit), the ability of a Kickstarter drive to foster and build a project-specific community of backers is huge. That community gets to collaborate, inquire, and explore the project together, melding together long time fans of the Hat as well as the first-timers. This community acts as a cheering section to see the project through to completion, a lively source of critical word-of-mouth discussion about the work, and post-conclusion, a new, project-specific channel for getting out information about further developments. Compare this to a “standard” preorder, where everyone who preorders largely exists separate from one another. For a company with limited means for marketing, Kickstarter offers a very high marketing return on investment, with its project communities bringing an organic, genuine message of excitement to the world. Bottom line: a motivated project-specific team community of  fans is the best kind of launch-pad a project can have, and Kickstarter makes it easy to create such a community as a side effect of our project-launching efforts.

There’s likely plenty more to this, I suspect, but I feel like those are the main tentpoles of our Kickstarter strategy.

Keep an eye out in the coming months for our first several, as we launch (in no particular order) Race to Adventure (our Spirit of the Century board game), Zeppelin Armada (our Spirit of the Century card game), Don’t Read This Book (a Don’t Rest Your Head fiction anthology), Dinocalypse Now (a Spirit of the Century novel, hopefully the first of three), and ElectriCity (an original graphic novel).

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