Posts Tagged ‘kickstarter’
Last week, Keith Senkowski wrote this brilliant piece on his discoveries regarding his Kickstarter campaign. I recommend you read all of it. There’s one bit that resonates with me:
I first thought Kickstarter would be the venue to get funding to help me justify the time spent on a project like that. I was wrong. People want stuff for their money, not to proudly say they supported me in my effort to create a book they could look at pictures of on the internet or see when they met up with me.
In my experience, that’s half-right. It’s all about whatever the individual funder is buying for himself. And that changes as the tiers increase in cost and value.
The low tiers in a crowdfunding more or less mesh with that. Not always, but you can assume so. If someone’s buying a PDF or book as a tier, there may be a “hey, I think these guys are cool, I’ll give them some money,” but always tied to “because I get a thing from it.” (After all, if there wasn’t that component, folks would just give you free money.)
The higher the tiers go, the more that shifts into selling exclusivity and philanthropism side by side. At these theirs, people are buying into stories about themselves as much as they are whatever you’re selling. “I’m the sort of person who can afford to give this artist this much money.” But those people still want something for their money, otherwise the personal narrative shifts form “hey, look at this art I funded” to “hey, I got swindled.”
Something to keep in mind as you’re crafting your tiers. Too many not only causes indecision, it also creates less of an implied social strata for people to buy into. And the narrative accompanying your second tier is often “I can’t afford to do crazy, but I can afford to do better than the first tier,” which means you need to make sure your costs don’t jar against that idea.
Crafting tiers is an arcane art and science, because at the end of the day crowdfunding is as much as making something for people as it is funding internal consumer narratives. Not more, not less. And that’s what makes it hard.
If you’ve been following social media yesterday and today, you may have already seen posts about the Cortex Plus Hackers Guide.
Long-time fans know that a couple years ago, I posted my article on my blog: Hacking Stress. Not only will the article be in the book, but the folks at MWP are letting me keep it on my blog to show people what sort of content we’re talking about. (Naturally, what’ll be in the book will be polished and editing, by the esteemed Dave Chalker & Phil Menard.)
If all I were to say is “hey, there’s cool shit in this book,” that would be enough I’d hope for any Cortex Plus fan. But there’s another piece to this campaign that is…just damned right. I’ve been involved with some Kickstarter projects as support staff (mostly editing), and have thought that rather than a flat rate, I should ask for a small percentage of the Kickstarter — after all, I’m effectively being asked not just to be an editor, I’m also asked to be a marketing force.
And that’s exactly what MWP has planned for us. Which, when I read that in the initial email I got, surprised me — it’s rare I see publishers offer such incentives. Here’s the text from the Kickstarter:
By supporting this project, you will also be supporting all the creatives (authors, designers, developers, editors – past, present and future) who contribute to it. How’s that you ask? Simple. After costs are subtracted, creatives will receive half of all net profits, divided up amongst each individual based on how much they contributed to the book.
So, when you contribute to the funding, you’re actually contributing to the 21 writers, 2 editors, 1 developer, and the untold-because-I-don’t-know number of people involved with the art & layout. If you’re one of those people, then thank you. Ideas like these — hackers guides for games and profit-sharing in crowdfunding campaigns — should be rewarded. They should flourish.
Hack on, my friends,
 Which helped Will Hindmarch’s Always/Never/Now, and that made my heart smile as I am a huge fan of Will’s work.
 Josh Roby did for the first Vicious Crucible, after we well hit over our mark. I actually got 3.3cents/word on that project, which is the most I’ve been paid per word for editing in gaming.
There was a great G+ post from Epidiah Ravachol this past weekend about crowdfunding that started with:
As a producer, I’m in love with crowd-funding.
As a consumer, I might hate it.
And from there, talk about how some people didn’t see a reason to not crowdfund as a producer. Now, having crowdfunded something and been a “bridesmaid” to several other campaigns, I do see reasons to not crowdfund a given project.
Caveat: these are “hey, think about this and decide if it’s right for you” and not “fuck you if you just crowdfund.” They’re reasons I won’t crowdfund everything I think of, not reasons to shame others who are. Also, this assumes you’re a person doing a crowdfunding campaign with little infrastructure (and thus handling much of that on your own) rather than a business built to handle such things.
