How to Deliver Digital Rewards

Recently, some folks behind a Kickstarter I backed released the PDF of the game to their backers. Unfortunately, they did so with a very ill-advised method: emailing the game to each backer as an attachment.

When you have several hundred people you need to get a file to, using email to send attachments to all those people is a very bad plan. It doesn’t matter how you’re doing it, but to enumerate:

  • Sending individual emails with an attachment means sending a lot of data into various mail queues. Let’s say you have a 10M zip file. For reasons I won’t get into, when mail encodes that message for sending, it’ll become around 137% of the size during transmission, or roughly 14M (margin of error for rich-text email and headers). Multiply that by 1500 backers getting individual email and you’re sending out 21,000M of email, or 21G.[1] That’s a lot of data being transmitted! No guarantee that 100% of messages will reach their destination when you push the stress like that — often times, mail servers will bounce emails when the load is too high. And even when not, mail later in the queue can take hours to arrive.
  • Sending an email with as many people in the BCC line in less data, but you run a greater risk of them reaching a spam folder, or automatically culled. With 1500, that’s not a small number of false positives.
  • Sending an email with people in the TO and CC lines has the above problem of spam filter and the outright annoyance of giving hundreds of people your email address and making it frustrating should someone click “reply all” to email a note of thanks or some issue.

And this attempt at a solution doesn’t scale: different mail providers have different caps on attachments for exactly this reason. (GMail is, I believe, 25M.)

Other, better solutions exist!

You can put the file up on Dropbox or some other location, and email that out instead. It runs the various problems above, but without the massive data issue. I recently did this for the Random Kindness Encounter bundle, and I had at least ten people of the 500+ emails I sent out tell me they never got it. (And I have to assume there are more than that who don’t follow me on Twitter so they don’t know to even look for the email.)

This does have its own issues, such as if the demand for the file is so great that the filesharing host shuts access to it down. If you’re having that level of volume, though, there are solutions you can pay to use — talk with that provider.

If you have the storage & bandwidth on your own site, you can put the file there, possibly behind a password-protected wall. Has the same email issues as above.

If you’re using Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, or anything like that, you can cut out the email issues by using its messaging system to send the link out. This has two benefits: one, those mail servers are geared for this sort of activity; two, the message is archived, so if for some reason it’s not received, a user can just log onto the crowdfunding site to view the message and thus the link to the file.

If you have the file uploaded to a place like DriveThruRPG, you can send free coupons to your backers. Granted, there are limits to coupons you can offer per day, though you might be able to discuss if that can be raised on a case-by-case basis. (Warning: I don’t know if it can, just saying it’s always worthwhile to talk to someone if there’s an issue.)


These solutions have been in use by people for some time now — in some cases, over a decade. And there are other solutions as well. Have one? Share it in the comments!

– Ryan

[1] I welcome people double-checking my math! I haven’t had to deal with mail spools and issues therein since the mid-2000s. (Note, I am rounding.)


7 Responses to How to Deliver Digital Rewards

  1. E. Foley says:

    You can also join e-junkie for a nominal fee – http://www.e-junkie.com/ej/pricing.htm – and use their file-delivery system, which allows each person a certain # of downloads.

  2. Josh says:

    The same goes in general. Never send out a file as an email attachment to a large number of people. There is always a better way. Happens at work too.

  3. Adam Koebel says:

    Dungeon World HQ has had pretty great success using Dropbox and the Kickstarter mail system to deliver backer rewards. We’re likely to continue fulfilling through them. Depending on the size of your audience, you might check the Terms of Service, but generally I think they’re all about people getting value out of public links.

  4. With DriveThruRPG/RPGNow, you can also create a special discount (in this case: 100% off) and send backers that link. This link isn’t published on DTR, meaning you control (in part) its distribution, and this method circumvents the monthly comp allowance. It also gets around folks having their free code blocked by spam. You don’t have to hunt down their code or generate a new one; just send them the link again. After doing free coupons for years, I’ve recently switched to the discount link method (on the recommendation of Matt McElroy).

  5. Mark Truman says:

    I used YouSendIt for Our Last Best Hope, and I had a number of backers that were upset that they had to register for the site in order to get their file. I’m thinking about using Dropbox for the next PDF we send out; I think DW has had a lot of success with that method.

  6. Al Jigong Billings says:

    If it is the KS of which I am thinking, they DID also later send dropbox links today.