Published on May 27th, 2013 | by Luke Turpeinen
Kickstart Your Life
Thoughts on tabletop game Kickstarter projects
This is the future of capitalism folks: international, mostly anonymous crowd-funded venture capital is allowing many small inventors and designers to finally make the jump into full-on small business mode without loans or the need of bank intermediaries. Websites like IndieGoGo and Kickstarter have taken an internet crowd source model (also known as the ransom model) and made it so popular that is is no longer an oft-maligned and rarely-used quirk of independent role-playing game authors/publishers. That said, there isn’t much conformity to the way that Kickstarter projects are constructed and every project will have different methods of sale, with varying degrees of success. As a frequent backer on Kickstarter I certainly have opinions on these different approaches and thought I would share them with you all.
Your main video should just tell me how cool your thing is
In the main Kickstarter video I honestly don’t really want to see your face, I don’t really want to know who you are or what your life story is, how long you’ve played D&D or anything like that. I just want to hear your elevator pitch for the game included with as much relevant game content that you can show me quickly. I want to see any art assets you have, even if it’s just concept art at this point. The ideal opening video is two minutes long: one minute for you to tell me about your game and one minute for you to tell me how cool your Kickstarter campaign itself is.
And example of an amateur campaign that totally nails this is the Paradise Fallen campaign by Crash Games. There is nothing fancy here, it’s just a really solid pitch. I get one minute of getting told what the theme, win condition, in-game decisions and experience will be like while looking at preliminary and final art that evokes a specific, cohesive theme. The script is short, punchy and doesn’t waste any time. There are two sentences of personal story as a way to bridge the game pitch to the Kickstarter explanation, all that I need.
“But Luke!” I hear you cry, “What about people who want to see more than that? Wouldn’t you want to have more info?” Yes, you’re right- but the main video is not the place to put that information. Like Crash Games wisely chose to do, there are multiple separate videos in another section of the Kickstarter page. There is a more involved explanation of why the game is awesome by the publisher as well as a “How To Play” that gives you a great idea as to the complexity of the game. By dividing the videos out like this, the main “sell me on” video becomes very strong. It is easy to get people to watch a whole video if that video is two minutes long, it’s harder to get them to watch anything if they see it’s over 10 minutes. This way people can also easily find the specific info they’re looking for and not have to guess about how long into your video you’ll explain the rules- they know they can see the whole thing being played right below.
Speaking of seeing the whole thing…
Give a substantial amount of specific info out to your backers
One of the coolest things about the internet is that giving people more info on things is really easy and doesn’t cost you any more money to do. In an age of digital distribution there is no reason for a Kickstarter of anything that has rules not to include those rules as a download to anyone who pledges to the campaign.
Recently the FATE Core Kickstarter by Evil Hat did that in their extremely well funded tabletop roleplaying game campaign: anyone who pledged at least a dollar to the project would be able to download and print a non-formatted, black and white, unpolished copy of the rules in a PDF document. The company actively encouraged backers to look for spelling and grammar mistakes, things that weren’t clear, or any typographic errors (which is genius) but they also actively encouraged people to play the game before committing to buying their product. Again I say, there is no reason not to do this. You won’t lose anyone’s sale who really wanted to buy, and you stand to gain a lot of backers who are willing to at least test it out who might not have bought in at a higher price. Also to consider: people who keep their pledges devoted to your campaign are not likely going to complain about the product after getting it because they all had the chance to test it out before committing cash to it.
I’ll contrast the FATE project with another highly successful tabletop roleplaying game that also generated a huge amount of buzz and money: the Exalted Third Edition project. The differences in these projects are really quite vast considering they’re both examples of a very small niche hobby product and they represent drastically different approaches to the Kickstarter publishing model. Whereas the FATE project let you preview the rules, buy PDF versions of every book in the project and offered both hardcover and paperback versions of their books, Exalted took a different approach. Onyx Path decided to do a “Deluxe” book for the basis of their Kickstarter, betting that a fancy leather bound hardcover book would sell well enough that it would be able to also cover funds to set up a print-on-demand service that would later be able to provide lesser-quality versions of the book to people who didn’t back the Kickstarter, with no additional overhead for the company. Onyx Path didn’t provide any previews of the rules, which are supposedly drastically different from the previous edition and on forums such as RPG.net the authors and developers have been oddly quiet on giving any specific information on the game.
Evil Hat Games is willing to let you test drive their game before having you commit $30 for a physical copy. Onyx Path won’t tell you anything about it until you pay either $30 for the PDF or $110 for faux leather, gold leafed pages and a red ribbon bookmark. Please publishers, this is the 21st Century, can we all agree that the Evil Hat model is infinitely more consumer friendly and is generally better for the Kickstarter community?
Digital copies of your physical products are always relevant
In the RPG crowd-funding community it is very common to see publishers release PDF versions of the game book as a lower-cost (or free) way to get access to the game; it’s not quite as common in the board game scene and I think that should change. While certain companies have been really forward thinking with their print-and-play digital distribution models, for some reason I don’t see it on every board game Kickstarter and I feel like I should. For those that don’t know, print-and-play (or PnP) games are distributed in PDF files that you can then print out on your home computer.
Sirlin Games, who makes the Puzzle Strike and Yomi family of games, offers PnP versions of their games on their website. Far Off Games has a current (at the time of this writing) Kickstarter that promises access to all template files for all the 2D assets and 3D files so one could theoretically print their own 3D models of the game pieces, and the maker hopes a modding community will take hold of these assets. Stonemaier Games recently launched a Kickstarter for Euphoria that includes a PnP version of the game available to all backers and then tweeted about how cool it was that someone already made their own:
This is the best-looking print-and-play version of Euphoria I’ve ever seen (made by a Kickstarter backer): http://goo.gl/1U8Kl
— Jamey Stegmaier (@jameystegmaier) May 23, 2013
Doing this is cool for a couple reasons: First, it lets people peruse the rules as mentioned in the previous point about information. Secondly, it allows for people living in areas very far away from you to play the game without paying an arm and a leg for shipping. Sending a large board game to Australia might cost more than the retail price of the game, why not let those willing to pay $5 for the PDF print it out at their own cost and save you the hassle of international shipping? It increases market penetration and potentially reduces customs induced headaches for you and your company- there is no downside.
Well, that’s it for me right now. I still have more thoughts on Kickstarter so I’ll be returning to this subject sometime in the near future. Do you agree? Disagree? Tell me about it in the comments below, or send me a tweet @turp206.