Managing the event that is your campaign. I talked a little about the event aspect in an earlier post, but it’s worth repeating: a crowdfunding campaign is a multi-week affair where you’re shouting from the soap box about your next thing. You’re telling people it exists, you’re providing new information about it over time in order to make your announcements about your project look new (and to give your backers, some of whom will become your sales force, more selling points to tell others). And at the end of it, you’re doing that thing where you remind people that if they don’t pitch in now, they’ll miss the bus on whatever deals you have baked into this campaign.
All of that is really, really exhausting to do, especially the first and last 48 hours. Unless you have a job where what you do doesn’t matter, you might as well call in sick those days because you won’t get much any other work done, between the job of being a crowdfunder and the emotional rollercoaster involved.
And even during the middle, it’s still stressful — “Do I post an update today or tomorrow?” “How much is too much promotion?” “Ohh, can I get X person to interview me and also have it come out in time for my campaign?” etc. Any one element can be handled, but because of the compressed factor of the campaign, you’re dealing with many of those issues at a given time.
So, if I don’t have the mental bandwidth to deal with that over a given month, it’s not a good time for me to seek crowdfunding, regardless of the project. Sort of like how NaNoWriMo is always during a month that sucks for me to do it, so I don’t engage in that activity then. :)
Coming up with and fulfilling additional rewards. There’s the Kickstarter thing of kitsch, and while stuff can be cool — both as actual things and as tokens of thanks — that comes with two forms of overhead. Some of it’s mental: what would make for good stuff? How can I make these things affordable? And some of it’s actual cost overhead, as you’re working out the various math models for how much X or Y amounts of your additional rewards are.
And that’s all work & energy being put into getting money for the project that doesn’t actually have anything to do with the original idea. If I have that energy to spare and want to put it there, awesome. But I don’t always have that or have the desire to do that. And I don’t feel like everything I make needs additional rewards.
Coming up with stretch goals. Combining the first two elements is the beloved stretch goal. Stretch goals give you something to talk about and promote that will continue to bring in more money during that window, and they’re things you have to plan out just as with additional rewards from the outset. I talked a bit about how making content-based stretch goals can be treacherous if you’re not farming out that content, even though new physical rewards or outsourced rewards are more expensive on paper.
So, in addition to all the elements above, I have the stress of analyzing a new point of failure for my project. And since it’s the recurring theme: maybe my project doesn’t require stretch goals and so it doesn’t require my additional effort spent on what’s effectively brand & project management.
Screwing up the math. This is short, but crucial: before you engage with your campaign, and at each point where something drastically changes (including stretch goals), you need to analyze your various worst-case successes, where you just barely make a goal via the rewards of least return. If that money isn’t enough to do what’s needed, then you have a problem. And the more variables you put in, the harder it is to successfully analyze that (unless you’re a math whiz or can develop algorithms to solve for that–to be fair, I do the latter).
You know what’s a harsh part of that math? Shipping & packaging costs.
So, this means I’m going to worry about the financial elements throughout the campaign as I get more data on what’s being pledged. That’s on top of the other various elements, whereas with a straight pre-order system, I would know what amount I’m getting for X number of copies ordered.
Crowdfunder expectations. I’m just going to point to talking about that earlier, and say that in addition to those points, this is where the above stuff gets weird. I technically could elect to do none of those extra things — no additional rewards and no stretch goals. However, that would look really off as not being worthwhile as a crowdfunding campaign, and might cause it to fail as a crowdfunding attempt when it might success using that same scheme in a different environment (like just manually taking pre-orders).
Stress & guilt of money-before-work versus money-after-work. Far smarter people than I have talked about this topic, where there is a dramatic difference in how the mental & emotional processes of working function when you have already been paid versus when there’s money waiting at the table. If this is the sort of thing that affects you, then crowdfunding as a patronage thing is probably not for you. It certainly isn’t for me if I’m going to do more than one at a time — I can only take being on the hook for so many things at once before I fail at all of them.
This is also an argument for using crowdfunding as more of a pre-order thing, if your disposition with that means you’ll have a easily and mentally healthier time with the campaign and time after.
Also, once you’ve taken money for something, there’s a whole new set of expectations that you’ll have to deal with. This is something that Adamant Entertainment is unfortunately dealing with regarding Far West. And unless you can be utterly certain of the future, you may run into similar issues.
