Why Kickstarter is a Game Changer for Game Publishing

While the Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple kickstarter has been going on strong and is now within sight of the finish line, Daniel has been posting insights we’ve picked up along the way. I’m (mostly) not going to repeat that stuff — you should read it yourself, because it’s awesome. The first post in particular is important for folks contemplating how to right-size their kickstarter goal:

Instead, I want to talk (briskly) about what the existence of Kickstarter does for a publisher.

Polling for Interest, Voting with Dollars

Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo aren’t much different from various polling sites out there: folks are asked whether or not a particular point of view is interesting to them, and those results get displayed. Here, the point of view is the product, and the votes are measured in dollars. With Kickstarter in particular, this gets interesting due to the “hit the minimum or get nothing” funding targets — if there isn’t enough money to fund the project, nobody’s on the hook to pay anything (your guy doesn’t get elected, to extend the metaphor).

That means that if you’re not 100% sure that there’s enough interest to make it worthwhile to do a given project, you can find out by way of trying to get the project funded. You’ll still need to do SOME up-front work — and you’ll probably see more success the more work you have to show people — and be willing to cover some of the expenses yourself (as Daniel has noted). But much like the preorder model has done in years past, you’ve got an opportunity here to get a taste of the level of demand there is for your game before you lay down the money to get it printed. And if your project doesn’t get funded, you’ve learned that you’re overreaching and can either restrategize and restructure or cut your losses. Either way, that’s gold, and provides a basis for risk management that’s akin to what the rise of print on demand did for the small guy. The new technology changes the playing field.

Safe Growth and Experimentation

Relatedly, this means that as a publisher you can try to pursue some avenues for growing your business that you might not be inclined to attempt otherwise, if you had to go into it blind and without assurances that your customer base is interested. In the patronage-style crowdfunded model, money up front is entirely reasonable and expected, allowing you to attempt projects beyond your usual means without opening a second mortgage on your house. (There’s a lot that goes into making sure that you have the right numbers on hand when you go into starting something like this, but for the moment an exploration of that is out of scope for this post.)

In the coming months and years you’ll probably see Evil Hat take advantage of this, for all of these reasons.

We’ll probably do a Kickstarter to help cover part of our costs on our first card game, Zeppelin Armada, currently in development. This will help us get the product out there by covering costs, but it’ll also answer questions like “how interested are folks in seeing Evil Hat do card games?” and “is our pitch for this particular card game enough to get people excited and contributing?”

There’s also a chance we’ll be working with C. E. Murphy on turning an old idea or two of mine into a graphic novel — if we can demonstrate an interest in Evil Hat publishing the occasional stand-alone graphic novel (maybe even with a tie-in game, to think all multimediaishly). Kickstarter would be how we demonstrate that. (And, man, the costs there are way too intimidating without some crowdfunding backing behind it: even a modest graphic novel can cost $30-50k to produce.)

We’ll also use Kickstarter to help cushion some of the costs of growth both by evaluating and backing riskier products, and maybe launching ones where we need a little help on the printing costs (which we might need help on with our due-sometime-in-the-coming-year Dresden Files supplement, The Paranet Papers, as it’s likely to be another decently sized full color hardcover).

Before tax season hit, Evil Hat was getting close to around $200k in the bank thanks to our successes. We paid nearly half of that in taxes, and had some other expenses (like paying Jim his cut of the DFRPG sales, getting a reprint of Your Story queued up, etc) that drove it down even more. With the full scope of what we’d like to do in the next couple years all tallied up, we might not have the money on hand we need in order to do all our projects both big and small. With Kickstarter, we have an opportunity to spend less money in advance of measuring the potential success of a project –which means we’ll be spending the money we have more wisely.

Alphavengers Assemble

Here’s something else that the Kickstarter does for you and your product: it grabs hold of your extended social network, and picks out the alpha fans — those folks who are willing to commit some money because they believe in and trust you to deliver (do everything you can to avoid abusing that trust; bend over backwards if you must!). Then it puts all those folks in one place, gives them something to rally around, and a tangible, flag-like thing they can wave at other people to try to get them interested too.

That right there is amazing. It’s like a magnifying glass that focuses the rays of fandom into a cutting laser. Use it well and use it wisely. These are the people who will stick by you and cheer you on towards the finish line. You’ve found your army thanks to Kickstarter. Now go conquer your objectives!

The Game Changer is a Game

This last point, short and sweet, has struck me every time I’ve peeked in on a Kickstarter campaign in the last few months: here we are, keeping score. The amount of money pledged to a campaign is right there, and visible. All of us who are backing the campaign or considering backing it are playing in an MMO called Will This Make It? It’s a team effort, and just a little gamelike, in that — which is particularly likely to appeal to the audience of a game publisher.

Anyway, I figure that Kickstarter is here to stay for a lot of good reasons, only some of which I’ve covered here. It’s a big deal for the small guy — and the not-so-small guy — and so long as it’s deployed intelligently, a successful Kickstarter campaign can be a real tentpost for a product’s success.

Speaking of which, go check out the Bulldogs! kickstarter from Galileo Games. It’s a new Fate sci-fi game — think “Han Solo, the RPG” — and I’m doing the layout. It’ll be about 168 pages, full color, hardcover, and does a great job of taking Spirit of the Century, updating it, then flinging it into space. It is indeed “Sci-Fi That Kicks Ass!”