More success than you want or can handle. This partly gets into taxes and partly gets into added personal stresses of scale, and I don’t give tax advice, so I’ll just say that if you’re expecting a small success and suddenly get a bigger one, you might accidentally screw yourself based on what you’re offering.
For instance, maybe your reward involves signed copies of a book — which means you’re probably planning to ship the books to you, sign them, and mail them yourself. That’s not to bad for 75; I’ve done 75 before. But if you suddenly have to deal with 500 or 1000 instead? Now you’re talking about the books taking up much more of your home while they’re there, longer time with signing (and more signing fatigue), and either multiple trips to the post office or sourcing a company to do the fulfilling for you, which still means getting the books to that company.
That, of course, assumes you were just going to order the amount for backers. If you’re planning to, say, order twice as much and hold half for later fulfillment, you still have to deal with those books.
And while economies of scale mean that you can get a better per-unit cost, that means more time shopping around for quotes, wondering if printing overseas is worth customs delays, warehousing remain stock, etc.
Also, if you’re waiting on some awards to arrive, you have to deal with holding those that already have. Was easy enough for Master Plan, because those that had already arrived before I moved fit into a grocery bag. And I just was waiting on the dice bags, so physically no big deal. But then I wasn’t shipping books or boxes.
Finally on that, there’s dealing with the timing on taxes versus expenses. If you time it for crap and don’t have an accountant assist you, your tax liability may, to put it gently, fuck you.
Looking to provide a different experience. At this point, everyone and their mother is crowdfunding. It’s almost novel now to just release a game for sale that you get right away, that doesn’t require pressure to buy into in a given timeframe. That it starting to be a selling point for some people.
Anyway, those are elements that make me wonder about whether a given project I work on is worth being crowdfunded, or if I should look at an alternative (by which I mean “old-school”?) sales & distribution model. Sometimes, the answer will be to totally crowdfund. Other times, the answer is to not. It all depends on what it is I want out of a given experience.
After all, it’s not like these’s so much money here that I should expect to live off of my little game ideas here and there. So I’d better make sure that I’m creating an experience that I want, as a producer.
 Which I would link to, but it’s limited.
 Post about that soon.
 And that’s one of the reasons I tell people not to make their campaigns longer than 30 days.
 I recall the P500 pre-ordering scheme, where certain board game companies wouldn’t do a print run until 500 copies were pre-ordered, and those pre-orders got bonus stuff — but 500 copies of a single bonus thing isn’t the same as managing various additional rewards.
 Been there, failed to do that.
“Time is money.”
We’re all well aware of the adage, to where the point of it being a cliche. But there’s truth to it, and it’s a truth you need to understand if you’re going to get into the crowdfunding business. Because if you’re not careful, you’ll do something really, really hellish. This is an issue I see friends do from time to time, as they get swept up with their campaigns.
You’ll offer stretch goals that seem easy at the time, because “it’ll only time, not money.” Creating new content falls under this, and it’s something I’m looking at as I wrap up Mythender & have the additional RKE rewards to create and fulfill.
When you say “At another $2500 dollars, we’ll release X mini-supplement,” that’s all well and good, but that means you’ll be on the hook for creating that. Seems like no big deal, right? Same if you offer bonus or custom content to certain backer tiers. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like a big deal.
Thing is, that all piles up. If your stretch goals snowball, you’re suddenly on the hook for dozens more pages of content you have to make, have edited (ideally), laid out, etc. And if you’re not careful, you’ll give yourself a hellish timeline for it.
Let’s walk through a hypothetical:
You have a game, let’s say it’s Fiasco-style, with the capability setting playsets. You have a couple for the core game, and that gets funded. You make some stretch goals, saying “If we hit X, I’ll also release the Hong Kong playset!” Bam, funded, but you still have time left on the Kickstarter clock, so you come up with a new goal. You get three more of these funded before the Kickstarter closes, and you’d got a decent amount of cash for your project. What now?
Well, let’s say you were working on the pre-order model, where you’ve already got the initial content finished. By creating stretch goals, you’ve shifted into patronage, because now you have content to make. Let’s say each of these playsets takes a month to do — you could do them in less optimally, but a month because you have a day job or other financial obligations, as do your editor & layout peeps. (To say nothing of actually playtesting.)
Now the next few months are booked, as you have a responsibility to finish what you’ve been paid for. And when something happens to delay you on one part of the project, it’s like a traffic backup, and that will eat up more of your time. Stretch goals like this will always take longer than you plan for, because life happens.
And, if you’re a freelancer, your time is money. You’ve already been paid for this work, maybe already spent the money, and you still need to push forward with it. You’ll have to turn down work you need in order to catch up, or take on work and delay further. (Hence why Mythender took months longer than I anticipated, though in that case I wasn’t being paid for it at all in the first place.)
I’m not saying to avoid this, but to go in full well understanding the cost of adding more and more content goals on your crowdfunding campaign. There’s a point where it’s better to take the money from a stretch goal and use a portion of it to pay someone else to make that content for you, because you can only do so much at any given time, and life will get in the way of a perfectly formulated timeline.
 Incidentally, the next Master Plan ep should be out by the beginning of October.
That’s not the thing I want to talk about, although it’s dancing around a core issue with Kickstarter: is it a place for patronage or a place for pre-orders? Nota bene: I’m not forming an answer in this piece, just exploring some thoughts. I don’t know if there are clearcut answers.
Patronage projects are about “if you fund this, I’ll start working on it, and later (hopefully when I claim it’ll happen) you’ll get a thing.” Pre-order projects are “we’re pretty much done, we need money to make physical stuff, and you’ll get a thing.”
My own recent Master Plan Kickstarter was clearly a patronage project. Dungeon World & Race to Adventure were pre-order projects. But then it becomes really weird once you bring is stretch goals that haven’t been made yet, because you’re turning a pre-order project into one about patronage as well. And that middle space fascinates me, both as solution and as problem.
While talking with Eddy Webb recently, he pointed out that Kickstarters are events — they take place on the Internet rather than in a physical place, but they’re promoted and celebrated just as events are. Events are finite in time, which leads people to buy into them. I’ve said multiple times that I believe that we as individuals have a limited amount of Kickstarter mojo, and if we’re not careful we’ll expend that. I suppose that extends to a community level as well, as we’re starting to see people claim “Kickstarter fatigue.” That’s natural, when our community keeps creating event and event, that we’ll start feeling tired of them.
Which brings me back to patronage versus pre-order. Patronage projects live and die by support. Pre-order projects have time, energy, and in some cases money already invested in them, so there’s incentive to get those projects out there even if a pre-order can’t be met. Yet, these exist in the same space in the minds of the public, more or less, as events. Some events are “get stuff sooner” and some aren’t. So, that’s a criticism of using this model for pre-orders — that, and pre-order models already exist.
On the other hand, consumer confidence in individual Kickstarter projects extends to consumer confidence over all KS projects in general. The whole you don’t own your message thing — if someone’s burned on prior folks they’ve backed delivering a product that doesn’t live up to its promise or not delivering at all, that negative emotional resonance extends to your projects, even though they’re unrelated except that they’re on Kickstarter. Sure, it’s unfair, but this world isn’t about fairness. And it’s more likely that those patronage projects will under-deliver (on promise or product) than pre-order ones. So, there’s a criticism of using this model for patronage.
Then when a project reaches funding and pushes for more, the event continues, perhaps with it a greater degree of exhaustion. This is true for pre-orders and for patronage models, so it’s a criticism of the stretch goal concept. And understand that people who buy into a patronage model may see it as a pre-order one, because of the areas in that environment where they primarily interact.
These criticisms aren’t meant to say “don’t do this style,” but to talk about biases people are growing in this new crowd-funding world. They are not in and of themselves bad ideas, certainly not! But they’ll impact us as we go forward, because these two very different things are being lumped together as the same sort of events, and those events are stretched out beyond their initial goal. I feel that we have a responsibility when we’re adding to the environment to think about these things and to not overdo it, to not poison the well for ourselves or others in the future.
Though, to put a very personal spin on it, I feel like I’m in the minority, and most people are taking advantage of the moment without thinking about the impact. And I say that as someone who has been involved with pre-order and patronage models with stretch goals (since nearly every KS has stretch goals if they hit far enough).
By the way: I’ll be talking about Kickstarter at Gen Con.